If I Asked You To, Would You Kill Me? by Irene Sharda

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Adventure, Romance
Published:2006-05-30 22:17:58
Updated:2011-03-10 11:40:25
Packaged:2021-04-21 23:06:52
Summary:When Fang is captured by Erasers, he finds that something inside him, once dormant, has now awakened. Hidden agendas and key players are suddenly revealed, and it's up to Max & Flock to save Fang from their enemies and possibly from himself... AU/Post-SOF

Table of Contents

1. Prologue
2. Vanishing Act
3. Waking Nightmare
4. From Type A to Type What the Crap?
5. How Much is a Good Night's Sleep Worth?
6. Trial By Fire
7. Change of Heart
8. Amelioration?
9. Alluring Ally
10. Let's Play Rough
11. Blind Connection
12. Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend
13. Through My Own Eyes
14. Seraphic, New Players
15. Clan Initiation
16. Taken Under an Angel's Wing
17. Brothers
18. Angels' Sanctuary
19. Life of an Angel
20. An Issue of Trust
21. An Angel and a Devil
22. Renaissance d'un Ange
23. Storm Racing
24. War of the Elements
25. Angelic Intrusions
26. Demon's Heaven, Angel's Hell
27. Torturous Interlude
28. Internal Guardian
29. A Lovely Night

1. Prologue




All he could hear was the constant dripping of water. If he had been a normal human, he would have went crazy from this unintended version of Chinese Water Torture. But he wasn't human, he was—he was—a godforsaken freakin' mutant! Did that about cover it?



He had been separated from the flock a week ago. He had been wounded and had been easy prey for the new flying hybrid Erasers. Of course he hadn't let Max and the others know about his injury, he'd even done his best to shield his thoughts of pain from Angel. Max had told them to separate and then regroup, which they did, but for some reason, most of the Erasers went after him—why? They had never really been that interested in him before; it was always Max they went after. Why the change of plan? Suddenly, at that moment, all the anger he had within him seemed to spring out in his attacks. He no longer cared about his wellbeing. He had been like a caged animal, and God knows how much he hated cages.



Sighing, he thought back to the fight in the sky. Attacking them had been his biggest mistake. He should have just done as Max said and lost them in flight. But he stood and fought, and with the wound to his chest, and the stronger muscle and fortitude of the Erasers, he lost in a heartbeat. By the time he fell from the sky under their battering fists and slashing jaws, he had already lost consciousness from blood loss.



When he had awaked, he had found that the hole in his chest had been patched up, and a large white bandage now covered it. He had thought to himself, Well that's nice, I wonder what other things they did to me while I was under the knife? But that wasn't what made him mad. The room he had awoken in was dark, but his mutant eyes could see fine within it. It was very small, the walls made out of concrete, and the handless, windowless, no-doubt locked door was made of some type of metal, probably titanium. That was when he had found—that he was shackled to the wall. His arms and legs were held in chained-to-the-wall irons, he even had one around his neck that prevented his movement. Those whitecoat bastards… And on top of all that, the shackles were too small, they rubbed and cut into his skin giving him infectious sores. No one came a visited him in this hellhole. They didn't even come to fed him. The water had begun to drip on his head about a day after he had been captured. At first it had been irritating, but after having no food or water for a couple days, it began to become more and more desirable. Leaning his head up; he caught the water in his mouth. He noticed something about it. This was not the usual variety of water; this one was packed with nutrients even a non-mutant tongue could pick up on. It was like the fluid that they used in IVs. So this is the way they planned to keep him alive—drip by torturous drip.



By now, his hair, clothes—his entire body, was soaked in the stuff. It sickened him, yet it was what kept him alive…and he had to stay alive. If just to make these guys furious, he would live. Yet, he also had to do it for the flock—and for Max…

He didn't know what the whitecoats and Jeb wanted from him, but he wouldn't give them the pleasure of getting it. He could not lose his cool, it's what kept him together; in the School, with the flock, and now—he never lost his cool.



He knew Max and the others would be looking for him, just as they had looked for Angel a year ago. He didn't have the strength to try an escape. Already sick and injured, the water-food only gave him enough energy to live. His prison was cold and damp, and even his mutant healing abilities could not totally contend with it. As much as he didn't want to admit it, he would have to wait for Max and the flock. The only thing he could do to help them, was search around with his mind, hoping Angel would pick up on his thoughts.



Yes, he HATED cages; it was his one fear. Whoever had said, "stone walls do not a prison make, nor does iron bars a cage" had never seen this place. It took all he could, to keep from freaking out! But he wouldn't give them that satisfaction. He would stand his ground and keep himself together. His name was Fang, he was 15, and he would again be free. And when that happened, he would stick to his namesake and sink his proverbial "fangs" into every Eraser and whitecoat he met…


2. Vanishing Act

Chapter 1

"Can you sense anything yet, Angel?" Max asked, beating her wings at a steady rate.

The young girl quickly stifled her yarn and answered sharply. "No, nothing yet Max."

The teen leader balled up her fist even tighter, her anger flaring.

A voice whispered next to her, "It's been the same for the last fifty times you've asked. I did count."

Max didn't even look to see who flew beside her. "And—what's your point, Iggy?"

The blind teen looked straight ahead as always, "Max…we've been in flight for 20 hours straight, a record even for you. They're trying to be strong and not show it, but though I cannot see, I can feel the others starting to lag behind. Ange is trying so hard to sense his thoughts and still keep flying. No one's drank or eaten anything, and that can be dangerous with our metabolism. We have to rest a bit."

The set line of her jaw didn't change. Iggy couldn't see it, but he could here the stubborn determination in her voice. "I can't—I won't—stop until we find Fang. That's just all there is to it."

"I know, but what do you thing Fang would do if he found out that you had sacrificed the flock, for him?"

She smiled ruefully, "He'd kill me. Alright, you've made your case; we'll get a half-hour rest."


"Okay, okay! An hour rest. Jeesh, Iggy! You should be a lawyer when you grow up!"

He laughed aloud, "Whose ever hear of a blind lawyer?"

Max shouted out to the rest of the flock, "We'll land when we reach the next town; get something to eat, drink, and stuff."

Nudge, Gasman, and Angel only nodded in confirmation, but she could practically hear their inaudible sighs of relief.

Maybe, Iggy was right. She could feel the fatigue in her own body; even her wings were beginning to cramp. Her adrenaline and inflexible fortitude had been what kept her going. And she would continue on relentlessly, even if her body fell apart.

She could still remember that awful day in her mind…

They had just come out of a gas station, bluffing their way into getting some food. A sudden gunshot had rung out through the air. Swiftly, they were in flight, pursued by a group of surprisingly agile, winged Erasers. They had fought back well, but it was soon found that these Erasers were much stronger than the ones before. She had had no choice but to tell the flock to flee, to separate and meet back up at selected coordinates.

She'd had no trouble shaking hers. In fact, the Eraser seemed to have just given up. She had dismissed it to her skills, but oh how wrong she was.

When they had finally met back up, she was surprised that Iggy had been the first one to meet up with her, but she had guessed that maybe Fang had had more trouble than she did. Slowly, they came in—Gazzy, Nudge, Ange—they had all come, all but Fang. She had wanted to start looking for him immediately, but they all decided to wait for a hour. He was a no-show. Finally, they went out to follow his trail from the battle site. Searching the ground, in the direction he had gone, they had found a heavily wooded area.

Nudge had used her ability to see if she could feel any of Fang's vibes. She began to pick up on them, about two miles from the mêlée area. They were of anger and…pain. They had also found blood, both Eraser blood and Fang's…

They had searched the entire night, and came to the same conclusion that they had all been thinking, when they had started the search: Fang was a POW. He'd been captured by the Erasers.

(A/N: For those who don't know, POW stands for Prisoner Of War. It the status soldiers get, if they are captured by the enemy.)

The next dawn, they had immediately started out for Florida once again. Back to Itex…

It was the only place she had to start with. It was a long shot that he was there, but she had vowed, that even if she had to search the world twice over, she would find him. She had to…

Fang had been her unofficial second-in-command. With him gone, she felt as if her right arm had been cut off. It seemed strange, but without him, life seemed very empty and silent. Everyone could feel the uneasy emptiness, even Angel and Total weren't their usual selves.

They had finally landed in what appeared to be a small town in Tennessee; after eating some leftover food from a nearby restaurant and finding a small abandoned field to sleep in, Total, Gasman, and Nudge fell asleep instantly, totally exhausted. That was when Angel came to her.

She smiled smoothing over her blond hair, "You should be sleep, Ange. We have another long day tomorrow."

The cute little girl smiled back, "Don't worry Max, we're all worried about Fang."

How did this girl always know what was on her mind? Oh yeah, I forgot, she's a telepath.

She gave the girl a big hug, "Thanks, I needed that."

Angel whispered in her ear, "I fear for him."

Max looked her in the face, giving her, her most reassuring smile she could. "He's going to be alright, hon. You'll see."

The young seven-year-old shook her head, "No, that's not it. You see, remember when heard the gunshot, right before the Erasers attacked us?"

She nodded in return. She had thought at the time, that the Erasers must have been pretty desperate if they were going to fire in the open.

Angel went on, "Well, right after it went off and you told us to get down, I could feel and hear Fang's mind crying out! He sounded as if he was in a lot of pain, even though he didn't say anything with his mouth. Max…I think he was shot, and that's why he couldn't fight the Erasers like usual."

Thinking back, Max tried to relive the moment in her mind. When the gun had gone off, she had been nearest Nudge. She remembered covering her with her own body. When she got up and quickly checked on her flock, she had just checked to see if they had all gotten up.

Now that she looked at it more closely, she did remember seeing Fang holding his jacket close together, not revealing his shirt. His eyes had closed as if trying to settle something. Had Fang been shot and not told anyone? That would certainly be like him, he wouldn't allow himself to slow anyone down. The fool

She hugged Angel once again, "Thanks for telling me, now you'd better get your rest."

That's when she heard the small snoring on her chest. The little fledgling had already fallen asleep, poor thing! She smiled and carefully laid her next to Total, putting her jacket over the both of them.

Sitting back in her space, she rubbed the bridge of her nose, fatigue settling in.

"You think he was shot?"

Scrunching her eyes together, she nodded, then realizing Iggy couldn't see that, she answered "Yes, it'd be like him to hide it from us."

The fifteen-year-old nodded, "I thought as much, the beat of his wings were much slower than usual."

Looking at him, she smiled. He noticed things that most others didn't. Most people dismissed Iggy because he was blind, but they didn't know that all his other senses were extremely heightened. He could see very well.

However, now that she really looked at him, she could see that his usually handsome face had a very haggard look about it. Fang and Iggy had often served as her right and left hand men. Now, Iggy was picking up the slack, and it was exhausting him. But, like Fang, he would never admit to it; he would support her no matter what.

She thought back to her comment earlier, about him being a lawyer. "You'd really be a great one, I'm serious. You have an acute sense about injustice."

He cocked his head toward her, "What are you talking about?"

"You being a lawyer. I think you could really do it, once we get through with all this."

He sniggered slightly, the firelight dancing in his sightless eyes. "I was only joking Max. I mean, how could I do something like that?"

Thinking back to something, she smiled muttering, "Daredevil…"

"What?" Iggy asked, not able to catch what she said.

"Daredevil" she said a little louder.

He sat back in his area, "That's what I thought you said. What do you mean by that?"

She held her hands closer to the fire, "You remember Sam from D.C.?"

"Yeah, the guy you went on your first date with?"

"Whatever, well Sam told me a story about his favorite hero, a man called Matt Murdock. He was young man who grew up in the slums of New York City. He was blinded when he was a boy, in an accident where he was hit by a truck driver, carrying drums of toxic waste. The toxic, radioactive liquid, caused him to lose his sense of sight forever, but it also mutated his DNA, so that the rest of his four senses were all practically superhumanly keen. He conquered his one weakness, by honing his newfound strengths. Soon, he could do things that many normal people couldn't do. He learned that things most people feared, (like heights) he wasn't afraid of. Later, he found out that his accident hadn't really been an accident. That truck was carrying illegal vats of waste. And not only that, but the same criminals responsible, later murdered his father. Angered that these criminals had went unpunished, Matt got a hunger for justice. He studied law, as well martial arts, sharpening both his mind, as well as his body. As time went by he became one of the best lawyers in the Big Apple by day, but at night, he was another kind of crime-fighter. A masked vigilante, known only as Daredevil: The Man Without Fear; a nightmare to all injustice."

She looked up at Iggy, who was drawn in with wonder by the story. "But he couldn't have done any of that, if he hadn't been hit by the toxic waste. He turned his curse, into a blessing. He was now able to avenge his father's death, in ways he could only dream of, if he was normal. When Sam told me the story, I automatically thought of you, and how much you help us, because of who and what you are. Yes, you're blind, but that's what makes you special. There's no other man in the world like you, and…I would have it, no other way."

The teen felt his cheeks flush, he had never felt so appreciated, or so strong before! Looking down, he smiled slightly, "Thanks Max, you don't know how much that means to me."

She yarned and settled down to sleep, unable to keep her tiredness at bay. "You're welcome, Ig. Good night."

He sat there, hearing her drift off. "Good night Maximum, I'll take the first watch."

The fire began to die down, and the sounds of night life came with the wind. Iggy enjoyed the music of nature, while thinking of the story Max had told him. He made a vow to himself right then and there, he was going to be like Matt Murdock and become a lawyer. He was going to control his own destiny, from now on…

3. Waking Nightmare

Chapter 2

Fang awakened, to the scraping sound of his door being unlocked.

So, they were finally going to check on their prisoner in person? (He knew they were probably watching him with cameras.) His body was too weak to fight back, so he might as well find out find out what these butchers wanted.

As the door opened, the room was flooded with bright light. After being in darkness for a little over a week, being hit with a wave of shining light of course, temporarily blinded him.

"How're you doing, Fang?" a steady, gentle voice asked.

He knew who it was immediately, even without the use of his eyes.

"I was doing fine—until now, Jeb." He answered, blinking his eyes as they finally adjusted.

The man he had once loved and trusted, stood there before him, wearing one of those hideous white coats. He smiled gently, like always, pushing a lock of brownish-blond hair from his eyes. In his hand, was a silver metal suitcase, which he laid on a small table.

"Oh Fang, that's no way to greet an old friend."

Anger flushed through his mind, but only sarcasm dripped from his voice. "Sorry, but I don't see one of those in here, only a backstabbing son of a bi—"

"Let's not get vulgar, Fang" Jeb said, cutting him off.

Unlatching the suitcase, he continued. "Besides, that's not a good way to thank me. I personally oversaw your operating procedure, to get that bullet out of your chest. A few more millimeters, and you would have died."

"Oh—and who was it who shot me in the first place? Hmm, let me think about that."

"And I thought Max had the sharp tongue, but don't worry, we dealt with that Eraser. He was a little too bloodthirsty. I do hope that you will—"

"What do you want with me, Jeb? Lost interest in your one and only Max?"



Jeb ignored his snide comment and continued to talk, all the while, picking up a vial of clear green liquid from his case, as well as a hypodermic. "We brought you back because, we want to protect you. There's an anomaly in you, which we have not counted for or intended on, but don't worry about that now. I know how you hate cages, so I had them put you in the biggest unit we have."

Fang rolled his eyes, what was this, some sick way of making him feel better? "What do you mean, 'anomaly'?"

Putting a new needle on the hypo, Jeb ignored his question. He then inserted the needle into the vial top, filling the chamber with green fluid.

Suddenly, Fang's vision could only see that needle, bringing back many horrible, agonizing memories. If there was one thing he hated more than cages—it was needles.

"Keep away from me with that thing."

"Relax Fang; it's just an injection of rizocortizonen, a way to help you heal faster, as well as a way to keep down the pain."

Tapping the hypodermic's side, to make sure all the air bubbles were gone, Jeb headed toward Fang's neck—only to have to dunk to avoid being hit by the boy's powerful right hook!

With the pressures on him, mixed with his two phobias combined, something in Fang snapped! He maybe in chains, but there was no way he was going to let Jeb near him with a needle!

"Keep AWAY from me!"

The man approached again carefully, "I'm here to help you, Fang. Let me help you."

"Like HECK you are! Get away from me!" Fang answered, violently kicking out with his arm, as well as his leg.

Jeb again, nimbly avoided them. "Don't make me restrain you, boy."

Fang lashed out once again, "You've already done that, and I'm still going to kick your a—"

Before he could finish, Jeb pressed a button near the table. "Sorry Fang."

The chains that held him, suddenly retracted, twisting back into the wall! His body was jerked back suddenly, dragging him, and then slamming him into the stone!

He found, that now he had no movement at all! His whole body was now restrained to the wall, his wings were in agony! The irons cut deep into his skin; blood began dripping down his arms, feet, and neck.

As hard as he tried, he couldn't do anything to stop Jeb. He cringed horribly, as the needle went through his skin and into his neck; the solution, plunging into his bloodstream.

Pulling the needle out quickly, the man placed the hypodermic back in the suitcase. "See, that wasn't so bad was it? You're going to go to sleep now, and when you wake up, I'll be done."

As if by his spoken command, Fang could feel his consciousness being pulled away from him. The more he struggled, the more he fell into his own personal darkness, until he drowned altogether

When Fang awoke, he was in darkness once again. Jeb was gone, and his chains had been lengthened back to their original lengths. His neck had a bandage on it, as well as his right arm. He licked his lips, a cottony taste in his mouth. So, he drugged me, took a blood sample, and an oral swab. They're testing for something, but what?

Suddenly, his mind felt like it was in a vice! A wave of heat flushed his entire body! He had felt these headaches and hot flashes for months now, ever since the escapade at Anne's. But now, they seemed to be intensifying. Could this have anything to do, with why he was here?

4. From Type A to Type What the Crap?

Chapter 3

Jeb Batchelder sat down, and looked at the slide once more through the microscope. Could this actually be happening?

Looking once more at the slide, he couldn't believe what he was seeing. "Nancy?"

His lab assistant was immediately at his side, "Yes, sir?"

"Get me the blood samples from five years ago, Group AD2563."

Nodding, she left out the door to get what he'd requested.

Leaning his head on his steepled fingers, he thought back to his time with Fang. He had expected the boy to be trouble, and had objected to Anne's request of him being brought back. Let the flock take care of their own until the selected time came. But now, he would have to reconsider his previous disposition. This was far more troubling than he, or even Anne had been led to believe…

"Here you are, sir." Nancy said as she returned, placing a box on the table.

Taking off the top, Jeb glanced over rows of labeled microscope slides and vials of blood—some dusty, some not.

He first went through the slides, knowing their labels by heart: M1199, I1099, G0699, F1099…here it is! Taking F1099 slide from the box, as well as the slide from the microscope, he walked over to the bigger, comparison electron microscope. Placing the slides in their separate, but parallel spots, he took a glance through the lens. After a minute of adjusting and studying, he stood up straight and stretched his back. "Just as I thought. Nancy?"

She immediately came to his side, "Yes, sir?"

He moved over, giving her space to come forward. "Look at this and tell me what you think it is."

Stepping up, she looked as instructed, though she had no idea why. Jeb knew more about these slides and things than anyone.

After having studied the two slides for a while, she stood back up and looked at her boss, who looked back at her inquisitively.

"They're two slides of red blood cells, sir."

He nodded, "Blood cells from what, Nancy?"

She shrugged, "I-I don't know sir. You're comparing the compatibility of two species to see if they can be combined?"

He nodded as he walked back to the table. "So, I'm comparing two different species' blood?"

She watched him take out a vial from the box and begin ejecting the red plasma liquid from it, with a needle. "Yes sir, that's all I can gather from it. What species are they?"

Looking at the blood in the hypodermic chamber, Jeb answered, "What if I was to tell you that both samples came from the same source?"

A look of utter surprise came over her face. "That's impossible."

"Impossible, but true nonetheless."

Putting down the hypo, he picked up one of the slides. "This, is a blood sample I took from Fang an hour ago."

Handing this one to her, he then picked up the other one; the one he had retrieved from the file box. "This, is a blood sample I took from him, five years ago."

Handing this one also to her, he went back to the hypodermic and began preparing a fresh slide.

She flipped through the slides in her hand, still in astonishment. "But how can that be? No one's DNA, not even his, can mutate like that in only five years!"

"It shouldn't have mutated like that period. But it has, and I have reason to believe, that it's because of Project: FIFTY ONE."

She looked up from the microscope lens. "Project: FIFTY ONE? But I thought that was a failure."

He simply nodded, "Look at it again, and give me some other explanation."

Dr. Nancy Sarano looked again at the slides under the comparison microscope. The one to the right, was the sample from five years ago. It showed normal, healthy, if a little anemic, red blood cells—completely typical for the experimental avian group.

The one to the left, Jeb had gotten from the bird-child that had been apprehended about a week ago. The blood cells here were much darker than normal, almost grey rather than bright red. They were also shaped differently. Instead of the normal saucer-shape, they were contorted into the shape of diamonds! A condition she had never seen before! I mean, she'd heard of sickle cell, but this was ridiculous! And that wasn't where the differences ended. These cells had a thick, transparent outer layer, that was not part of normal red blood cell anatomy. One which was silver in color, and dense enough that it seemed to protect the cell from any kind of intruder; unlike normal human blood cells, which were susceptible to things like bacteria and viruses. Looking at the two, side by side, she would have never believed that they had come from the same species, let alone the same body.

Without an answer to give him, all she said was, "I'll get these down to the genetics lab, sir."

Her boss was busy getting an in vitro needle from the glass cabinet. "Have them take both samples apart. I want to know the genetic code of both, top to bottom. Have them compare the differences. I want to know how they're different, and why. And I want to know yesterday. Got that?"

A/N: An in vitro needle, is of course used in in vitro fertilization (when sperm is injected into a woman's egg through a ultra-thin hypodermic), but also many experiments that deal on the cellular or molecular level. The needle's tip can not be seen with the naked eye.

She nodded hurrying out the door, completely perplexed.

Taking the in vitro needle, Jeb went under the electron microscope. Using the computer screen and a brain surgeon's hands, he plucked two small blood cells from Fang's recent sample, using the needle's ultra-fine, infinitesimal tip. Hmm, I think this is the same equipment we used to mix the flock's DNA to begin with.

He inserted the two minuscule cells, onto the slide he had already prepared. In this instant, Fang's two recent cells were mixed with a sea of his old ones. Now if the rules of biology served, his new cells—as different as they were—would be rejected by his old ones; judged as foreign intruders, like a virus or parasite.

He began to study the screen, judging that the faster the two cells were destroyed, the bigger the estimate of dissimilarities.

Yet, as he watched the silent actions of the living cells, his nonchalant visage changed from interest, to confusion, to utter shock. The words for what he was seeing practically dried up in his throat. "Oh…my…God…"

Picking up his files, he rushed from the room, heading toward the observation quarter. I thought Hell would freeze before I saw something like this. Man, it must be an ice cube down there according to what I've seen. What the HECK is going on?

On the electronic screen, the two diamond-shaped cells had multiplied themselves by a hundred! And the sea of normal red blood cells—had become a sea of death. Every cell, had shriveled and was being consumed by the supposedly foreign intruders. It seemed that nature, sometimes broke its own rules…

5. How Much is a Good Night's Sleep Worth?

Chapter 4


The teen opened his heavy eyelids.

Who was calling him now? Jeb? No, it was a female voice—a familiar one.

"Max? Max, where are you?"

The haze falling from his eyes, he discovered his chains gone, which was quite a relief! That's also when he noticed, that he couldn't make heads or tails of his surroundings. He was no longer in his cell, but it was pitch-black dark here—murky and dark.

He picked himself off the floor weakly, struggling to stand. "Max? Talk to me, I can't find you if you don't talk to me. This strange fog, is thick enough to cut through with a butter knife."


This time, the voice sounded closer, and straight in front of him. Struggling to see through the foggy mists with his mutant eyes, he could see a lone figure coming towards him. The person walked wobbly, as if greatly injured.

His instinct told him immediately, that that figure—was Max.

Running as fast as his fragile legs could carry him, he reached her just as she collapsed to the ground.

Glancing over her, he could see she was in great pain; her body tense and raw. She shivered almost uncontrollably, and her body was extremely hot to the touch.

He also noticed, almost absently, that even though she was streaming with sweat and her hair was matted with blood, she was extremely beautiful; almost as heavenly as the wings upon her back.

Seeing her in agony like this, cut him to the quick, as well as shortening his already short temper. "Max? Max! Oh man, what happened to you? Who did this to you?"

She struggled to reach up to his face, only when she did—she dug her nails in deep. Her voice was strained, but the trace of her tell-tale attitude was still there—as well as a strange, intense rage. "Wha-what do you mean, F-f-fang? You did."

It took him a minute to understand what she was saying. "Max, you're delusional. You know I would never hurt you. Where's the rest of the flock? We've gotta get you—and me—out of here."

She gasped violently and pulled her hands from his face, blood flowing out. Her voice became furious, almost hysterical—which scared him. "The flock? The flock! You killed the flock! You murdered them, you filthy, backstabbing, traitorous bastard!"

He couldn't believe it! How could she think that of him? She must be so delirious, that she was out of her mind! He began to shake her back and forth, trying his best to snap her out of it. He couldn't stand this! "Max! Listen to me! You're stronger than this; don't you know me!"

Max grabbed his hand viciously, and painfully twisted it backwards. "Get your hands off—of—ME!"

The pain was so great, to his already weak form. He let go of her suddenly, trying to resist the pain; Max slid from off his lap and onto the floor. The jarring seemed to put her in agony! Her body buckled as if in a seizure, then, in one violent spasm, she vomited up a ton a blood. The red plasma began to run freely down the sides of her mouth and from her nose, signs that she was bleeding internally!

Forgetting his own pain, Fang went to pick her up once more, trying not to panic. "Max! I'll—"

He stopped in mid-sentence, by a sound and a sight.

The sound, was the click of a safety catch, being pulled off…

The sight, was that of the barrel of a 29mm revolver, staring him right in the face…

With one steady hand, Max pointed the cocked gun at him, her face showing cold hatred. "I can't believe I actually loved you…you dark piece of crap. I guess birds have more than one life, just like cats do...because you killed me once...when youbroke my heart in two. Then you killed me again...when you killed our family. And now...you've killed me one last time...as I lay here dying…"

She bucked a little, more blood spurting from her mouth. He thought to grab the gun from her, but her hand stayed perfectly steady.

She looked back at him, still in agony, but her fierce determination kept her. "I thought I knew you. I thought our bond was unbreakable. I thought that I had…feelings…for you. But I thought wrong. You say you know nothing. Well look around you...and reeducate yourself…"

With her words, the fog pulled back, revealing four more people—lying on the ground, inert.

Max waved the gun, motioning him to take a look. His stomach was beginning to twist up, trying to not assume anything.

Getting up, he slowly walked to the first one, almost feeling Max's eyes burn into his back. The silence and tension in the air, weighed him down so much, that his body began to hurt.

As he got closer and closer, he suddenly recognized the body. His legs froze and his knees locked. His face could not hold the shock…or the horror…

Lying on the ground…was precious, Angel. She was lying in a pool of hot red blood—dead. Her beautiful eyes, stood lifelessly open, and her face formed in a vision of terror.

Her throat had been brutally torn open, blood still flowing, her vocal cords hung out…never to be used again. Blood stained her pure white wings, as the lay fully extended underneath her. Total, also dead, lay next to her—his neck broken.

Who could do this to such a cute little girl? His little baby sister? Before the full force of his anger and grief could set in, Max spoke from behind him. "Keep going...I want each scene to be burned into your memory."

Struggling, he turned his eyes from the fallen Angel. Pushing his lead-weighted feet on, he came to the next body. Before he even opened his eyes, he tried to prepare himself for what he knew was another dead sibling. But when he did open them, he was faced with the same revulsion as before.

This time, Iggy lay at his feet. His brother's already sightless eyes, had been gouged out, blood running down his face instead of tears. His stomach had been fully slit open; his entrails, blood and guts, spilling out onto the ground. Blood ran from his open mouth, mixing with the rest, for practically all the blood that had been in his body—was now surrounding it.

Fang closed his eyes again, trying to shut it out, but failing. He knew that Iggy's death had been slow and agonizing, even more so then Angel's had been.

The next two, were closer together, and even though he knew who they were, he knew he would be just as appalled. He was right, of course.

Gasman lay with his neck broken. Huge gashes carved up the eleven year-old chest, as if he had been mauled by a tiger! His wings had been torn clean from his back, and thrown to the side like useless junk.

He lay there, holding hands with Nudge, who was the most sickening death of all. Her shirt was drenched in blood; her entire body seemed to be swimming in it… When he saw the hole in her chest, and what was in her mouth, he knew why. Someone with incredible strength, had split open her chest—and ripped out her living heart. Then taking her still twitching chest muscle; they forced it into her mouth like a gag. It had probably taken her seconds to die, but they must have been seconds of pure anguish.

He couldn't take it anymore! He fell to his knees, angry tears streaming down his face, for what seemed like the first time. Then, lurching forward, he hurled up anything that may have been in his stomach. His body trembled terribly, trying to contain the great sorrow he felt.

Max could no longer hold the gun, her hand went down hard. She rolled over and crawled weakly next to Fang. He could now see the huge gashes and stab wounds on her back, blood flowing freely as water. "Who did this Max? I will avenge you all."

The extreme hatred and loathing had not left her eyes as she looked at him. "I could have killed you…maybe I should have…but it's better that...you live out the rest of your days...with these images in your head...and our blood on your hands."

He turned to her, seeing that she was fading. Her body was already limp, and her once bright eyes were going cloudy. He tried to take her hand, but she wrenched it away. "Max! I don't know how you got such a ridiculous idea, but know that I care about you more than anything else! I loved them, and would never have done something like this! A piece of me dies with every one of them! A piece of me dies with you! I've never told this to anyone else, not in un-plutonic terms, but…I-I love you, Max! I've been hiding it from you, and from myself, for over a year, but there is no one else for me Maximum, but you. That's why; it hurts me deeply that you could have even thought something like that!"

Her eyes fluttered, and she smiled—with disgust. "I hate you. Look in a mirror…and then tell me…if…you…wouldn't do the…the same…"

With that last statement, she went totally still—dead.

Fang felt something in him crack. His heart felt like it had been shattered into a million pieces. Clenching his hands up tight, he could feel the tears pour down anew from his eyes. How! Why! Who was responsible? Was it Jeb? The Erasers? Was—?

That's when he felt the sticky ooziness in his clutched fists. Opening them, he saw that his hands were completely red…red with blood.

Finally taking the time to examine himself, he saw that he was covered in it!

His clothes were soaked in it.

His body was tainted with it.

His mouth tasted of it.

His wings were stained with it.

His feet were coated in it.

His face was pasted with it.

His hair was dripping with it!

He began to gasp, his lungs hyperventilating, unspoken horror and repulsion that couldn't make it to words. It was because, he knew…

He knew that the blood wasn't his. That it was the blood of his siblings! Of Angel, Iggy, Gasman, Nudge, Max, and even Total! Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew why, but forced himself to deny it.

"No. No! I 'm not…I couldn't have! How can this be? It's not possible!"

A voice spoke out from the darkness, a voice he recognized—it was his own.

"Stop lying to yourself. You know you enjoyed killing every single one of them. They weighed you down, kept you strapped to your human emotions. Now, you don't have to worry about that anymore."

He held his ears, trying to block his own voice. "No! I would NEVER hurt my family! I loved them!"

"You don't need love. Max didn't think you did."

"I LOVED Max!"

"Then why do you have her blood all over you?"

"Because-because I…"

"You can't answer, because you know the truth. You killed your brothers and sisters, and then you killed Max. Look at your hands, Fang."

Scared and sickened at himself, he trembled to look down. That's when he saw, that his fingers had sprung claws, where his nails were supposed to be! Each one was like that of an eagle's talon, but suited his human hands. Blood dripped from their steel-colored tips.

"Those are how you killed your family. And believe me…you enjoyed every minute their warm flesh and blood, squirmed in your hands, as you watched the life slowly fade from their eyes. Isn't it nice to not be human?"

"But I AM human!" He protested angrily.

"If you had one ounce of humanity left in you, the girl you love would still be alive."

Taking Max in his arms, he remembered her last words to him. Words he didn't think, he would ever hear from her.

Now, looking at his hands—he knew they were the hands of a murderer...

His hands had ripped out Angel's throat, slashed Iggy and Gasman to shreds, torn out Nudge's heart, and shish kabob-ed Max. He had been their murderer

His hands trembled violently as he covered his eyes in self-loathing and shame. "What…is happening…to me?"

His own voice answered him from out of the mists. "More than you can imagine…"

Fang awoke screaming. Cold sweat ran down his face and body. His heart beat rapidly, like it was coming out of his chest! His body felt on fire!

He looked around him, trying to calm himself down. He was in his cell, still in chains—and he couldn't be happier.

It was all a dream, one horrible nightmare…

He sighed in relief, licking his dry lips.


His tongue had cut itself, the taste of blood in his mouth. Couldn't he get away from that taste and smell? What could he possibly have cut it on?

Moving his tongue a little more carefully, he felt it lightly snag on a tooth…a razor-sharp, over an inch long, canine tooth. Moving toward the other side, he found the other one, completely identical! No way. He had—fangs!

He had heard of people taking after their names, but this was going overboard! He hadn't had these an hour ago! What was going on?

Curling his hand in anger, his mind immediately went to Jeb. That was, until he felt the pain in his palms…

Looking down, his mutant eyes could see that they were bleeding.He could also see that the culprits were his own nails. Looking closer, he could see that they had gotten much longer and sleeker, curved and extremely keen. Like that of an eagle's talons…

He began to tremble once again, realizing that he had claws…just like in his nightmare…

Suddenly, one of his more nasty headaches overtook him, his blood running molten in his veins. His mind felt like it had been turned into mashed potatoes! Falling to the ground, he grabbed his head and tried his best to resist screaming again. Once more, as in his dream, he failed…

Jeb had been watching Fang from the Observation Quarter. Cameras had of course, been place in his cell, and there were sensors in his chains. He had watched the boy twist and turn in sleep, screaming several times. But the boyhad also done one thing he had never thought was possible of Fang—he had cried…

That must have been one really bad dream. Looking at the sensors, he knew that the boy's heartbeat had gone off the charts. His temperature had risen to over 230 degrees! They would have had to come in there and cooled him down with hoses, if the boy hadn't come out of his sleep! If what I saw in the lab, is happening in Fang's body—God help him…and us.

Turning to the room technician, he ordered, "If there's any further change in his bio-signature, alert me immediately. I'll be in Walker's office."

The techie nodded, "Yes, sir."

As he walked out the room, he headed towards Anne's office and quarters. It was time he explained the situation to his boss—and how drastic a turn it had taken…

6. Trial By Fire

Chapter 5

"Dead ahead guys, let's approach cautiously. Who knows what kind of traps they got around this place."

Max briefed her flock, as they hovered over the Itex Company branch in Florida. They had reached the location in record time. She and Iggy had pushed themselves to the limit, as had all the younger ones, but it had paid off. Just you wait, Fang. I'm gonna get you out of there, if it kills me.

She began to issue orders, "When we get him out of there, we don't know what shape Fang's going to be in. We're going to need a fast getaway. I leave that to you Nudge, to find us some transportation."

The girl smiled, "You got it, Max!" She said before flyingoff to complete her assignment.

Max turned to Iggy and Gasman, "You two, I just want you to do your thing. Cover our escape, and cover it completely. You get to work on that Gazzy, while I talk to Iggy."

The boy nodded and rushed of, thinking of what kind of new explosive he'd make this time.

Turning to Iggy, Max whispered. "There's a possibility that Fang's not even here. I wouldn't put it past the creeps. I'm putting you in charge out here. If something happens to me, I want you to get the kids out of here and keep searching. Be careful, and if necessary, take some risks. But whatever happens, if Angel and I aren't out in twenty minutes—blow this joint. I don't what it standing any longer than it has to."

He nodded to her solemnly, "What about the people inside? You sure you want to cross the line into being cold-blooded? If you are, I'm willing."

She watched his facial movements, but they didn't move an inch. They stayed emotionless—just like his sightless eyes.

He was dead serious…

She crossed her arms and sighed, "No, I don't think I'm ready for that yet. What happened with Ari, was an accident. I'll make sure to sound the fire alarm, and give the people a chance to get out."

"I'll wait five minutes after the alarm, but I won't be waiting for them."

She smiled affectionately at her brother's loyalty. "Thanks Ig, I really appreciate that."

He nodded in affirmation then flew away, going to join up with Gasman.

Max then turned to Angel, "Alright, you're with me Ange. I'm going to need you to be my eyes, in a way. We'll be going in through the air vents, and I'll be carrying you on my back. Both you and Total will try to sense out people. Angel, I want you to use that telepathic mind of yours, to sense out Fang's thoughts; concentrate fully on that."

She then looked down at the dog in the little girl's arms. "Total, I need you to be my alarm. If you smell anyone closer than they should be, I need you to quietly growl. This way, Angel can concentrate on Fang, and I can still move quickly. You both got it?"

The two both saluted smartly.

"Aye, Aye Captain!" Angel said dutifully.

"Got it, darlin'" Total answered with a soft wag of his tail.

Angel hugged onto Max's back, crossing her legs around her sister's waist, and her arms gently around her neck. "I'm not hurting you, am I Max?"

Shifting the girl around slightly, Max found she could fly just as easily as if she were alone! "No, I'm fine."

"I'm fine up here too, just in case somebody even bothers to ask."

Angel, patted the little dog's head (which was on top of her own). "I didn't forget about you, Total. It's just that, I know you'll be fine up there, as smart as you are."

The dog settled down happily, his ego appeased.

Rechecking everything in her mind, Max finally put herself into "Go" mode. Ok, this is it. Fang, I'm coming for you. If not here, then everywhere…

Flying at an angle, she took off toward the building, doing a combination of bobbing and weaving that would shake anyone who had thought they'd seen a couple of flying children.

Finding an air vent was easy, and the thing about them that made them so useful, was that they went everywhere. I mean, everyone needs air, even if it's recycled.

Choosing one on the southern end, Max wedged off the grate with her hands, and quickly flew in. Though she was soon surrounded by darkness, she could see just as well as in daylight.

The ventilation shafts of the facility were huge; she remembered that from the last time she was here. It was easy for her to just soar through them. She took any and every direction she could think of; Fang could be in any one of the many rooms of this labyrinth-like building.

After about five minutes with not a word from either Total or Angel, Max wondered if they had nodded off!

"Hey, you guys? Are you awake up there?"

Angel's head appeared by her own, her voice not cheery like usual, but more serious and alert. "Something's wrong, Max."

The teen immediately slowed to a stop and landed. It wasn't tall enough within the shaft for her to stand, so she knelled instead and unloaded her two passengers.

Angel kneeled on one knee beside her, while Total jumped to the ground, standing on all fours.

Max looked at the watch on her wrist. She had a little less than nineteen minutes before Iggy proceeded in blowing this place to kingdom come. Looking straight at Angel, she asked quickly, "What is it? What's wrong, Ange?"

The young girl suddenly seemed cold and wrapped her arms around herself. "I kept searching for Fang's thoughts like you told me to, and I haven't been able to find any trace of them. But…the thing is…I haven't been able to sense any thoughts, none whatsoever. Max—I don't think there's anyone here!"

Total spoke up near her feet, "I have to agree with Angie here. I've only been able to pick up faint smells, and they all smell old. The only living things here I think, are spiders and—what's wrong, Ange?"

Max looked up at her baby sister, to find her standing stock still, her eyes aimed at one direction in the tunnel.

Following the girl's gaze, she saw what had turned her into a human statue.

On the wall of the shaft, a few feet in front of her, a small box strapped around two green-colored bricks, was stuck to the wall. The front of the box, which was made of some kind of metal, had a small digital readout on it. It was a series of bright red numbers, descending downward in numerical order, 01:00:07…1:00:06…01:00:05…and so on.

She didn't take her having two explosive experts as brothers, for her to know that the object in front of her was a bomb

Looks like someone got here before us. But even if this place is abandoned, the whitecoats would have probably left their failed experiments to rot. One which might be Fang… She put out her arm and pushed Angel and Total behind her. "Get back further in, I'm going to go see if I can diffuse the thing."

The two did as they were bid, seriously scared by the newest upset.

Approaching cautiously, Max silently wished she had Iggy or Gasman by her side, or had at least thought to bring a walkie-talkie. Bombs weren't exactly her field, and this would be the first time she had ever attempted to disarm one…

She slowly detached it from the wall, trying to stop from looking at the diminishing numbers and instead, try to remember what she had seen her brothers do in their free time.

Detaching the metal igniter from the blocks of C-4, she turned it over and saw a small panel, like that of battery compartment.

Sliding it open carefully, she wiped the sweat from her eyes. Okay, now I have to handle the wires…


Looking down in fear, she saw to her horror, that a small copper wire had been cut as she slid open the panel. "Crap…"

Thinking back, she quickly realized that this must have been a "red escape", a false trail that the bomber put on his device, to divert anyone from tampering with it. However, most red escapes backfired.

Looking back at the front, she saw instantly that the numbers were descending double time!

Her eyes went round as full moons when she saw the new readout: 00:00:04…00:00:03…

"Crappity crap, Crap, CRAP! Angel! Get out—"

Before she could even finish her message, the metal box exploded! The volatile force knocked her out cold; the shock wave hit Angel and Total hard, knocking them flat on their backs!

However, the explosion wasn't as bad as it could have been. If Max hadn't removed the igniter from the C-4, the entire structure of the air shaft would have fallen apart, and everyone in it would have been blown apart. However, because she had removed it, the explosion was minimal, as were the effects caused by it.

Angel sat up groggily, her body feeling the aches and pains of several small cuts and bruises caused by flying debris and shrapnel.

Total licked her hand, "You okay, doll?"

She put her hand to her head, thinking she might have a concussion or something. "Just some scrapes and a huge headache. I don't think its—Max!"

She suddenly remembered her big sister, who had been holding the bomb!

Crawling rapidly forward, she could see Max's body lying prone—no movement at all…

Her eyes welled with tears as she neared her. "Max? Max can you here me?"

She struggled to flip the other girl over, but was rewarded when she saw that Max's chest still rose and fell. She was breathing, which meant…she was alive! Looking over her big sister's body, she could see that she had a big cut on her face, blood running down from it. Her hands were badly burned, as were her wrists and lower arms. Her clothes were bloody and burned, indicating other injuries hidden from the sight. But she didn't care…as long as she was alive…

But then her mind came up with a different dilemma. She didn't know how to get out of here!

She'd been concentrating so hard on mind-searching, that she didn't know which paths they'd taken! And even if she did, she couldn't carry Max all by herself! She couldn't send Total, because of course he couldn't fly, and she didn't dare leave Max's side. What was she going to do?

She began to weep again, frustrated with herself! What's the use of having all of these different mutant powers, if you couldn't use them when you need them?

A sudden new voice spoke from behind her, causing her to whirl around with a gasp. Total turned too, growling low and baring his canines.

"Aww, Don't cry petite; I'm here."

Those words, heavily laden with a strange accent, came from a young man, who sat crouched in the shaft on all fours. It was hard to tell details in the dark, but she could make out the man's basic outline.

He was between the ages of 17 and 19, wearing a simple cotton t-shirt, jeans, leather jacket, and thin-soled tennis shoes. He had a lithe, muscular build, and he was taller than any of her brothers and sisters. He had finely chiseled features and very long hair which he wore in a ponytail; he almost reminded her of one of those handsome princes on some Disney movies she watched. All except…

"Why are you wearing sunglasses? It's really dark in here. Are you blind, like my brother?"

The man laughed a little, "No petite, I'm not blind. It's just a habit I have."

"Why are you here? What do you want?" another voice joined in.

The man looked down at Total, "So, it can talk. Look, I don't have much time. When your sister," he nodded toward Max, "messed with my bomb, she kinda set off a trigger that was attached to all my other ones. This Place de la Gréve is going to go in less then two minutes. I don't do murder, so I'm gonna get you and your sister outta here."

Total growled, "How can we trust you? You—"

Angel's hand stopped him, she smiled, "No, I trust him Total. And for now, he's our only choice."

She had already mind-read him, and couldn't find any malicious intent that he had as of immediately, even if he did say he was the bomber. If he tried anything, it wouldn't be till after they were out of harm's way, which would suit her just fine.

Total looked at her unsure, but backed away into her arms anyway.

The young man came forward and Angel could see the man was light on his feet—almost superhumanly light.

Taking off his jacket, he picked Max up quickly but gently and placed her on his back. "Mon Dieu, the chérie weighs less than a sack a potatoes! She needs to eat more."

He quickly flipped his jacket around Max's waist, and then tied it twice in the front of his own. Motioning for Angel to come to him, she took Total in her arms and crawled forward.

He took her within his arms and held her close and tight to his chest. "Alright petite, I'm gonna hold ya tight, and I want you to hold that pet of yours. If you find you're slipping away, tell me, d'accord?"

Angel nodded, comforted by the man's steady heartbeat. It wasn't slow like all other humans; it was like her own…

Soon, she realized that they were moving—and moving very fast! She couldn't actually see the walls anymore; it was all one big blur! The wind rushed past her face, exhilarating for her, but rocky for Total; she felt him nestle himself deeper into her arms. She looked down and saw the man's feet, they were moving faster than anything she had ever seen! Or was it 'didn't see'? She wasn't even sure it his feet were actually touching the ground; they were always in motion so that she could never really see them.

"What's your name, petite?"

She looked up at the man who had spoken, but he kept his eyes forward, taking a turn here and a swerve there.

"I'm Angel. The little guy in my arms is Total. And the person on your back is my sister, Maximum Ride."

"Enchantée petite Angel. Tell me, are you afraid of heights?"

She giggled, then stretched out a little of her wing so that he could see. "Nope, never. I'm a mutant like you."

He looked at her wings and laughed with her, "I knew there was something I liked about you. Your sister too?"

"Yeah, hers are a different color than mine, but she can go really fast with them, like you do with your feet."

"Hold that thought, petite."

She looked up, suddenly realizing that they were coming upon the open air vent and outdoor freedom—very rapidly…

"Hang on!"

The young man launched himself into open space, his legs leaping forward…

He seemed to hang in the sky for minutes on end; she could see clear over the treetops for miles! Then he shot down…not like in freefall, but like a beautiful ballet dancer, with his left foot for ward.

He landed lightly on the ground, with almost no feeling of impact. He let go of Angel, who in turn, let go of Total. The little dog quickly went into the trees to relieve himself.

Angel went to talk to the stranger, but just then and loud explosion roared through the air and rocked the ground like an earthquake!

Looking back at the Itex building, she sat down stunned.

The whole place was in flames, the walls falling in on each other, creating a huge cloud of smoke in the sky. The place was beyond any kind of repair.

But that wasn't what had stunned her. It was the fact that the Itex complex was at least a hundred yards away!

The young man put Max on the ground, laying her out on his jacket. He turned back to his the building, admiring his handiwork. "Look at what some circuits, mechanics, and some C-4 will get you. I bet Itex will think twice before buildin' over here again."

She looked up at him in awe, "That was some leap, Mr…um?"

He flicked a loose lock of hair out of his vision. In the light, she could see the colors better. His hair was striking red, while both his jeans and t-shirt were teal blue, and his shoes were black. His skin was fair, but not pale, and his limbs and fingers were long and tapered, like that of a gymnast.

Removing his sunglasses, he looked down at her. She could see that his eyes weren't like that of a human. They were golden in color and elliptical, like that of a viper or a cat. She was sure that most people would be either mesmerized or struck in fear by them, but she thought they were nice and completed his personality.

He answered her with a roguish kind of smile. "I'm just talented I guess. And my name is Derringer, like the gun, but you can call me Derrin."

Iggy and Gasman heard the explosion from their work area in the forest.

"I didn't do it!" Gazzy quickly shouted in self-defense, but Iggy was no longer there.

The blind teen flew in the direction of Itex in fear. He'd thought he'd heard an explosion a couple minutes ago, but he'd let it go when Gasman said he didn't hear or see anything. However, this time he was sure, something was happening and his sisters were in the middle of it!

He heard and felt the wing-beats of his sister and brother joining him. "What's happening? What do you see?"

They had stopped, and were hovering above the area where Itex was.

There was hesitation in the answer, so he asked again. "What's happening? Tell me!"

He heard Nudge break out into tears to his left.

Gasman, to his right, answered, his voice choked up. "The Itex place is g-gone. Somebody bombed it before we did. It's totally on fire; nothin's left of that place."

And as if to give him a double blow, the smoke stung his eyes as if letting him know it was real.

Max? Angel? What had happened here?

7. Change of Heart

Chapter 6

Max lifted her heavy eyelids, her whole vision in a haze.

Where am I?

She remembered the Eraser ambush, Fang's Capture, Itex, the bomb…

Yet, they all seemed hazy, as if in a dream…

The sun was shining down on her, from the bright blue sky. A field of yellow, tall grasses surrounded her, the wind blowing in her hair. Normally, she would have enjoyed this, but this time, the sun seemed hotter than usual.

So hot, that it seemed to almost be weighing down on her, with a physical pressure.

In fact, it was as if it was pressing down on her chest, harder and harder, causing her to lose her breath! The world began to spin around and around, and her head swimming in dizziness.

Before she knew it, she had fallen to the ground, her wings making a feathery trail in her wake. The sun's rays, which she had taken pleasure in at first, had now become agony. Closing her eyes, she felt the pressure keep on in its crescendo, causing her chest to tighten and inflame in pain, leaving her gasping for breath.

Suddenly, the sun's torturous pressure and heat relented. Opening her eyes once again cautiously, she saw that her body was being blocked from the sun, by a shadow...

It was the shadow of a man; his body covered hers in a dark silhouette against the punishing rays of the sun.

However, even with the mysterious man's body covering hers, the pressure didn't let up off her chest—in fact, it got worse. She put her hand on her chest, trying to catch her breath, but all she felt was fire, a pain that traced her entire body.

The man placed his hand upon hers, and moved it back to her side. With it, the fire stopped almost immediately! He put his hands on her chest, and with his simple touch, the pressure went away!

She knew she should feel repulsed and violated that a strange man would put his hands on her, but in all actuality, she felt relieved, even though the results of the heaviness still existed and she still couldn't breathe.

Who was this man, with the hands of angels?

Slowly, he leaned down towards her face. His breath felt like nirvana on her it, in comparison to the harsh heat of the simmering sun.

That's when this mysterious man, did something she never expected…

The man's lips touched hers, giving her such a sweet sensation that she thought was only possible of the divine.

As he kissed her, he seemed to breathe within her lungs his own breath, and with it, the oppressive rays of the sun left; a weight had been taken off, making her as free as a bird.

He sat up, but still leaned over her. His dark eyes looking in concern at first, but then sparkled with delight to know she was gazing into his.

When she saw his face, recognition struck; she smiled with joy and without inhibitions. It was the man of her dreams returned to her. The one whom she had first loved as a brother, and now—that love had turned into something more. Time apart had shown her this; the more time went by, the more it showed her she needed him.

She tried to reach up and touch his face, but he caught her hand in his own and pushed it back down. Still she could only beam with joy! "Fang…"

Fang smiled, pushing her hair out of her face lovingly. "Sorry chérie, that isn't my name."

Max looked up at him in confusion from that statement, of course he was Fang—wasn't he?

Then, as soon as she thought it, the haze-like state of the world she had found herself in, slowly began to dissipate; letting her know the truth that she had been denying all along—this was a dream, an illusion.

The field slowly melted away, to become a soggy, woodland forest ground. The seemingly endless blue sky, was now filled with the crowns of trees, and the sun disappeared behind them.

Fang's features slowly changed and morphed. His eye color became lighter, from dark, navy blue, to brown, to yellowish-gold. His face became thinner and sharper, more rugged and defined. His hair went up higher and longer, transforming into a ponytail, and then changing color, from dark black, to brown, to striking, radiant scarlet.

His clothes changed, his height changed; in only a few moments, he wasn't Fang anymore, but a stranger…

The young man that now kneeled beside her, was older, taller, and lean, with a constant look of charm on his handsome features.

Her distrust went up almost immediately. Jumping up, she flipped back away from him, ready to fight.

Pain immediately flew up her arms as well as her abdomen, almost making her double over in agony. Sparring a second to look down, she saw that her forearms were badly burned, and that her stomach had a huge gash in it. They were probably the result of her bad bomb experience; well that's about half a week out of commission.

But the wounds had been dressed with makeshift bandages. The wrappings themselves were made out off some sort of teal-colored cloth. These look as if they were made out of some sort of shirt or something; which brought her attention back to her "companion".

The man hadn't moved, and still sat knelling on the ground, a roguish smile on his lips.

She remembered those lips. She had thought they were Fang's. They were one of the more lasting memories of her dream. Had she really…?

The shock of what really happened finally came to her. Putting her fingers to her lips, she looked at the stranger. "D-did…did you…kiss me?"

The handsome stranger laughed enchantingly, responding with a voice heavenly laden with a thick Cajun accent. "Kiss you? I doubt I'd ever be that lucky. No chère, you were being deprived of oxygen, thanks to the smoke you inhaled from my bomb. I simply used what I had, to give you, a little resuscitation. It would be a real shame, if a grande belle like yourself, were to die."

His voice was like out of a southern storybook, dripping with debonair and desire. She found herself almost hypnotized by it, just as it seemed to be the effect of the rest of him. If one were to look into his cat-like eyes (which were obviously fakes! No regular human had eyes like that.), they'd be in his grasp in seconds…

Come on girl, get it together! She shook her head in an effort to get back to normal. This was simply greeted with another wave of pain.

"I wouldn't do that chère, you might have a slight concussion."

The stranger stood, and for the first time, she saw the man's full appearance. He was young, still a teen, but older than she. Dressed in only a pair of jeans and a black leather jacket, she saw that his chest was covered in scars; his neck was laced with a gothic-like black choker that was made out of a simple inch-wide stripe of black leather that shined like metal and linked by a buckle in the back. He had a track runner's physique, with apparent muscular strength. He was tall, taller than her by about a head. His very long, ultra-red hair was kept in an unkempt ponytail on top of his head, but the unruliness of it seemed to suit his handsome face well.

And oh, is he handsome! She didn't think she would ever meet a man she really thought of as gorgeous…that is, until today.

Alright Max, get your eyes off his face!

She decided to finally speak, but her voice, still in shock, came out in a jumble. "Where am I? What am I doing here? I-I mean—who are you?"

Putting his hands in his pocket, he walked towards her casually.

She instantly put her hands up defensively; no matter how much it hurt. She'd break this handsome guy's neck, if he came any closer.

"Stay where you are, Cajun." she commanded.

Yet, in spite of her warning, the stranger kept coming, looking straight into her eyes with his own magnetic ones. "In answer to your first question: you're in the Everglades, in the 100 acre property surrounding and owned by Itex Corp.; about a mile and a half away from their main complex."

He now had come within a hairsbreadth of her. Taking her by her elbows, above where she had been burned, he hoisted her up into a standing position, with much more speed, strength, and grace than she could possess.

"In answer to your second question: you're here, because I brought ya here. I rescued you and your sister, before you got blasted into tiny bits by my bombs. I maybe an arsonist, but I don't do murder."

With that, he moved her arms so that they came back down to her sides.

"And to your last question: my name. I have had many identities, but only one name."

With expert skill, he caught her chin in his hand and angled her head to face his. "My name's Derringer, chère, and Derrin to those who know me. And I must say, you're very pretty when you're serious—even more, than when you're unconscious."

She could only stare into his golden eyes, unable to tear herself away. Even as he bent down to kiss her bandaged hand, in the manner of southern beaux, she could not look away.

He let go of her hand and moved his own in front of her eyes. "I know I have a power over women, but don't you think you're taking it a little too far, chèrie?"

His words suddenly shook her out of her stupor, only to awaken a new fury. How dare he touch her?

Stepping away from him, she let the anger drip from her voice. "Derringer, huh? Who names their kid after a gun?"

With that she swung out swiftly with her leg, aiming to crush that irritant mouth of his! Only to find…that she only struck air!

A hand tapped her shoulder from behind. "Come now, chère. What type of talk is that? You're going to ruffle your pretty wings, Maximum."

How had he gotten behind her so fast? She hadn't even seen him move! On second thought, how does he know I have wings? How does he even know my name!

She whirled around, her fist ready to issue a roundhouse punch into that Cajun's face!

With speed she couldn't even begin to imagine, he grabbed hold of her wrist, stopping her attack in midair! "Now, if I wasn't a gentleman, I would ask you, 'Who names their kid after a power setting?', but—"

With ultra-swift arm movements and strength beyond measure, he shifted both her arms behind her back, holding them in place with one hand! Then moving his other hand in front of her waist, and careful of her wounds, jerked her hard towards him, pinning her and stopping all movement!

She struggled with all the strength she had, which would normally topple a normal human, but to this man, this Derringer…it seemed as if it was only child's play.

Their positioning now made them stand cheek to cheek with one another, and Max could not help but think of how vulnerable she'd be against this guy. With his strength and speed, he could easily take advantage of her, without thinking a second thought.

However, as if knowing what she was thinking, and in finishing his earlier statement, he simply commented, "—that's not my style."

Max, feeling his body so close to hers, she could feel his steady beating heart. It was much faster than normal—like her own…

"Look, how about we sit down and talk. I think we got off to bad start. You seem to know about me.—"

"Only what your sister told me." He interjected, before letting her go and sweeping his foot beneath her, causing her to plop automatically to the ground.

By the time she looked up, he was already seated casually in front of her, looking as relaxed and charming as ever.

She looked at him angrily, but he didn't change his look one bit. She decided to start, with the most important questions in her mind. "What have you done with Angel? What happened at Itex? And what were you doing there? Who are you?"

Derrin laughed lightly, "So many questions. I normally don't take kindly to interrogations, chère. However, for you, I'll make an exception, on the account that I think you're cute."

Her cheeks went red with irritation, and a little pleased. However she went on to say, "My name is Max, not chère."

He simply smiled back, "I know that, chère."

She gritted her teeth with frustration, "Are you going to answer my questions, or not?"

"I guess so…your pretty face, has convinced me." He responded.

She blushed even more.

"Answer to first question: I haven't done anything to petite Angel. She and her little talking dog, have went back to get your other brothers and sisters, while I watched you. Answer to second question: as to what happened at Itex, you haphazardly tried out your explosive skills, which I have to say are poorly lacking, and triggered my sabotage switch. This instantly set off the bomb you held, to explode, and also simultaneously triggered all my other bombs to jumpstart their detonation sequence, only allowing a space of a few minutes to escape. The triggered bomb, was attached to a GPS signal that told me where you were. When I found you, you were unconscious, and of course petite couldn't carry you out on her own. I carried you on my back, and her and the dog in my arms, saving all four of our lives. Itex blew all the way back to the bayou, and the little Ange went to find her siblings. I dressed your wounds with some of the herbs I could find, and then dressed them with pieces of my t-shirt. You went into arrest a little after that, and I had to give you mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and the rest is just history. To the third question, I already told you—my name's Derringer."

Max shook her head vehemently, "That's not what I meant! I mean, I know your name, but I –oh never mind!" There's no getting through to this guy, he's as mysterious as he is good-looking. Well that explains the forest and my dream; man would Fang and the others have a fit if they found out about that! I wonder if Iggy—

Then it struck her. "Wait a minute, that's the second time you said 'my bombs'. You set that place to blow?"

Derrin stretched his arms, "Actually, I said it three times, but who's counting? And the answer to your question is: yes."

She got up instantly, horrified. "Y-you killed all the people at that place?" Suddenly another thought came to her, with anger she could not contain; she pulled Derrin up violently by his jacket collar. "You killed my brother!"

Derringer easily brushed her hands away, but the smile had vanished from his lips. Suddenly very serious, he answered, "I remember also saying this before: I don't do murder. Why do you think I saved you and Angel? For my health? That place has been abandoned for weeks. I know, because I searched it myself, top to bottom. They just suddenly up and left, and the only things left there, were creatures who couldn't even be called protoplasm, much less I doubt, your brother. Death was a comfort to them, and the destruction of that building, was their vengeance. That building has far outlived its days of doing anything that was of any asset to the world. I make it my mission, to get rid of such of things. And before you ask, I checked any secret vaults and passages. I know about places like this; I've lived in them my whole life."

Max took a step back, in surprise. "You mean? Your eyes—they…"

Derrin flipped a strand of hair from his eyes, in which the vertical pupils widened slightly, and then shrank to tiny black slits in a golden sea. "Yes, they're real. I too am not, shall I say, 100 percent human."

Max shrank back rebuked; the shame filling her face. "I'm sorry, I didn't know."

She felt his hand lift her chin; leveling her face with his, she saw his grin had returned, as dashing as ever. "There's a lot you don't know about me, chère. But stick around, and you're bound to find out more."

The technician in the Observation Quarter sat tapping his pen absently. What was it with this kid? He'd been ordered to watch the experiment, but the bird-teen had yet to do anything remotely interesting. All he did was moan and toss in his sleep, and maybe scream once or twice. His bios had gone up and down, but nothing like when Dr. Batchelder had been there.

Stretching his arms, he leaned his chair back. Then, looking around, he got up and snuck off to get some coffee. He was sure the boy wouldn't do anything important while he as gone.

Behind the chair, a small button had been absentmindedly pushed. The button was labeled: Restraint Settings.

Down in his cell, Fang hung from his chains slightly awake. The smell of the IV fluid, mixed with that of rat droppings, and his own urine and feces, nauseating him. He no longer felt like eating anything, and he couldn't take that liquid food anymore. It seemed--likethe rest of him--his tastes were changing. It used to be, that at in a time like this, he could dream of eating a double cheeseburger with fries and a chocolate milkshake, and his mouth would water at the thought.

Now, he couldn't stand to think about it. It didn't faze or please him anymore. No…his tongue had a taste, a longing, for something else…something he couldn't quite understand.

Suddenly, the chains that held him to the wall, opened, dropping him to the ground without warning!

Suddenly very awake, Fang peered at the chains and his surroundings. Did I do this? Is it some kind of malfunction, or is Jeb trying to play some kind of game with me? Well, whatever. It's given me an opportunity, and I plan to take full advantage of it.

Walking over to the door he cased the setting. If he could release the tiny pins that held the hinges together, the door would come down with ease.

Looking at his hands, he stretched his fingers out.


The dark claws immediately popped out from his fingertips. He balled up his fists, and instead of the three-inch blades plunging into his skin, they shrunk back into his hands.

He did it again once or twice, while thinking. Hmm, retractable claws…interesting. I don't know where they came from, but I'm getting used to handling them. Now, to see how strong they are.

Wedging them into them into the door jam, and using them like pincers, he pulled at the pins.

He'd actually expected some resistance, but to his surprise, they pulled out easily in his hands! Had he gotten stronger too, or was it just his desperation to escape?

Who cares?

He pulled the other two pins out easily, and as he thought, the door simply fell with a loud clang. Well there goes my element of surprise.

Not wasting any time, he slipped out into the fully lit hallway. Another surprise, was that the light bothered him a lot. He knew there would be some temporary blindness after stepping out of a dark room you've been in for weeks, but this was full body irritation. He'd have to see about that after he got out of this place. The outside of his cell was very plain, the walls all seemed to be made of stainless steel, as well as the doors, which were far and in between.

He ran down the hallways, watching out for any guards, whitecoats, or Erasers, but he was lucky that they were probably all changing shifts; he didn't see a single one.

"Where do you think you're going, bird-boy?" a distorted, gravelly voice said from behind him.

Spoke too soon.

Turning around, he saw a single Eraser leaning against the wall, a smug smile on his face.

He hasn't morphed yet, and he's one of the ones without wings. Maybe I can take him.

"Don't even think about it." The Eraser said pleasantly, as if knowing his thoughts. He raised a gun which had been hidden by his side; it was a tranquilizer gun.

"Crap…" Fang said under his breath. He held his hands up in surrender. There was no way that in his condition, he could avoid those darts. He'd go to sleep, and then who knew what the wolf-man would do to his defenseless body.

That's when an enormous headache came, almost blanking out his brain. Suddenly, his mind was filled with rage and fury…one like he never knew existed. A frenzied bloodlust like never before!

With almost a force beyond his control, he felt his breathing become ragged and shallow. His claws automatically extended as far as they could go, while a red mist seemed to cloud his eyes. He didn't know why he all of a sudden, hated this Eraser so much, but this newfound loathing, seemed to fill all of his being…until it was almost as if he became hatred.

The Eraser, whose name was Raz, had been stuck down in the holding cells as a punishment, and the trial had been punishing enough. He had been bored to death with nothing but watching to do. But now, it was wonderful that this little bird boy had escaped; it was the first excitement he'd had! He'd love to tear his teeth into the teen's tender young neck, but he knew he would probably get worse than a reprimanding this time. But that didn't mean he couldn't have any fun.

That's when Raz saw the boy's claws, and his eyes become red. The savage revulsion within them, wasn't like anything he had ever seen before. Boy, is this thing a freak! As if he didn't look bad enough before.

Aiming his gun, he got ready to put this thing to sleep. "You're going back in your cage, freak."

The bird-boy replied in a low voice, "I maybe locked back up…but you won't be so lucky…"

Fang rushed at Raz, his claws flying! He'd folded to the rush of anger, and had thrown caution to the wind. It was all or nothing! The prey was becoming predator…

Shooting his gun, the darts hit their target…one…two…three…

Raz looked in surprise and panic as the darts, which had enough sedative to put down an elephant, didn't even slow the boy down!

Fang didn't even give the Eraser a chance to figure things out.

Before Raz could even morph or try to defend himself, he felt the razor-sharp claws tear into his body, with a ferocity that he couldn't imagine!

Then, Fang ripped into the Eraser's throat and pulled out his carotid artery, instantly killing him. The blood gushed everywhere, covering the floor, the lifeless body, and its slayer.

Standing over his slain opponent, Fang thought he should be feeling some kind of remorse, like he did in his dream, but somehow…all he felt was a sense of accomplishment and pleasure.

That's when he felt the taste in his mouth. It was the taste he'd longed for, but couldn't identify! Licking around his lips for more, he felt a ravenous appetite for it. He looked to see what it was, and when he saw, he didn't care. Licking the crimson liquid off his fingers and hands, he suddenly looked to the floor, his appetite growing larger and larger. It was like nothing he'd tasted before! A few weeks ago, his new craving would have been repulsive and disturbing, but now…it was like he lived for it!


He fell over as his body began to shut down. The tranquillizers had finally begun to take hold. The rage and anger and the strange lust for blood, went away. And with it, a sudden headache came rushing in, taking its place. Fang felt as if he had become two completely different people: one half was what he'd been all his life, and the other half...was becoming something else...something he feared. That side seemed to threaten to take over and drown out his other half--the side that was him.What he had done, abhorred him now. The changes in his appetite, sickened him.

What was he becoming?


The questions rang in his mind as he fell out on the ground, unconscious…

8. Amelioration?

Chapter 7

Dr. Anne Walker sat at her desk, having one of her bad days in the office.

"I don't care about your weapon, General! That's not my department." She argued.

What was it with those warmongers? You buy one thing from them, and they think they can walk all over you.

She absentmindedly listened to the voice on the other side, when a knock came to a door. What now?

Suddenly, the door burst open and Dr. Batchelder strode forcefully into her office, slamming a bunch of files onto her desk. His face looked like it could be etched in stone.

She knew that look, and she was glad for the excuse to hang up the phone.

Cutting the voice off, she said, "I'm sorry Kradd, I'll talk to you later. I've got some pressing matters on my hands."

Without anything else said, she unceremoniously hung up, giving a sigh of relief. "Thanks Jeb, those guys in Defense never know when to quit!"

"We need to talk, Anne." Jeb interjected. His tone and mood was so serious, that it instantly transferred to her.

"It's about the boy, isn't it?"

He nodded, pushing the files toward her. "These are the results of Fang's blood and DNA tests. I want you to look at them, and try to convince me that I shouldn't put him on SIG 5."

She looked up at him strangely, while opening the files and glancing over them. SIG 5? Was he crazy? They'd never done anything beyond SIG 3! SIG stood for Standard Investigative Graphing. It told how much testing and observation was needed for an experiment, as well as the strength of the conditions the experiment needed to be under. The higher the level, the more of a priority it became, and the more work was required, often for days at a time without rest.

Most experiments didn't go beyond SIG 1, like the Erasers. They had become pretty much standard, and did not need much attention. SIG 2 was for those in SIG 1, but had to have new procedures, like the fusing of other DNA into already developed cells, i.e. putting wings on a fully grown Eraser. SIG 3 had only been used for the bird-children, because they were constantly changing and evolving. They were constantly in different habitats, and needed constant observations and new variables thrust in their way.

SIG 4 had only been thought of in theory. That was for if the bird-kids began to act in some way they hadn't predicted. They would have to bring them back in permanently, and observe them constantly. That would be unfortunate however; they liked to observe their experiments in their own habitats…

But SIG 5? It hadn't even been thought of.

Jeb knew that SIG 5 was a big step, but he also knew these kids. This shouldn't be happening, and the speed at which it was doing it…was scaring him. With Fang's status on SIG 5, he'd be able to test and watch him better—for all the good it would do.

He watched Anne's face change slowly, from mild interest, to utter disbelief. She began to go through the files faster and faster, the shock covering her face. She spoke to him while she read.

"Why wasn't I notified?"

"I am notifying you. Now do you understand why he needs to be put on SIG 5?"

She continued to read, "I don't believe this. His blood, his cells, his genes… Are you sure there are no mistakes? The data's right? There wasn't any contamination? The machines aren't malfunctioning?"

He shook his head, "I took the samples myself, Anne. I've run the tests over and over again, in different chambers. There was no contamination. The machines have been checked five times, and no problems have been found. The results you're seeing are correct."

Anne nodded, knowing he was right. Still, this was too impossible.

According the blood test, not only was Fang no longer human, or even a bird-human hybrid, his blood was not on any of their files. This meant that his blood was unlike any other, on Earth!

His DNA tests were even more baffling. They said that Fang's DNA had not just changed, but was still in the process of changing! He was mutating into something, far faster than she had ever even hoped to see. It normally took them months to manipulate genes like that, and even longer to make them self replicate. Fang's body was doing it naturally, in minutes and hours rather than months and years!

"What do you think caused this sudden evolutionary jump?" She asked gravely, looking up at Jeb.

The man began to pace, thinking and talking at the same time. "I think it has to do with Project: FIFTY ONE."

Anne looked at him incredulously, "Jeb, you know as well as I do, that Project: FIFTY ONE was a catastrophe. Besides, Fang had nothing to do with it."

"But he was in Project: FIFTY ONE POINT TWO, their redo project." He quickly brought up.

"You know that was a dud! Nothing ever came of that! They said that the cells had—"

"'Completely neutralized the extraneous deoxyribonucleic acidic chains.' I know. But what if they weren't neutralized? What if they were just dormant?"

"Dormant?" She had to sit back at think about the mere idea.

He put both of his hand on her desk and looked straight at her, "Yes dormant, like a virus. And I think that it's been mixed in with Fang's genes, and non-functional, until something came, a catalyst, and awoke it into maturity."

This time she stood and began to pace, "A catalyst? But what?"

"My theory, is the blood transfusions." Jeb answered hesitantly.

Anne thought back to nearly a year ago, when Fang had gone to the hospital badly injured. (It had been a fiasco that had cost them quite a lot to cover up, and it had taken a whole lot of persuasion on Jeb's part, to convince her not to destroy Ari. In the end, the boy Eraser got away with a suspension.)

However, because Fang had lost so much blood, he'd needed a transfusion. And of course the only blood that could match his, belonged to his "siblings". Both Max and Iggy had given him over a quart of their own blood, mixing it with his. They matched because for the most part, they had the same genes. However…some parts of their genomial sequences were different.

They had been manipulated that way, so that each of the bird-children could develop unique abilities that could complement their group as a whole. Some examples were Angel's telepathy, Max's supersonic flying speed, and Nudge's empathic touch. When Fang's blood, mixed with that of his siblings, so did there genes…Would that be enough to—?

She looked up at Jeb, "Tell me your full theory."

Breathing a sigh of exasperation, Jeb sat down in the chair in front of her desk. Running his hand through his unruly brown hair, he started. "Okay, let's just say that Fang's extra genes weren't eradicated, but dormant. When his blood mixed with that of Max and Iggy, their individual genes acted as catalysts and 'awoke' his dormant genes. Now that they're 'awake', these new genes are going throughout his body at breakneck speeds, reconfiguring his cells to their original blueprints."

Anne could only look at him stupefied, "But that's impossible! A body would break down at that type of gene manipulation!"

"A normal human body, yes." He answered back. "But Fang's not normal, and his regeneration ability is amazing. He probably didn't even notice it. To him, it would feel like no more than periods of harsh headaches and soaring fevers. His body's fighting a losing battle."

She looked at the floor, digesting his words. "Do you think he'll survive?"

He sighed, "Maybe…I don't have enough info yet. My thing is, even if he does survive, will his mind? This transformation is affecting both his body and brain cells."

Anne tapped her pen for a few minutes thinking. They had brought Fang in because he'd started exhibiting strange behavior. The Erasers assigned to watch them, had noticed that he was getting sicker and sicker. The flock hadn't noticed, because Fang had been good at hiding it; but not good enough for her reconnaissance team. They had brought him in initially to see if it was his operation that was making him that way. However, they had found it was something else…

Putting the pen down, Anne got up, making up her mind.

Jeb watched her put on her lab coat. "Where are we going?"

"To take a look at him, I'll make up my mind then, if—"

Suddenly, just as she was about to reach for the handle, there was a loud knock to the door. Opening it, one of the black ops guards stepped in saluting her. "Dr. Walker,"

He turned and also saluted Jeb, "Dr. Batchelder", before going back to Anne.

"Ma'am, we had a situation."

Sighing in response, she asked. "What now?"

"Well, Experiment F1506, well…he escaped, ma'am."

Both Jeb and Anne got in the man's face. "He escaped!"

Anne collapsed into the chair that Jeb had just vacated. "Oh, this just gets better and better!"

The blond man continued to storm on. "I had a man watching Fang! What happened? For the love of—I just don't see what it is about the incompetence in this place!"

Jeb finally plopped against the wall, running his hands over his face in frustration.

The guard continued to stand there, slightly uncomfortable. "Umm, Sir…"

Anne interrupted him, "Don't waste time with excuses. Get a ten-man group set up. Take a few Erasers with you. I want Fang found, and I want him found yesterday."

The guard stepped forward, "But, ma'am—"

The woman glared at him, her voice dripping venom. "Are you still here?"

"That's what I'm trying to tell ya, ma'am! The situation is contained."

Jeb put a hand on the guard's shoulder. "You're telling me you've already captured Fang? Man, that boy must be worst off than I thought."

"Where is the boy now?" Anne asked.

"Back in his cell unconscious, ma'am. The restraints had been released on accident. The tech guy…um…sat on a button." The guard answered with slight embarrassment.

"Tell him to not even bother packing his things—" Jeb relayed from his corner.

"—just get out." Anne finished up the sentence.

"Yes sir and ma'am. Well, I'd better get back, their still cleaning up down there."

Jeb nodded then asked, "From what?"

The guard kind of seemed reluctant to face him. "Well, an Eraser was the one who took down the boy, and—"

Anne hit her forehead in frustration. "Don't tell me! It was Raz again? Jeb, I told you that one should be put down."

The man sighed, "Maybe so, I was trying to wait a little longer since his expiration date is coming up."

Jeb turned to the guard. "How much harm did Raz do to the boy?"

The man shrugged, "Nothing, he just shot him with some tranquilizers; without them, he'd have probably escaped."

Both Jeb and Anne peered at him strangely. Jeb was the one who finally asked the question. "So what did Raz do, exactly?"

The guard shivered slightly, remembering what he saw. "It's not the Eraser, it's what the boy, that freak, did."

Anne looked at Jeb, who's face was as concerned as her own. She turned back to the guard. "Take us down there."

Jeb could smell the blood way before they had even come to the scene. There was a way how death could permeate walls, even that of stainless steel. He glanced at Anne and could see she was wrinkling her nose at the smell.

The two walked down the hall, guided by the guard (even though they knew the ins and outs of the whole compound, like the back of their own hands). When the finally came upon the corridor, it hardly looked as if a battle had taken place. The custodial staff had done wonders, and were basically just mopping up. However, he could notice that the bucket of water was now colored a deep red.

The guard led them to a gurney table and without further ado, lifted the cover from the lifeless corpse that lay upon it.

They both gasped reflexively…

Jeb's hand trembled slightly as he ran his fingers along the ragged gashes that ran along the dead Eraser's body. The slashes looked deep and tattered, as if done by a wild animal, and the killing blow…well, he didn't even want to look at that, he was planning on having lunch this week.

Anne had already turned away, "Take us to the boy."

The guard nodded and led the way to Fang's cell. As Jeb entered, he was aware that what he saw might surprise him, but he was still unprepared at what he found.

Anne whispered to him, "You didn't tell me he had changed physically."

"He hadn't last time I was here." He responded.

Now that he was in the light, Jeb could see that Fang had changed a lot during the in the last 36 hours. His hair was longer than before, going from shoulder length, to his chest. It had gone from jet black, to having strands of dark silver shining through it. His skin color was changing as well. It had gone from its usual pale, fleshy color, to a dreary shade of grey. His wings, which were peeking out from behind his back, had been as black as night. Now, the top feathers near the bone, seemed to gleam somewhat, as if a liquid covered them.

Curious, Anne went up to touch them. Pulling her hand back suddenly, she gasped in pain.

Jeb took a hold of her hand and looked at it. Her entire forefinger was slit with a thin but long cut; blood was pooling from it and dripping on the floor.

She whipped out a kerchief from her pocket and wrapped her finger, sucking in the pain as she tied it tight. "His feathers cut me!"

Taking out his penlight, Jeb began to examine them. He creased his brow, perplexed. His feathers are shining even more when I put the light on them. They seem to have more solidarity to them too, almost as if…

He tapped the flashlight edge on a feather, this resulting in a faint, but audible tinkling sound.

Suddenly he began laughing, amused that his hypothesis, as crazy as it was, was probably right.

Anne looked at his strangely, "What's so funny? I fail to see it."

He smiled at her, trying to control his laughter, "His feathers—they—they're turning—they're turning into metal!"

"Metal? Oh, come on now!" she scoffed at him.

He became serious again, "I'm almost sure of it. You can tell as the two clanged against each. I knew his molecular structure was changing, but not to this degree…"

Taking the light, he began to examine the boy further. Looking into Fang's eyes, the light made the boy's pupils contract. He made a small grunt of mild surprise, when he saw that his pupils didn't get smaller, but thinner, elongating themselves. Hmm, elliptical eyes…

Looking into his mouth, he immediately noted the overgrown canines. "Fang has fangs."

Anne took a look as well. "I've heard of people taking after their name, but that's going overboard."

Jeb nodded, and then looked down intently. Something had caught his eye.

Taking Fang's hand, he peered at it closely. His fingernails looked strange, and a dark brownish-red substance was underneath them. What is this? Blood?

He picked up the hand to examine it closer, incidentally pushing down on the boy's knuckles.


Jeb jumped in surprise, as the large claws shot out from Fang's fingertips. "Wow, didn't see that one coming."

Retractable claws? Interesting…I wonder if—

He suddenly stopped; looking at the claws and the blood underneath it, he suddenly put two and two together. Those marks on Raz's body…Fang's new set of nails…they matched perfectly.

Anne too had seen them, and came to the same conclusion. "Well this put's a new light on everything."

She headed out the door, already thinking of the phone calls she had to make. But before she left, she turned back around to Jeb, who looked back at her solemnly. She said, "I'll send some men down here to transport him. Get your team together, you've got your SIG 5."

9. Alluring Ally

Chapter 8

Max tried her best to strike the flint and get the fire going. What a time to be out of matches.

It was late afternoon, and she knew it would be impractical to keep traveling. She was injured, and the others would soon be coming with Angel. After she had finished explaining everything, it would be twilight.

She hated to think of leaving Fang for another night with those people, if you wanted to call them "people". But, the thing was, she had no idea where to find him! Itex had really been her only lead, and she had no other ideas. What was she going to tell the others? Where would they go now?

Just think of one thing at a time. After she got this fire started, she had to fly off and find some food. Man, if this thing would just—!

The frustration she felt towards their situation began to show outwardly as she violently pushed the metal against the rock. Suddenly, the metal slipped and cut into her unprotected finger!

Dropping the tools, she hugged her hand to her as the pain shot through it. Pulling it out again after a few seconds, she gazed at the long bleeding gash that ran along her right index finger.

Suddenly, another hand took hers in its palm and began to wrap her finger with another strip of teal cloth. "You know, I respect a woman whose independent, and can do what they got to do without a second thought."

Max looked into Derrin's eyes as he continued. "But, I respect her even more, if she knows…when to ask for help."

Finished tying the bandage, he reached into his own pocket and pulled out a small metal lighter. With one sharp flick and a snap, a fire instantly started on the wood and leaf pile. Snapping the lighter lid shut again, he slipped it back into his pocket.

Max looked at him vehemently, "Why didn't you say you had a lighter? You saw what I was doing!"

He shrugged, "Yes, I did. However, if I remember correctly, you denied my help—and I don't go where I'm not wanted."

"Then why did you help me now?" she asked, aggravated.

"You got hurt, chère. The circumstances changed." He answered charmingly.

Max breathed out hotly, completely annoyed. Why couldn't she ever get the last word with this guy?

Standing up and stretching out her back, she pushed out her wings, flexing them out of their stiffness. She could see Derringer watching her with admiration, out the corner of her eye.

She didn't know why, maybe it was the fact that he had saved her life, or maybe it was because she couldn't help being attracted to him. But either way, her instincts told her to trust him.

"Watch the fire and make sure it doesn't go out. Tell the other's when they come, that I'll be back, I just went to get dinner."

Before she could lift off, she felt his hand on her shoulder. Turning around, she faced him, "What now?"

He looked at her with concern, "You're hurt and tired, chère. You have no money, and you look like you've just come out of the bayou."

"And your point is?" she asked jadedly.

"You stay, and I go." He offered.

She waved his hand off, "I'm fine; I'll get by."

She moved to turn and fly off, when suddenly his fingers came up and pushed lightly on two points on the back of her neck! Rapidly, all feeling in her body left, and she dropped to the ground like a stone! She was paralyzed!

Derringer picked her up in his arms and carried her back over to the tree, near the fireside. "That wasn't a request, chère."

If she could, she'd have punched the Cajun out cold! But for now, all she could do was lay limp, all of her nerves shut down. She couldn't even move her eyes or lips, for Pete's sake!

Laying her down into a sitting position, Derrin smiled sympathetically. "The paralysis will wear off in about three to five minutes. It's nothin' permanent; I just pinched some nerves in your neck that affects all external movement. Just enjoy your rest, and let me take care of you."

Standing up and putting on a pair of reflective glasses from out of his pockets, he smiled and saluted her. Then, turning his back to her, for one second he was there, and the next he was gone! Only a trail of trampled mulch and kicked up dust, told of the path he had taken.

It was her turn to look in admiration. She knew he was fast, but seeing him with her own eyes was different. He became just a blur of black, red, and blue; his feet seemed as if they didn't even touch the ground.

True to his word, the feeling started to come back to her body. First her face, hands, and fingers, and then to her arms. As she began flexing her limbs, she reflected on the situation. Derrin was right in a way. Put on a pair of sunglasses, and he looked just as normal as everyone else. Especially in comparison with her, he was unhurt, was not even half as dirty, and not to mention…no wings! He was streetwise and seemed to know what he was doing.

It did enter her mind that he might not come back at all. He didn't have any ties to her and the flock. He had no reason to ever see her again. He had ran into her life with supersonic speeds, and could run out just as fast.

However, for feelings and instincts beyond her control, she trusted him; almost completely!


Looking up, she smiled brightly at the bearer of the voice.

From the opening in the trees against the field of darkening blue sky, Nudge swirled down to the ground, landing near the campfire. Gasman, Angel and Iggy lit down behind her.

Nudge popped over and hugged her on the spot. "Oh Max! Don't scare us like that again! I was so worried; I thought something had happened to you. I mean, I was working on finding a car, like you told me to, and that's when I heard the explosion and I thought—well I'm just glad you're okay."

Gazzy came over and hugged her as well; she ruffled his blond hair in response. He smiled tears rimming his eyes, "Well, I think Nudge about said all there was to say. I'm glad you're okay too. We had no idea what to do, when we saw the explosion. Losing Fang, then you and Angel? It would have been too much!"

Nudge joined in, loving for a chance to talk. "But then, Angel came and found us, and me and Gasman thought she was, like, a ghost. But Iggy knew, he knew she was the real thing! I don't know how or nothing, but it's like, he can tell between a fake and the real thing or something. But anyway, she came and told us that—"

Iggy cut them off, "Come on guys, you can see she's tired and wounded. Why don't you go and get some more firewood, the fire's getting low."

The two could take a hint, and immediately flew off into the forest. Max smiled at the blind boy as he sat down beside her. "I enjoyed them. It was okay, I've been through worse."

Iggy's tone was serious as he spoke, "Don't ever do that to me again, Max. I really thought we had lost you."

As she listened to him, she was suddenly aware of how much Iggy had been affected by her "death". She realized, how much he valued the flock, the only family he ever had. That his greatest fear, was being alone—alone in the darkness.

"Don't worry Ig, I won't. However, even if something did happen to me, I'm sure you'd be a great leader. You've got what it takes."

Iggy chuckled dryly, "Yeah, sure Max. And give new meaning to 'the blind leading the blind'."

Max sighed, he just wouldn't believe that he had what it took. How was she to get to him?

Angel sat down in front of the two. "Max?"

They looked at her for the first time, realizing she was still there.

"Hey Ange, where's Total?" Max asked, realizing that the little talking dog was nowhere to be seen.

"He went to the bathroom." She answered simply.

"Oh, and are you okay, hon? I haven't gotten to check on you yet." Max asked in concern.

Iggy answered for the little girl, "She's fine as far as we can tell. You protected her pretty well, according to what Angel told us. By the way, where's this guy Angel was talking about?"

"Yeah, what'd Ange call him? 'Daring Jerk'?" said Gazzy's amused voice, as he and Nudge both flew in carrying firewood.

Angel retorted, "I just can't pronounce his name, that's all."

Max laughed, "You did all right Ange, that's exactly what he is."

"Ange told us he was a really nice guy. Did she really exaggerate that much?" Iggy asked, surprised.

Shrugging, she answered, "Well, no…I mean, he is a nice guy, it's just that—"

Nudge sat down, "So you're saying you don't trust him?"

"No, it's just that—"

"Did he harm you?" Iggy asked.

"No! He's very kind, I just—"

"He abandoned you?" Gaz suggested.

"I don't think—"

A new voice cut her off this time. "She's just dazzled by my charm, that's all."

All five turned to face the stranger, who against all odds, had evaded all of their senses and snuck up behind them.

Max watched as Derringer walked toward them, a huge, square, red container slung over on his back. Flipping it off with one hand, he chucked it onto the ground with a thud. Man, that thing must have been heavy. I wonder what's in it.

She watched as the others (except for Angel), adopted blank faces and scooted closer to her, making a little huddle.

Derringer of course, didn't miss anything. Scratching his head, he smiled and shrugged. "Well chère, I can just sit over there. I didn't mean to frighten them or anything."

"I'm not scared of you. I like you." Angel said, floating over lightly on her wings, then sitting down lightly next to the redhead.

Gazzy seemed to be moving to get Angel to come back, but Max put her hand on his shoulder, stopping him. "It's alright Gaz."

She stood up and walked toward him. He too got up and faced her. The two just stood there, watching each other, a light smile on both their lips.

Iggy couldn't see what was happening, but even he could feel the thick connection between the two. It wasn't unfriendly, but more like it was a connection between rivals or challengers.

Nudge and Gasman watched as the two seemed to communicate with their eyes. Suddenly, so fast they could hardly see it move, Max swung her hand to slap the stranger! But even more rapidly, the stranger's hand reached up and caught her wrist in midair!

The smiles however, had not left either's face. The stranger spoke first, "Now what was that for?"

Max answered in kind, "For that last little stunt you pulled, before you raced out of here like Speedy Gonzalez."

"I was only lookin' out for you chère. Don't you trust me?" he retorted captivatingly.

The kids watched as the two gazed eye to eye, each looking as if to kill, yet kiss, the other. Max suddenly aimed a low kick at the other's leg! For once he seemed surprised, as his legs were kicked from under him! Max commenced to laughing in hysterics, completely happy for what seemed like a long time.

The stranger was startled and smiled up at her—right as he scissored his legs, knocking her to the ground!

Both sat there, looking at each other with playful ferocity…then burst out laughing with their own brand of inside joke.

Their happiness somehow past around to everyone else, and they all ended up laughing, the ice broken. If Max trusted this stranger, and she was the most suspicious one of them all, then there was no reason why they couldn't a least say hi.

Max stopped laughing enough to introduce the rest of her siblings. "D-Derrin, you know Angel already, right?" she pointed out the shining blonde.

Derringer picked up the little girl in his arms and held up her chin, "Who could forget you, petite?"

Gazzy stood behind her, instantly protective. "She's my little sister."

Derrin put her down and stood looking at the guy with an unchallenging smile, "And what your name, mon ami?"

Max answered for him, too tired out to get up, "That's…um…Gasman. We call him Gaz or Gazzy."

Derrin smiled even more, striking up a friendly attitude. Putting out his fist, he said, "Nice to meet you, Gazè."

Gaz didn't know the guy at all, had been a little intimidated that Angel was so friendly with him. But he instantly put it aside, finding himself liking the guy's persona, and the way he pronounced his name.

Hitting his offered fist with his own, he laughed in amusement. "You too, and I like your accent."

Max pushed Nudge forward, who was hiding behind her. "Come on, you know you're the most talkative of us all."

Turning to Derrin, she announced, "This is Nudge. She's not usually this shy."

The young Cajun bent down slightly to get to her height. He spoke gently but lightly "You've got no reason to be afraid of me, ma fille. You're a little to young to be my type."

Nudge laughed instantly at his joke, and immediately all the timidity went away. "Like, Angel said your name was 'Daring Jerk', but I don't think you're a jerk at all. You're funny and I like you. Where do you come from? Why do you wear sunglasses at night? Are you blind, or do you have, like, an aversion to sunlight? Are you, like—"

Iggy got up and put a stern hand on her shoulder, before thrusting his other forward. "By the time Nudge finishes talking, and Max gets to me, we'll all be old. I'm Iggy."

Now Iggy knew what it was that Max couldn't quite get out. She was fustrated and bewildered by him. It was very rare that someone could stand up and hold their ground against Max's dominant persona. However, this stranger did all that, and never backed down. In fact, He kind of enjoyed it!

The other man looked over the slightly younger boy. For some odd reason, he felt a connection to the young blind teen. A sense of déjà vu, that he'd seen this boy's spirit before…in his past self.

He shook Iggy's hand heartily, their touch lingering slightly. "I've heard about you from your little sister, petite ange. I find you quite fascinating, mon frére."

Iggy merely nodded in response. He was slightly perplexed by the stranger himself. Here was a man he'd never met in his life, yet for some odd reason, he felt a link, a tether line, between himself and the stranger, a feeling of camaraderie that wouldn't go away no matter what rational he put on it.

Max could see it too, but put it out of head almost immediately, putting it with all the other strange thoughts of the day. Standing herself, she put a hand on the Cajun's shoulder. "Everyone, his name is not 'Daring Jerk', this is Derringer."

He nodded, "Just like the gun. However, if that's too much, you can call me Derrin."

Max nodded, "So, Cajun—were you able to…"

Taking off his glasses, he flashed his golden eyes in her direction. Winking at her, he said swaggeringly, "I said I would, chère…and I always keep my promises."

The others noticed his cat like eyes, but most were too hungry to give it a lot of thought.

"Hey Max, you got some food? I'll take anything." Gaz moaned.

Derringer answered him, "I took the liberty mon ami. Call it a first-meeting gift."

The kids all looked anxiously at the big red bag as Derrin pulled it over. Iggy and Max sat on the side by the tree, both thinking the same thing, I hope he brought enough…

Opening the box, the immediate, aromatic smell of pizza wafted up, awakening everyone's senses.

"Look, I didn't know what you wanted, so—I got two of everything."

He stacked at least sixteen extra large boxes before them. Each, was the most beautiful they'd ever seen.

"Bon appetit, les enfants."

They didn't have to understand his language to get the message.

The kids automatically dug in, famished. Their manipulated genes caused their metabolisms to be twice that of a normal male adult. In other words, they needed to eat A LOT.

Derrin smiled and snatched up the bag, going over to join the other two teens by the tree. Crashing right next to Max, he flipped a box of pizza onto her lap. "Did I do alright, chère?"

She opened the box and passed a slice of pepperoni to Iggy. "How did you get all this?"

Getting another box out of the bag, he answered nonchalantly, "The normal way, chère. I paid for it."

She looked at him peculiarly, but she doubted she'd get anymore out of him. However, she began to look at him even more queerly as he began downing the extra-large supreme pizza, like he'd never eat again! It took him all of two minutes to finish the whole thing! It wasn't gross or anything; he ate with not only the same speed as when he ran, but the same grace and finesse.

But as soon as the question entered her head she understood. To go at his speed, his body burned up calories really, really fast. His metabolism had to be at least five times their own. To offset the imbalance, Derringer needed to eat a lot more regularly than even them. His body had to take at least ten times the normal amount of food as someone his age. And the funny thing was, like them, he would never get fat. Talk about having the ultimate weight loss experience: eat all you want and never gain a pound.

Derrin pulled out another box from what seemed like the bottomless bag, and began chowing down on the next one. "So, do I have to wait all night, or are you going to explain this thing with Itex?"

All the kids stopped, not sure to trust this newfound friend with their inner troubles. Iggy immediately began thinking up some tale in order to tell Derrin about why they were at Itex, but to his surprise, it was Max who started speaking.

"We went there to find our brother, Fang." She admitted.

"Max!" Iggy retorted.

She smiled placatingly at him, "Its okay, Ig."

Going on, she said, "Fang is little younger than me, but older than Iggy. More than a week ago, he was captured by some Erasers, and we've been searching for him ever since."

She expected him to be asking her what Erasers were, but he simply nodded telling her to go on.

"You know about Erasers?"

He nodded, while continuing to eat. "Who doesn't? Modern-day, scientifically-created, werewolves—right?"

Iggy joined in, "Yeah, except they can morph in the day as well as the night. How do you know about them?"

Derrin bit into another slice of pizza, "I've seen them before."

Max cut Iggy off before he could say anything else. "Anyway, the only place we thought to look for him was Itex, since the School's been abandoned. But know that that's been abandoned too…"

"You don't know where to turn." He finished up for her.

The others sat there, feeling the weight of his statement, and what that would mean. Where were they to look now?

Derringer tossed aside his third pizza box, and leaned against the tree in rest. "You guys better get some sleep. We've got some traveling to do tomorrow."

Max looked up at him, "What do you mean?"

He got up and began clearing away the trash, placing it in the fire for fuel, "I know a place where we can find out, where your brother is."

Everyone asked the question at once, "WHERE?"

He laughed charmingly at their eagerness, "You'll find out tomorrow. Now, Time For Bed!"

Everyone began to settle down, though tonight they didn't knock their fist together like usual. It hadn't felt right without Fang, and so, they decided they would wait until they were all back together.

Derringer used his jacket to tuck Angel and Celeste in. Total snuggled next to her, exhausted and already asleep.

He smiled at her, "Go to sleep you little mind reader."

She looked at him surprised, "How did you know I could read your mind?"

"I've met people like you before; I can recognize the tingle in my head. Now, do you want me to sing you a lullaby?"

"A lullaby?"

He looked at her in shock, "You've never heard a lullaby before?"

She shook her head.

He smiled gently, "Well then, I'm happy to oblige, petite."

Max had heard him as she and Iggy watched over the group from next to the tree. She giggled to herself, now this she had to hear.

Derrin smiled, the perfect song coming to mind. He sang gently:

A gentle breeze from Hushabye Mountain
Softly blows o'er Lullaby Bay
It fills the sails of boats that are waiting
Waiting to sail your worries away.

Max listened enraptured, and she could see that everyone else was too. They had never heard such a melodious voice before! He was amazing! His voice swirled around the lyrics, like a magic scent on the wind. His accent wound lightly through the song, giving it an air of mystique and delicate romantic touches. It was enchantingly charming like the rest of him…

It isn't far to Hushabye Mountain
And your boat waits down by the key
The winds of night so softly are sighing
Soon they will fly your troubles to sea

So close your eyes on Hushabye Mountain
Wave goodbye to cares of the day
And watch your boat from Hushabye Mountain
Sail far away from Lullaby Bay.

Max had but to look around, to see that Derringer's song had ensnared everyone. Angel, Gasman, Nudge, and even Iggy, had dropped off to sleep.

Derrin kissed Angel on the cheek, then rose and joined Max by the tree. She smiled at him gratefully, "I think you made a great impression on them."

He nodded in response. "And what about you, chère? Did you like it?"

She nodded, but her smile dropped a little, "Derringer, do you really know where to find Fang?"

He shook his head, "I've never seen you're brother, but if he's like you and me, I know where to find info about him. Just trust me, chère."

He leaned next to her, putting his arm slowly around her.

She flinched at first, not used to the intimate closeness. But, as she felt the touch of his warm, bare side against her, she began to enjoy it.

"Why do you stay with us, Derrin? You hardly know us…yet you're going out of your way to help us. Why?"

He shrugged, "I'm like the wind, chère. I go where I want, when I want…and I stay when I want, where I want, for as long as I want. I have a choice, and I chose to stay."

Suddenly, his eyes had a faraway, sad look within them. He said softly, "It wasn't always that way…"

She looked up at him, "What?"

The sadness abruptly went away, and the gallant veneer came back on. "Nothing to worry yourself about, chère. Go to sleep, I'll watch over everything."

She was about to protest, when he began to hum his lullaby again. It was so soothing; she could feel her tired, injured body succumbing to it. She didn't even resist, when he leaned her head on his shoulder. His strong presence by her side, gave her reassurance that everything would be alright…


Jeb sat at his desk going over his files. They had already moved Fang and were finishing setting up before he came down. He was almost ready to begin the tests; he just had some things to take care of.

A knock came to his door. Well speak of the devil…

"Come in."

The figure entered and proceeded to lean against the wall in the shadows, arms crossed in expectation.

Jeb didn't have time to talk long. Keeping to his previous work, he talked as fast but as stern as he could, "Anne says I can do what I want, now that Fang's been moved to SIG 5. So, I'm reactivating you out of your suspension status. I have my mind on other things so I'm only going to have time to talk to you once. Fang needs help, and I must look after him."

A low growl came out of the gloom.

"Shut up." The man answered with a touch of finality and rebuke. The figure immediately closed his mouth.

Jeb continued, "I know the flock's going to come after him. There have already been reports of them at the abandoned Florida base."

The hidden form nodded in agreement.

Gathering up his files, Jeb stood up. "Right now, Fang is the priority. Make sure the flock doesn't get in the way."

Pausing a little, he added, "You're asking yourself 'How?', right?"

The figure nodded again.

Gathering up the rest of his equipment, Jeb answered, "It's the same 'cut off the head' game. Max is the leader. Without her, Fang is usually a good replacement. But with both of them gone, the flock is as good as lost."

Speaking out from the darkness, the figure asked, "What about the blind kid?"

Jeb laughed lightly, "Iggy? No, he's too overcome by his disability to think of himself as a leader. He doesn't have what it takes, and will never have the courage to take charge."

"So what's the assignment?"

"You remember what we talked about last year?"

A smile slowly formed on hidden lips, "You want me to do it now?"

Jeb looked squarely into the other's eyes through the darkness, "She refused you last time, but I need her out of the way for now. Do what you have to do, and I trust you to even put together your own team."

"Can I do what I want with her?" the figure asked hesitantly.

The doctor stopped and shook his head in amusement as the real meaning registered. "You are one sadistic son-of-a-gun aren't you?"

He then went to open the door, "You can do what you want. I just want the flock broken up, and her still alive when this is all over."

Stopping again to think about it, he commented in conjecture, "This might be an interesting experiment all around."

But snapping back to the matters at hand, he headed out. Only to stop once again slightly, to give his last instructions; making sure they were understood. "I don't want her dead, is that clear?"

Not even waiting for an answer, Jeb rushed out, slamming the door behind him.

The figure's hand reached from out of the darkness and turned off the desk lamp. So, you finally trust me… That's all I needed. And I'll do anything to keep it…I'll even obey your one rule…

Ari smiled, his fangs leering in the darkness. "As clear as crystal, Father…as clear as crystal."


Author's Note: If you see a line of 'o's it's because the seperation line button won't work for some reason. So, just treat it as a line. Also, for anyone who wants the melody for Derringer's lullaby, I'll send it to you. Give me your email address in your review, and i'll send you the mp3.

10. Let's Play Rough

Chapter 9

Jeb turned a few switches and gazed at the electronic data panel. The tech had already told him what the vitals were, but after the last escapade, he wanted to make sure himself…He wasn't going to take a chance on the boy this time.

In front of him and all the control panels, was a giant glass cylinder tank, filled to the top with lime-green colored saline fluid. Floating in the midst of the liquid, was the unconscious Fang… His dark hair drifted around him, and his limbs moved slowly suspended, flowing with the saline's inner current.

They had stripped him of his old, soiled clothes, and washed him down with a hose. He had been glad, but not surprised to find, that when he removed Fang's bandage, his gunshot wound was completely gone.

Dressing him in a swimmer's bodyskin suit, which would be apropos in the observation tank. The weightlessness of the liquid, caused his wings to automatically fully extend; onto which they had added electronic sensors to the tips. His wrists and ankles were banded with receptor shackles; they were linked to the electronic cables that went into the tank's floor and outside into their computers, where they could analyze the data.

A sudden beeping came to one of the monitors. Knowing full well what it meant, Jeb looked up at the tank, and watched as Fang's eyes began to flutter as he came awake. At first, the boy looked around slightly disoriented, trying to catch his bearings. Then, his eyes settled on Batchelder, and they were suddenly fixed with a glare that could freeze lava.

"Hello, Fang." Jeb greeted nonchalantly, knowing the teen could hear him perfectly, with the help of the microphone clipped to his collar.

Fang said nothing in return but just kept his cold stare.

Jeb kept recording information as he talked. "I'm going to be frank with you now, Fang. We've brought you here because—your DNA, your entire body is changing down to the subatomic level."

Fang's eyes flickered in surprise, a shadow of disbelief crossing his face. What was Jeb talking about now?

His mind seemed to answer him back, Maybe…about the strange behavior you've been experiencing lately?

He rebuked his own mind. He'd been right to kill that Eraser! He knew the other wouldn't have even thought twice, if the positions were reversed.

But what about drinking his—?

Fang stopped himself right there, before things got too out of hand.

Jeb observed his behavior as he continued, "Know, I couldn't predict the symptoms of your mutation from where you were, and in light of your last little fiasco, we've had you moved to a more secure location. Here we can observe you better and you'll get the best round-the-clock care."

Fang laughed from behind the mask. The boy's mouth and nose were covered by a breathing mask that's long tube ran through the tank's ceiling, but a microphone had also been added. "That was funny, Jeb. I almost laughed. No wait—I did."

Something in Jeb began to crack. It had been a long day, and he had had to do so much in a very short time. Getting his team together, overseeing and rechecking the diagnostic pre-workup tests, dealing with Ari…it was a major work-out and stress on his body. And now, to deal with this snippy teenage experiment, to which he was trying his best to keep stable…his patience, was getting thinner and thinner.

This time when he spoke, his voice held an infuriated clipped element about it, one of irritation and short temperedness. "Look Fang, I don't care what you think anymore, got it? You can think I'm trying to help you, you can believe I'm trying to kill you, I don't care!"

Fang looked at the doctor with interest. He'd never experienced this side of Jeb before—it was fascinating…

Jeb continued, his anger rising, but his face remaining carefully placid. "I've let you and the rest of the flock slip by many times, to test your skills. But now's not one of those times. You killed an Eraser, Fang! A full-grown Eraser! You're a danger to yourself and others now, there's no way I can let you go—not now, maybe not ever…"

Now it was Fang's turn to get mad. Let me go? Let me escape? He must be out of his freakin' mind!

'Kill him…'

Fang shook his head quickly. Whoa, where did that thought come from? As much as he hated Jeb, he didn't think he could kill another human being. An Eraser was one thing, but humans?

'What's the difference? They all want to kill you…show him who you are…'

The teen smiled, agreeing with the inner voice that he had come to call "Blade"; after the fact that he could hear it, like a blade cutting through his head. It was the same voice as his own, but held a darkness that he'd never felt before. A darkness which had been born out of his own mind. He knew that he and Blade were one and the same, but until he understood the Blade-side of him more, he'd refer to him as an independent entity.

Usually, he and Blade were at odds with one another. Fang, the restraint, on an ever strengthening, and lethal Blade. However, it seemed that in times of intense emotional response, his restraints would slip and Blade would become more dominant. This is what happened, when he'd killed the Eraser.

What scared him, was that one day…Blade would have more control then he, and maybe—just maybe—take over, permanently...

However, right now, he didn't think about any of that. This time, they agreed.

He pulled on the shackles holding him in the tank and pushed the water with his wings. The manacles pulled his body taunt, but the water made it tolerable. He found the bonds were also stronger than he had expected, there was no slack at all, and his arms and legs soon ached. However his wings could move freely, and their tips could easily hit the glass. He began to beat the glass repeatedly in the same places, his mind automatically and simultaneously discovering, accepting, and utilizing the fact that his feathers had turned into metal. Their razor-sharp tips began to scrape into the tank's sides.

Though the effect caused a blinding whirlwind within the tank's confines, Jeb knew exactly what the boy was doing. Sighing with exasperation, he sat down at the control panel. Fang, Fang—even if your wings are made of metal, that glass is 8 inches thick, and reinforced with an energy shield. I told you I wasn't taking anymore chances. Why don't you ever listen?

At first, he tried to ignore the boy.


He kept his eyes on the controls, watching the vitals going higher, matching the boy's adrenaline.


His muscles tensed as he watched the bubbles swirl round and round the 500-gallon tank, in a hypnotizing cycle.


Jeb slammed down his pad. That's it! The boy wants to play rough, then let's play rough.

Moving to a red switch high near the circulation monitor; he flicked it into the 'off' position.

Suddenly, Fang couldn't breathe! His air supply had been cut off, sharply, cruelly, and without mercy. No matter what he did, oxygen would not enter his lungs!

Jeb watched indifferently, as the bubbles began to settle and Fang began to struggle and squirm, his hands clutching at his throat, his eyes in alarm.

Calmly, the doctor stood up and looked straight at the fraught teenager. "Right now, I'm the only one keeping you dead or alive. I can end your life. Right here! Right now! Don't underestimate me, Fang…I don't underestimate you. There will be no more irritating, non-availing attempts to escape. Do you understand me, Fang?"

The boy began to turn blue and limp, his struggles making it worse. His body automatically tried to wrestle to the surface, but of course, his bonds stayed fast. His lungs burned tensely, and his vision began to blur.

Jeb stood there tapping his pen unhurriedly, "I can't hear you? DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?"

Though Fang would rather die than give into Jeb's whims, Blade was for survival—and survival alone.

Batchelder watched as Fang stopped squirming long enough to vigorously nod his head. Smiling he said, "That's a good boy. I'm glad we're clear on the order of things."

He turned nonchalantly back to his desk and casually hit the red switch back into the 'on' position.

Suddenly, oxygen began to fill the bird-teen's lungs once again. He breathed in deeply, taking in the luscious air a gasp at a time. When he had finally gotten enough into his lungs to ensure his continued existence, Fang became cognizant again. He looked at Jeb's cool face with so much venom, a cobra's couldn't compare. "You sick, son-of-a-bi—"

The doctor's hand still hovered over the red switch, "What was that, Fang?"

A low, almost guttural, snarl came over the mike. He knew if the mask had not been in place, he'd have seen an impressive display of the teen's ever-elongating bared fangs.

Sighing, Jeb moved to a strange mechanical device. It looked like a tiny, futuristic, model cannon.

"What's that?" Fang asked testily.

"It's an IHSL: Ionic Histological Scanning Laser. We use it to give us a slow but thorough examination of failed experiments. To tell us what went wrong, why, and how to fix the problem for further research."

Fang knew well enough to know that "failed" usually meant dead. "So…the autopsies showed the cause of death was, let me guess—you?"

Jeb decided to ignore that. "I don't have time to debate with you. I'm tired, so shut-up with the smart talk. Now, we've never used this on any living tissue before, so this will be a first time for all of us."

Hitting the power switch, the IHSL began to hum to life. From the narrow barrel of the laser's head, a wide green beam shot out hitting the glass of the tank head on. The laser beam went right through the thick glass, through the saline, and struck Fang square in the chest.

The moment the green light hit his body, Fang felt torturous pain such as he had never felt in all his life! It was an excruciating agony, which felt as if every molecule of his body was being ripped out one by one, turned inside out, and then thrust back in with violent ferocity! The more the beam stayed on him, the worse it got. In comparison with this…even eternal damnation would be more desirable.

Jeb was suddenly flooded with the sound of the teen's tormented screams. "Whoa Fang, you're going to blow our sound system." He reached down and flipped a blue switch, turning off the boy's mike, and simultaneously halting the bloodcurdling cries. "Thank goodness that glass is soundproof. Well at least we know that the laser is not pleasant on living tissue."

Rubbing the bridge of his nose tiredly, he did one last check to make sure the IHSL was gathering the information correctly. Then moving toward the security door, he flicked the lights off for the night. He looked back as the green light beam continued to scan the writhing Fang, making the water around him glow almost supernaturally. The scan would be done in twenty-four hours—plenty of time for him to get at least a couple hours of sleep before looking over the incoming data.

Leaving the suffering Fang behind him without a backward glance, Jeb made his way up to his office. Entering the room, he placed his files on his desk and then continued on to the next door in the back of his workplace. This led to a small room, with a simple bed and a tiny washroom with shower—his little home away from home.

Closing the door and not even bothering to turn on the light, he popped down into his chair in fatigue, and rested silently with his eyes closed.

He had been sitting there for what was only a few minutes, when he heard the door open again silently, and the muffled taps on the floor made by a pair to two-inch heels.

Jeb knew who it was, even before she draped her lithe feminine arms around his tired shoulders, kissed his cheek, and then began to slowly massage his neck. "Are you a psychic, Hon? You seem to know exactly what I need."

Anne smiled charmingly, "I'm no psychic, but I am your wife. I think that qualifies."

He reached up and took her left hand, kissing it gently; he glanced at the inconspicuous diamond ring on her fourth finger. Comparing it with the gold band on his left hand, he sighed with resignation. "How in the world do you keep your's so clean? It's as pretty as the day I put it on your hand."

She spun around and sat lightly on his lap, her hair, now loose and unbound, cascaded over her shoulders like shimmering blonde waterfalls. "That's because I don't go around sticking my fingers into test tubes and such anymore. I leave that to you, my underling."

"Well, that's to be expected."

"I thought you were going to bite my head off this morning, are you that wound up?"

"I was just keeping up appearances?"

"BUZZZ! Sorry, that's my job. What's really going on? Fang giving you trouble? Or is it Ari?"

He shook his head, "No, our son was more than eager to get out of his impromptu 'time-out'."

"I'm telling you, Jeb. I'm not supposed to be the disciplinarian here. You're his father."

"Well you're his mother, don't get on me about his behavior. He got half his genes from you, initially!"

Not many people knew that Jeb and Anne were married, and fewer still knew that Ari was the link they shared. Because of their business status and leadership positions, the union between the two would be highly frowned upon. So, for the sake of their jobs and ranks, Anne kept her maiden name and put on record that she was divorced from an abusive husband, and that the ring she wore was a trophy of her independence. Jeb's records read that he was a widower with one son, who wore his ring out of reverence to his wife.

During the day, they had a business relationship, that revealed nothing of the intimate one hidden beneath the surface. They even argued often in public, keeping up the facade of boss vs. subordinate. They had never even told Ari about his mother, but they knew he suspected. However, when the sun went down, and the business suits and lab coats were hung up; the pretenses were dropped.

He sighed in playful acquiescence, "Well , the thing is, Fang does have me wound up. Trying to get everything together, and then having to deal with his attitude."

She caressed his face in concern, "Do you think you can figure him out?"

He sighed again, "Hopefully, with the help of the IHSL, I can scan him and figure out what's wrong, and hopefully reverse the effects. But it's going to take time, and—Man, am I tired!"

Anne smiled sensually, and kissed him full on the lips. "Let me see if I can get you a little—unwound, Darling."

She continued to kiss him with more and more intense passion. All the while, she turned around and stradled his waist, removing his lab coat and unbuttoning his shirt.

Jeb felt his body relax and respond to her touch all at once. Taking hold of her head, he began to kiss her back, slipping his other hand beneath her blouse and along her soft pink flesh.

Yes, this definitely unwound him…

11. Blind Connection

Chapter 10

Author's Note: To all those who were slightly uncomfortable/outraged by the later part of Chapter 9, I do sincerely apologize. This is new to me too, and that's why I only hinted onto what Jeb and Anne were going to be doing. I was, however, trying to show that though the two are married, they live most of their daily lives as "strangers". The few times they do get to act as a married couple, they do what married couples do. Sorry if this offended anyone, but this is rated 'T' and I like to keep my stories real. I will not be getting any deeper than this though, so you can relax. The main theme in Chapter 9, is actually Jeb's character. That the flock is only important to him in the scientific sense; that he loves them as experiments that he created, but not as actual human beings. He wants to correct Fang's genetic mutations, but he does care if he's in pain. He will keep using torturous equipment, even though he knows Fang will be experiencing 24 or more hours of agonizing torment. It also shows the decline of Fang's character, and how this might affect him later in the story. Thank you for all your responses. It helps me out alot! Love, I.S.

PS: Again, my line button is not working, so I'm using 'x's. Just recognize that a line of 'x's represent a breakage. Merci


Iggy tiredly woke up, surprised to find that it was dawn already. Max didn't wake me up for watch duty? What's she thinking!

He jumped up silently, as not to awaken the others, and got ready to show that girl a piece of his mind. That's when he looked over to the tree. He could hear Max's steady, rhythmic heartbeat, as well as the soft sound of her steady breathing. Was she—asleep?

Walking over, he felt along the tree face, instantly coming in contact with her sleeping form. So if she's asleep, who's on watch?

That's when he realized what was different today, than it was yesterday. There was an addition to their little flock…an addition, who was missing.

A feeling of alarm hit Iggy! Where was Derringer? Had he left during the night? Had he been a spy, only pretending to be their friend? How would Max take it?

The questions kept rolling through his head, when he suddenly heard footsteps near the east of him!

Running silently towards the sound, he had a hard time avoiding the trees and bushes. Stupid woods!

However, it became bearably, as he began to pass not so many trees and came to a clearing, but that meant he was no longer under their protective cover. He could sense nobody around though, so he should be—

"Salut, mon frére. Are you here to join me?"

Iggy jumped, startled by Derrin's voice and his sudden appearance. How did he sneak-up on me like that? I should have heard him coming towards me. On the other hand, how did he leave the camp without me hearing him? I've never met anyone that silent before!

Quickly gaining back his composure, he spun around to face the man. "Don't sneak up on me like that! Where were you? I thought that—"

Derringer laughed, cutting off his tirade. "You thought I had abandoned you? Or worse, that I had sold you out to your enemies? Non, non, mon frére, that's not my style. Sorry to worry you, though. I was doing some laps while on guard duty. "

Ig looked at him strangely, "Max asked you, to do guard duty?"

He shook his head, "Didn't have to. She needs to rest up for today, and I don't mind."

Folding his arms, the younger boy looked reprimandingly at him, "And why didn't you call me? You need to get as much rest as any of us."

He shrugged his shoulders, "Not really, I just saw no reason to wake you."

Iggy crossed his arms, not buying it. "Is that right?"

Derringer looked over the young teen and couldn't help but smile. He reminded him so much of when he was younger, and had first gained his freedom. Iggy was a young man with many talents, some which had as of yet, not been brought into fruition. However, something was blocking the boy from seeing the huge potential he had.

Derrin smiled knowingly, "You gotta little bit of a chip on your shoulder."

Ig snorted at that, "What gave you that idea?"

Derrin simply shrugged, assumingly dropping the subject, and stepped away. "It's about 5 in the morning. We need to get breakfast before the others wake up starved. What do you guys like you?"

Iggy hunched his shoulders and put his hands in his pocket. "Anything edible, really. But when we're not on the run, I can make a mean French toast and scrambled eggs."

If the fact that a blind guy could cook surprised Derringer, it didn't show. He simply nodded admiringly, "Then French toast and eggs it will be. Though, I think I can save you the trouble of making them, since we don't have the resources."

"So where are we going to get them?"

Derrin retrieved his jacket that lay on the ground and slipped it on. "That's a trade secret, frére. You've got to earn that."

Iggy looked at him incredulously. What was he talking about? They had trusted him, with basically all they were. Yet, he wasn't even willing to trust him with the place he got his food?

"Hold on a minute—"

The other man quickly interrupted, "Now since I can't fly, and you can't keep up with me on the ground, we'll have to separate and then meet up. Since you don't know the way, you'll have to follow me from the air."

Ig stared in his direction as if he was mental! He may be a fine flyer and could keep up with the best of them, but he need directions, a sound to follow, someone to fly with him…anything to give him guidance. Without it, he was flying—well—blind.

"Look, Derringer, I can't—" He put his hand out to feel for him.

Derrin smiled covertly, as he took his hand in his own, pressing his palm firmly against the other teenager's. He held it there, while saying audaciously, "I'll wait for you. Don't take too long, cause I don't like to wait."

With that he let go and raced off through the forest, leaving a bewildered but determined bird-child in his wake.

Resolute, for some odd reason, to prove himself to this guy, Iggy unfurled his wings and took to the skies. But once he was up there, he couldn't tell directions anymore. Doubt began to cloud his mind as he hovered above the treetops.

How in the heck was he supposed to follow this guy? He hearing wasn't that powerful. He couldn't even hear the guy's footsteps when he was on the ground, much less when he was flying!

He balled up his fist in anger…not at Derringer, but at himself. He should be able to do this! It wasn't fair to the flock to have to carry his weight for him, constantly. Guiding him, holding his hand, staying by his side so that he could recognize their footsteps—it was pathetic!

He grabbed his head in frustration, feeling the emotional dam breaking down in his mind. He needed to be his own man! He wished…he wished he could be like his brother, Fang—independent and free. And this Derringer…he was the very paragon of freedom.

Angry tears of irritation began to run down his sightless eyes, and an almost nonexistent tingling sensation began to filter through his whole body. The feeling slowly began to crescendo, and come to a point in his right hand.

Glancing at it, Iggy felt his hand almost seem to "pull" him straight forward. It wasn't anything physical, but rather like a mental tug, saying: He went this way, let's go.

He'd never experienced this feeling before, but it was strong, and seemed to be calling him. He decided he might as well follow it—he had nothing else to do, anyway.

Cautiously, he flew forward, feeling his hand tingle more as he went on…

He had gone only 2 meters, when his hand "pulled" him to the left, as if telling him: This way, now. Shrugging his shoulders, he obeyed and flew left.

He kept going, his hand/mind guiding him. He zigzagged, went straight, right, or left. Sometimes it would tell him to back up and then head some other direction. He didn't know what was happening to him, but he actually, kind of enjoyed it.

Suddenly, the tingling stopped and the 'pull' went completely slack, like a cord being cut...

Well, he had nothing else to do, nowhere else to go. To retrace his steps would be suicide. So his only real choice was to land, and hopefully it wouldn't be in a populated area—or water for that matter.

Lowering himself slowly, he felt the slight touch of grass under his feet. Not hearing any sign of people, he stepped down firmly and folded his wings under, breathing a sigh of relief.

Suddenly, a lone pair of hands applauded him from somewhere behind him. Spinning around at the sound, the silence that made him think he was alone, suddenly erupted with the noise of ultra-light footsteps, an ultra-fast heartbeat, and a voice that was just plain ultra. "Very good, I knew you'd come along eventually. I've only been waiting a few minutes too."

Iggy could only stare sightlessly at the direction of the voice. Derringer? He'd—he'd followed him? But how? He'd never heard anything, just—

He ran his fingers over his right hand. How in all the saints of heaven, did you lead me to him?

Derrin observed the boy knowingly, and then hutched a large blue bag over to him. Iggy caught it expertly, smelling cinnamon and hot bread wafting up from the bag's opening. "French Toast? Where did you get it? Are we near a shop?"

Derrin hitched another blue bag over his shoulder, this one holding containers of scrambled eggs. "There's a little town about five miles from here. I visit there from time to time and there's this young woman there who runs a shelter. I rescued her from some thugs once, and we became friends. I give her a donation towards her shelter when I can. And she gives me leftover food as a favor."

"There's this much left over?"

"Hurricane season hasn't come in yet. It's a rural city, it has little business. She's glad to give me the extra."

"How far away are we from the campsite?"

"We're about fifteen miles southwest of there."

"It's only been seven minutes. You're telling me you can run twenty-five miles in only seven minutes?"

Derringer smiled back at him while he walked, "Actually it was five minutes. I waited two minutes for you. And you're very good with time estimation, especially on your first time contact-flying."

Iggy stopped in his tracks, "Wait a minute, I flew twenty-five miles…blind. No pun intended. How?"

He stepped in front of Derrin, stopping the man in his tracks. "You know, don't you? You did this to me. You said something about 'flying on contact', what's that?"

The other man slung the bag more securely on his back. "I'll talk, you fly low. I'll try to slow down so I can keep up with you. We can't forget about our mes amis back at the campsite."

Ig nodded, and unfurled his wings once more. He took off, but took great care not to get too far from the ground. He soon heard the rushing wind of Derrin as he ran. This time there was a slight tingle in his hand, but not enough to tell him what direction to go. He would have to rely on sound this time.

After a few seconds, Derringer asked a question. "How long have you been bitter about your blindness?"

The question was out of the blue, but he didn't mind answering. "Ten years, Ever since those bastards tried to play Frankenstein, and give me night vision. Oops, slip of the knife; 'Oh well, better luck next time.'."

"The flock's been helping you?"

"Yeah, we look out for each other. I don't think I would have made it without their help."

Derrin's voice came in strong, "Wrong! Yes, they were right to help you, but they also handicapped you."

Iggy looked at him strangely. "What do you mean?"

"You have a special power, Iggy. Not may people in the world do. Left alone, it would probably have come into full fruition by now, but it's been suppressed. You're more dependant on others, then on what been inside you all along. It's been trying to come out bit by bit; your hearing and sensing ability, your ability to cook, it's all a part of that. That's why I left you alone. Your own frustration and damaged emotions broke through the suppressing restraints. It was the only way of unlocking it. "

He couldn't believe his ears. What was this guy saying? "A special power?"

Derrin kept going, "Yes, I noticed it when I first saw you. The way you can sense when other people are around, and what direction they're in. How you walk and can avoid obstacle without feeling for them. I was surprised that none of the flock, or even you yourself, noticed it. You have an ability known as, Sightless Touch."

"Sightless Touch?"

"Yes, and your ability to contact-fly is a part of that."

The teen sighed, slightly overwhelmed. "Please, start at the beginning."

"Sightless Touch is the ability to touch someone and connect with them. This ability has many levels. One of the first is contact-traveling/flying. This is when you are able to take a lingering touch and trace it with your mind, taking you along the path that that person traveled. It was no coincidence that you met up with me. I made sure of it by running around in circles before I got to my destination, and then erased some of the "trace line", by retracing my steps. You came exactly to the correct spot."

Iggy was simply blown away by it all. He suddenly remembered Derringer holding his hand with a lingering strong grip…the same hand that guided him. He had a special power? Sightless Touch? It had to be! There was no other feasible explanation!

Derrin went on, "Once the power begins to evolve, you'll also have to ability to 'see' an entire area with one touch of your hand. Your mind will automatically set up a clear, definite picture where you'll be able to see all shapes, whether they be inanimate or animate objects, for 270 degrees around you. You will even be able to sense their colors. It's like normal sight, only ten times better; yet, it only lasts as long as the touch lingers. Once it's gone, you will have to make contact again and renew the picture."

Derrin slowed down even more, and Ig realized that they must be nearing the campsite. He landed slowly, and closed his wings back up again. He and Derringer walked together side by side, the sound of chirping birds overtaking them.

The Cajun stopped at the center of the campsite, and was happy that everything and everyone, was as he left it. He placed the eggs and toast over to one side, then went over to where Max still slept. Kneeling, he smiled as he admired her beautiful and strong face. She seemed so peaceful as she slept there—even though he knew her life had been anything but. He hated to have to wake her, but they couldn't stay at that spot for long…

Iggy, who had been sitting silent in deep thought, spoke to him slowly. Hunched over, his hair covering his face, it masked the strong feeling of disorientation that seemed to overcome him. "So…you mean…if I can hone this power, this Sightless Touch, of mine…I—I can become—normal?"

Derringer turned to him, "You've always been normal, Iggy. You just had to let yourself believe it..."

Iggy looked up at him, knowing on instinct where he was. For the first time since he met him, Derrin saw a look of true, genuine hope and happiness on the boy's face.

"Will you help me? In secret? I don't want the others to know about it yet. At least not until I'm ready."

The Cajun smiled with a gaze of fraternity crossing his face…one that he missed. "You have to unlock your own secrets. But I'll give you the 'touch' you need when you want. I'm glad to help, and I respect your wishes. I understand how it is, when you must deal with things alone."

Iggy stood and walked slowly away, stretching his arms, "Thanks, Derringer. You know…"

The blind teen turned back around, and seemed to be looking straight at him, a smile on his lips. "I think I understand now…why Max trusts you."

Derrin smirked, "And what about you? Have I gained yours as well?"

Ig grinned mischievously, "Are there three clouds in the sky above us?"

Looking up at the sky, there were indeed three marshmallowy clouds above them. "Yes, there are."

The teen smiled again and began to walk away. "That's what I thought."


When Max awoke, she was surprised to see everyone already awake. She must have slept really soundly. This usually never happens, what was she going to do about break—

"Good Morning, chère. Have some breakfast."

She looked up and saw Derringer standing over her. He had on a new black t-shirt, as well as his black leather jacket and sunglasses. He smiled enchantingly and handed her a plate heaped with warm scrambled eggs and French toast.

Her hunger overbearing her curiosity, she immediately dug in without asking him, where he'd gotten the food. He watched her eat with curiosity.

Iggy came up to them, and Max tried to swallow in order to talk to him. But too her surprise, he talked to Derringer directly. "Everyone's finished eating, well, everyone but Max. Gaz and Nudge are cleaning up the trash, while Angel and Total are erasing our tracks and traces."

Derrin nodded in confirmation. "That's good. Chère here, she'll probably be done in few minutes. We'll try to get out of here in the next 15 minutes, and we're going to be headed north. Hope you guys like cold weather. It's March, and the winter's still got a foothold where we're going. I'm going to go help petite."

Watching him walk away, Max continued to eat. "How long have I been asleep? What time is it?"

Iggy leaned against the tree next to her, "It's about 8:30. You've had a good, recommended 8 hours of sleep."

"Why didn't you wake me up for watch duty?"

"I didn't wake up either, even though I expected you to wake me up for watch duty."

"So, you're telling me, we slept all night—with no one watching the camp?"

"Not exactly…"

She watched as he nodded in Derringer's direction, slightly surprised that he knew exactly where the man was.

She shook her heard in surrender, "I might have known. And of course he would let me sleep while he took care of everything."

Iggy shrugged, "That's his style—cavalier and chivalrous. He's an amazing guy."

Max stopped eating, hearing the traces of admiration on his voice. "So, what happened between you two? Yesterday, you were as suspicious of him, as a NYPD cop is of his first suspect. Now, you two talk like best friends. What changed?"

Again he shrugged and began to walk away, "Nothing really…we just suddenly…connected…"

12. Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

Chapter 11

Fang could not believe pain like this existed. It was agony beyond anything he had ever felt before. Boy, when he got out of here, he was going to make Jeb sorry he had ever even thought to scramble with his genes!

He was going to strip the flesh from his bones piece by piece, then suck out his blood right before his eyes, savoring every drop…


Fang flicked his eyes open…the pain ebbing away. Either, they were having a power outage—which was very unlikely in a place like this, who made it their business to have at least, 5 backup generators—or someone had turned off the IHSL.

The world outside of his watery prison was still shrouded in darkness. However, in the receding glow of the laser's dying beam…a shadow moved.

"W-who's—who's there?"

At first, only silence greeted him, and the machine had wiped away a major amount of his strength. He was too weak to ask again.

After a couple seconds, a voice answered him from out of the darkness. "I should kill you, you know…"

The voice was so familiar, that it seemed to jerk Fang from out of his fatigue. That voice—! It was slightly altered, but so femininely recognizable… It couldn't be!


A single halogen can-light was turned on, lightly illuminating the mysterious figure from out of the shadows. His night vision came back as well, better than ever.

The female smiled, as her features were subtly revealed. "In a, shall we say, manner of speaking…yes."

Fang watched as a girl who was, yet was not, Max, stood before him.

She had Max's face, and her build, but something was distorted about this girl. Her wings were gone, probably hidden under her clothes, and her hair was the wrong color—deep black, rather than dirty blond. And her face, though it was the exact copy of Max's, it was marred by a long scar that ran straight vertically along her right eye. She stood there wearing a black ops suit, like that of the security Erasers.

He knew who she was, even though she still looked different from the last time they met.

"Black hair looks good on you…Max II."

She smiled, "Thank you. It's my natural hair color. And my name's been changed since the last time I saw you. It's Virgo, now."

He tilted his head in acknowledgement, "Nice to see you trying to make your own image, Virgo. The scar—your own design?"

She shook her head, "No…that was a result of your brothers, Iggy and Gasman's, handiwork."

He nodded, remembering the explosion that had released them from the Florida Itex facility, last year.

"So, Virgo, for what do I have the honor of your company?"

Max II a.k.a. Virgo, smiled covertly and leaned against the control panel nonchalantly, examining her nails. "You know, Jeb sent Ari to take care of your little 'family."

"That doesn't surprise me, he'll fail, miserably, like usual."

She shrugged in response, "I don't know, he took my cellmate with him, and she'll definitely give Max a little something to worry about."

"Max knows how to take care of herself."

"I know. I trained for weeks to act like her. Humph…still failed horribly."

Fang sighed in impatience, "This pep-talk is nice and all, but you still haven't answered my question. What do you want?"

Virgo suddenly became serious, "I have a proposition for you, Fang."

He looked at her curiously, "And what would that be?"

"I get you out of that aquarium prison, and back to your little flock."

He raised his eyebrow in surprise, "And why would you do that? What's in it for you?"

"Well…of course, there's something you must do for me."

"Which is?"

She answered his question, in as fully an explanation as she could; speaking almost in a whisper.

He nodded as she spoke, and he was both astonished and not surprised, at her request. "This is a tough request. You're not sure about any of this. There's a chance that…"

She shook her head, cutting him off. "I know. But I also know he's real. It's just instinct, you know?"

He did understand about that. Sometimes instinct was all he had to keep him going. Instinct powered his hopes, and his hopes drove his faith—and his faith kept him going. However, he still had questions.

"Why ask me to do this? Why not do it yourself?"

"I can't. They have me under lock and key here. I leave here, and the Erasers will take me down almost instantly. Like Max, I have a locater chip in me too. You on the other hand, have no such thing, and have a better chance fighting the Erasers than I."

"They'll be after me, the instant they find me gone."

"So you'll have to hurry, won't you? Put as much distance between you and this place as possible."

He nodded in agreement.

She put her hands on her hips, restless and impatient. "So, do we have a deal?"

"Why should I trust you?"

"Why should I trust you?

He smiled beneath his breathing mask, "Good point. You've got yourself a deal."

She smirked, then went around the controls, pulling a switch here, and typing in directions to the computer.

The vacuum seal on the huge tank broke, sending up hissing steam. The top of the cistern rose up, and the shackles on his hands and legs released, along with the sensors on his wings.

Taking a deep breath, he removed the mask from his face and swam briskly to the surface. Once he got up there, he gasped his first breath of free air. Then pulling up from the edge of the tank's side, he somersaulted down to the ground in such perfect form, a gold-medal Olympic gymnast would be jealous.

The saline fluid dripped from his body, creating a large puddle on the floor. Virgo came forward and looked at him, "Well, you're going to give yourself away, tracking all that water."

She threw him a towel and another standard black ops uniform, identical to hers. "Put those on and hide your wings beneath them. Tie your hair back too; change whatever you can about your appearance."

She turned her back to him, indicating she was giving him what little privacy she could.

He quickly stripped out of the bodyskin suit, and threw it into the floor with a splat. He quickly slipped into the black pants. "So why did you trust me? I'm your enemy, remember?"

She responded amusingly, "'Enemy of my enemy, is my friend.' After the fiasco of last year, my position was dropped astronomically. I was given to Batchelder, to be used as he wished. He doesn't like me much, to say the least. He hates me for my purpose, as an imposter against his precious Max. He has me put or used anywhere he doesn't have to see me. He has me a second-rate lab rat at worst, and a slave at best. I hate him, and anything he does, I want to destroy. You're his pet project for now, and I figure a way to put a big monkey wrench into his plans, is to release his project from his grasp. "

Fang nodded, noting the fact, that though she spoke of the events with amusement. Her words were not exaggerations, but cold, hard truth. Yet another thought came to him, "You're going to get the wrap for this, they'll take out my disappearance on you."

"I know how to change the camera's feed. When this is all through, they'll think you just disappeared. My locater chip is simple and doesn't track where I am in the building. The most it will do, is say that I haven't left the complex."

The boy shook his head. There was no way that would work. Even if she changed all the cameras, there could still be the offhand witness accounts that'd break under pressure. Also, this girl didn't know Jeb. He wasn't one to think anything just disappeared…even the rabbits from a magician's hat.

Virgo moved her head slightly, and looked at her new "partner" with her peripheral vision. She couldn't help but take in a breath…

She watched as Fang put on his shirt. His chest, though scarred, and his skin, definitely pallor gray in color, he had to be one of the most handsome males she had ever laid eyes on!

All the Erasers here, and a lot of the male scientists, were all attractive, but you've seen one, they all start looking the same to you. Fang was something different all together. She had noticed him at first, when she had gone on her first and last mission in Florida. However, it wasn't a time to think about such frivolities. But seeing him now, she could see that he had changed a lot, but to her, it didn't seem in a bad way. In fact, his new silver look, accented him well, making him more striking, mysterious, and alluring.

She suddenly felt a tap on her shoulder, bring her back to reality. She turned around and gave Fang a once over, trying to ignore toned biceps and pecks that were very apparent under the thin cotton shirt. "You should pull some of your hair forward to hide your face, and wear the jacket, all personal other than the doctors do. And all the doctors wear white lab coats."

Fang nodded and shifted into the jacket he'd been holding. It confined his wings, and it would make it hard if he ever had to take off quickly. He decided to just leave it open, that way he could drop it quickly when need be.

Virgo began to walk toward the door, "Come on, we need to make time."

Dark looked after her as she walked, and Blade began to talk within his head.

Touch her…


You don't need her anymore. You won't be able to do anything with her traveling with you. She's a risk to both you, and herself…

I don't know the layout of this place. How am I supposed to find a way out?

Just touch her, and I will do the rest…

Fang knew that what he was about to do, Blade only thought of it as self-preservation, but he tried to placate himself by saying, that he was doing it for Virgo's sake as well.

Fang placed his hands on her shoulders…

Virgo had been checking outside the door; making sure there was no one around for the moment, when suddenly she felt Fang's hands on her shoulder. When flesh connected with flesh, large amounts of energy began to shoot through her! She could feel her body going into shock, convulsing at the electricity that was shooting through Fang's glowing hands. She didn't scream, it wasn't so much that it was painful, but draining…it was like nothing she had felt before. Her first thought, was that she had been betrayed. However, that thought began to dissipate, as she remembered the look on Fang's face when he'd agreed to the deal—his vow had been genuine…

Fang felt the sudden energy flow through his arm and out of his hands. His limbs began to glow and crackle with large blue sparks. Virgo appeared to be almost electrocuted at the connection!

He tried to lift his hands away, but the pull had been set. It was like a completed circuit that was powering its own juice. Until the power was turned off, the circuit could not be broken.

Then, just as he had thought of it, the power within him began to ebb. The electric bolts and luminescent glow slackened, then went out all together, the power gone, and the process finished.

He released his hands from her shoulders, and Virgo automatically collapsed into his arms unconscious. Suddenly, he felt all the plans that Virgo had made, all the blueprints she held, all her computer finesse she had held in her head, run through his own. It was like his new power had allowed him to pick her brain for necessary information, and then download it into his own mind! He knew where to go now to escape. He knew where the booby traps were, and the security he would run up against. He knew how to wipe the cameras clean, and avoid all the other techno-traps. Amazing!

Still, now that he knew what to do about saving his own skin, he had to think about the clone in his arms. He couldn't just let her take the blame, and he couldn't take her with him. Blade's voice butted into his thoughts.

You know what to do. Stop wasting time; you'll be free soon …

Leave me alone. Do you think that makes me feel better about this?

He laid Virgo on the ground, and paused a minute to admire her beauty. Though she looked like Max, she was distinctly different—and he found himself appreciating the differences.

We don't have time!

Stop hurrying me! I know how much time I've got!

He quickly began to undress the unconscious teenage girl, trying to conquer the enormous embarrassment he was feeling. Stripping her down to her underwear, he reached for the bodysuit he'd discarded. Slipping it on her quickly, he hauled her over his shoulder and took her over to the tank.

Thanks to his newly acquired knowledge, he knew exactly how the prison worked. Taking her to the tank's edge, he hooked the mask over her face, making sure it was working. Then, with on simple heave-ho, he pushed her over the side into the liquid. She sunk slowly, and the shackles automatically picked up her heat signature. They swam around in the water like snakes, and clasped onto her wrists and ankles.

Fang went around to the computer and began keying in the correct commands, and flipping some switches. The top switched in place, and the seal was put back on. He hadn't put the sensors on her wings, but he hoped no one would notice initially. With her black hair and the bad lighting, it was easy to mistake the two of them, even if she was a female. He short-circuited her mike though, so she couldn't give anything away with her voice. He could do more on the outside, and her chip wouldn't give her away; they'd know she was still in the building.

Now they both had a way out. Once they found out that it was Virgo in the tank, they would think that Fang had escaped and ambushed her, placing her as his replacement. But by the time they figured this out, he'd be long gone.

He quickly cleaned up any evidence that was left over, and hid her clothes in the trash. He went through the computers with his newfound expertise, and began wiping the camera tapes. He replaced them with footage from yesterday, and then put the outside hallway security sensors on a shutdown timer. In 2 minutes, everything this complex had in security would shutdown cold, only 5 minutes after that, they would turn back on in force, but giving him enough time to make his escape.

Looking over everything, he gave everything a last once over. The only thing out of place, was the missing green glow and hum, of the IHSL.

They'll notice it's off. You have to turn it back on before you go…

I can't…

You have to.

Blade's influence, led him over to the machine and had him put his hand on the power switch. His hand began to shake as Fang tried to fight against his other side's manipulation.

Don't get weak on me, Fang.

I'm not weak…I'm just not a monster…

He lifted his shaking first, and brought it down hard on the machine. The machine's casing was extremely hard and didn't make a dent; however, the insides were not so lucky. They were jumbled around so much; it would be a miracle if they would ever be able to untangle the mechanical mess.

You're so pathetic…

No, I'd say empathetic. I wouldn't want anybody, even Jeb or an Eraser, to be on the receiving end of that thing. Ever…

He walked up and looked at unconscious, beautiful Virgo through the glass, sad but not regretting, that he had deceived her. It was better for both of their sakes.

"I promise to keep up my end of the deal, Virgo. I swear it…and…I promise to return to you. I'll get you out of here."

That'd be a stupid move…

Shut up. Nobody asked you, Blade.

With that, he turned around without a backward glance, and headed silently out the door; marking that his two minute window was up. He had 5 minutes and counting—4:59, 4:58, 4:57…

13. Through My Own Eyes

Chapter 12

Derringer stood next to the tree, everyone else circling around him. Max stood to his right, watching as the rest of the flock gathered around to listen. They look to him as a leader, just like they look to me…

And it wasn't hard to understand why they wouldn't! Derrin exuded an air of enigmatic mystique—a sort of magnetism that drew them to him. Even she seemed to be drawn to him. She was kind of jealous of him "taking over" her role as leader, yet she didn't mind being challenged. In fact, it felt kind of good to share the burden from off her shoulders. Don't forget, he's your one clue to Fang, you need him.

The Cajun started talking, his voice swaggering but to the point. "Alright, we've been here a little to long for my tastes. The authorities will already be searching around the area for clues to my handiwork. And being tied down to a police interrogation table all day, is not my idea of fun, d'accord?"

Max smirked, Not to mention the Erasers who are also coming to investigate.

Derrin continued, "So, here's what we're going to do. The facility we're looking at, is one of the most secure in the world. So secure, they no longer have people working there. The place is completely automated, computer run. But, we'll talk about that later. Right now, we just have to think about getting there. The location we're looking at, is in one of those places in the world we like to call: the middle of nowhere. Tell me, do you like fields and fields of grasses and hills?"

The kids looked at each other kind of bewildered; while picking flowers was fun, that was not the kind of adventure they had in mind.

Seeing the displeasure in their faces, Derringer grinned. "Good! Cause our destination lies near the Rocky Mountains, in Montana, near the border between our country and Canada."

Their faces puckered up real fast. The idea of flying over snow-caped mountain peaks and Evergreen forests, seemed a big improvement to field after field of grass!

"Now, as you might have noticed, I have no wings! So, I'll be down here on the ground. Don't worry, I'll be able to keep up with you."

He handed an object to Max. Looking at it, she saw it was some sort of earpiece. Derrin held up another one identical to it. "Chère and I will be connected by earphone. If she loses me, we can meet up and reconnect. Everyone else will have to follow to the letter. We can't be leaving anyone behind."

Max hooked the piece on her ear, "Alright everyone, time to take off. Like, Derringer said, we've stayed too long."

On cue, everyone unfurled their wings. Angel, with Total and Celeste in the new backpack Derrin had given her, took off first, followed by Gasman and Nudge. They stayed their hovering, while Max and Iggy finalized things with Derrin.

"You sure this will work?" Max asked the Cajun, testing her microphone.

Derrin put his hand to his ear, indicating his piece indeed worked. "Just trust me, chère, it'll be fine. We'll find your petit frère."

She nodded, smiling slightly. Fang would be so irked to be called 'little brother'…

Iggy stepped forward, and put out his hand. "Don't get lost, okay?"

The Cajun smiled at the boy's inside joke. He took his hand and squeezed it firmly, "As long as you watch where you're going, mon frère."

Max could only watch them in hidden wonder, as to how two perfect strangers, had become practically best friends while she was sleep. That's the last time I sleep that long again, that's for sure.

She was so consumed with her own thoughts; she didn't notice the slight wink between the two boys. To the two of them, this was not just a rescue operation—it was a training exercise…

Iggy then took off and joined his siblings. Seeing her flock all accounted for, Max took off as well, and led them higher into the stratosphere. She kept glancing down, trying to measure her distance from him. She kept adjusting her vision, like a hawk can when looking for its prey.

"Can you still see me from that high?" came Derrin's voice in her ear.

He was but a dot beneath her, but she could still make out slight details. "Yeah, we're in position. Whenever you're ready."

"You got it, chère."

Suddenly, the dot moved, and went faster than the eye could see to the northwest, a trail following it made of kicked-up dust. She immediately proceeded in following Derrin's path, the rest of the flock coming into formation.

Gasman looked at their friend on the ground and whistled in admiration. "He's like a rocket on steroids!"

Max shook her head, "No, he's more of a wild stallion, free in its own environment."

"Why, thank you, chère. You're a natural eagle, yourself."

She flinched in surprise, forgetting that Derringer could hear everything she said.

He added softly, "Yes, a fierce eagle…with the beauty of a swan."

Max felt her face heat up, and her body felt lighter. Why was she reacting this way?

Nudge, who was on her left, looked at her face. "Max, your face, it's all red. Are you okay?"

Gazzy said from behind her laughingly, "She's fine. She's just blushing from something Derringer said."

His voice suddenly became an exact copy of Derrin's, "Would you kiss me, chère?"

Everyone around him laughed, and Max immediately went on the defensive, angry at herself, that she had shown emotions to Derrin's compliment. "No, it was nothing like that! Derringer is just a friend who offered to help us find Fang. I'm not interested in him or anything, and I'd never kiss him."

The others continued laughing, not listening to a word.

"Never say never, chère."

She turned around to chastise Gazzy once again, but could see he was still swirling around in laughter to his own joke.

She realized that this time, the real owner of the voice had spoke...

Jeb woke up, completely refreshed and content. He lay in bed awhile, thinking about nothing in particular. He could still smell Anne's perfume around him, and feel the warmth left from her place on the bed. She had long since left his side to go to her own room and get ready for the next day. He missed her presence near him, but he was patient, and he'd be able to admire her from afar.

Today, nothing would get him down. He enjoyed a long shower and a decedent breakfast, and casually picked up his notes. His techies would already be working on Fang, so he didn't have to hurry. He wouldn't let that boy get to him today. He was in too nice of a mood…

As the security door opened, he watched in satisfaction as he watched the white-coated assistants bustling around. They were swarming around the computers, and observing next to the tank. One of the techs named Dr. Lisle came over to him, eager to shine in front of the boss.

"Dr. Batchelder, our new reports are astonishing! The boy—"

Jeb stopped him with a sweep of his hand, "Let me guess. His mutation has accelerated?"

Lisle shook his head vigorously, "Exactly the opposite, sir. It's regressed!"

Jeb had to do a double take, "What! What do you mean, 'regressed'?"

"His DNA is back to its original form, with just a few variables. We've been going over it, but…"

"What did the IHSL have to say?"

"Oh, we left what information we got, on your desk. The machine broke down during the night. We have some mechanics looking at it, but they don't even know what happened. They think it's hopeless."

"It broke? That was a new machine! Cheap junk. Let me see those files."

The two headed over to his desk and lifted some files. Jeb's mind was in a whirlwind. This he had not foreseen. The mutation reverted? Overnight? How could it do it that fast? That was faster than it had come on. What's happening to you, Fang?

He opened up the file folder and glanced over at the figure in the tank, as if to ask him himself.

Lisle watched in surprise, as his boss put down the file, almost just as soon as he picked it up. His face went from being in wonder, to confusion, to anger. He strode forcefully up to the tank glass. He hit his fist against it so hard it reverberated.

The other techs and doctors stopped and backed away from their boss, as he began to curse and swear like a sailor in angry throws. After about two seconds, he began to calm down again. His face was calm, but he still walked with angry strides as he went to his desk and picked up his phone, and began dialing extensions. "Anne—yes, I know, but this is kind of an urgent situation—I need you to come down here, now. Yes, I'm serious—now."

He put his finger on the phone catch, and then began dialing again. "Sari, get a Sec 5 group up here, we've got a heck of a situation up here."

He put the phone down, the clasped his hands going into deep, fuming thought. Dr. Lisle approached his employer cautiously, trying to understand the situation. "Is something wrong, sir?"

Dr. Batchelder looked up at him with eyes of fury. "Something wrong? Yeah, there's something wrong. I haven't fired you—all of you—yet! That's what's wrong!"

Lisle went as white as a sheet. "But sir, what—what—why?"

In anger, Jeb flung a beaker off his desk and onto the floor with a crash. He pointed to the subject in the tank. "Didn't you find it strange, that the DNA had completely changed in one night? Didn't you even want to take a guess as to what was going on? Do you always trust the figures? Or didn't you think to look at the subject itself?"

The assistant was terrified by now, but Jeb could care less. "That's not Fang in there! I want you to go in there, and get whoever that is out now! Can't you tell the difference between a male and a female? The subject escaped and did a very good job of pulling the wool over your eyes!"

Lisle stepped away in shock and embarrassment, "But sir—"

This time, Jeb threw a scalpel—and it just happened to be in the general direction of the unfortunate doctor. "Just get out of my sight, you idiot!"

Lisle gasped slightly as he pulled the head of the dissecting instrument out of his calf, and hobbled away as fast as he could. The techs immediately began scrambling, not wanting to be the next one to face their boss's wrath.

Jeb sat back down, watching from the corner of his eye as they got the girl, which he recognized as Virgo, out of the tank. Other security drones were rushing to check on the tapes and security systems. It didn't how it happened; all that mattered was that the boy was gone. Now, this would be a mess to clean up. Fang was still changing, mutating. He was unstable and violent; it was more than likely that other would be hurt or killed.

His good mood was completely gone, he picked up a file folder Lisle had given to him, and he began to mundanely go through the reports. He had only gotten to the second page, when the spark began to come back to his eyes. He began to earnestly read on, a slight smile coming to his face.

Just then, Anne walked in, her hair freshly washed. She was trying to put on her professional face and look sternly at Jeb, but it was too early in the morning—and last night was still too fresh in her mind. Besides, this was an emergency. She knew there was only one thing that could get Jeb to say it was that urgent. "What's the situation, Jeb? Do we know where he is?"

Behind her, the contingent of Erasers he had called for, came in and stood at attention. The one in front, who was obviously the leader, asked. "You called, Sir?"

Jeb looked up from the IHSL readouts and smiled at Anne. She was surprised to see him look that way, like he knew some important secret.

Standing up, he turned to the Eraser soldiers. Glancing at the leader, he noted that this Eraser was different than the others. He was lean, muscular, and good-looking to be sure, but in comparison with his companions' dark eyes and brunette haircuts, his hair was silvery-white and very long, and his eyes were a fiery blue-green. A videogame-addict techie had given him a nickname from these observations, and the name stuck. That name was now widely known, and he was famous for getting the job done, no matter what it took. Jeb was glad Sari (the Erasers' custodian) had listened to the tone of his voice, and had sent the best team for the job.

Addressing the leader, "Sephiroth, we have a runaway bird-child. His name is Fang, and he's been gone for approximately 6 to 8 hours. He could be on foot, in flight, or alternating. His appearance has been constantly changing as of late, so you can get his latest description from the security footage. He's extremely dangerous, and has already killed another Eraser. However, I want him taken down alive at all costs. Now go over to security and you'll get the details. You're to move out as soon as you're ready."

Sephiroth nodded, turned, and put his hand up angled backward, signaling his troops to move out; then followed them without a second look back.

Jeb then turned back to Anne. "They'll have him back in a few days. While we wait, there is much to do."

She leaned on his desk and looked at him as he sat down. "I know Sephiroth has the best track record of any of our Erasers, but Fang has evaded us before. He's going to go find the flock."

Jeb picked up his file again and smiled at her, "He'll never get that far."

She was trying to understand his easygoing attitude, "What do you mean? Sephiroth and his team—"

He passed her the file, before she could say more. He began to explain as she scanned.

"Those are the scans from the IHSL I put out last night. One of the first things I tested on Fang, were his blood cells and how they were transforming from red circles, to gray diamonds. When I first tested him, only about 5 percent of his cells had mutated. That was 3 days ago, and now, 98 percent of his cells have be altered, and by this afternoon it'll be all of them."

She nodded at him, "I know the scientific ramifications of that, and it's astounding. But what does that have to do with—"

"Read on, the machine took an analysis of those blood cells."

Sighing in bewilderment, she did as he said. As she went on, suddenly everything began to click into place. "Oh my God…"

Jeb began to explain in words, the revelation that had come to both of them.

"The blood cells in a normal human body, are constantly dying, repairing, and healing themselves. Even if none of your blood cells ever got damaged, (which is impossible) all of the blood in your circulatory system will be completely replace in a cycle of three days, by new, healthy cells. This is how one lives and transports oxygen and nutrients around the body. Without it, you could get blood poisoning, and your blood could cease to circulate.

"Fang's mutated blood is completely different. It can no longer regenerate and replace itself. They are now like nerve cells; once they're dead, they're dead. For humans, this would be a death sentence, but not for Fang. His blood is now transitory; it's meant to be temporary. His body is now meant, to renew its blood content through an external means. His digestive system has also changed; he no longer receives nutrients from it. Instead, the blood takes it immediately from the new cells in his system."

"So, he gets all the nutrients his body needs, from blood?"

He nodded, "Quite so, plasma is now his food, but it only last as long as his blood count does. Once it lowers, his stomach will growl just like ours when we have nothing in it."

"Do you think he'll try to…?"

"No doubt." Knowing exactly what she was thinking, "He'll have a horrible craving, a blood-lust if you will."

"But what if he "receives" the wrong blood type? Wouldn't his body—"

Jeb shook his head, "I saw his blood cells do the process myself. They act like no other cell I've ever seen. They're almost like viruses. Any blood cell not like them, they'll assimilate and make their own. So, whatever blood type he puts in his body, it will immediately become OA negative, or whatever it is now."

Anne sank down in the chair in front of him. "Okay, what are we going to do?"

"Fang will be easy to catch. He'll be slowing down and not be able to move right. He definitely won't be able to fly after today. And if I know Fang, he'll resist his craving until the last possible minute. His body will be sweating out the dead cells, and his smell will be easy to trace. Sephiroth's team will be able to track him no problem."

She stood up and stretched her legs, "What can we do while we wait, Jeb?"

Batchelder got up also, and took up the IHSL file. "I have to get to the lab and work on this new data. But you have a different job, Darling."

"Jeb…" she warned sternly.

He shook his head wearily, "Sorry, last night's still talking."

She smiled briefly, "Its okay. What's my job?"

"Find me blood, find it fast, and get me lots of it."

She frowned, "If he doesn't have more blood cells…"

Jeb began to walk away, talking behind him, "His body will become weak and very sick. If he doesn't get replace his plasma within 72 hours, he'll go into shock, then a coma and die…"

Fang made his way down the hillside, clumsily but as silently as he could. He blinked under the hot sun that beat down over his head.

When he'd found his way out of the compound, which not to his surprise, he found was completely underground, he found himself outside in a barren desert. He'd flown for awhile, at least till he was out of the desert zone and in a sparse grassland. But soon he found, that he was too tired to fly, and therefore continued on foot. He'd discarded his hat and jacket, but still felt unbearably hot. And on top of all that, his stomach was growling! Did the whole world have it in for him?

He sat down for a while to rest under a few sparse bushes, only to find that he was still totally exhausted. Well, I think I'll take a little nap. I've never been this tired before. Must have been all those days in captivity…and why the heck am I sweating this much! He wiped huge amounts of the liquid from his forehead.

Lying down, he thought of the flock. His vision began to fade as he fell asleep, the last image in his mind was that of Max—of her lithe, slender body, her beautiful tender eyes, and her long, sleek, black hair…

He smiled dimly, realizing that it wasn't Max his mind's eye saw…but Virgo

Ari looked up at the smoking, charcoal-broiled mess of the Florida Itex complex. The place had been cordoned off by police tape, but the Eraser totally ignored that. He instead, was tapping his foot in impatience. The rest of his team sat in the idled truck, waiting for their leader's return.

Footsteps awoke Ari out of his edgy stupor. Turning, he looked to see his team member returning. His voice betrayed his utter annoyance, "Well, that took forever. You better have something."

The tall woman stood with long violet hair and a full, strong figure, walked toward him. She looked about the same age as him, but was actually younger. She was dressed in the same in the same black ops suit as the rest of them, and was putting her black glove back on her fair hand, with nails the color of pure silver. She was very beautiful in the conventional sense, but none of the other Erasers had pursued her. She was already widely known as Sephiroth's girl, and no one wanted to get on the bad side of him. Ari frowned in disapproval. As far as he was concerned, the guy could have her…

She smiled wickedly, "They were here."

He sighed exasperatingly, "No kidding."

"They went northwest, all six of them."

"You mean, five." He corrected.

"Six" she repeated.

"But that means…are you sure?"

"My senses are never wrong."

"Well, that means we have an unknown prey. No matter, let's get going. Do you know where they're headed?"

She flicked a purple strand behind her ear. "Stopped at a campsite 2 miles from here, but they're ultimately headed to Delta 6."

Ari looked at her in surprise, "Didn't think they knew about that place."

He began to walk back to the truck, "But, what better place for a little reunion?"

As he got in the driver's seat, the violet-haired beauty sat on his opposite side. She asked him a question like that of a little girl, yet it had a dangerous edge to it. "Will I get to play, Ari?"

He shrugged as he turned on the ignition, "Hey, once I get Max, I don't care what you do to the others, Viper."

Viper grinned demonically, "Yeah!"

She flipped off her black gloves again, her silver nails glinting off the sun…

14. Seraphic, New Players

Chapter 13

Fang awoke to a severe kick in the stomach. Jumping up from the ground with lighting reflexes, he was almost staggered and fell back down from the weight of his own body! He felt worse than he had before he'd went to sleep, and he was beginning to feel light headed and woozy. That sharp kick in the abdomen hadn't helped matters much. By the way, who in the heck did that?

Looking up from his resting place on the ground, he was slightly surprised to see five shadowy figures looking down at him. The first thought that came in his head, was Erasers. But looking again, he realized that he wasn't surrounded by bloodthirsty, morphing hunters, but five young men, a couple of years older than him, with uncut hair, bare chests, and with or without leather jackets.

He involuntarily sighed in relief, but Blade murmured in the back of his head, annoyed that he had been awakened.

I'm hungry…

Don't you think I know that?

I want some food…

I'll think of that when I find a restaurant.

Not that type of food…

Fang began to feel a familiar urge—that selfsame longing was back with a vengeance. He knew what "food" Blade was talking about now…

Suddenly he was startled back to the present by another kick to the leg.

"Hey, you! You're on our turf, kid. You think you can just waltz in here, and take a nap?"

Fang looked up at the boy who had spoken, the same one who had kicked him. A young man of about eighteen, with slick black hair, a thin but muscular physique, and a drooping cigarette, was looking down at him with eyes of suspicion but slight curiosity.

He sighed, and got up brushing himself off. He didn't have time for these jerks. His body was killing him, and he was trying his best to quell his hunger. "Get out of my way. I don't have time for this."

He went to walk away, but was suddenly blocked by a wall of black leather. He looked up at the intimidating forms of the two guys who prevented him from leaving. He knew automatically that the other two were blocking him from the back.

Trying his best to keep Blade repressed, Fang turned and faced the fifth teen, the cigarette smoking teen who was the obvious leader. "I'm warning you kid, don't mess with me."

The leader smirked, obviously amused. Putting out his cigarette on the ground, he walked toward the avian-child nonchalantly, neither fearing, nor dismissing Fang's threats.

The leader got closer and closer…passing the point of personal space, until he was only a mere five inches away from Fang's face.

The bird-teen did not back down however, which interested the black-haired gang leader. Fang though, was startled by the leader's eyes. They were piercing blue and ultra-clear, but they held a fierce independence and strength that made it seem that there was more to this guy then what was on the surface.

With movements faster than even his mutant eyes could catch, the leader grabbed Fang's chin in a firm grip and twisted his face around, observing it from both angles. His voice held a slight swagger, yet could cut steel. "You've got spunk, kid. And I like it. Now—let's see if your muscle is where your mouth is…"

With one swift motion, he backslapped Fang's face hard, knocking him to the ground!

Picking himself up slowly, he was shook his head from the initial shock. There was no pain, but it was the fact that he'd been off his guard, that shocked him. It must have been his weakened state, his insides were doing wheelies, he had a headache bigger than Texas, and his muscles felt like lead. But I can still take him…

I'm going to kill him! Let me out! I'll kill them all!

No, they're only human. They don't know anything about…

Then let me educate them…

No Blade, and that's final.

One day, I'm going to get tired of taking orders from you…

Well, tell me when that day comes, for now, I'll take care of things.

Suddenly, he felt the boy's boot kick against his stomach. "Hey, are you sleeping down there? I didn't hit you that hard."

He swung his foot out again, but this time, it came with some resistance. He looked down to see that the strange teen held his ankle with one hand—a hand with a grip stronger than steel.

Fang looked up at the leader, his eyes as cold as cold as steel. "Kick me again, and you're gonna wish you had hit me harder."

With a sharp flick of his wrist, the bird-child's superior strength kicked in, and with one hand flung the teenager by his ankle, straight into the base of a nearby tree.

The other members of the blue-eyed guy's outfit turned slightly, startled at their leader's sudden dispatchment. It would have been an ideal time to strike, but Fang rather just take out the leader. It was easier and he wouldn't have as much trouble trying to keep Blade muzzled. Besides, from the four other guys behavior, they wouldn't interfere. To them this was just a battle between the two of them.

As he rose fully to his feet, he waited as his opponent struggled to do the same. The young man looked up at Fang, his eyes blazing with the excitement of challenge. "Well, you do have you strength in those lanky arms of yours. I think I'm beginning to like you more and more."

"That funny, I was about to say the same thing." Which was quite true, he realized. Fang was intrigued by this guy, who was looking less and less like a punk, and more like a man to be trifled with…

No sooner had he thought the thought, when the young man in question suddenly swung up on his arms and flipped his body into the air. Performing a triple somersault, he came down with deadly grace, kicking Fang across the face with one leg, and in the chest with the other, knocking him backward with a painful crack into a nearby boulder!

Fang felt the rock make contact with his head, pain lancing through his brain, jarring his vision. For a second he lost consciousness, and his restraint fell. Fang could feel Blade extract his claws, and the bloodlust begin to creep up and take hold.

His body ached for the taste of fresh blood to go down his throat, but Fang fought back! No, you don't! I'm the master here…you're just a freeloader!

You need me Fang…

If, I needed you…I'd have called.

With all the power he could muster, he forced the beast back into its cage. Slowly coming to, his vision began to clear as Fang continue to repress Blade.

When he completely regained the use of his body, he could see that the status quo had changed in the few seconds he'd lost control.

He now stood crouched over the leader's body, his hand around the man's throat, claws ready to pierce the jugular veins! The young man's blue eyes burned, not with fear, but that same ferocious determination, as he also held Fang's throat, trying to hold him off. The four others were trying to pull him off their leader, but of course there was no leeway…the two were stuck in a deadlock.

Stunned about what he was about to do, Fang quickly retracted his claws, and weakly pulled his hand away from the other man's neck. Looking at his own shaking hands, a feeling of horror began to overcome him.

The blue-eyed leader immediately saw the change in his opponent features. Seconds ago, the boy had pounced on him with more viciousness and bestial cruelty than he'd ever seen! The boy's hands suddenly had and iron grip around his neck and he was on the ground. The only thing the guy could do, was try to hold his own, as well as the boy's gnashing fangs (yes, fangs!).

But only seconds later, the teen's eyes seemed to lose their murderous glare. His hand suddenly loosened, and his claws popped back in his hands like magic. He backed away, a look of utter terror now replacing the previously vicious one.

Keeping his distance, the leader slowly got up from the ground, looking at the boy strangely. Who—no what, is this boy?

One of the men helped him up from the ground, "You okay, Sky?"

The leader nodded his head, but continued to look at the forlorn boy, who was once the strongest and fiercest opponent he'd ever faced. The boy walked away, and his men made sure to give him a wide birth.

He walked to the boulder, collapsing next to it. Sitting there on the ground, the leader was surprised to see tears streaming down the boy's face! He listed as the teen began to talk quietly, almost to himself.

"What's…happening to me? I almost…killed, a perfect stranger. It's almost like I couldn't stop myself…like I couldn't keep him in!"

He watched as the boy continued to look at his trembling hands, more and more tears falling, as he seemed to be breaking piece by piece.

"What—am—I? I don't even know anymore! I can't go to Max like this! If I hurt her…any of them— Oh God, I can't take this anymore! I just can't!"

All of a sudden, the boy brought out his claws once again, causing everyone to back up.

However, the boy didn't even move to attack them. Instead, in tearful anguished cries, he began to tear at himself! Ripping at cloth and flesh, he tore and tore at himself vivaciously. A strange grey-colored liquid began to stream from him and pool around his body.

Quickly, the leader returned to his senses. "Joaquin! Tawny! Stop him now! Knock him out if you have to!"

The two men called out went over to the boy. The taller, Tawny, grabbed the boy in a bear hug from behind, careful to avoid the boy's flying claws. "Alright kid, just stop it. What are you trying to do? Kill yourself?"

The boy struggled with the strength of a tiger, but he spoke with a voice nearing hysterics. "Let me go! You don't know what I'm capable of! You're putting yourselves in danger just being with me!"

The shorter teen with sunny blond hair—Joaquin—pulled a vial and a hypodermic out of his pocket. "Ok kid, time to go to sleep. We all understand you had a hard day, sorry we ever bothered ya."

The leader called out to Joaquin, "Make sure you don't give him too much."

However, before the guy could even give him anything, the boy started to go berserk! He began trembling and screaming, trying to tear away from Tawny. The man in question, who could hold a wild bull steady for hours, was struggling to keep his grasp on this scrawny, scrap of a preteen!

The leader looked at the boy in amazement, his eyes like that of a deer's caught in headlights! He was looking in terror at the needle in Joaquin's hand…

The boy must be a…oh no!

"Joaquin! Put the needle away now! The boy is a trypanophobic!"

The young man looked at him strange, "A what?"

"Just put it away!"

As Joaquin hurreied to do as commanded, the boy suddenly broke out of Tawny's grip. Not with his arm, but his—wings? Yes, he hadn't been seeing things! There they were, two huge blackish-silver wings, that seemed to just burst out of his back and his tatters of clothing.

He began to soar into the air a few yards, not caring in what direction he was going—just as long as he got away from the man with the needle.

However, he had not traveled far, when he started to plummet back down the ground!

Quickly, the blue-eyed young man, rushed past his men, knowing they would never get to the right spot in time. If they just simply caught him as he hit, the boy would still be killed from the impact, and the catcher would probably break his leg.

With the grace of a trapezee artist, the leader jumped up, grabbing the boy in midair and rolling with him along the ground. The other four quickly went to their aid, pulling the two apart.

"Sky! You're bleeding!"

The leader looked over his body, seeing the strange gray blood from the boy smudged on his chest, but also red blood dripping from thin cuts on his arms and hands. "Yeah, somehow the kid's feathers cut me. I think they're made of metal."

Joaquin looked at the bloodied boy, who was lying unconscious on the ground. "Man…what do you think he is…some sort of alien?"

"Well, as of now, he's our guest. Take him to the Conservatory, please."

Tawny looked at him crazily, "Are you kiddin'? That freak just tried to kill you, and know you want to take him home with us."

"We have to tend to his wounds. I will not have anyone die on me, while I could help them. I don't care who. Besides, it's obvious that this boy's on the run, so I think he'll fit right in, don't you?"

Joaquin shook his head and picked up the kid, swinging him over his shoulders, but careful to avoid the feathers. "Hey, you're the boss. But tell me, what was that you told me earlier? I thought you told me to use that stuff when they were getting too rowdy. You said it was better than hitting them over the head."

"Usually, but not with trypanophobic—you'd never get close enough. Especially on who's just been broken emotionally. This guy is obviously a very severe one, and I bet they have something to do with those extra limbs on his back"

"What's tr-tripano—?"

"Trypanophobia, an acute and extreme fear of anything dealing with injections or hypodermic needles."

"Hey, whatever you say. You're the one with the medical info."

As the small group began to walk home together, Tawny looked at his leader. "Tell me Sky, why are you so interested in this kid? I mean, we chase kids out of there all the time. Why this kid? I saw it in you eye, even before you knew he had wings or strange blood. You liked him—why?"

The leader, Sky, shrugged his shoulders. "I've challenged all those punks in the park, and they all turned coward. This one however, he stood up to me. He didn't back down. He commanded my respect, and he matched me fairly in a fight. This kid keeps all his emotions inside, keeping everyone at a distance. Whatever's happened to him, he's been keeping it inside and the dam just broke. All the strain is what knocked him out."

Sky looked at the boy's sleeping face; there was a look of guardedness about it, rather than one of peace.

"I don't know what's been done to him, but this boy intrigues me…"

15. Clan Initiation

Chapter 14

Max placed more logs on the fire, before settling back into her comfortable sleeping position: where she could wake up and immediately see all of her flock—or at least most of it.

She sighed sadly, wondering what Fang was doing right now. Was he okay?

"You don't look as pretty, when you're all down in the dumps like that, chère."

She smiled at Derrin, who sat next to her, voluntarily sharing the job of watch duty. "You can go to sleep, you know."

He gently pushed her chin, turning her face slightly towards him. "But I'd miss seeing your face, chère."

Max blushed at his touch, "Stop it, you hopeless romantic."

"I don't know, I don't think I'm that hopeless. Do you?"

She shook her head laughingly, hurrying to change the subject. "That was nice song you sang for them tonight. They're going to be spoiled."

"They deserve to be. I was surprised they'd never heard 'Somewhere over the Rainbow' before."

"We haven't been able to enjoy the wonders of life outside a cage, what with always getting chased by Erasers and all."

She slowly snuggled next to him, she herself spoiled by the feel of his warm body next to hers. Derringer responded almost automatically, putting his arm around her pulling her into his embrace.

"You know, I really do like these kids. I've been on my own for a long time, and I always thought that was how it would always be. I never thought I would have a chance…any possibility for me to ever be…happy. For the first time in my life, I actually feel that there's an actual chance. I thank you for that opportunity, chère.

He lifted her chin gently, so that her face could be aligned with his.

She couldn't help but be mesmerized by his golden eyes, the pupils like twin crescent moons.

Gradually, ever so…his lips slowly lowered to meet hers. Hesitant and unsure, she rose to connect them to hers.

However, just as they were about to meet…Derringer turned away, suddenly reluctant.

Max felt relief tinged with disappointment, as she sank back down, unsure of why the Cajun had stopped. Am I glad he stopped? Yes, I am! I don't love him, I hardly know him. He's a stranger, and I shouldn't be trusting him as much as I am, much less kissing him! But still…

"You're in love with Fang, aren't you?"

Max turned to him, startled by Derrin's question. "W-What do you mean?"

He turned from her, his hair covering his face, hiding his facial expressions. "I see it in your face sometimes, when you talk about him. This sense of longing, that's more than just plutonic. Do you deny it?"

She just couldn't find the words to answer him, even though she knew he spoke the truth.

Hearing her silence, Derringer continued. "My feelings about you chère, are no secret. But your feelings towards Fang are also wide open. However…all I wish is your friendship—for now. But the way you talk to me sometimes make me unsure, if you wish to commit to befriending a stranger. Now, I know I never grew up with you, I never experienced your pain, and I only met you a few days ago, but I tell you that you are the first person, I have ever called friend…

"Tell me to my face that I am nothing more to you than 'a way to find your brother', and I'll never say another word to you about our relationship again. Other than 'yes, ma'am' and 'no, ma'am', I won't say anything to make you uncomfortable, or make mention of friendship or…love, again. It won't bother you any, I'll still take you to find him. I promised I would and I never forget my promises. But when this is all over, I'll run out of your life, as quickly as I came in. Just tell me, and I'll never bother you with my feelings again. All you have to do is say the word."

Max felt her insides tremble. How was she supposed to answer him? Yes, she felt something for Fang, but she also felt something for Derringer! They were two different feeling, closely related but…oh! Why was life so hard? She'd rather be fighting Erasers and whitecoats rather than dealing with all these emotions!

Noting her silence, Derringer closed his eyes in withdraw, a light, knowing smile on his lips. "It's alright. I know you've been only able to think of the flock since you escaped the hands of the people who made you. It makes sense that Fang would be your only priority. I'm sorry to even have bothered you. Good night, ch—Max."

Getting up from by her side, Max watched in dismay as he began to walk away, his back to her, any softness he had seemed to exude was gone. He was once again back to the way he'd been when she'd first met him, aloof and charming, but distant…

Suddenly, Derringer felt a pull at his arms. Turning around, he saw that Max had kept her grip on him. Why was she trying to keep him there, elongating his torment? He just wanted to get away by himself and think things over. Hadn't rejecting his hand in comradeship once, been enough?

That's when he saw the tears in her eyes…

Suddenly all his resolve went down the drain, and he went down on his knees again, cradling her in his arms. One thing he couldn't stand—was the sight of her tears.

"Are you okay, Max? What's wrong? Are you sick?"

She had tried to hide her turmoil inside to no avail. The tears had just slipped out one by one. She couldn't take it that Derringer would leave her side. She had never felt so isolated before…so alone.

Then, suddenly he was there again! He was next to her…holding her! She'd never felt so at home and complete before…not since—ever.

"Derringer…it's true, t-that I have feelings for Fang. I love him I guess. But I also have feelings towards you…"

Derrin listened intently, the surprise evident on his face. Feelings towards me?

She continued, her emotions forming words. "I don't know what will happen in the days ahead, or if I can ever return your affection. But do know that I accept your friendship, with all my heart. You may have been here only four days with us, but I trust you more than you will ever know. I have to ask the majority vote from the others, but as far as I'm concerned…you're now member of this flock and this family."

If shock could take on human form, it would be Derringer. He couldn't believe what he'd heard. A part of the flock? A family?!

"You have my vote."

The two turned, startled to see Iggy sitting up, fully awake looking in their direction with a smile on his face.

"Mine, too." Angel said, popping up from her sleeping place.

Gasman and Nudge also were "suddenly" awake. Nudge smiled giving her thumbs up.

Gasman looked at the two's surprised faces. "Hey, don't be amazed, we do have super hearing you know. We were listening to the whole thing. You two are better than TV. I like you Derringer. I didn't at first, mind you. But now…it's like you're one of us. I can't imagine you NOT being here. You have my vote all the way."

Max laughed slightly, smiling up at the still stunned Cajun. Reaching up, she closed his open mouth and moved his head toward her. "Well, that's the majority, and I'm sure that Fang would also agree if he were here now. Now, it's only up to you. Do you accept us?"

Derringer looked around at all the expectant faces, waiting for his answer. He was still trying to wait for the surprise to sink in. "I've…been a loner all my free life. I never allowed myself to call anyone family. I thought, it would weigh me down, and that I would put the people I cared for in danger. But…being with you guys…well, it's given life a whole new meaning for me. You guys made me want to get close. So…I guess my answer is—yes."

A cheer went around the crowd, and for once the shroud of sadness was lifted. Max embraced the newest flock member, tears of happiness flowing down her eyes. "Do you feel alone anymore?"

He put his arms around her as well, whispering to her. "No."

She smiled, "Neither do I."

He lifted her chin, the look of adventure and charm back in his eyes. "I won your hand in friendship, but I will not give up on your heart. I'm glad Fang also pulls on your heartstrings. He's become my unknown rival. This will do for now, but I'm not one to back down to a challenge. And what good's a challenge without a little—rivalry? Right, chère?"

16. Taken Under an Angel's Wing

Chapter 15

Fang opened his eyes slowly, the grogginess still within him. The room he was in was dark and unfamiliar, but he could tell that it was late afternoon, from the light coming through some window, somewhere. It was a small room, sparse, concrete, and plain, but clean. It was fitted out with a small bed, a closet in the corner, a table covered in medical equipment, a chair, and an overhead lamp. Heart and breathing monitors were beeping away next to him, their sensors attached to his body.

He was lying on a bed, covered in sweat, and too tired to get up. So, he simply lay there, hoping that his mysterious benefactors didn't wear white coats or were genetic werewolves. He could see that his tattered shirt had been removed, and his abdomen was covered in bandages.

"So…you're up, huh?"

He suddenly looked to where the voice had come from, and was even more surprised to find that it was from right above him!

Leaning on the headboard, stood the tall young man leader from his fight earlier. He was no longer dressed in just jeans and a leather jacket. Now, he'd resorted to a pair of khakis and a black tank top, his uncut black hair pulled back with a small rubber band, and his sapphire eyes as brilliant as ever. He seemed to be watching over him, a light smile on his face.

Fang looked at him strangely, trying to put the bizarre scene together. "Where am I? How did I get here?"

The leader walked over to the edge of the bed and sat down. "You're at my home/headquarters—a little rundown abandoned museum we like to call: the Conservatory. I told Joaquin, one of the guys with me, to carry you here after our little episode in the park, and you plummeted to the earth unconscious. I treated your wounds to the best of my ability."

Fang blinked as he slowly began to remember the events. He remembered his fight with this guy, he'd exchanged blows with him and had ended up knocked into a boulder, which in turn led to Blade being released…

Slowly, all the events after that, began to come him. He'd broken down and lost it. His carefully laid and preserved veneer of being cool, calm, and collected in any circumstances, had shattered and fallen apart.

Fang suddenly felt ashamed, humiliated that he had lost control like that. He'd always been in control. It was what defined him. Now, to be totally striped of that…and in front of total strangers, no doubt!

What was he going to do?

Looking at the leader he'd fought, he noticed several bandages lining the guy's arms. Had he…?

He looked ruefully at the wounds, "D-did—did I do that?'

The leader looked down at himself surprised, "Oh, these? No, I just wasn't careful when I caught you. Your wings are very sharp, made out of some type of metal alloy. Joey, our head mechanic, said it was probably iron mixed with silver."

Fang relaxed understandably; glad he had been able to shut Blade away in time, before the monster had done some real damage. That's when he realized what the man had just said. "You know about my wings?"

The man nodded as he went to a table and picked up a tray that held a bucket of ice and a washcloth. "It was kind of obvious when you went berserk and flew up into the air. I would have never had Joaquin try to give you a dose of lorazepam if I knew of your ...issue, with needles. Now, I need you to relax now. I'm trying to get your fever down. I don't understand. I tended your wounds, why are you getting a fever? None of the wounds were infected."

Fang flinched slightly as the man put the cold cloth on his head, "How high is it?"

"Almost a 103 degrees Fahrenheit."

Reaching up weakly, the teen took off the cold compress. "That's too low. I knew I felt cold. My body is different than that of a normal human's. My metabolism is higher, and my heart rate faster. My regular temperature should be around 125 to 127 degrees."

For a guy who found he was treating a genetically-engineered mutant, the leader acted pretty calm. He put away the ice, dug in the nearby closet and pulled out few blankets. He quickly put them around Fang's chilled body. "I wish I knew what was wrong. Your body slowly shutting down, and I have no idea why. Can you give me a little help?"

Fang looked at the man strangely with slight distrust. "Why are you helping me? I can't pay you."

The man continued putting the blankets around him. "It doesn't matter. Few who receive my help can, but I wouldn't accept it even if they did. I'm not for sale."

"Who are you? Are you some sort of doctor? You don't look like one, too young."

The man laughed at this. He pulled up a chair by the boy's side, looking at him with his eyes made of blue ice. "I'm older than I look, I'm 23."

Fang couldn't hide the surprise on his face. The man didn't look older then 18!

"It's not so surprising. I'm betting you look older than you really are."

Fang nodded, but kept his age to himself.

"And no I'm not a doctor in the legal sense, but I have enough knowledge to take care of my men when they need it."

"Who are you, exactly?"

"My name is Skylark Karinkov, but everyone just calls me Sky."

"Sky…" Fang tried it out on his tongue. The name suited the guy. His eyes were definitely the color of the sky. "And what is it exactly that you do?"

"You're not getting anything else from me, until you tell me something in return. Like your name for starters. And know that if you give me crap answers, I'll do the same. So let's start off with a clean slate okay? There's no use trying to hide anything. I know you have wings, you're not like the normal human population, and that you are probably on the run. I've taken you into my home, so I don't think of you as a threat. However, my patience runs thin with liars."

The avian-boy thought about it. Sky was right, if he knew about him this much, telling him his name wouldn't matter.

"My name is Fang."

"Are you hungry, Fang?" Sky suddenly asked, off topic.

He was more than hungry, he was more than famished—he was starved! His body felt if it could just get some food, the pain and weakness in his body would be relieved. However…

"I don't think you have my type of food."

Sky smiled laughingly, "What? Birdseed?"

Fang had to laugh at that, "No, I wish it was that easy."

"Well, right now, my goal is to get you well so I won't have a dead body on my hands. I get enough of those from time to time."

Fang looked up at Sky. I'm in the same room with a killer, and I don't even have enough strength to get up, much less run away from here. What I'm I going to do?

I—you—need blood… His is as good as any…

Fang totally ignored Blade's words. There was no way he was going to communicate with that cold-blooded killer.

That's a cold-blooded killer on the inside of you

Sky picked up his leather jacket and looked at his house guest. "I hope you know, that everything you're thinking is plastered on your face right now. No, I'm not some kind of psychopathic serial killer. Any dead people I find my way across, are far from innocent. So, don't be concerned about your safety, you have nothing to fear from me. And as long as you are under this roof, my men understand you are under my seal of protection."

Fang sank further in the bed. He hated getting sick. It was so much harder to control his emotions that way.

He noticed as Sky reached for his jacket, that the back of his right shoulder was tattooed with a pair of unfurled, pure white wings, with a halo in their center surrounding a jeweled dagger. It wasn't the design that caught his eye, but the ink that was used. It was sharply iridescent that seemed to shift with the light, creating the astounding mirage that the wings moved, and that the dagger's blade sparkled.

That's when the colors began to slowly swirl. Fang blinked his eyes. Wiping the sweat from his head, he began to realize he was totally dehydrated. He had flown through some sort of desert for a while and he had started feeling dizzy and fatigued. He could no longer keep up with what direction he was going on how long he flew. He eventually got too tired to fly and fell to the ground, where he staggeringly walked on, just desperate to get away.

He hadn't drunk anything since he'd stop taking that IV stuff they were dripping down his throat. His eyes were beginning to swim as he reached out to Sky. He asked "H-how long have I been asleep?"

Sky continued to slip his jacket on, heading for the door, "Almost a day and a half, I guess. Why? Got somewhere to be?"

Fang would have laughed if his body was doing corkscrews on him. His whole body was in pain, and his head was pounding. He hadn't been hit this hard, since he'd had that horrific nightmare a couple days ago. "Can I have some water…?"

Turning around to hear the bird-teen's request, Sky was suddenly greeted by the sound of a shrill beep from the heart monitor.

Running toward it, he quickly read the read-out. "Your blood pressure is dangerously low. I need to know what you blood type is, and now. I'm going to have to do a transfusion. Fang, I need you to…Fang? Fang?!"

The strange winged boy opened his eyes drearily, trying his best to try to keep awake. However, as hard as he struggled, he could feel himself slipping away. "I'm sorry…"

Suddenly the boy's body began to buck and convulse. Sky rushed over to the boy to try and hold him down.

Knowing there was some men still outside the room, either stationed as guards if the boy got violent again, or as medical hands in case the kid's trypanophobia kicked up again while he had to use a hypo, he called out, "Joaquin! Whoever's out there! I need two of ya in here, stat!"

Par his call, two of his men instantly entered the room. He vaguely identified them as Jackie and Luke, two of his med aids.

"You two, hold him down." He ordered as he headed over to the closet. Opening it, he pulled out an IV drip, and then unlocked and opened a freezer also situated inside. He quickly searched the shelves, looking at the different containers. He quickly selected the one labeled "O", and grabbed packs of the stored plasma, as well as a few FFP (Fresh Frozen Plasma) vials.

Jackie grabbed Fang's legs, while Luke went to hold down his torso. It turned out that the later was having the harder time, as most of the boy's strength was in his upper torso. "He's too strong, Sky! Ahh!"

Sky turned from what he was doing to see that Fang had sprouted his claws again, slicing Luke's arms. The little mutant teen was totally unconscious, and his body was going into shock, reactions becoming instinctual and erratic. His retractable claws were going in and out, his wings were trying to unfurl then furl up again, from the niche in his back, and his pupils were beginning to dilate heavily.

As he pulled the supplies to the bedside, he began to set up the IV as he pulled a small radio from his pocket. Switching it on, he spoke into it hurriedly as he worked. "Tyler? How many men you got just millin' around?"

"Well boss, all the men for the hit are being outfitted as you ordered. I think that—"

"I don't have time for chitchat Tyler. I need two more guys up here in sickbay—now. I have—"


Sky was suddenly stopped by the sight of Jackie getting thrown against a wall, overpowered by Fang.

He spoke back into the radio, "Better make that three guys, and I need them on the double."

Tyler laughed and answered back, "Already sent boss, I'm your personnel manager remember? It's my job to think ahead."

As if on cue, three more of his men came through the door. A redhead named Kurt, looked at the convulsing boy, "Alright Sky, tell us what to do."

"Hold on to him, and hold onto him tight. Jackie, you too. Luke, you can let Ron take over. Put some pressure on those wounds, I'll get to them after I finish here."

Luke kept his hold until the auburn-haired Ron came and switched positions. He quickly wrapped his arms in some nearby towels. "It's alright Sky, I know how to stitch myself up."

Sky hardly heard him however, as he began to fill a fresh hypodermic with 10ccs of lorazepam.

"Hold his right arm tight!" He quickly swabbed, then jabbed the needle into Fang's arm, shooting the anesthesia into his bloodstream.

The teen's body instantly began to relax, responding to the fast-acting drug. Sky then quickly swabbed the crook of his arm, sticking in the IV needle, he then taped it down. Squeezing the plasma to get the flow going, Sky then checked the boy's eyes with his penlight. "Good, he's eyes are returning to normal. He was losing too much blood, and I have no idea why, his wounds were healing, he didn't lose that much on the site, I don't know what's up.

Jackie looked up at him, "Maybe he was losing it in a way we couldn't see? I mean, he's not exactly normal."

Sighing, Sky pulled the plastic gloves from off his hands and threw them in the trash. "Well, I'll figure it out later. Right now, we've got a schedule to keep. All of you, get downstairs and get suited up. All accept Luke and Troy, you two stay outside this room, and make sure he stays stable. You okay Luke? Sure you don't need any help?"

Busy stitching the gashes on his hands and arms, the man nodded. "I'll be fine."

The gang leader smiled back, then quickly picked up his jacket and headed out the door. Jackie, Ron, Kurt, and the fifth guy, Jonas, followed close behind.

"You're late." Tawny smiled, holding out an AK 47 handgun.

"Had a little medical emergency, how are we?" Sky replied, taking the gun and holstering in his side.

"The targets are moving south, ETA 20 minutes. Our surveillance work paid off, they're definitely Stockholm's men. After tonight, I doubt he's going to go into human trafficking again." Joaquin answered, handing him an armored-vest and some replacement ammo.

"What about you, Shawn? Got it ready to go?"

The hazel-eyed techie, spun around from his computer. "You got it, Sky. All the evidence is ready to be emailed to the police as soon as you give me the green light. And ol' Stockholm-y will get our calling card as usual. And everything is, as always, untraceable."

"Well, then let's get a move on. Shall we Angels?" Sky ordered, leading his men out into the night, like a captain and his army.

Some might think that one who had just saved a life, and then carried and used a weapon of death, would be doing total opposites. But in Sky Karinkov's case however, it was the exact same thing…

Fang open his eyes slowly, expecting to see either a room of bloody dead bodies, or the cold city streets.

He had known when he passed out, that Blade would come loose. However as he looked around, he noticed his surrounding had not changed. He was still in the small room, alone now, with an IV strapped to his arm.

He ignored it, knowing that if he began to inspect it he'd find the—needle.

His body felt better, though still very weak. A sudden smell caught his nose, and he turned to look at where it was coming from. Turning, he looked at the blood vials that had been left on the table.

Well, I guess it can't hurt. They seemed as if they were going to use it for me anyway. And I sure am hungry…

His mind made up, he weakly reached for one of the plasma vials and used claws to break of the top.

Downing the whole thing in one gulp, he sighed in relief as the chilled liquid went down his throat. His energy was suddenly heavily reenergized, and he had enough strength to sit up.

Grabbing another vial, he broke the top, this time thinking, I wonder, how I will explain to Sky, why his plasma's missing?

17. Brothers

Chapter 16

Iggy had been trailing with the others, for what he estimated had been 4 hours. It had been 3 days since they had started off to the northwest from Florida. Feeling the changes in weather over the last few days, he could tell they were coming close to their goal.

He felt the tug of the invisible "cord" drop behind him. Hmm, Derrin's lagging behind. Wonder why?

Ever since Derrin had shown him this new power that had lain dormant inside him, he had begun using it constantly, and the more he used it, the better at it he got. He could now follow in the steps of anyone he had only slightly brushed against, each "thread" as plain as day in his mind, a different color for each person. It didn't matter if he was flying, walking, or just plain sitting, he could follow the trail anytime as long as the touch lingered. And as the use became more and more frequent, so did the amount of time the touch's feeling lasted. It had first started at only about 30 minutes, now it could last for about 5 or 6 hours.

When they landed and regrouped with Derringer, he and his new older brother would go secretly to a secluded place and practice his skills. Derrin became like a troop leader, not letting up on him or letting him quit. He would drill him and make him practice "seeing without seeing" by having him see his surroundings in detail, but only allowing him one or two touches to the general area.

Once he knew what to look for, Ig felt all sorts of sensations he'd never felt before. He felt his new power rushing through him, glad to be free. He could tell the distance the others were from each other around him. He could almost trace their outlines with his mind. He knew "seeing" moving objects, would be harder than a stationary setting, but Derrin had faith in him, which gave him the push to have faith in himself.

As of now, he was still training his body to see by feeling the air around him, when he felt something that disturbed him.

"Max, there's a storm coming. I can feel it."

Maximum had been "dream gliding", a new thing she did when she had been flying for a while and conversation had dropped. She basically daydreamed while gliding on the wind currents. She had been dreaming of a big double-decker cheeseburger with pickles and onions, two orders of fries, and a milkshake, when she heard Iggy's warning.

Though her first instinct was to criticize him because he couldn't see the bright sunny, cloudless sky, she almost immediately remembered that he could see things they couldn't.

She immediately went to her earpiece. "Derrin, there's a storm coming in. Iggy says so, and he's always right about these things. We're going to have to find a place to land soon. Know any towns in the area that we can hold down in?"

All she heard in response, was the familiar whoosh of wind as Derrin ran.

"Derrin? Derringer?"

This time she got a huffed reply.

"Sorry—I can't—really talk—right now."

She felt an alarm bell go off in her head. "What is it, Derrin?"

Iggy listened to the conversation intently, also feeling the alarm. He knew Derrin was dragging behind, but he didn't know why.

The speedy mutant answered back in choppy sentences. "Well—I've—I've got news for you. The wind—has already—picked—up down here. It—might be—calm up there, but—the storm is—showing itself—down here."

She frowned slightly. "Why are you talking like that, Derrin?"

" Well—running across—water—is hard enough—without the—wind—hitting the water—in your face."

"Water? What are you talking about?"

"Look down."

Everyone look down at once, and was completely astonished that they were flying over a field of blue—a lake!

Max could see a streak of white cut across the rough waters, it was coming from behind but making good time.

"Who knew our speed demon could walk on water?"

"Well—whether you—believe it—or—not, this—isn't as easy—as it looks. I have to—concentrate and keep my speed—steady. Go to the—shore. I'll—meet you—there."

She smiled ruefully, "Don't let me have to fish you out of there, Derringer."

She turned to the team, but they nodded back, already knowing what to do. They all angled themselves to the right, gradually diving to the shoreline as one. It was a trick taught to them by the hawks they constantly watched, and allowed them to fly alongside.

Once they cleared the upper atmosphere, and got below the clouds, the weather changed dramatically. The wind became sharper and more violent. She could see that the storm was due much faster than she thought.

Speeding up, she connected with the shore, landing in record time. The others dropped one by one behind her.

"Alright people, we'll need shelter, and fast. And it doesn't look like there's any civilization around here. Nudge, Gasman, you know what to do. Iggy, you wait here for Derringer. Angel, you come with me. We'll get some food. Iggy, you and Derringer are in charge till we get back."

"Got it, Max. Just get back soon, I'm starving!" Gazy moaned as he and Nudge went off to set up shelter.

Max was about to take-off once more, when she felt Iggy's hand on her shoulder. "Yeah, Ig?"

The blind teen smiled at her, his eyes looked directly into hers, almost as if he could really see her. "Just be careful, Max. We've been traveling for a while, and I think we're nearing the place Derrin meant to take us. So the danger is getting higher. Be careful, okay?"

She shook her head, smiling adventurously. "Aren't I always?"

Taking off, he tilted his head up, watching her trail as she flew.

"Why do you hide it?"

He turned suddenly, forgetting that Angel was still on the ground.

"What are you talking about, Ange?"

"I'm a telepath, Iggy. It's hard to hide things from me, especially when they're practically jumping out your skull. You touched Max so you could follow her trail and watch over her. Why do you hide your new powers? I think they're great. Now it's almost like you can see again!"

He smiled, laughing at himself that he thought he could hide it from his little sister. He bent down to her level and put his hand on her shoulder.

Suddenly, just like it had minutes ago with Max, data and information poured into his head, making an exact and colorized image of Angel and her immediate surrounding area. It was like he could once again see, only this time he saw straight with his mind, and bypassed his eyes. It was the first time really seeing his siblings, since he'd lost his sight those many years ago. To see them as they were now, without guessing—it was hard to keep the tears in…

"Then let them out, Iggy. I won't laugh." Angel said shyly, immediately giving him a hug.

He smiled and sniffed a little, accepting her embrace. Trying to pull himself together, "It's okay, Angel. But the thing is, I need to keep this a secret, at least until I get a fix on it. It took me days to get this far, and I think I can take it further. But Ange, this is something I need to do on my own. I promise I will tell everyone when I'm ready, but until then it'll be our secret, okay?"

She grinned wide and nodded happily, "Okay, Iggy."

Max's voice called from the sky, "Come on, Angel!"

The girl lifted of the ground with her little wings, "Bye, Ig."

He smiled back, "See you later, teddy bear."

As Angel got into the air and joined Max , she waved back at her older brother, before flying off with her elder sister.

Max spoke up as they flew, "What took you so long? What were you two talking about?"

Angel answered with pure innocence, "I was just telling him to be careful and goodbye."

"Goodbye? Then why did you wave goodbye up here?"

She hunched her shoulders, "So he could see me off."

"Angel…you know Iggy can't actually see you."

She smiled evasively, "You'd be surprised what he can see."

"Zut alors! Boy, do I hate water!"

Iggy had only been waiting about five minutes, when Derringer came skidding to the shore, water spraying everywhere.

The drenched Cajun wrung the water from his hair and walked up to where Iggy was sitting silently, "Where's everyone else, frére?"

"Shelter and food, before this storm gets full blown." The teen said quietly.

Derringer could tell the look on his face from a mile away. Sitting down by his side, he asked him outright. "What's wrong, Iggy? Have your powers regressed somehow? Look, it's only a minor setback, don't let it—"

"Derrin, was your hair naturally that red, or did you dye it?"

Surprised by the sudden question, the older teen also looked down in shock at his hand, noticing for the first time that he and his new younger brother's fingertips were brushing against each other…

He looked up at Iggy in surprise, "Frére, what color are my eyes?"

"Yellowish-gold, you have eyes like a wildcat. I think they're cool by the way."

"What color is the water now?"

"Steely-blue with a lot of gray; the waves are covered in white foam."

"Those could be lucky guesses, or someone could have told you." Digging in his pocket, Derrin pulled out an object no one else had seen. One, which never left his person.

"What is the item in my hand? And what color is it?"

He felt Iggy move his fingers further onto his opposite hand. The boy looked directly at the object with his cloudy eyes. "It's a ring; it looks like it came off a small pipe or something. It's painted gold though, not a plated, but painted. It's worn too."

Derringer looked at the boy in amazement. "When did this happen? This is a giant leap in the development of your powers. Now, through even the slightest contact, you can see things down to the molecular level, giving you the ability to see not only the shape and form of objects, but the color and texture as well."

Iggy looked up at him, tears welling in his eyes. "Just today…I saw Max for the first time in ten years. I've never even seen Angel before now… I-I I've never felt so-so alive before in my life…"

Derringer took the boy into his embrace as his façade exterior cracked completely, and the teen began to cry like a child overcome with joy. "Hey…hey, mon frére. It's okay, I'm here. It's okay to cry, nobody's here but you and me. We have time."

Iggy began to let go of it all.

The pain of being blind.

The pain of being his family's burden.

The pain of having his own parents betray him.

The pain of not being able to help Fang when he got captured.

The pain of not being able to support Max when she needed it.

The pain of being unsure if his newfound powers would only be a pipedream—

He let it all go…

Derringer sat with him silently for those few minutes, letting the boy relieve himself of the burdens he'd be carrying for so many years.

After a while, the sobs stopped and Iggy lifted his head from Derrin's side. He was smiling, looking like it was the first real time he'd done so in a long time…

"Come on, let's go find Nudge and Gasman. They've probably got the shelter up by now. The wind is starting to get to me."

As he stood up, Derringer also rose and joined him. "Yeah, we've got to find them before they get into trouble. It's not safe around here."

Ig looked at him strangely, "Why? What's wrong?"

The Cajun walked ahead of him, letting the teen follow. "The place I've been leading you to, is an automated archival computer server station, called Delta 6."

"Delta 6? Is it near here?"

Derringer stopped at the border between the evergreen forest and the beach. He looked back at Iggy standing at the water's edge amidst the wet, hard sand.

"You're standing on it."

18. Angels' Sanctuary

Chapter 17

Fang tested his strength by putting one leg on the ground. Still feeling somewhat strong, he stood up on both legs. A quick wave of dizziness hit him, causing him to wobble slightly, but he would be okay soon. Removing the IV needle from his arm, he walked slowly and quietly to the door.

Opening it a crack, he looked outside. There wasn't much out there, but a long hall way with white walls. However, near his door, two men sat in a couple of chairs. Both were young guys, late teens, early twenties. One was Hispanic looking with long shiny black hair tied in a ponytail, wearing a white leather jacket, white jeans, and a t-shirt. The other was a Caucasian blond, he wore a tank top and jeans, his arms were wrapped in bandages. They were both sound asleep, sprawled on their chairs.

Looking closer at the blond, Fang was surprised to see the strange winged tattoo on his shoulder. One that was identical to the one on Sky, in the exact same place, with the exact same ink. Hmm, must be some sort of symbol.

There was no one else out there, but he didn't know how big this place was. That guy Sky had said that this was an abandoned museum, which meant it was probably a big place. There could be any number of people here and he might never see them. He was still too weak to use most of his powers, however getting out of here was priority. He knew there were Erasers after him, and according to what Sky said, he'd escaped a least two days ago. He'd stayed here too long; he didn't want these people to get in trouble, or killed because of him. They had done so much for him, giving him a place to sleep and rest, treated his wounds, and they hadn't been scared or prejudice of him, even when he'd unwittingly hurt them. He'd noticed the bandages on the blond and had known automatically that he had been the cause. I need to get away, if the Erasers don't hurt these guys, I will…

Silently, he closed the door and walked to the bed. Making it up neatly, he then pushed out one of his wings. Pulling out a single feather from the top, he was surprised at how light it still was. Thought it was still shaped and fitted like a regular feather. The only difference was that every strand and vein was made of an extremely lightweight metal. It shined in the light, and Fang could see how if anyone touched it, their fingers would get cut as if by a razor blade.

Quickly, he placed the feather on the center of the pillow, his little memento to Sky for all his help. He wished he could do more, but maybe he would come back here when this was all over…you know, to thank them properly.

Walking over to the window, he fully raised the shutter enough to let him out. He instantly felt the cold wind wrap around his body. Must be a desert region I'm in, extreme hot in the daytime, extreme cold at night. He wasn't strong enough to fly yet, so he'd have to make it on foot—

"You won't survive out there, not dressed like that."

Spinning around, he was surprised to see Sky come in, closing the door behind him. Not even glancing in his direction, the man took off his jacket and sat down in the chair. Appearing to relax for a few seconds, he finally shifted his eye over to the mutant-teen. "Well? Are you going in or out? You're letting out all the heat."

Fang balled up his fist in frustration, careful not to let his claws out. He would never be able to leave like this, his conscience wouldn't let him. Plus, Sky had a point. He looked down at his bare chest, only wrapped in bandages, not to mention that he was still weak from his unexplained illness and his self-inflicted wounds. He might be a fast healer, but that wouldn't help with hypothermia.

Closing the window, Fang went back to sit on the bed, watching his mysterious benefactor for the next move.

Sky was still sprawled out on his chair, apparently worn out. Opening his eyes once again, the man sighed and got up, and moved over to Fang's side. Taking the boy's wrist, he held it in between his fingers. After a few seconds he let go, then took out a penlight from his pocket. "You're pulse is to our norm, which means you must be slowly getting better, since your pulse is supposed to be faster than standard. Now let me look at your eyes."

Fang sat still as the man shined the light in his eyes, "Why are you helping me? You don't want money, and I have nothing else of worth. You have no connections to me, and I must warn you—you don't want to get involved with my problems."

Sky put his light away. "You're eyes are fine. The pupils are dilating elliptically, but I'm guessing that's normal too. Could you lie down, please?"

Fang did as he was told, but he didn't let his question go on ignored. "Why aren't you afraid of me? Don't you find it a little strange that a fifteen year-old boy has metal wings, fangs, retractable claws, and a host of other strange things? Why don't you report me to the authorities, the television stations, or some sort of scientists? A freak like me could get you a lot of money."

The man went around to the desk and picked up a stethoscope. "Fifteen, huh? I would have put you at seventeen, at least. You must age differently, or maybe you're just very mature. That sometimes makes you look older. Could you take a deep breath for me?"

Doing as told, Fang once again became frustrated. He was getting nowhere, but through his silence, Sky was making him spill his guts! Why was he letting his guard down so often recently?

He then felt the man's hand touching something on his chest. "Did you get the bullet removed from this wound?"

Fang looked at the spot he was touching. It was the scar from the gunshot wound near his heart that seemed like a lifetime ago. Back when he was with the flock, and he was normal, at least as normal as ever would get…

He laid back down on the pillow, "I think so, I don't really know. At least that's what the guy who did the procedure told me. But I trust him, as much as a shifty-eyed viper. In fact, I'd probably trust the viper more."

Sky dug into his pocket, "Well, we're going to have to make sure. This will hurt some, but I need you to bear with me. After seeing how strong you are, and how you were about to run away in your condition, I don't think it'll be much of a problem for you."

His hand reemerged—with a scalpel in his palm.

Fang jumped up from the bed, his instincts taking hold and claws popping out. "Hey! Get away from me with that thing!"

Sky put the knife down slowly and cautiously, "Look, I put it down Fang. But I'm going to have to make sure the bullets out."

The leader could see that the boy was starting to freak. So, his phobia extends to all sharp medical equipment. It's not as severe as that of needles, but I need to find out if that bullet's in there, and unfortunately, I don't have an x-ray machine in my arsenal. Looks like I'm going to have to do this the hard way…

He walked slowly up to Fang, talking in soft tones with reassuring words. "Look Fang …it's alright…you can calm down…no one's going to hurt you…"

Sky continued repeating these words, watching as Fang at first backed away scared stiff, his weakness making him beyond sentient consciousness. But the soothing hypnosis of his words, soon drove the troubled boy to him.

Sky took Fang into his comforting embrace, talking to him like he was his father or long-lost brother. The bird-teen wasn't sure what was the cause for the sudden softness and caring, but his body completely subjected to it. He hugged Sky back, glad to be rid of his frantic fears and distrust.

Suddenly, Fang gasped sharply! Darkness flooded his consciousness, and he began to go limp.

Sky felt the boy collapse in his hold. Holding up the boy with his right arm, his left hand removed the syringe he'd just injected into Fang's neck.

He laid the sleeping boy down again on the bed, then picked up the scalpel and went to work. He'd had entry level training in psychological hypnosis, but he hated using it. However, a person caught in a phobic panic like Fang was, obviously wouldn't listen to reason. He'd had no choice, but to deceive the boy.

Sighing, he commented aloud, "I hope his system can deal with this stuff."

He felt the pain of the new scratches on his back from Fang's embrace. All thoughts of overdosing him gone, he thought to himself, Reminder: Drug the guy BEFORE you bring out the sharp medical instruments.

He slowly began to cut a small 'x' incision over the diameter of the wound's scar tissue.

Fang awoke once again and reached toward his neck. He slowly recollected that he'd freaked out again. Sky had somehow calmed him down, only to use his anesthetic drug again when his guard was down.

Looking around him, he saw Sky softly snoring in the chair, seemingly exhausted, the light of morning coming through the window. He observed some slight pain in his chest, and looking down he saw a new bandage over his heart.

Sitting up slowly, he tried to shake off the grogginess from the drug he was swiftly becoming familiar with.

"Sorry about that, but I had to check."

Fang wasn't even surprised anymore; he looked over at Sky, who stared back at him through half-closed eyes. He laughed slightly, "So, was it still in there?"

The tired man nodded to the tray beside the bed, "See for yourself."

There on the roll-away standing tray was a small metal bowl. Inside it, Fang could see a steel bullet, as bright as day, covered with his dark blood and crushed on one end from impact.

Sky got up tiredly and walked to his side, "If I hadn't taken it out, the bullet would have kept sliding toward your heart and killed you. From the amount of scar tissue that has built around it, I estimate it's been in there for at least a week. The only reason why you're still alive is because you haven't been flying much."

He looked at him confused. "No, I was only able to fly for a few hours before I got too tired. What does that have to do with anything?"

"The bullet is in a place where the muscles and tendons that attach between your wings and your chest, the action of you flapping your wings, would move the bullet forward slowly towards your heart. If you kept it up, you would have probably died in a day or two."

Fang balled his fist up in anger. "That bastard…he left it in there just in case I escaped, and told me…Ugh!!"

In anger, his claws popped out cutting into his palms.

Sky sighed and retrieved some more bandages from the cart tray table. "Would you stop that? You're going to look like a mummy soon."

He began to disinfect the wounds. "Sorry I had to hypnotize you like that. I didn't know how else to make you calm down."

Fang looked at the man as he bandaged his hands. He could see that Sky looked less handsome than when the two first met, he was haggard-looking, his clothes and hair unkempt, and he face screamed for a full-night of sleep. As far as he could tell, Sky had stayed and taken care of him three days nonstop. Treating and caring for his wounds, watching his condition, and holding him up in a place to stay, without even asking for anything in return. He had yet to figure this guy out, but he liked him very much.

"That's alright, Sky. This phobia of mine, it's kind of new to me. I mean, I've almost always had this fear and hate for needles, and for cages. But, I've never freaked out like this before."

"Something might have brought it to the surface. Some sort of ultimate trauma or pain that was inflicted upon you, perhaps?" Sky suggested.

Fang thought back to the appalling laser that Jeb had used on him. That had to be it. As much pain as he'd learned to endure, that machine gave him a new definition of it. "I think I know what you mean."

Sky put all the medical supplies on the tray, and rolled it out of the way into a corner. "Well anyway, as long as you keep up what your body's doing, and you don't have anymore outbursts, you should heal up fine. I wouldn't recommend you go anywhere for a couple of days, but you can do whatever you want. You're free to go whenever you like."

With that he rose from his bedside staggeringly, reaching inside his pocket, he pulled out the feather Fang had left. "You left this on your pillow. You're probably shedding, I'll just keep it."

Fang smiled as he was walking away, knowing that the man knew full well he wasn't shedding, and that he was just going to keep the feather as Fang had intended for it to be: a memento.

He was about to sit back and relax a little, when he saw Sky fall in his tracks! He had just been walking, suddenly swayed with a slight moan, then fell to the ground in a heap!

Fang was up in a second, already by the man's side. Sudden alarm went through his head as he held the man's unconscious form. "Sky! Come on, Sky!"

Putting his ear to the man's chest, he made sure there was breathing and a heartbeat before he slung the man's arm over his shoulder and hoisted him up.

He had yet to really meet anyone else in this place, beyond the door of this room. But Sky needed help, and despite what the others in this house could think about him, they would take care of their leader. And not only that, Fang would be damned if he couldn't help the man that had selflessly helped him in his time of need, without thinking of his own health…

Holding Sky up, he opened the door and took his first step outside.

After leaving the plain white walls of the foyer that had been obviously designed as a waiting room to the apparent sickbay he'd been kept in, he made his way to a large expansive hallway.

Traveling further he found his way to an empty, large stairway. As he went down the stairs, careful not to drag Sky's feet along the ground, he couldn't help but thin how big this place was. It was much bigger then even the library he'd went to in the city. It was old however, the paint on the walls was cracked and worn, the wood and marble of the stairs had eroded and rotted away in many spots.

However, there's little dust. This place may look it, but it's not abandoned…

Once he made it down the large staircase, he found himself going around a few twisty hallways. It was after he thought he wouldn't be rid of the dim white-walled tunnels, lit by portable floodlights, that he finally saw sunlight come from the end. He once again checked Sky's breathing. Finding it okay, he comforted himself aloud, "Hang on, Sky. I'm going to get you some help. It's the least I can do…"

He suddenly stopped in his tracks.

He had stepped out of the long string of huge hallways, onto an even more gigantic landing, framed by intricate but decrepit pillars and columns, which led down a very expansive grand staircase!

The extensive foyer that was at the stairs' foot, was big enough to fit two ballrooms. The middle of the marble floor held a huge but nonfunctioning sculpted fountain, and more columns lined the walls, almost as if they held up the chiseled ceiling. Looking up from where he'd come, he also saw that the door he'd come out of was surrounded on both sides by two smaller ascending staircases that led up to a second floor, complete with balconies which overshadowed the foyer. The ceiling was crosshatched with cobwebbed, crystal chandeliers, but other than that, the place was empty of debris and dust, completely swept and kept clean.

Trying to get over his complete awe, Fang slowly remembered what Sky had told him the first day he'd awoken in this place.

'You're at my home/headquarters—a little rundown abandoned museum we like to call: the Conservatory…'

"So this place is an abandoned museum, huh? You sure think big, Sky. Live here all by yourself? Or are your friends here too? I hope so, I don't know the first thing about medicine, and I want to leave taking you to a hospital as a last resort."

The man he held on his shoulder moaned in his unconscious, delirious oblivion. "Aya…I didn't…I didn't mean…please stay, stay with me…."

Fang looked at the man, wondering who the heck Aya was, when he felt the man slump he farther onto him.

"Hey, stay with me Sky! It's just trying to get through your huge house here that's slowing me down."

As he tried to get a better grip on him, something dropped from around Sky's neck and clattered on the stone step. Clumsily bending down and picking it up, Fang unconsciously stuffed the object in his pocket without looking at it, to give to its owner, once he had gotten the owner some help.

Hurrying down the long flight of stairs as fast as he could, he stood in the foyer and let his mutant hearing try to pick up any sounds. Between the giant classical pillars were four doorways, four branches that led to other twists and tunnels within this enormous 'house'. He could be searching for hours before he'd ever find anyone!

Picking up slight voices and shuffling footsteps, he followed his ears toward the first left-hand portal and headed down the dim passageway. Going through hallways, and twists and turns, he began to realize how good a hideout it was. Sky's gang, whoever they were, could probably hold out against an entire police force in a place this big. Plenty of places and shadows to hide in, to stage an offensive, to make an escape…

He slowed down when he saw a halfway open doorway, which was the source of the voices he had traced. Shifting Sky closer to him and getting a better grip, he silently looked through the crack into the room. Life on the run, had taught him that it was always better to be prepared, then to go rushing blindly into a situation.

What he saw shouldn't have surprised him, yet it still kind of did. After seeing nothing but empty space up until now, it was just surprising to see people at work, as if it was perfectly natural. In the room were four men, all strapping young lads who looked like they knew the streets, and could perfectly handle themselves while on them.

They were working in what looked like a strategy room. Some papers were strewn all over a large table in the middle of the room, while others were pinned, stapled, tacked, or taped to the walls. There were at least three rolling dry eraser and clear boards that were full of writing in scribbles, all in black, red, or blue markers. In the corner were a couple of surprisingly ultra-new laptop computers that sat on a tabletop, on and ready for use. If the place didn't have a huge mural painted on it's ceiling, a beautifully-planned marble floor, and haphazardly boarded-up windows, the place would have looked like it had come out of any police station or government headquarters.

Two of the men he recognized. One, sporting a blond ponytail and wearing a white tank and black cargo pants, was the same one he'd seen sitting in front of his door asleep, his arms, as they were now, had been bandaged. I guess I owe him a little trust, since I probably caused those wounds…

The second he recognized, was the man from the park. He was also a blond, but his was more dirty blond compared to the other's sunnier hair. His was also not in a ponytail, but cut short and curled around the nape of his neck. His dress was a simple pair of blue jeans, and a white long-sleeve top, the front unbuttoned showing a distinctly muscular physique. He was the same man who'd been trying to calm him down, and later tried to drug him. His memory wasn't very good at that moment, but he remembered the man's face, it was kind and understanding, yet distrustful at the same time. It almost looked as if the guy had once been trustful of everybody, but then later grew to suspect anybody; a simple innocence that had been violated and stolen away.

The other two men he'd never seen before, or at least he didn't remember. One had to be practically the identical twin of the pony-tailed blond, same clothes, same pants, same hairstyle and length, same blue-green eyes, the only difference was that he had brilliant, flaming crimson hair that seemed it was made of fire. The other had short sandy brown hair under a backward Angels baseball cap. He wore a pair of smart looking glasses and an engineer's jumpsuit, only halfway zipped with a white t-shirt beneath it. Though he wore glasses, he didn't look geeky in the least. He exuded a presence of inner strength and determination, which he seemed to share with his comrades.

Right now they stood around, checking paper and talking among themselves, their back mostly to him. He didn't see anything particularly threatening to him, and if he remembered right, Sky had promised that none of his men would harm him. He hoped they were good to their word. He didn't want to hurt anyone, especially with his weakened condition.

Sliding through the doorway like a skilled contortionist, he came in behind the men without making so much as a muffled step. The men hadn't even noticed that he'd entered.

"Uh-hmm…" Fang cleared his throat.

The four men, turned around with such speed, it almost seemed inhuman! Two even put their hands in their pockets, indicating that there were hidden weapons about.

He looked at them with a pleading half-smile, "He needs your help. Can you please do something for him?"

It took the four some time to gather their wits and realize who was talking to them, and exactly who exactly he was talking about. Suddenly, their surprise was taken over by genuine worry. They quickly came and took Sky off his shoulders then placing him on the floor, the ponytail blond, and his twin immediately went on their knees checking the guy's pulse. The other two stood above them with looks of apprehension.

"Is he breathing?" Glasses asked.

"I think so, but…" the shorthaired blond commented, before looking at Fang with such untrustworthy venom, the boy had to take a step back.

"What did you do to him?" the man asked angrily.

"Nothing, he simply fell out! He's going to be okay isn't he?" Fang went on the defensive.

"Why should I trust a freak like you? Sky's been around nobody but you. You did this, didn't you? So help me, if he's—" He made a move to unveil whatever weapon was in his pocket, but—before he could draw it, Glasses put a restraining hand on his arm.

"No Joaquin, you can't prove anything. Plus, you know what Sky said."

"Sky is on the ground, Tyler." the man called Joaquin retorted, gesturing towards their fallen leader.

The redhead stood and put a hand on his shoulder. "Joaquin, what the boss says, goes. Whether he's out of commission or not. We only take action upon the event of his death. You know that."

"But Kurt, he—"

"—didn't do anything." The blond on the ground said looking up at them.

The redhead, Kurt, gestured to his twin. "What's wrong with him, Luke? We'll get you whatever you need."

Ponytail blond, Luke, said, "I told Sky to stop pressing himself so hard. It's simple fatigue. He's been working with the boy for three days straight, without sleep and very little food and water. His body just fell out. He'll be okay in a couple of hours, we have to feed him and stuff, make sure he stays in bed for at least a day."

Joaquin gritted his teeth in aggravation, mixed with concern. "Why does he have to spend so much time with this freak? He's going to work—"

Luke and Kurt both looked at him with stern gazes, "That is his concern, not ours. Our only job is to follow, to the best of our abilities."

Luke then stood and gestured toward their leader's body, "Take him to his room Joaquin, I'll get up there as soon as I can."

The dirty blond grudgingly hoisted Sky onto his back, and carried him gently out of the room, but not before giving Fang a last stern stare.

Fang cringed a little, yet still looking at Sky still unconscious on his back. He hadn't slept in three days? He'd been watching over him all that time? Making sure his wounds and sickness were tended to, but not caring two cents about himself? Man, if Sky wasn't okay… How did he ever get this attached to one guy? He'd only known him from when he was coming in and out of consciousness, yet he was actually caring about the man's health…

There was suddenly a gentle hand on his shoulder, turning he saw the other three had gathered around him, Luke squeezed his shoulder in reassurance. "Don't worry about him; Sky's going to be fine. You did nothing wrong."

He looked toward the man with sincere regret. "I-I'm really sorry."

The redhead, gave him a friendly punch in the shoulder. "Like he said, there's nothing to be sorry for. Sky trusts you being here. He wouldn't have given you his hedge of protection if he hadn't. Don't think on what that other guy said; you're not a freak, and you're not responsible."

Glasses smiled, "Yeah kid, we've been actually waiting to meet you in person. The only one who's been able to talk to you coherently was Sky. And he wouldn't let anybody in there until you were okay. My name's Tyler Marks by the way. You can of course just call me Tyler."

Fang automatically took to Tyler. He had a kind nature about him, yet he was definitely no pushover. His glasses made him look smart and cuddly, yet could make him look very intimidating at the same time.

The redhead extended his hand and flashed a bright, practically movie star smile. "Yeah, Tyler speaks the truth. My name is Kurt Lancaster by the way. And the guy next to you, who looks a lot like me, is my twin brother Luke. I'm the oldest however…"

"By one minute!" the blond interjected.

Kurt waved a dismissing hand towards him. "Whatever, I'm still the oldest. Anyway, the guy who left is Joaquin Delphi. He's a little rough around the edges and usually he's one of the most lighthearted guys among us. He's just really protective of Sky, even more than the rest of us are. Sky's like his big brother, even though we're all really close here."

Luke interrupted, "Speaking of which, I have to attend to Sky before Joaquin gets antsy and comes back down here and hunts me down. Jackie's not here now, so I'm on my own."

Kurt nodded to his brother. "Luke and another guy, Jackie Snide, are Sky's protégés. They're our three-man medical team. By the way, what's your name kid?"

He blinked, "Uh…the name's Fang."

The three looked at each other. Kurt laughed amused, "Cute, I meant your real name. We won't make fun of it, I swear."

The bird-teen looked at him seriously, "If you mean the name I was born with, my name was F1099. But I'll kill you if you call me that. Everyone I even consider talking to, just calls me Fang."

The three looked at each other once again, a secret message passing between them. They then turned back to him and smiled. Kurt extended his hand once again and this time Fang took it. "Then, Fang it is. Glad to meet you."

Luke was about to leave when he looked around and nodded to Fang. "Want to come with? I know you're really worried about Sky. We can also see if we can get you something to eat afterward...and maybe a shirt."

The bird teen smiled, totally forgetting that he was walking around shirtless. He enjoyed the small group. They were a great change from his constant life on the lam. And with the slight exception of this Joaquin, everyone was really friendly and hospitable. They didn't seem to mind that he had long metal wings, silver-yellow eyes, gray skin, fangs, and retractable claws. He looked around to the others, but Kurt and Tyler just waved him along. "Just go, Luke will make sure you don't get lost. We've still got thing to take care of here."

Fang nodded and followed his guide out the door. Only walking for a few minutes going the way he had come, he heard Kurt and Tyler talking from back in the room.

"Sky was right. He's possibly from one of the government funded-Itex facilities. I had heard rumors that they were using human trafficking as well as illegal stem cell and fertilization technology to do genetic research on humans. I never thought that it was to this type of extent. But seeing Fang…" Tyler commented.

Kurt shushed him, "Quiet down, we don't want the boy to feel unsafe here by talking about his past. He's probably been through enough already. And if he is the product of Itex research, then it has become our duty to protect him."

Fang began to go out of range, but he was already puzzled enough by what he'd heard. How did these guys know about Itex? What else did they know? Could they possibly know where Max and the flock were?

He then steered away from that question. He couldn't be with the flock again until he could get his body and mind together. He had to get Blade under tight control…anything to prevent that horrible dream from coming true. He could still imagine Max's dying body in his arms, screaming at him that he had killed the flock. A few weeks ago, he'd tell you, you were crazy to even suggest the idea. But now, he wasn't so sure…

19. Life of an Angel

Chapter 18

Luke looked over his shoulder at the young teen lost in his own thoughts. Joaquin had been hard on the boy by calling him a freak. It wasn't like they were the jewels of society themselves

However, you had to admit that the boy didn't exactly look human. I mean, he still held human shape and features, and that he must have looked like any of them at a point in time. But somehow, he had changed. He looked foreign and almost vampire-ish in nature. His ash colored skin, long disheveled raven hair tinted with silver, the dark but gleaming metal wings upon his back, retractable 2 in. claws on his fingertips, elliptical eyes the color of burnished amber, and a pair of 2 in. fangs to complete the picture.

However, through all of that, Luke could still see the humanity within Fang's eyes. Buried under the uncanny cover of this book, was simply a young man who had been kicked too many times, and now stood on his own two feet, wary of anyone and everyone. In fact, the more he looked at the teen with new eyes, he could see that the boy might have more in common with them than what first met the eye. Did Sky see this within him? Is that what drew the two together? Kindred spirits?

Well, the first thing is to get him settled. "Well, we're going to have to get you a room first of all. I don't think we want you holding up the sickbay anymore than you have to. But of course, that's Sky's call. He might want you to just stay where you are for observation sake. You scared us a few days ago, wouldn't want that to happen again."

Fang was startled out his thoughts by the blonde's voice. "Huh? Oh, yeah…I'm probably not going to stay too long."

Luke nodded, "Got somewhere to be?"

Fang shook his head, smiling ruefully. "No…more like there's some people after me—the murderous kind."

If the young medical assistant was surprised, he didn't show it. "Same here. Sometimes it's hard for me to remember a time when there wasn't somebody after us."

Fang blinked. Somebody was after these guys? They looked as if they had just gotten out of college, who could be after them? Did they have some secret too?

He finally asked the question that had been bugging him for so long. "Who ARE you guys? What is this place?"

Luke smiled, "Well, I was wondering when you were going to ask that question. But before I explain, could you help me carry some stuff?"

Fang suddenly realized that while they had been talking, they had somehow ended up in another large room in this ever enlarging "house". This one was covered in stocked food materials, crated, stacked, and barreled. Flour, sugar, bread, crackers, cookies, fresh fruits, various canned goods, and many other food supplies stood in nice neat piles.

"What is this?" He asked.

"Our store room, it's connected with the kitchen nearby. We run a slight risk going to the grocery store like normal folks, so we order our food online in bulk, then store it here. I need some stuff for Sky. Troy isn't here right now; he's the culinary technician, so I'm just going to have to leave him a note saying what we took. He keeps a record of everything used so that we know when we're out of something."

Nodding the bird teen began to wonder how big this operation was. Everything was well planned and organized. Yet, these people are on the run?

Luke finished writing his note and then pinned it on a nearby pegboard. He then went over to several food stacks and began stacking things into Fang's waiting arms: a loaf of bread, box of crackers, and couple cans of chicken soup and bullion broth. He then went over and hefted a 20 pack of bottled water and a couple liter bottles of apple juice into his own arms.

Fang watched as the man struggled over the load, but tried not to show it. "Why don't I carry that, and you carry what I got? You look like you're about to fall over."

Luke shook his head, even though the muscles in his arms were screaming. "No…you're wounded…I can't let you…"

Balancing his supplies with one hand, he lifted Luke's right out of his arms with the other. Slipping his own into the hands of the open-mouthed Luke, he shifted the water and juice into his arms with ease. Heading toward the door as if he was only holding a thin paperback in his hands, Fang nodded his head at the shocked man.

"After you." He smiled back.

Luke shook his head in amazement as he joined him at the door. "What are you? Some type of Superman or something?"

Fang shrugged his shoulders, "Or something…."

Luke once again began leading the way, this time towards another staircase.

As they began to climb, the teen asked, "So, about my question?"

Luke nodded, "I haven't forgotten. Well, who are we? Well that depends on who you talk to. To the misinformed public, we are a malicious gang of gun-running murderers and rapists, who terrorize the streets and recruit young, malleable teens into our ranks."

As he heard a bottle of juice fall to the ground, he snickered in amusement. "Something wrong, Fang?"

The teen stood in absolute shock, ignoring the juice on the stair. "I refuse to believe that. There is no way that Sky's a murderer."

Luke looked back at him, his face slightly more serious. "People aren't always who they seem."

Fang felt a twang in his heart at the blonde's ambiguous words. He slowly reached down and picked up the bottle from the floor. "I still don't believe it."

Luke broke the tense mood with a hearty laugh. "Well, then you're not one of the "misinformed public" are you? Yes, we are a gang if you will, but not like the type you're thinking of. We prefer to think of ourselves as a team of vigilantes with a purpose. Those who we help know as you do, the truth of our "gang". That'd we'd never put a gun in the hand of a child, not even you. None of us have ever raped anyone, and if we even thought about doing such an act, the gang is required to use its own brand of "punishment", issued by Sky, stripping that man of his membership and turning him in to the police. And we do not recruit anyone. Anyone in this gang, has been here from the beginning and will be with us until the end."

Fang relaxed slightly that he had been right in the first place. "But how come the public is misinformed? And why are you on the run? Why don't you just get into law enforcement or something? Can't you just tell everyone the truth?"

"Well, it's not that simple. There is a very rich, influential, sadistic man, who has a personal vendetta against us, just as we do with him. We foil any plan he comes up with, and he takes revenge by spreading lies about us to the public and police. But, does that stop us? We've vowed to take down his organization, and we will stop at nothing to complete our goal."

As they stopped at a landing, Fang gave him a look; written all over his face as the question: Yes? Go on!

Lancaster shrugged, "I know what I just said is vague and doesn't answer many of your questions, but that's all I'm at liberty to say. It's up to Sky whether or not to tell you the full story. I'm sorry."

The two continued up another flight of stairs in silence. Disappointment settled on Fang. What is the secret of this gang? Would Sky trust him enough to tell him?

"I know it's hard to trust us. Hey, you don't have to, we don't mind. But one thing you must know, is that we have placed our trust in you. I know my brother and Sky don't want to put any pressure on you right now, but you must know that we, nor this place, can be mentioned to anyone."

The teen looked at him in surprise, "I have nobody to tell anything to, Luke. Don't you trust me?"

He looked back at him with a raised eyebrow, "Is there a reason why I shouldn't? I was just making sure all the cards were out on the table, you know? Anything other than our history that you want to know?"

Fang thought about it and scratched his head, "Well, what city is this exactly?"

"Well, you can hardly call this little dust ball of a place a city. We live in an abandoned natural history museum far on the outskirts of the smallest town in Arizona. A little settlement called McNary, even thought it's still called Chaabito by some of the native Apaches who live here."

Arizona? What was he doing way on the other side of the states?

"How do you get anything done, being out in the middle of nowhere?" He asked politely.

"We have amazing contacts for transportation. And this "middle of nowhere" is where our adversary does a lot of his business. We've traveled all across the states in the business we're in. We have many hideouts, but have a main HQ here where no one can find it. Who'd think of looking for us here, "in the middle of nowhere"?"

"And where did you exactly find me?"

"You, were lying asleep on the outskirts of a small brush patch next to an abandoned gas station, about two blocks from here. That gas station hides a secret tunnel that leads to here, and sometimes we do routine checks to make sure everything checks out. There are often delinquents hanging around there, and we have to often scare them away. That's how Sky and the others found you. Of course, you weren't the normal delinquent…." He smiled looking over Fang's shoulder at his closed wings.

That's something Gazzy would say, Fang thought, feel a slight pang from missing his family.



"Do you have a family? I mean, one with a mom and dad and stuff?"

There was a period of silence, before the man finally answered. "I never knew my parents. I grew up on the streets of Los Angeles with my brother, going from one shelter to another. All we had was ourselves, we were part of the system that slipped through the cracks. Kurt was the only family I ever had. However, now, the Angels are my family too. They're all the siblings and parents I need."

"Angels?" Fang suddenly remembered to look at the man's right shoulder. "Does that have anything to do with that tattoo on your shoulder blade? The one like Sky's and your brother's?"

"Oh, you noticed? Yeah, it's our symbol. It's unique, and uses a special iridescent ink that Jackie makes himself. All of us have it tattooed on the back of our right shoulder. It's the symbol of our "family", our "gang" if you will: The Avenging Angels."

"The Avenging Angels? Catchy name…" Fang commented.

He was beginning to make sense of all this. Men, on the run from the law…lived out in the middle of nowhere…made to have bad reputations…there whole goal is to save people and get vengeance against some archenemy who had wronged them in the past…

Actually, Sky and the Avenging Angels, sound a lot like Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Who knew there were still men of daring-do still around? But what is the past behind these men on the lam? What binds them together so strongly? It was almost like life with the flock. All for one, and one for all…

Luke finally stopped at a landing and began walking left, down the corridor that linked to it. Fang noticed doors lining both sides, almost like offices.

Luke began to speak once again as they walked. "Yeah, I know this place is big, but…its home! There are five floors and a basement. This floor was used for office space, but we cleared out all that, and made them into rooms for all of us. Sky's is down here at the end."

"How many are there in the gang?"

"Including me? There are a total of 15 members of the Avenging Angels. You've met me, Sky, Kurt, Tyler, and Joaquin. There's also, Tawny, Jackie, Ron, Jonas, Shawn, Troy, Joey, Curtis, Tony, and Von. But you'll probably meet all of them later. They come and go, but should all be back around tomorrow morning. Well, here we are." He stopped at the last door at the end of the hall.

Laying down his packages, he was about to reach for the doorknob, when the door burst open from the inside!

Joaquin stood there looking annoyed. "What took you so long? Sky's still out. And why did you have to bring him?"

Fang felt the man's eyes looking at him with suspicion, but this time, instead of shirking away, he looked back with defiance. The others were right, he had nothing to be ashamed of. He had a right to be here too.

And strangely enough, Joaquin seemed to acknowledge this. His face softened slightly, and he stepped aside admitting them both inside.

Once there, Fang could see that the place looked a lot like his sickbay quarters. The room was plain for the most part: cream colored walls, wood flooring, and a window on the east side. There was a small open closet filled with only a couple of jackets. A wooden chair and desk covered in papers and a reading lamp stood near the window, a large fan sat beneath it awaiting those hot desert mornings, and a short, three-drawer bureau sat near the closet having only a picture frame on top to adorn it.

A simple twin bed covered in plain white sheets, sat in the middle of the floor. There Sky lay, bare-chested and underneath the covers. He was pale but breathing regularly, to Fang's relief.

Joaquin sat in the chair, while Luke sat at the end of the bed. First he grabbed a small bag from on the desk, but then turned to him.

"Turn around, Fang. I need to give Sky an injection to help with his body's metabolism. And I don't want you going all crazy on me, okay?"

The teen nodded and faced away, only too happy to oblige.

After a minute or two, Luke called to him. "I'm done, Fang. I need you to bring me a couple bottles of water, and a can of broth."

Collecting the stuff he brought it to the man. "Don't you need a can-opener or something?"

"I'll get one." Joaquin offered, already up.

"No that's okay. I can just use my knife." Luke answered.

But he was interrupted by the sound of the metal snapping, as Fang stuck a claw straight through the can top!

Handing it back to an amused Luke, he shrugged. "They can be for better things than hurting people, you know."

Tipping Sky's head up, Luke opened the water and began to slowly pour it into the leader's mouth. "Come one, Sky. Drink. Don't make me choke you."

Fang watched with earnest as the young medical assistant operated on his leader. Come on Sky, wake up…

As if he could hear the boy's unspoken wish, the raven-haired man suddenly sat up, coughing and sputtering up water.

It almost seemed as if the entire room breathed out a sigh of relief. Luke capped the water and smiled both in amusement and respite. "Well, you're awake—about time."

Sky opened his crystal blue eyes, and slowly reached up to wipe the spilled water from his mouth. "What were you trying to do? Drown me?"

Luke giggled and Joaquin got up to greet him. "How're you feeling, Skylark?"

The man laid back down, his muscles seeming to groan in exhaustion. "Tired, but that's nothing new. Must have overdone it, but he needed so much attention. And I wasn't about to let him to go untreated, just so I could get a few measly hours of sleep. What's been done to him, I—"

Suddenly, he stopped talking as Luke kept shifting his eyes to the right, trying to tell him something. Looking in that direction, he was only slightly startled to see that the boy in question was standing in the corner, a bashful color coming through on his ashen cheeks.

"Fang? What are you doing up? You need to let those wounds heal, and I still haven't figured out how you keep losing blood so fast. You need to be in bed."

He made a move to get up, only to be pushed back down by Luke's stern hand. "Anything he needs boss, we'll take care of him. You need to get your own rest. You need to slowly build up your food intake, so for the first few hours, you're going to be doing nothing but eating broth and drinking water. Then, we might try some crackers."

"I know how this goes, Luke. I taught you, remember?" He answered back with ironic sarcasm.

He took the water from his aide's hand, "Well, I'm going to be out of commission for today. Get Tawny back here, he's going to have to take charge for the time being."

As Sky drank, Luke looked at him strangely. "Well! I guess I'm not needed. Forgive me for being concerned."

The man's blue-eyes twinkled as he swallowed and smiled. "Stop pouting Luke and get a move on, you're going have to be head medic while I'm in bed. Joaquin, do we have a spare room for our young guest?"

Fang, who had stayed silent in the background, suddenly came up shaking his head in discomfiture. "No, no, that's okay. You guys have done enough. I mean, I hardly—"

He felt Joaquin's hand on his shoulder leading him to the door. "Come one, kid. Stop yapping and let's go."

Luke placed the supplies on the floor near Sky's reach. "Well, if there's anything you need, don't hesitate to call on the radio." He nodded towards the walkie-talkie sitting on the desk.

"I'll be downstairs in the rec room if you need me." He smiled, pausing only to give a friendly wink to Fang, before heading out the door—only to be stopped by Sky's voice.


He turned around earnestly, "Yeah, you need something?"

Sky shook his head, "No, but I was wondering, if you could please give Joaquin his lighter back?"

Joaquin suddenly felt around his pockets, "Man, I didn't even know it was gone! How'd you get it out—oh, never mind…just give it back."

Luke looked at his hand, as if seeing the silver, mother-of-pearl lighter for the first time. He handed it back, with uneasy embarrassment. "Sorry Joaquin, I didn't mean…"

The man took the lighter back, gesturing for Luke to forget it. "I know, Luke. It's okay, just get going."

The blond once more bobbed his head in apology, before taking off out the door.

Sky sighed once he was gone. "I wish I could help him more, but I don't know a lot about psychological therapy."

Joaquin shrugged his shoulders, "We just have to watch over him, like always."

Fang looked from one man to the other. "Did he just steal his lighter? What's wrong?"

Joaquin smiled sheepishly, "Well, Luke has a slight…problem."

"Problem? He seemed normal enough to me."

"Well, he is. He just has—well…"

Sky broke in, "Luke, is a kleptomaniac. He steals sometimes without even knowing it. So, be sure to watch your stuff when you're not looking. He doesn't steal because he wants to; he just gets these urges at times. We can't afford to give him the help he really needs, but I'm studying new techniques in order to treat him."

Fang sighed with sympathy, "Who'd have ever guessed? He looked so normal when I was talking to him. And I thought my family had problems."

Sky shrugged his shoulders, "What family doesn't? Joaquin will take you to your new quarters, at least for as long as you figure on staying. And once you're settled, come back and see me. I want to talk to you."

The bird teen smirked; I want to talk to you too.


He let Joaquin lead him out of the room, and they walked in silence down the hall. Fang noticed there were ten doors on each side of the hall. That was twenty, and Sky's room at the end made twenty-one. Fifteen guys including Sky, meant there were six rooms unoccupied. Well, at least he knew he wasn't intruding.

"Here you are."

The man pointed to the third door on the right. Opening the door, Fang could see it was clean, if plain. Just a bed, dresser, desk, and chair, a window in the back; nothing fancy, but it was definitely more preferable to sleeping chained up in a cage.

He looked at his young escort with steel-flinted eyes. "Thanks, it's fine."

Joaquin rubbed his neck in discomfort, "Umm…it's Fang, right?

He crossed his arms, immediately on the defense. What did this guy want now? "Yeah, what of it?"

"Well, look. I think we've gotten off on the wrong foot. I want to, well……I want to apologize, for what I said earlier."

The teen looked at him with surprise and suspicion. "Really? Why?"

He raised his hands in desperation, "Look, I shouldn't have snapped off on you like that. I shouldn't have gone off on you for our problems. It's just that—"

The man turned away, and put his hands on the wall as if looking for support. Fang could tell that he wasn't used to apologizing, and therefore was frustrated in doing it. Hmm…he reminds me of myself a little.

He sighed a little, his loose dress shirt slinking down on his bare back, revealing the shimmering wings of the telltale tattoo. "—This is the only family I've ever had, and when I think it might be threatened I…well, I go off a little. And I wanted to say I'm sorry for jumping to conclusions, and for calling you a 'freak' and stuff. You're actually pretty cool in my book, like one of the comic book superheroes come to life! It's just that I—"


The blond felt a touch on his shoulder, and turned to face the black-haired teen. His fanged smile was no longer threatening, and his pale eyes held a look of understanding.

He said quietly, "Its okay. I understand that a family is a sacred thing, and that when it's threatened, you do all you can to get rid of the threat. I would do anything to keep my family safe, and so—I understand where you're coming from."

Joaquin mouth went into a slightly crooked smile that reminded him of Iggy. "Yeah, so…I think we should have a fresh start. My name's Joaquin Delphi." He held out his hand in friendship.

"Name's Fang, hope we can get along this time, I'm really starting to like you Angels, and I'd hate for you to be the only one on my hit list." he said as they shook hands.

He waved the matter away with his hand, "Hey, you better be glad I took you off of mine. You better get back to Sky before he goes back to sleep. And—thank you, for helping him out. We owe you one."

Fang shook his head, "No, my debt has yet to be paid."

He left the room waving goodbye, leaving Joaquin alone. A grin perking up on the young man's face as he sat thinking in the dark, I wonder whose family he belongs to, they're certainly lucky to have him.

When Fang returned to Sky's room, he could see the man was sleep. Good, we can talk later, he needs his rest.

Instead, he looked around the room a little more.

Walking over to the dresser he glanced at the single decoration that graced it: a picture in a beautiful silver frame. In the picture was a scene of three people who were obviously a family. In the center was a beautiful blond woman, her eyes as green and sparkling as an emerald. On her right, stood a teenage boy who was obviously younger, he had a head of unruly red hair and the same emerald eyes of the woman. They must be siblings or something; he's too old to be a son. As Fang looked closer, he was surprised to see the infamous tattoo on the boy's sleeveless arm. Maybe he's one of the guys I haven't met yet…but why would everyone have theirs on their back and he have his on his arm? And why didn't they use the same ink? This kind is dull like the normal tattoos I see, was it a prototype or something? Moving on to the woman's left, he instantly recognized the other man in the picture with his arm wrapped around the woman's shoulders. He was younger, his hair was shorter, and he wasn't as drawn or rugged looking, but there was no mistaking those sparkling blue eyes. That man was Sky!

He looked back at the sleeping gang leader. Were these two his siblings? Did they still work here? Then he remembered Luke's comment about Sky and murder. He shuddered to think, but what if…what if he killed them? No, there's no way. I can't believe that. But…

Moving away from the picture, he stepped lightly towards the desk. He saw several lists of names of people he didn't know, as well as numbers. Nothing seemed to stand out to him, and he didn't see anything threatening—

That name again!

The company name, Itex, lined the heading of many of the papers. What is it with that company? Was Sky working with his enemies? He remembered what Tyler and Kurt had been talking about, that if he was a product of "Itex research", it was their job to protect him…what did these guys know about Itex? Did Sky know more than he was sharing?

"You shouldn't poke around someone else's stuff, unless you're sure you're not going to get caught."

He turned towards the Angels' leader, who was sitting up, wide awake watching him, his hands behind his head. "Sky, I've trusted you guys a lot, and I know I have no right to ask, but I have to know. Luke explained to me a little of what you and the Avenging Angels do, but there's a lot of holes missing. He says that he's not allowed to give the whole story, and that only you can decide that. Tell me, what's your connection to Itex? Why are you guys on the run? Do you work for them or something? Do their dirty work?"

Sky just blinked at him and reached for his bottled water. Taking a small swig before answering, he said, "Fang, you haven't been open with me either."

The teen looked at him with question.

"I've trusted you far more than I should, because I see something within you that tell me there is a lot more to you than meets the eye. But you must know that I am compromising the safety of my own men by having you here, and that I have shared with you what I haven't with anyone else outside our little organizations."

"Yeah, but…"

"You know that I could tell my men to kill you right now, and they would do it. They know that I'm only for the best interests of the group, and that they can trust me. They trust my instincts that I'm right about you. Now I need to know that I'm right about you. You give me the whole story, and you can ask me anything you want and I'll answer truthfully; the lives of the Avenging Angels will be your oyster. You asked me what I wanted in return for your care; well, your answer is: I want the truth."

Fang sat in silence trying to figure out a way around this, but he couldn't. He couldn't fight in his condition, and he couldn't leave in this state either. Besides, what else did he have to hide? If they had really been some of Jeb's agents, he'd been back in that cell or that vat the second after his first operation. Why shouldn't he trust Sky? The big part about being a winged mutant was out; he didn't have the flock's location, so he couldn't give them away if he tried. So what else was there to lose?

He sighed in resolution, "Look, I'll give you the whole story, but on one condition."

A smirk curved up on Sky's face, "And what would that be?"

"You tell me the whole story on the Avenging Angels, everything. That's the deal."

The man's indigo eyes sparked, "I guess that's only fair."

His hand almost instinctively went to his neck. "But I must warn you, only for the whole…"

His voice suddenly trailed off as he felt around his neck. His face went from amusement to concern. "Oh no…"

When he began trying to get up, Fang was at his side instantly. "Hey, you're supposed to stay put. I can't let you get up."

His superior strength was the only thing holding the man down. "You don't understand. I have to find it. I can't believe I lost it, I never take it off—ever!"

"Come on, stop. I'll go look for—whatever it is. I'll call Joaquin and Kurt or something. They'll help me. You stay put."

Sky relaxed slightly, not being able to budge under Fang's hold. He looked up at the boy in earnest. "You have to find it! I-I can't have lost it. Please!"

Fang was shocked to see tears welling up in the man's eyes! He was usually so calm and collected. What could he have lost that was so important?

"Do you want me to start looking in here?"

He nodded, "And hand me the radio. I'll have the others look all over the Conservatory."

He let go and handed him the walkie-talkie from the desk. Getting on his hands and knees, he set forth all his mutant senses out to find—wait a minute, what was he supposed to find?

He arose to ask, but the man was already speaking on the radio receiver. "—No Luke, I do not want any tea! Luke, my necklace is missing, I need you to find anyone available and search for it. –What do you mean, 'what necklace?'? I only have one! –Yes, that one! –I don't know how I lost it, I never take it off. It must have slipped off my neck sometime, though it's never done that before."

Fang suddenly remembered something! As he had been hauling Sky's unconscious body down the stairs, he'd tried to get a better hold on him before he fell off. Something had fallen off Sky's neck then, and he had without looking, reached down and put it…

Reaching down in his pocket, he pulled he felt something cold press against his fingers. Pulling out the object, it was none other than a silver link necklace chain, and on the end glittering, was the most beautiful ring he'd ever seen! (that wasn't saying much since he hardly had time to see them at all…) It was silver as well; the jewel perched on its center was a large marquise-cut diamond, and on the band, small stars had been engraved, a little diamond in the center of each one.

"That's okay Luke, Fang found it."

The teen snapped awake from mesmerizing shimmer of the necklace, and looked up at Sky, who in turn, was looking at him with suspicion. "Did you take my necklace, Fang?" a dangerous glint was on his tongue.

The bird teen shook his head and offered it back. "When you collapsed in the sickbay, I had to carry you all the way down a lot of stairs and hallways before I found some help. Once, when I was trying to get a better grip, it fell off your neck and I stuck it in my pocket for the time being. I didn't even know what it was; I never got a chance to look at it. I'm sorry, but I didn't mean to take it. I'd never steal it, I promise."

Sky took the necklace from his hand and unclasped it before putting it back around his neck. As he fastened I back, he looked at Fang, his eyes softening. "I know you're telling the truth, I can always tell with anyone, but thank you Fang. You don't know what I'd do if I'd lost it. For that, I can tell you my story first if you like."

Fang shook his head as he sat back down. "No, I want to get it off my chest. I'll start."

The evening was still young as he began to tale his tale, from the very beginning. About the School days, when he had only the flock and his own thoughts, to keep him alive…

20. An Issue of Trust

Chapter 19

"Wait! So you're telling me that this compound, Delta 6, is directly beneath us?!" Max looked at him incredulously.

Derrin flashed his amber cat-eyes daringly at her as he bit into his third hamburger. "That's right, chére. About 20 feet below your shoes."

Nudge bit into her own hamburger. "How do people breathe down there? Does the air go through the rocks and dirt and stuff? They must get really stuffy in there. Or maybe they have really good air-conditioning? But then it would be like a freezer down there. I wonder—"

"No worry Nudge, because there's no people down there. The place is entirely automated. It's like a giant computer mainframe and has only one external output station. This is used by any workman who is sent to do a diagnostic check on the place, fix any loose screws, that sort of thing. However, with the right computer expertise you can access a wealth of info about Itex, the government involvement, the whole shebang. All of the other locations connect to this place. If we hack into it, we can know what they know. "Derringer explained.

"Where are we exactly?" Iggy asked, having finished eating and listening to the rain pouring outside their cave.

Derrin undid the band in his hair and let it down, trying to get it to get it to dry. It cascaded across his shoulders and down his back, in wet tangled scarlet locks. "We're in a little middle-of-nowhere place in northern part of Montana, close to the US border.

After he and Derringer had found Gasman and Nudge, their new big brother showed them to a cave where they could stay the night. The storm soon broke right after they started the fire, a true thunderstorm that blew raging winds, thunder, and lightning. Rain was coming down in sheets and the cold began to set in. Derringer had been concerned about Max and Angel, but Iggy assured him that they were on their way back, and would be here soon. Still, Derringer went out in the storm to the shore in order to flag them down. The three returned minutes later, just as Ig had predicted. Unfortunately, they had returned water-logged and freezing. Derrin didn't mind his wet pants and just removed his soaked t-shirt and put on his leather jacket. Iggy and Gazzy took off their own shirts and gave them to Max and Angel, who changed in the back of the cave. The shirts fit almost like dresses on them, so they laid their pants and shirts near Derrin clothes, close to the fire.

It turned out that the two had found a little tiny town about 15 miles away. There was a small diner there, who had freshly thrown away a bunch of overdone and partially eaten food. The flock didn't mind, and just tore off the parts that were bitten or too burnt.

As they sat near the fire eating, Derrin began explaining this place that they would soon be dealing with.

"The security in this place is top notch, one of the best mechanized security systems in the world, so we'll have to split. Some of us will have to fight off the machines, while the others get the information from the computer. Now which of you are really good with computers?"

Everyone who had been looking at him, turned and looked at Nudge. The girl smiled and waved, her brown eyes twinkling. "That's me!"

Derrin smiled back at her, "Well, at least that's one of us. Angel, you and Total are to flank Nudge at all times, you're going to be our last line of defense. Gasman, you'll be their immediate cover, you keep close to them and make sure they aren't hurt by any stray danger. Max, Iggy, and I will be the outer line of defense and do most of the fighting. If anything happens and everything heads south, we'll meet up back here. Got it?"

Max crossed her arms, "I have a question. How do we get in there, if it's 20 feet below the surface?"

He smiled slyly, "Now, that's the easy part."

He handed her his jacket, and walked right out into the rain.

The rest of the flock looked at him like he was absurd, as he ran to a tall pine next to the shore where they landed. Running his hands over the trunk, he commenced in hitting several of the various knobs on the bark in a particular sequence.

Suddenly, they felt a shudder going on beneath them. It was like the whole ground was quaking!

Angel held on to Total, "W-What's that?" she asked in fear.

The dog licked her face lightly, "It's okay, darling. Derringer knows what he's doing…I think."

Iggy put his fingers to the ground, and using his newfound power, was able to see everything that the others did. However, he too didn't understand it. What has happening out there?

The sand near the particular tree shifted, and out of the ground arose a box-shaped building with double doors, like that of a large shed or barn, but made of metal and shining steel!

After the building had arisen about a head higher then Derrin himself, it stopped, as did the earth quaking as well. The rain pitter-patted on the cold metal of the building's sides, as the two double-doors shifted open.

As soon as it had stopped moving, the redhead rejoined the group of openmouthed winged wonders. He looked at them with mock confusion, "What? You asked me how you get down there."

They still looked up at him with incredulity. Iggy gave him a questioning grin, "How did you know to do all that?"

He hunched his shoulders, "Been here before."

"How? I mean how do you know about all of this? Delta 6, the security system, all that? Have you worked here in the past or something?"


"Then how—?"

Derrin shook his head, an edge of impatience on his voice. "No, I've never worked for Itex. I just know, and that's all you need to be aware of."

Iggy closed his mouth, and backed off as if struck. The tension was getting stronger and Max felt it was time to change the subject.

She gestured towards the door. "So, you're telling me we just stroll on in there, and take whatever information we need from the computer?"

Derringer shook the water from his body in an animalistic fashion. "Yeah, pretty much. Except once you pass the doorway, the scanners will know we're not authorized and start shooting up the place with automatic laser canons. An alarm will also be triggered that will cause the entrance to close and trap us down there until security from the company, probably Erasers, comes to investigate. This means that we have less than ten minutes to get in, get the info, and get out."

Max nodded in affirmation, "Alright, let Angel and I get our clothes back on. We'll be ready in a few minutes."

Derringer had to do a double-take, "You don't mean we're doing it tonight? Max, everyone is tired, we should wait until tomorrow."

She shook her head, "Fang can't wait. It's already been almost two weeks since he was captured. We need to pickup the pace, and if that means we lose a couple hours of sleep, than so be it."

He put his hand on her shoulder, "Max, I know we have to find him, but my instincts tell me we shouldn't do it now. I have a feeling about this night, tonight is a star-crossed night. If we do this, something's going to happen, something for the worst, I know it."

She shifted from under his touch and flashed her determined eyes at him. "Well, my gut feeling is telling me to do it now, and that is my decision as leader, unless you wish to challenge me on that too?"

Derringer could tell she was stubborn on her decision, and wouldn't be moved for anything he had to say. He just hoped that his sixth sense was wrong and that everything would go smoothly. "It's your call, chére. I'll go along with it, but I'll let you know now—I don't like it."

She nodded at his statement then turned to the rest of waiting flock. "Nudge, you help Angel out. Gasman, you and Total pack up our stuff. Iggy, you—where is he?" she looked around to find the boy missing.

Angel pointed to the entrance, "He went outside, while you were talking."

She shrugged, "Oh well, I was going to tell him to leave out anyway. And you can join him, Cajun…"

She looked to see that the man was nowhere in sight. Angel pointed to the door once again.

Max waved her hands in the air in exasperation, "I give up!"

Iggy sat outside in the rain, feeling the raindrops slide down his bare skin. He felt a hand on his shoulder, as someone sat down beside him.

"You're going to catch a cold like this."

He hunched his shoulders in indifference. "What about you Derringer? You've been out thrice, and you don't seem to mind."

He sighed, "Look, I'm sorry I was rough with you before. I…"

The blind boy turned from him, "Just go."

The Cajun noticed the especially bitter tone in the boy's voice. "What's up frére? Something wrong?"

The fifteen-year old turned and looked at him, his clouded eyes flashing in anger. "Wrong? Something wrong? Derringer, we've made you a part of this family. We've put our trust in you. Yet, you don't give any in return!"

He felt Derrin recoil slightly at his livid words, but continued anyway. "I put my hopes and dreams in your hands when you were helping me. I opened up to you, things I haven't even told my own family! Yet, it seems that I know less about you now, than I did before! There are too many coincidences and unanswered questions that you haven't even tried to answer! You blow them off with your charm and debonair; that might work on Max, but not on me. How do you know all these things? How did you come to have superhuman powers? How did you know about this place, or about the code to use with the tree? How did you know about the School, the Institute, Erasers, or what's been done to us? Don't you know that our past hurts? My past hurts a whole lot, and to have someone to understand at least a little bit, is a little scary, but also a relief. But you've never opened yourself up to me, like I have to you. You're carrying a huge load on your back. I can tell. Let me help you, like you helped me. You say this so often, but I've never asked you this question until now…Don't you trust me?"

The rain continued to drip-drop on the ground, hitting hollowly on the leaves of the trees and making converging ripples in the rough water. The two sat in silence as Iggy waited for an answer. The water ran down his face and his tense features, as he sat still, his emotions on the edge. He watched Derrin's countenance with his mind. It seemed that a dark cloud had come over the man's features, one that had nothing to do with the cold rain and winds.

As the period of silence slinked on, Iggy began to have second thoughts. Maybe, he should have been easier on him. The man was now his brother, he did deserve some privacy. However, before he had a chance to apologize, Derringer broke the silence himself…

His voice answered heavily, with an air of grief and anger. "Did you ever think that it would hurt me? That I have been through things that might even make you squeamish? You can't fully understand me Iggy, since you've had the flock all this time. I've had no one, a loner not by choice, forced to recluse myself from a humanity I'd been taught to shun, yet trained to encompass and assimilate myself within. It's hard for me to just "open up"—I've built too many walls up around myself, locked and padlocked the doors to my heart. I can be there for you, but I don't think it can go both ways."

Iggy smiled in sympathy, "You can't seem to get it."

Derrin looked up at him with shadowed eyes. "Get what?"

Ig held out his hand, offering to help him up. "That you aren't alone anymore. That no matter how many walls you put up, no matter what your mind keeps telling you. We will be here for you. We are your family now, and its okay to let us in, if only a little. It was wrong of me to try to pressure you; I'm sure that in time you will tell us of your own accord."

Derringer pushed the wet red hair from his face, and looked up at him with bewildered eyes. He saw the hand reaching out to him, and was again reminded of how much the young teen had developed in his powers. How he had put his trust in him to lead him out of the darkness of his disability even without having any reassurances whatsoever.

The corner of his mouth turned up slightly, the rain drizzling over his lips. He thought he understood so well. Yet, maybe…he was just beginning to.

Iggy looked at his big brother, as the man grabbed his hand firmly. However, when their skin touched, he was suddenly hit by a singular distinct image as clear as day. It was the path to an old, worn down house. One, old-fashioned in nature, but sturdy, and it was hidden by a forest of pine trees. It was so sudden and fresh in his mind-vision, that he let go and took a step back in fear.

The image disappeared and he could "see" Derringer once more. He at first looked worried, but then grinned in sympathy and put his hand on his shoulder. This time, there were no sudden interferences and images. "You okay?"

He breathed a small sigh, trying to bring logic into what he'd just seen. "Yeah…I'm fine. I just thought I saw…something."

Derrin raised an eyebrow, "Something…or somewhere?"

He looked up at him incredulously, "What did you do now? Is this another new ability or something?"

"Not really, it's just that if a person thinks on an image so intently that it consumes their vision, when you use your touch ability, you see it as well. The image you saw is the place where I stayed there last time I was out here. It isn't much, but it's a good shelter and was well away from the immediate area here, as well as from any civilization that would bother it. It's a Civil War Era house that's been abandoned for who knows how long, probably once used on the underground railway. It's across the US border and in a forest in the Canadian province of Alberta. It's about 120 miles away, but it's only about six minutes of a brisk run or a fast flight."

He clasped Iggy's hand tightly. "Ig, I have a bad feeling about this, so I thought of this place as an extra precaution. Know you know the way there, so if anything happens to me or Max—"

The boy let go and stepped back as if stung. "What? N-No, I-I-I can't. I don't know how to lead. Nothing's going to happen, I—"

The man grabbed his shoulders and shook him soundly. "Iggy! Snap out of it! You'll be okay! I KNOW you can do it! I know it. You just have to know it. You have to be prepared with the fact, that there may come a point in time that I won't be there. Max won't be there. The little ones are going to look to you, and you have to be prepared to take that role, no matter what you may feel."

Iggy trembled slightly, but not because of the ice cold rain that continued to drench him. "But…I'm not strong like you. How can I…?"

"Iggy, you taught me a lesson today."

The fifteen year-old looked up at him. "What?"

Derringer smiled lightly, "You reminded me, that sometimes you have run for it; you can't always hide. You have to face things head on, rather than hide it behind a smoke screen."

He got down on one knee, making himself appear shorter and more vulnerable than his sightless little brother. "I promise you. When this operation is over, I'll tell you everything, holding nothing back. But you stay strong for me, okay? Is that alright with you?"

The teen wiped the rainwater from his face and took the guy's hand to help him up. "You have a deal."

Shaking hands once on it, they were on their way to head back inside, when they ran into Max, fully dressed, coming out followed by the other three kids and dog. She put her hands on her hips in impatience. "I was just about to go get you two. Come on, we're ready. Let's move out."

She handed both Derrin and Iggy their shirts, though it made little difference since everyone was soaked.

Derrin took it and slipped it onto his shoulders. "After you, chére."

She smiled at him consciously and took the head. She understood Derrin's need for caution, but Fang needed them. They had taken too long already. The flock would be fine, there was no need to worry.

As Iggy took her left flank and Gazzy, her right, Nudge, Angel and Total were behind her, and Derringer took the rear.

The group proceeded in that formation, into the deep dark depths of Delta 6…

Jeb sat in his office alone, waiting for the phone to ring. He needed some kind of word from Sephiroth and his task force group!

Fang had been gone too long to have gone without a new supply of plasma. If he didn't get blood in three days, he would die. However, it had been almost a week since his escape. He was either dead, laying in some ditch somewhere…or he had found some hapless passerby and renewed his food supply.

However, even if that's true…that bullet in his chest will kill him eventually if flies too far. Oh, why must the boy always be so stubborn! He's putting my projects on the line by deciding he want to go off and risk death. Now what good is he going to be dead?! Well…at least we could examine him better then ever on an autopsy table. But I wanted to at least see him live his life out, the ultimate trial experiment…


His hand flew to the phone faster than lightening. "Batchelder"

"Sir, this is Lisle."

He sighed, "I'm waiting for a call here. What is it?"

"Well sir, just reporting in that there has been no word or sightings of the subject in the media."

Jeb thought on that, "So, he's not dead yet and he hasn't killed anyone…Has there been any reports of anyone matching him in any of the hospitals? Blood transfusions, that sort of thing?"

Lisle was quick to answer, "Nothing so far, sir. And we've been working on Virgo, but she won't tell us anything. Are you sure she didn't just get ambushed? The tapes—"

"I don't care about the tapes, but I know Fang. He's good, but not that good. He had help. Keep pressing her, and if necessary give her to the Erasers."

"But sir—"

"Is there anything else?"

"No, but—"

He hung up unceremoniously, and then dialed another number. The line only rang once before the voice at the end of it picked up. "Sir?"

"Sephiroth, first are there any new developments?"

The silvery-white haired alpha male Eraser responded solemnly. "We traced him all the way to the border of Arizona. He tried to fly a ways but eve the breeze caught his scent. We've been scrambling our forces to scour the area and making our way through the state. So far he's been taking a straight path, so we aught to catch up to him soon."

Jeb sat back in his chair and read over his notes, "Well step up the search. I think Fang might be hiding out with someone, specifically someone with medical knowledge and practices at home. I've been looking at his test scans, and I can tell his mind is not balanced. It seems as something is emerging from it; almost like there is a war within it. I need you to find him fast, before something happens and we have a big cover-up operation that would turn into a big mess."

"Yes, sir."

"Call me about any developments. I have to go check on Aki's team."

"Yes sir, and Aki might actually succeed this time, saying he has my Viper with him."

Jeb nodded in agreement. "She's a handful. After she finishes with her mission with Aki, maybe I'll send Viper out there to aid you."

He actually heard a slight laugh in response. "She would be welcome sir, but I'll have things wrapped up by then."

"Well, let's hope so. And give me a daily report, would you? I'm tired of having no word from you for days."

"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

"Whatever, just get it done."

Jeb hung up the phone, letting the Eraser get back to his work. He never did understand what they thought they were doing when they created Viper. The woman was a born psychopath, plain and simple. He didn't know how Sephiroth could stand her, let alone love her. But the two were a known pair, even among all the doctors and personnel. He guessed it was the old "opposites attract" factor at work once again.


He picked up once again, "Batchelder."

"Hello, Father."

Well, speak of the devil….

"Yes Aki, did you get my message?"

"Yes, we have been on the look out for him, but I doubt he'll find his flock so fast. They're not even in the area. And I think—they've already found a replacement."

Batchelder sat up at that. "What?"

"Oh, nothing…the little bird-children have just taken in a new member, that's all. Listen, I'm going to have to call you back and tell you all about it in my report. We're about to…move out."

Jeb sighed, "Just remember my rule Aki, and don't make a mess that I'll have to clean up."

"Whatever you say, father. I remember."

The line suddenly sounded a click then went dead. He hung up as well, shaking his head.

Sometimes I worry about that boy. Maybe it's about time I tell him about Anne, if he doesn't already know that is. Well, Max has adopted another into her flock…that's something I didn't see coming. I wonder who it is, and why? Is she starting to trust again? So soon? I wonder how Fang will take it. I won't tell him right away, it might upset his already unbalanced mind. However, the first thing to do, is to find the little winged vagrant, before he does something he comes to regret…

21. An Angel and a Devil

Chapter 20

A/N: Sorry for the long wait, but as you can see it is a long chapter, and I didn't even get in all that I wanted to. But here it is! Also, for last chapter, I wrote about a character named "Aki". This was a mistake on my part, Aki being a character in another one of my stories. I meant to write "Ari", as most of you have figured out. However, unless you just didn't know I'm writing it here to for conformation. Sorry about the confusion folks, and enjoy the chapter!

"…and that's how I came to be here, and you know the rest." Fang finally finished.

He had just spent the last hour or so, telling his entire story—from his first days in the School's cages, to his escape with Jeb Batchelder, to Angel's abduction and Jeb's betrayal, then to the flock's escapade in the east with Anne, their discovery of Itex's connection and his capture at the hands of the Erasers, the recent mysterious changes in the physiology of his body, and finally to his recent escape from Jeb's clutches with the help of one-time enemy, Virgo.

Sky had sat and listened intently, only interrupting just to clarify certain details. In the end, he took a sip from his bottled water, thinking silently to himself, deep in thought.

Fang looked up at him slightly unsure of what to do next. Is he mad? Well, he was going to find out about it anyway, I only wish that he'd say something. Then I could know what my next step would be. Will I have to leave? Or will he let me stay? Does he think I could be a threat? Maybe I should just go now, before things become too antsy…

Looking at his host, he smiled at the man still lost in thought. He said softly, "I think you can now understand why I can't stay and put you and your men in danger. You guys have been a godsend, but I'm sure you have your own troubles. One day, maybe I'll be able to pay you back for all the help you've given me. I can introduce you to the flock and stuff…maybe. Don't worry, I have an excellent sense of direction, and I'll be able to find you again."

He slowly made a move to get up, when Sky's voice caught him. "Sit down, Fang. You're not going anywhere."

The authority in the man's voice couldn't be denied, and the teen found himself back in his seat at strict attention.

Screwing the top back on his water bottle, Sky arched his finger and looked at the winged boy in front of him. "Fang, I have no intention of throwing you out, neither do I intend on shirking out of my part of the bargain. You have told me all that I need to know. My men are my concern, and so it seems are you. I don't know if it was fate that brought you to me, or just dumb luck, but what I do know is, is that you're staying here for the night, and you will remain a guest here for the time being. Do I make myself clear?"

Fang was scared speechless at the sternness in the man's voice, so that he could only nod in return.

"Now you're probably asking yourself why I would take so many risks with somebody I don't know. Especially, someone with as many problems as you've outlined, with your tales of mad scientists and werewolf creatures and such, right? By all rights, I guess I should simply throw you out for telling such lies."

"But I'm telling—"

Sky held up his hand, stopping him from saying anymore. "I know you're not lying to me, Fang. Didn't I tell you I can always tell if somebody's lying or not? I mean, as fantastical as your story is, it can't be any harder to believe, than to believe that a fifteen year-old boy can have wings and fly, am I right?"

Well, that made some sense. Fang thought to himself.

Sky went on, his hand absentmindedly fingering the beautiful diamond and silver band on his necklace. "I'm going to tell you why I insist you stay…and also to keep my promise that I made to you."

His eyes shifted over to the side wall as he began, and Fang followed their direction to see, that he was gazing at the single picture on the bureau, the one that he had noticed earlier.

"Fourteen years ago, I lived in New York. I was a young orphan immigrant without siblings or any prospects in life; growing up with my neglecting uncle, who I ran away from when I was sixteen. Wandering from place to place, I finally found myself in California. Having to work my way through school, and no one really having a care about me, the only thing that really gave me any solace, was my studies. I was very apt towards school, and got along almost on the rank of genius; going through high school, college, and on my last year of medical school when I was only nineteen years-old. During this time, I met a young high school senior, an eighteen year-old young woman named Aya Seika.

"Aya and I…well…there was nothing like the love we had for each other. It was a magic that one can only understand if one experiences it themselves. She was the first person in the world who ever seemed to understand me. After only a couple weeks, she opened up my pain-locked heart, as if she alone had the key. She too was an orphaned refugee who was treated with disdain, and she understood my pain as I did hers. We were drawn to each other, like by magnetism. She was so beautiful, that she couldn't have been from this earth. I fell so in love with her, it was beyond words. The day she graduated from high school, I asked her to marry me, and we did so, the very next afternoon."

Fang looked back at the photo with a little more consideration. The softly curled snow-blond tresses, surrounding a fair face with Asian features, the petite rosebud-shaped crimson lips, and the dazzling emerald jewels that were her eyes; yes, this woman must have been Aya. He could see it in Sky's eyes as he spoke, and how he looked over at the picture; there was a love…and a pain, that was unlike any other he'd seen. What happened to you Aya?

"The story of the Avenging Angels, or at least how I came into it, started about 4 years ago, in Los Angeles. I continued my education to become a doctor, while Aya worked at a famous manufacturing corporation as a secretary. We lived in a little three room apartment; the two of us, as well as Aya's twin brother. His name was Tōya."

Things began clicking in place as Fang was able to pair names with the people in the photo. So, the one on the other side of Aya, was her brother, and Sky's brother-in-law! He had a nice-looking, buoyant face to him, his golden-streaked red hair suiting very well with his bright green eyes, which were identical to his sister's in every way. Yet, even though he said they were twins…

"I thought that he was much younger than the woman—Aya. He doesn't look eighteen." He commented

Sky smiled lightly, "Tōya always had a way of looking younger than he really was. That's why my wife was very protective of him…the two were inseparable, never apart for a long period of time. But, back to the story, Tōya was not a very conscientious guy when I first met him. After graduating from high school, he had no want to go to college, and couldn't land a job. He eventually got involved in an LA gang called, the Fallen Angels.

"We, Aya and I, warned him to get out, but he rarely listened to us. One day, Tōya got involved in some business that left him holding the bag, and being in a lot of trouble with the police. We didn't know what to do. We had no money for a lawyer or bail, everything seemed truly hopeless. And that's when Aya's boss, a man named Damian Stockholm, came to us sympathetically and offered to use his connections to make everything that had happened with Tōya, simply go away! But of course, nothing is that simple. It was only after we agreed and he cleared my brother-in-law's name, that he then came to us with notice of his fee. He said that since we couldn't pay bail, we would recompense it to him in payments: $1,000 dollars a week for a year and a half."

"What! That's almost $80,000 dollars!" the teen said in surprise, his math skills racing.

Sky chuckled slightly under his breath, "That's what we said. I told him no way, that it was extortion. He answered, or rather threatened, that if we didn't pay, he would give all the information to the police and have Tōya arrested and put away in the worst prison around. And we knew he would do it too. We knew Stockholm had an ear everywhere, from the CIA and INTERPOL, to the Russian and Italian mafias. If he said he could do it, then he could. I told him pointblank that it was blackmail."

"Then what did he say?"

"He said, and I quote, 'Call it what you will, I'll either have the dead presidents on my desk, or I'll have your brother dead in prison. Your choice.' We had little choice, as neither of us was going to give up on Tōya. Aya signed over her paychecks, and I gave out what little I had. Meanwhile, we decided not to tell Tōya of our plight, for fear that he would do something stupid. But to our surprise and dread, two days after returning home—he went right back out riding with the gang again!

I talked with him with more force, even threatening him at times, but he refused to listen. I would have even thought to throw him out of the apartment, but Aya wouldn't even hear of it. But times became desperate; we were running out of money to pay Stockholm. I had become behind in my payments for tuition, and eventually had to drop out at the end of my last year of medical school—it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do…

Aya was working triple overtime, and it still was not enough. I worked full time, but it was just not sufficient funds to go around! We couldn't possibly afford to pay Stockholm and take care of ourselves. Tōya came home and asked me what was up, since he had noticed the changes. I had promised Aya I wouldn't tell him, but my anger got the best of me. I raged at him, how Aya was working herself to the bone, how I had to give up my doctorate, how we had hardly no food in the refrigerator and were behind in the rent, and all because, he had to get himself in trouble and then—knowingly go back to that perilous lifestyle!

Tōya looked at me in shock for awhile, then without saying anything, he left…only to return somberly the next day, not even mentioning the incident!

The day after, I went to Stockholm to explain the situation, about how we had no money to pay him. I still remember the exchange to this day…

"So you see Mr. Stockholm, there's no way we can pay you this week. We've exhausted all our resources. Sold everything we can, and giving you our full paychecks. I have no way to support my wife, I need time, sir. Some time to at least settle our own finances, and then pay you back in full."

Damian smiled as he tapped his pen on the tabletop. He could see Karinkov sitting in the chair in front of his desk, looking a little worse for wear. He knew that this day would come eventually. He'd known it when he'd presented the young couple with the "deal"…

Tapping his pen lightly against his fingertips, the sandy-haired, brown-eyed multi-billionaire looked to the window of his spacious office.


Sky looked up in recognition of his name, "Yes?"

Damian went on, ignoring him, "Skylark? Isn't that some type of girly name? And aren't you Russian, Ukrainian, or something like that, somewhere from over there in the old Soviet wasteland? Your name sure isn't authentic, or did you just get a new one when you got to the States? But why something like, Skylark?"

Sky was a little surprised that the man wasn't even trying to disguise his insults anymore. He gritted his teeth, knowing that meant that they were really in a bind. He didn't like the man, and Damian knew that. And of course, in response, Damian belittled Sky whenever they met; making fun of everything from his background and upbringing, to his name.

Usually, he liked to exchange tit for tat, but he didn't have the patience right now, or the time. "It's just my name, okay? Now can we get back to business?"

Damian turned to face him, "No need to get snippy, Skylark. If I'm not certain, I thought you came over here to ask me for something, right? Now the way I see it, is that you have no money, and you still owe me $69,000, right?"

Karinkov nodded back sullenly.

Damian nodded, "Well then, since Aya's become one of my favorite secretaries, I think I can cut you a break."

"You will?"

"Yes, I'm going to give you a choice, you can either pay up as you've been doing, with a thousand each week, every month or—you can work off your debt in my employment."

Sky looked at his in bewilderment. "What?"

"You can either keep doing as you have been doing, or you and Aya can work for me…for nothing."

"What?! That's insane! I just told you we can't keep paying you; that we've run out of money!"

Stockholm tapped the desk with his pen, "Well then, I guess you don't have that hard of a choice to make. The deal will be 6 years; both you and Aya will work for me without pay, 7 days a week for 16 hours a day, or however many hours I deem necessary. Aya will keep doing what she has been doing, and you will become my personal valet. I just lost my other one in some unhappy circumstances, so this will be just on time. I also understand that you will need a place to stay as well as food, which I will provide. This will be added to your debt, of course."

Sky looked at him in indignation, slamming his hands on the desk. "That's outrageous and unthinkable! It's illegal, and nothing short of slavery!"

Damian looked at him with calm, amused eyes. "Actually, I think of it more as indentured servitude. And as for it being illegal, you should know by now, that I never play by the rules."

The Russian-American teen balled up his fists, having seen this kind of behavior before. Money meant power, and those who had it, all had a dogma they lived by that said: Screw the rules, I have money!

Stockholm put the pen down, and looked at Sky seriously, "Look Skylark, I'm really giving you a break here. You know what usually happens to people who owe me money and can't pay. I don't think I have to remind you of any of the gruesome details. I know you're probably tired and want to discuss it with Aya first."

Getting up, he slowly rounded the desk and stood behind Sky. Putting his hands on the young man's shoulders, and leaning down low, he spoke subtly into his ear. "Now, we wouldn't want anything bad to happen to little Aya now, would we?"

Sky looked over at the man with a dangerous snap to his voice, "If anything ever happens to her, I'll—"

Damian mouth hissed like a snake as he softly laughed, "You'll what? You'll end up in jail or dead, and then what would happen to Aya? She'll get awful lonely, and need some protection, and I'll be there for her, of course."

"Of course you will…" Sky replied dangerously. It was no secret that Damian liked Aya in more than a professional capacity, and he didn't care if he knew it either. He often warned his wife to stay away from being alone with him, for he was sure that this snake, would try anything.

Damian could feel the hate exuding from the young man who he loved to manipulate…it was so refreshing! "Well just so long as we understand each other. I'll expect your answer tomorrow. You may go, Skylark."

Even though he'd tried his best, Sky could not help but feel as low, as Damian Stockholm had meant to bring him. The way the man constantly made fun of his name by saying it as if it was some sort of stupid disease, or how he made fun of his caste and background, was not what fazed him. It was rather the man's presence and demeanor, and the simple way that he loved to play with people's lives, like they were pawns in a chess game.

He walked back home that night a little slower than usual, the weight of this new forced decision weighing heavy on his heart. He didn't know how he was going to tell Aya…

But as he walked down those dark, empty, dirty, inner LA streets. He slowed as the sounds of fists hitting flesh came to his ear, as well as the sound of young pleas of mercy. He sighed as he subtly approached the next alley. Oh I am so not in the mood for this today…

A young injured voice came through the sounds of the fight, "Look, I'll do better next time, I promise! I'm sorry! Please!"

Another gruff voice answered, right before the sound of another punch. "The boss says to make sure you remember what will happen if you fail him again. So here we are."

As Sky approached, he looked around the corner of the building to see the scene for himself.

Two burly men, one Hispanic, one white, were leaning over a young white teenager. The boy was blond, grimy, and bloody, looking only to be about 16 or 17. He laid there, the fear of his life in his eyes, as the men kept hitting him with heavy fists and kicking him with their feet.

He walked up behind one of them and tapped him on the shoulder. As the man turned around, he hit him with a strong straight punch to the face, and simultaneously kicking the man's legs out from under him, causing him to crash to the ground, his head slamming hard on the concrete.

The thug was down before he even knew that he'd been outmatched…

However, Sky didn't have the same element of surprise with the other guy. Leaving the surprised boy on the ground, he came running over, fists swinging.

Sky sighed, all bullies were the same: small brains and amateur moves, that were only good for beating on those who were weaker than them.

Aiming a straight kick to the man's stomach, he knocked the air out of his body, sending him reeling. As the guy staggered back, Sky sent a roundhouse kick to the man's head, throwing him straight into the side of the brick building, and crashing to the ground!

Seeing that both foes were out of commission, Sky turned to the teen who sat stunned on the ground. Crouching to his knees, he smiled lightly and held out a supporting hand. "You okay?"

The boy looked up at him, his brown eyes glassy under his dirty blond hair. (dirty in more ways than one)"T-Thank you, mister."

He began examining the various scratches and bruises on the boy's face, wiping off any excess blood with his sleeve. "You'll be black and blue for a while and a little puffy, just put some antiseptic on these scraps. You're really not hurt that much, but the head always bleeds more profusely than most other parts of the body, so don't let that fool you. You're going to be okay." He shifted the boy's hair from out of his face, watching the stunned look in the kid's eyes. "I'm Sky, Sky Karinkov."

The boy's eyes panged with surprise, and he smiled back kind of crookedly. "Thank you. I'll never forget this. You saved my life."

"It was a harsh punishment, did the actions warrant it?" Sky asked, his eyebrow lifted in question.

Getting up slowly, the teenager, tired but glad to be alive, slowly began to limp away. Turning he looked at him with mischievous eyes. "That depends on what side you're on, Sky."

Sky stood up straight, and looked after the boy. "You gonna be okay, kid? I can treat you at my place if you want."

The teen kept walking, and put his hand in the air in assurance. "I'll be okay, you already did more than anyone else would."

Sky smiled and shook his head, before turning the opposite direction to continue on his way. "Okay, whatever." Suddenly, he turned around and asked in question, "Hey, what's your name, kid?"

The kid turned and smiled. "Name's Delphi, Joaquin Delphi."

Skylark had scrounged up what little food he could find for dinner, which ended up being only half a can of mushroom soup, and half a slice of stale bread, when he heard Aya call out to him as she came in.

Time to face the music.

"Hey, darling! I'm in the kitchen." He answered back.

The young petite woman, wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. "Hello my Skylark, I'm so tired, yet so happy! I have something to tell you."

He smiled and turned to face her, wrapping his own arms around her small waist. "And what would that be, my love?"

Aya looked up lovingly at his face, "Not now! I'll tell you after dinner. So…did you get to see Mr. Stockholm?"

She could see almost instantly that something was wrong. Her husband's face seemed to get darker and more solemn. "It didn't go well, huh?"

He shrugged and led her to the table where he had set out dinner. "I have something to tell you as well, darling. But let's eat first."

Aya sat down and she could see the meager fare set out on the table. "This is all the food we have left, isn't it Sky?"

He smiled, "Don't worry about it, Aya. I'll think of something."

She looked at him in understanding. "You're keeping something from me; I can always tell. Perhaps you should just tell me what's up, Skylark."

He sighed, "I guess I could never keep anything from you, darling."

He then proceeded to tell all that had gone on in Damian Stockholm's office that day, and about the impossible deal/ultimatum he offered.

Aya stood up as he finished and began to pace, turning to him she said in urgency. "I know you're thinking of running Skylark, but we can't."

He jumped up, "But Aya—!"

"Listen, Skylark! You don't know Stockholm! If we try to run, he'll find us! And what about Tōya?"

Anger sparked in his voice, "What about him, Aya? He has his life, we have ours. You can't keep looking after him! We stepped in for him once, and look where that got us? And the thing is…he doesn't even care about us! He's going to have to start looking out for himself, Aya."

She turned at him with tears, pounding on his chest heatedly. "You don't understand at all, Sky! You can't understand the link we have. I could never abandon him! He's just going through this differently than we are! I'm sure he has his reasons, and that he's doing what he can. And even then, Damian will still come after us, and I can't stand to see you beaten or tortured—or worse! I love you too much…and I'm willing to become Damian's slave if it means saving your life!"

He held her fists in his hands to stop her, "I'm willing to take that risk, Aya!"

She twisted her hands away and wrapped herself around him, in a stalwart embrace. "But our baby is not!"

His heart stopped as all the time around him seemed to stand still as he heard those words. "W-What did you say?"

She looked up at him, tears streaming down her face. "We…We're going to have a baby, Skylark. That's what I was going to tell you after dinner. You remember how tired I've been and how much I've been eating. Well, I went to the doctor after work today and…I'm four months pregnant. And…and I don't want to be on the run with our baby put in danger!"

The shock still gripped his face, and his dark hair shielded his hooded eyes. "A-A baby…"

She smiled, "Yes, my love…a baby."

He suddenly pulled her close and kissed her solidly with a passion! The two lovers stood in their intimate embrace, the angry and raging feelings leaving the both of them.

When he let go, he beamed brightly, and swirled her around in the air before putting her back down lightly on the ground. "This is most wonderful news I've had in a long time! This changes everything. You're going to need shelter and food and security, and that's all that matters right now. You were right, honey. Nothing matters as much as this child right now, and if that means I must be at the mercy of Damian's ridicule and cruel hand, then so be it."

She kissed him again. "I know it will be hard darling, but it can't last forever. Now let's eat before the food gets even colder."

As she sat down, she was surprised when Sky poured his bowl of soup into hers, and put his bread next to it. "What's this, hon?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "You need it more than I, and I've lived on nothing before. You need your strength. I'll get you more as soon as I can.

"But Skylark, I—"

He held up his hand in silence. "Don't 'but, skylark' me. Eat it and don't get yourself excited."

The next day, Sky came to Damian with their answer, "We accept your offer, Mr. Stockholm."

Damian smiled cruelly, he knew they would…they had no choice. "That's excellent, Skylark. I was hoping you'd make the right decision."

Sky ground his teeth, trying to not let the man put a damper on his good mood. "…Under one condition."

The man lifted his eyebrow at that. "You? Make conditions of me? Well…let's at least hear it."

Skylark narrowed his eyes, "You let Aya have her regular 8-hour work day…and I'll pick up the slack."

Damian looked at him in surprise. "You're telling me you'd be willing to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? That's ludicrous, you'd die from exhaustion."

"Nonetheless, I will not allow my wife to work for 16 hours a day. That's my final offer to you."

Stockholm shook his head, "I'll make you a deal. Aya works for only 12."

"Eight, and that's nonnegotiable."

Damian shook his head. You had to admire the guy's bravery. He must really love his wife…well, I don't want him to fall out on the job, what fun would that be? "Alright, 8 hours a day, but you work for 22. Two hours of sleep enough for you?"

Sky closed his eyes in finality, "Agreed."

Before I knew what was going on, my life was whisked away from me at breakneck speed. Aya and I moved into Stockholm's mansion in the attic. It was small and chilly, and the food he gave us left much to be desired. Yet, we made the best of it.

I became Damian's personal valet, butler, manservant, bondsman—any of those words could have fit me. I did whatever Damian told me to do, from polishing his silver and serving his guests, to cleaning his floors and straightening the rooms of his mansion.

Aya stayed as his secretary, and we often got to see one another. She however, didn't enjoy seeing me degraded by Damian, or working myself so hard. She often threatened to ask our boss if she could have some of my hours, but I wouldn't allow it. We had the baby to think about, and she couldn't jeopardize her health. I could stretch myself day after day, and even serve that worm Damian, if it meant the life of my wife and child.

However, one day I was cleaning the windows on the east side of the mansion, when someone in a rush bumped into me. We looked at each other, and I realized that the man looked kind of familiar…Tōya!

My young brother-in-law was in shock when he saw me, and suddenly hugged me with fervor.

"Oh Sky! Where have you been? Where's Aya? Is she okay? I was worried when I came to the apartment and they said you guys had moved out. I thought something—wait a minute, what are you doing here Skylark? And why are you washing the windows?"

Shrugging the man's hands away, Sky glared at him with venomous eyes. "Well, I thought you'd figure it out eventually. We live here now. Leave me alone Tōya, can't you see I'm working."

The redhead held a slight stung look in his eye that only lasted a moment. "Why?"

The man tossed the rag on the floor in irritation. "You should know hotshot! You're the reason we're in the mess! For your information, we couldn't pay our debt for helping you, so now—we're working it off…working for Damian, with no pay, for six years…day in, day out. I don't particularly care about myself, but Aya…Aya's pregnant, Tōya."

The look on the teen's face could have etched in stone. "P-Pregnant? Wha—When?"

Sky turned to him tired and exasperated, "If you'd been home, you might have known that. But I guess you were out there making trouble with your little "friends" right? By the way, what are you doing here yourself, Tōya?"

Seika's shocked face became vague again and he went back into his impassive persona. "Don't worry about me, I just have some business to take care of…some that just got a little more complicated. Listen, I have to go, take care of yourself Sky…and take care of Aya."

Leaning over, he whispered further into his ear. "Be strong Sky. I know you hate me right now, and you don't have to believe me, but I'm going to help you and Aya. Things are never what they seem, and you see without seeing. Know that who you think is the darkest of demons, may actually be an angel in disguise…"

With that, Tōya patted him on the back firmly, then slipped away down the hall without another word. Sky was mystified by his words, and later talked to his wife about it. Though surprised and happy to hear from her twin brother, she too had no idea what his strange words meant.

The weeks went by without seeing my brother-in-law again. It wasn't until a month later, in June, when I heard Tōya's name spoken again. Damian was enjoying putting me to work as usual. This time making me iron his entire wardrobe piece by piece with starch and scents, and Damian Stockholm was a "clothes horse" to say the least. So I sat in his gigantic walk-in closet ironing shirt #1,245, and no I'm not exaggerating the number, I had to also count and label each one, so I kind of know what I'm talking about.

But anyway, Stockholm must have forgotten, because I heard him enter the room with two other gentlemen talking in obviously secretive voices. The door to the closet had been mostly closed to allow for me to get to the pants hung up above the door, so it must have appeared as if I left, for Damian didn't even bother to check after he closed and locked the main doors.

Not wanting him to know of my presence, I stopped ironing, and instead took a little breather and sat on the floor as I waited for him to get on with business. It was impossible not to eavesdrop, even if I didn't want to, so I listened in.

"How's the shipment going?" Damian asked.

"Fine boss…except for one thing." answered one.

"Yes sir, it's just that there's no one to deliver them." said the other.

"What do you mean, it's only a couple little boys and a few women. The Fallen Angels should be able to take care of that. That's what I own the little teenage bastards for. What's wrong?"

The first guy answered a little anxiously, "Well…they—um, they refuse, sir."

Damian sounded as if he was about to explode, "Refused?! Who do those little strays think they are?!"

"T-T-They said t-that they aren't taking anymore orders from you…sir."

"Which one? Who started this little revolt, huh? No, no don't tell me. It was Seika wasn't it?"

Everything that had been said before had been soft blows to me, but that one blew me away. Seika? Was he talking about Tōya?

One of the two men obviously nodded in affirmation, because Damian exploded again. "I KNEW that little red devil was going to be trouble! Has been since the beginning! Always questioning orders, and being independent! If he hadn't been the one keeping the team working smoothly, I would have rubbed him out a long time ago. But that's it. He's gone to far, organizing them to be openly defiant to me. It's time to make an example of him."

"You want me to order a hit, sir?" One said as he seemed to be getting up from a chair.

"Yes, but this one's going to be personal."

The other one also stood up. "Tell us where and when boss, and we'll be ready."

Damian gave them an address not that far away, but across the line into the bad part of town. "We'll do it late tonight, and be clear that our target's name is: Tōya Seika."

The entire conversation was a big jumble in Sky's head as the three men left the room—and him—in silence. He didn't have time to process all the information right now though, right now, all he knew was that Tōya was in trouble. And no matter his feelings, he was still family…

Making sure there was no one around, Sky slipped out of the closet and went in search of his wife. Upon finding her, he relayed all that he'd heard Damian and his goons say.

Though she also could not make heads or tails of it, she also felt that her brother was in danger.

"We have to find him right away, Sky. Tōya's in trouble again, and this time I'm going to make sure Damian doesn't get his hands on him. Sara, the maid from down the hall will let us borrow her car. I'll go ask her now."

But as she headed away, her husband grabbed her arm before she got any farther. "Wait a minute, darling. You should stay here. You can't risk any excitement or complications. I'll go and see what this is about. I don't want anything to happen to Celesta."

She pulled away and wrinkled her nose at him. "Celesta? You've already decided the baby's a girl? You're the first father I know, whose hoping for a girl."

He smiled and shrugged, "I like girls; they're so much more challenging than boys."

Aya reached up and kissed his cheek. "I think it's going to be a boy, hon. And I want to name him…Ayden."


"Because…he's the result of the 'fire' that exists between me and you."

Sky smiled warmly and planted a kiss on her forehead, "We'll talk more about it when I get back."

She stopped him with a stiff, non-yielding grip. "I didn't say I wasn't going. He's my brother, and he understands me more than you. I need to go."

"But Aya…"

"I'm going, Skylark, and that's it. I'll be fine. I mean, I'm not due for another 3 months or so. What's the worse that could happen?"

He could have given her an entire list, but he knew that even that wouldn't convince her to stay. Instead the two had soon snuck away from the Stockholm mansion in search of their missing blood relation.

It had taken them a half an hour in order to find the address Sky had overheard Damian say, and it took them to a decrepit part of town where the street was more like an alley and very few people seemed to be milling about.

There was no sign of Tōya anywhere, so they parked for a while worrying if they had made it in time. They waited for what seemed like the better part of an hour, and Sky was about to suggest they go to look around the neighborhood, when—low and behold! Who other than Tōya, came strolling around the corner!

Skylark got out of the car, soon followed by Aya. "Tōya!"

The young Asian-American turned at the sound of his name, and a look of shock came to his face as saw his only kin in the world jogging toward him.

Aya quickly put her arms around her twin in happiness. "Oh, brother, I thought something happened to you."

As he held her in an embrace, he looked over at Sky in question, "What are you two doing here? Aya—you shouldn't be out here in your condition."

She looked up at him tearfully, "It's you I'm worried about. Tōya what's going on? Why is Damian after you?"

Tōya looked flustered at first, and then quickly tried to compose himself. "W-What? What are you—?"

Sky pulled Aya away and pushed her firmly behind him. "Look Tōya, don't give us any crap, alright? What are you and the Fallen Angels really doing? And does it have something to do with human trafficking?"

Aya gasped at her husband's deduction, but as she began to think about the words Damian said, as well as her own experiences with his books, she could tell he was too far from the truth.

Her brother's green eyes opened wide with shock, which later turned to a look of shame. He turned away unable to face his brother-in-law, his voice low and poignant. "You don't know what you're getting into, Sky."

Karinkov turned him back around, his ultra-blue eyes flashing in anger. "Well, it's about time I did know! I've been in it from the start, and I'm tired about being left out in the dark!"

"Sky, there's been many things that I wished I could tell you in the past, but couldn't… Now however, ask anything…it doesn't really matter anymore." He answered back resignedly.

Kind of surprised by the extent of his maturity, Sky couldn't help feel as if his eyes were being opened to see a Tōya who'd been there all the time, but he'd never seen. "Tōya, you—you've been working for Damian all this time haven't you? You and the Fallen Angels, have all been under his thumb since the beginning, haven't you?"

After a few seconds, Tōya nodded in silent affirmation.

Sky swore under his breath, his mind trying piece by piece to conquer all the implications of this new information. "He's been blackmailing you too, hasn't he? That's why you never told us anything, and actually tried to drive us away."

"Well, I've been the only man ever able to organize and lead the Fallen Angels to their peak of efficiency. He couldn't afford to lose me." Tōya looked at the sky in exasperation. "Sky…you don't know what a group the FAs were. They were only a group of misbegotten teenagers without futures, who society had turned their backs on. Each one milling around doing nothing, and fights breaking out between members, everything was in utter anarchy. I came along and I found out about each member's special talents, some who couldn't fight could do computers well, while others who weren't exactly strong mentally, knew every in and out of a .55 mm. I knew how to organize them, and encouraged their individual talents. I tried to help and be friendly to them, rather then think myself above them. Soon they came to me for guidance and help, both professionally and personally; they looked to me as their impromptu leader, and soon became more loyal to me than to Damian, who treated them like trash. And Damian was glad that we had become efficient. It increased his profits 5 times over. However, the more you and Aya pressed on me to leave the gang life, the more I started to think out what I was doing. Every night, I could see the faces of those young men and women, and even little children, who we carried across the border, hopeful for a new liberty, only to be sent to a life of bondage. My conscience began to get to me, and I began questioning Damian's orders a little too much. Damian threatened and argued with me many times, and began blackmailing me. I tried to do what the guy said and ignore my conscience, but I just couldn't keep closing my eyes to it. Especially, when I found out that he was also blackmailing the two of you, and then later, when he made you two work for him! I then suddenly remembered about this tattoo on my arm meant. Do you remember, Sky?"

Sky thought back to when he and Tōya first met. It had been a lovely summer day, and the two had playfully gotten off to a good start. He had noticed the interesting tattoo on the teen's arm and asked him about it. Tōya answered, 'It's my own design, a pair of full ivory wings, with golden halo surrounding a dagger in the center. It reminds me that angels are not just pretty but their dangerous, and that they'll do whatever's necessary to protect those they're charged guardianship, and they do what's right no matter what happens. I hope one day I can be like an angel, and I have this as a reminder in case I take my mind off the goal.'

He nodded back, "Yes, I remember."

Tōya put a hand on the man's shoulder, "Well, it did help me to remember. And I finally decided that enough was enough and that it was time the Fallen Angels got from under the heel of Damian Stockholm."

Digging into his jean pocket, he pulled out a small leather-bound book. Tossing it over to Sky he commented, "That's my journal. In it, I've outlined all my plans for the Angels and even for you and Aya. We're ready to execute them very soon, just some last minute tweaking to do."

Sky was speechless, not only because of how amazed he was, at how wrong he had been about Tōya, but there was also something wrong in the air… He noticed that time had passed quickly while they had been talking, and the dark of night was already upon them. They were now only illuminated by the orange glow of the street lights, and as he looked to his watch, he found that it was already after 8pm that night. He suddenly remembered why he had come to find Tōya in the first place! "We came for a reason, Tōya. I overheard Damian talking about you, and I think he's going to try something to teach you a lesson!"

The man shook his head, his green eyes sparkling with consideration. "I knew that he'd come after me, the moment I decided to separate the Angels away from him. The rest of us also know this, and are willing to take our chances. We're finished with having our lives, and those of the ones we love, threatened by the likes of Damian. If you knew the Angels like I do Sky, you'd understand. The only reason they got into the gang was because Damian's thugs kept pushing, and there was nothing else to do since they are all either runaways or orphans. I know you understand that type of life, since you were once a forgotten runaway yourself."

He nodded solemnly, remembering those forlorn days long ago. He remembered being cold, homeless, and hungry, but unwavering in the fact that he would never go back to his old life. He'd been cold and hungry under his cruel uncle's rule, so there was not much difference. To this day, he never regretted his decision. In fact, if he hadn't runaway, he'd never have met the love of his life…

He sighed and looked at his brother-in-law through new eyes. "Tōya…I-I can't believe how wrong I was about you. Everything just pointed too…well, can you forgive me?"

The young man grinned and punched him playfully in the arm. "I can understand. You've been having a hell of a time yourself, and I'm sure from the haggard look on your face, that you need a good night's sleep. So, I think there's no need to apologize, just make sure that you take care of my twin there, and my little niece or nephew on the way.

Sky's mouth turned up slightly, glad that things had been patched up between the two of them. He looked over at his wife, who stood in bewilderment.

Aya looked at the two men, unable to catch on. "Wait, I don't understand. How could Damian Stockholm be connected with Tōya's gang? That gang set him up and Damian used his connections to get him out of jail. How could he be connected—"

Suddenly, her husband held up his hand in silence. Everyone stood in silence, the sounds of crickets coming through the night air. Aya and Tōya looked at each other in wait, when Sky asked, "Tōya, do you feel that?"

The redhead smiled knowingly, "I was wondering if I was the only one who noticed."

Aya pushed her blond hair behind her ear and reached out to touch her brother's arm. "What is it? What do you feel?"

"Something's wrong." He responded.


Sky felt his guard go up gradually, as it had been doing ever since he had started getting the dire feeling weighing down on his chest. "Can you hear it, darling?"

She stopped to listen, but found that as hard as she tried, she couldn't hear whatever it was that the two men could. "No, I can't. I don't hear anything."

He looked at her consciously, and moved to her right, slightly in front of her so as to shield her. "It's the silence that's bothering me, hon."

Tōya slipped to her right flank, taking the opposite position. "It's too quiet, Aya. No noise would be normal for the quiet countryside, but for the gritty streets of LA? No way."

She saw that the men had situated themselves in order to protect her, and on instinct she put her hands defensively to her stomach, her maturing motherly instincts kicking in. "But what could—"

Before she could even finish, the screech of a car's wheels revving their way down the pavement, interrupted her. Followed by the sudden bright illumination of full headlights, bearing down on them at breakneck speed!

Sky heard the shots first, even before he saw the car from the corner of his eye, and unconsciously, he slipped Tōya's journal in his pants pocket. It took him only a minute to realize why the silence had felt so uneasy before—there was no one within sight! The people in the area had cleared out…they knew something was going down.

Well, that's how hits usually went down. Everybody knew about it, except, the person who was going to get iced…

When the first shots rang out, Tōya instantly went into action. "Get down, Sky! Aya!"

The redhead shoved his stunned brother-in-law violently to the ground—but not before a bullet tore through Skylark's left side, sending fiery agony through the man's body as he landed hard on the pavement.

Tōya didn't have time to stop and take a look, as in the same movement as his shoving of Sky, he also tackled his sister's petite form like a football, forcing her to the ground, and using his body as a shield over her. A single shot punctured his right leg, sending blood spraying everywhere, and him shouting out in pain.

"Tōya! Are you okay?!" his sister cried out, trying to twist about to see what the trouble was.

He pushed her head back down. "Stay down, Aya!"

Suddenly, things went silent again. The car stopped, and the door opened.

Sky was in too much pain to try to look to see who it was, even when he could hear footsteps approach them. Then, suddenly a voice spoke, chilling the very blood in his veins.

"Well, well, well…if it isn't Skylark? Aren't you supposed to be cleaning my dishes, and polishing my shoes?"

The raven-haired Russian-American snarled up at his "boss", as Damian stood over him, in one of his rich Armani suits. "Screw you, ya son-of-a-bi—Ahhh!"

He yelled out in pain as Stockholm viciously kicked him in his gunshot wound, and sending him sliding a foot across the pavement.

"I don't have time to deal with you, Skylark. At least not yet…" He said before as he turned his back away from Karinkov, and instead turned to the two young fraternal twins his hefty henchmen had pulled up from the ground. He watched as one held the strangely unhurt Aya, and the other made Tōya kneel on the ground, even stripping him of his shirt and jacket, and then tying the redhead's wrists with rope. Nodding, he reached into his pocket…

Sky watched from his position on the ground, getting a sick feeling as he watched two goons who had gotten out with Stockholm, start hassling Tōya. Then he saw him pull the gun out his pocket…

"No! You can't do it!" Despite his pain, Sky picked himself up and launched himself at Damian.

But before he could even get an inch further, he felt a hard thud whack him in the head, and a white light briefly flashed before his vision, followed by the painful thud as he hit the ground once again, face first.

The businessman turned to his fallen, injured servant, and gave a slight nod to the muscled man that stood above Sky. "I always have my back watched, Skylark. And I can always do whatever I want."

Sky briefly figured out that there must have been another goon watching him, and he had completely bludgeoned him to the ground. It hurt a lot, but…Tōya, Aya…they were in danger. He had to protect them.

He tried to get up once again, but this time, a heavy Timberland boot pushed him back down.

"Make sure he stays down this time, Rocko." Damian said with a smirk as he watched his man push the Russian's face into the dirt.

The thug named Rocko nodded, and grinning a dirty smile, knowing what his boss wanted.

Sky barely heard the exchange as he struggled to move under the pressure of Rocko's foot. He reached his arm out to try to get some purchase, when suddenly a hard pressure hit his shoulder…

Looking down in the shock of the moment, he looked down at the ground and was surprised to see a dark liquid run from under him, and down the uneven street. When the liquid finally reached the light of the street lamp, and he could see the color, he realized what it was, at the same time that his body realized that its confines had been breeched…

"AHHHHHH!!!!!OH GOD!!! You Cossack!!!!"

Aya, turned at the sound of her husband's angry, anguished cries. She saw the thug, Rocko smiling with his foot on Sky's back, and……his hand on the handle of a knife skewered through her love's shoulder, pinning him to the ground!

"Sky!!!" She tried to wrench away from the man holding her, but it was like a fly trying to get away from a spider web. She turned to her now former boss with her eyes filling with angry tears. "Why?!! Why did you do that?! Why are you doing this to my family?"

Damian walked up to her and held her chin affectionately in his hand. "Well, I told him to stay in his place, it's not like I didn't warn him. And your brother…well, he just doesn't know how to play by the rules."

She yanked her head away, "You piece of crap…I'll get you for this."

He laughed at her anger, ruffling her hair. "You're so cute, when you play like you're angry. I love it!"

He then turned away from her and towards Tōya, who was forced to kneel in the desolate street while blood was seeping out from his right calve. "But business comes first…So, Tōya, I had not intended for your family to be here too, but I guess the more the merrier, huh?"

When the man didn't answer, Damian smirked. "Sleep or something? Well, maybe this will wake you up."

Swinging his fist hard, he hit Seika in the jaw, knocking him to the ground!

Shaking out his fist, he watched with pleasure the look of horror on Aya's face. "Pull him back up, Robbie. I don't want him, falling asleep on the ground, either."

The brawny man who'd been restraining Tōya, grinned and pulled hard on the rope, which jerked the young man violently back into position…like a dog on a chain.

Damian pulled up the boy's head by his hair. "You awake now?"

Tōya looked up at the multi-billionaire with angry disdain, blood running from his broken nose. "Shut up. I have nothing to say to you."

"Well you have quite a bit of lip for someone in your position. Yet—that always was your problem wasn't it? You just couldn't keep your big mouth closed."

"Let Aya and Sky go. They have nothing to do with this, Damian."

Aya tried to pull away even though she knew it was useless. "No, Tōya! Damian, he's only nineteen!"

The man turned and looked at her, "They would be fine, if you had just continued to do what you were supposed to do, Tōya."

The teen looked up at him angrily. You mean kill, buy, and sell people for you?! You got to be flaming kidding me! And then after what you did to my sister and Sky? You can go to hell."


Sky looked up in terror as he heard the shot ring out. Aya looked as if she was in shock and about to faint. Looking over to where his brother-in-law had been, he could see that he had again fallen to the ground. Was he…? No, thank goodness! He could see his side still rinsing and falling in succession! Tōya…

Damian held the Glock semi-automatic up, smoke still coming from the barrel. "Pick him up."

Tōya felt himself get yanked back up from the ground, on which he had fallen again. Gasping, and trying to resist the pain, he could feel the bullet resting in his right shoulder blade.

Stockholm looked down at the teenager kneeling before him, blood running down his arm and shoulder. "Would you like to rephrase that, Tōya? I mean…did you actually think that you could undermine me? Who do you think you are? Cause you're a plain fool, if you thought you could cross me and live."

Tōya took in ragged breaths, looking up at his former boss with disdain. "I didn't have to undermine you—you did that yourself. How long did you think we would sit ideally by while you blackmailed us and our families? The rest of the Angels are just as tired as I am, all they need was somebody to lead them and give them the courage to refuse to give in to you. No…you're the fool, Damian, not me."

Shaking his head in amusement, Stockholm looked at him in ruthless humor. "Oh, don't worry. I'll take care of them soon enough. But I think I'll handle…"


"…the root of the problem first."

Tōya didn't drop this time—almost…as he felt the bullet plunge into his left shoulder and red droplets spurting across his face. Panting sharply, he struggled to face the searing throbbing, crying out slightly when he found he couldn't handle it. He struggled to answer, "I've become…more than just a little problem haven't I. You're afraid…that I'll set an example."

His shooter looked at him in annoyance. "You callow, green-faced, little piece of foreign trash. You'd be nothing without me. You and your little family would be in jail, or sent back to wherever it is you came from!"

Tōya grinned weakly, sweat coming down his face. "Y-You mean like…what you told Aya and Sky?"

His sister came out of her stupor, tears falling down her face. "What's he talking about Damian?

Sky's brain automatically took Tōya's statement and added it up with all the others strange things that had been going on. His brother's strange behavior, his peculiar statements, the looks on his face, and it all added up now. He faced his wife, looking so thoroughly pissed off, that the man holding her had to take a step back…

"I think I can explain it for you. Damian is the one who started the Fallen Angels, in order to help with his human trafficking business. When Tōya came in and began to organize things, he more than quadrupled Damian's profits. He couldn't afford to let Tōya go, so when your brother started asking questions, he punished him by framing him for a crime of which he was innocent. That's when we came along, and Damian found a way to get even more money by blackmailing us. However, behind our backs, he was blackmailing Tōya as well, probably threatening to kill us he didn't agree to his terms. He had the cops, who were probably in his pocket, to let Tōya go and drop the charges. It was only after the point that Damian had milked us for all we had and put us into his servitude, that Tōya felt that enough was enough."

Aya looked at her injured brother in disbelief. "I-Is is this true?"

He nodded back tiredly, his voice a little strained. "I shouldn't have let it get this far, I'm sorry Sis. I didn't want to risk your life, but after all that happened…I should have told you sooner. Before…before everything turned out like this."

Skylark swore like a drunken sailor, "Damian, when I get my hands on you…Do you know what you put me through?!! And for what? Money!?"


Everyone jumped at the sound of the sudden of the gun's discharge. Unprepared, Tōya cried out stridently as another hot bullet, plunged into his left thigh, scattering flesh, blood, and bone alike.

"Tōya!" Aya called out in anguish, as she watched her twin's pain.

"Yes, it was for money!" Damian answered irritated, waving the slight smoke away from the gun's barrel. "Money gives you power, money makes you stronger, money—is what makes me better than you and your little family. Your kind will always be under my heels no matter how much you writhe and struggle. You run to the government for help, but we all know who really runs things around here. You work, I get paid, and if you do what you're supposed to do, maybe I'll let you live a tolerable life, if I'm in a good mood. It's the natural order of things; everyone else seems to understand that. However, there are always little upstarts like you and Tōya, who need to be put back in your place."

The sound of soft laughter interrupted the uneasy silence that followed the man's statement. Tōya looked up at his former boss with eyes filled both with humor and sympathy. "Is…that…what you think? Y-You're worse off…than I…thought. I can see it…in your eyes. You were poor once…and had to…claw your way to the top. And you now look down…on anyone you think is too lazy to do…what you did. You were…hurt…so you like to hurt others. It makes you forget…like a drug, or alcohol. You are…addicted to it."

Damian looked down at him angrily, his voice low and dangerous. "How dare you…"

But the boy didn't seem to care anymore that he was staring down the barrel of a firearm. "Yes…I dare. My team is willing to dare…Sky…and Aya too. We're not afraid of you…anymore, because we see you…for what…you really are—AHHH!"


This time the bullet was aimed for his right thigh, seeming like a metal, hot stone dashing through his skin and sending up his warm life's blood slashing up like a pool of water.

Sky watched in horror and even if he tried to move, a lance of horrible torment would overtake his body, but he felt frozen, not able to call out, not able to take in the scene before him. Aya pulled and struggled to go to her brother's side, her screams stuck in her throat and a river of hot tears running down her face. Damian, stood there with an angry sneer on his face, holding a firearm to his brother-in-law's head. Tōya, barely able to keep upright as he was kneeling in a slowly forming puddle beneath him, blood and sweat streaming down his face and body, his breathing becoming labored and a struggle. How had things turned so wrong?

The young nineteen year-old Japanese-American, gasped and balled up his fists in an effort to resist the fire coursing over his body. "W-What you really are…Damian…is a lonely boy…crying out…for attention with a spoilt…attitude and heart…rotten…to the core…wanting to be the center of the universe…because that's where…you deemed yourself…like a god among men…but you're nothing…but a crying child…who became a spoiled coward…"

It was now evident that Tōya had gotten under his former employer's skin. He was beginning to lose his carefully preserved cool.

"Shut up, you little bastard." Stockholm said angrily, his voice shaking.

"Why?" Tōya rasped back. "Is…the words of a 'piece of foreign trash'…getting to you?"

"Shut up!" he yelled out, the truth of the teen's words were indeed beginning to unnerve him. But of course, he would never let anyone know that. His resolve however, was short-lived when he saw the smug smile on Tōya's face.

"'Do as you're told.' I said." Damian gritted his teeth ruthlessly.


"'Stop asking questions.' I said." He gripped the handle of the gun, his eyes without mercy.


"'Get rid of your bloody conscience!' I said!" he felt his finger pull the trigger, without even having a conscience thought.


"Couldn't you EVER just listen and do as I say?!!"

Damian threw the now empty gun away, and it went skittering across the ground, just missing a collision course with Sky's skull.

Tōya had tried to get up the last few times, but he found that his strength was rapidly leaving him. The thug who had been holding him, had released his restraints either in a feeling of disgust or guilt, and so, the teen simply collapsed, onto the wet pool of his own blood, the hot liquid continuing to pour out of his body like water out a spout.

He had lost count of how many holes he had in him, or where they were. He no longer cared, in fact. He, like any good soldier, knew within him what the eventual outcome would be, and the only thing he could do, was to make sure his goals would be seen through, even though…it would probably be…the last thing he did…

His vision was becoming hazy, and the sound of Aya's screams were muffled in his ear. He lifted up his head as much as he could, red plasma spilling out the corner of his mouth in effort, as he called out to his twin. "Don't worry… sister…if I die…someone just like me…or possibly even stronger…will rise to take…my place."

He looked particularly at his brother-in-law, straining to see him as plainly as possible. The man, who was more like his real older brother, than just a by-law relation, was pinned to the ground, his handsome features hardly marred by the distinct haggard, sleepless look that overtook him. He was in obvious pain caused by the dagger skewered through his right shoulder and the gunshot in his side, but his uncanny ultra-blue eyes were glassy and wide, looking straight at him with terror, alarm, and despair.

Tōya smiled, causing more blood to run from his mouth. "An angel…needs to go home…sometime…and when they do…they have to…make sure another angel…an avenging angel…can fly down from the sky…and take over…Можете ли вы мне обещание?"

Can you promise me?

Sky looked at him in silence, the horrible yet undeniable truth going through his head, and the realization of what Tōya was asking. He remembered when he had taught both Aya and Tōya his native homeland language. Aya couldn't get a solid handle on it, but Tōya took to it like a sponge. And it was obvious that the reference to sky, and the use of Russian, that the boy had particularly been trying to send some kind of secret message to him. He couldn't figure it out yet, but he said the only thing he could have ever said. "Я обещаю."

I promise.

Damian looked from one to the other, not understanding the last bit, but not caring nonetheless. He had attempted to get his temper under control, and was beginning to get his snide demeanor back."You look so weak and pathetic, Tōya. Maybe I should let you live—live out the rest of your life in fear and hiding. What do you say, Seika? Are you going to beg me for your life?"

Tōya looked back at him, a cool grin on his face. If there was ever a time he wasn't afraid, it was now. "You have…no control over my life. I…knew what I was…doing the moment… I told your messengers 'no'…I will always…remain a threat, and so…I know that…you will not…spare my life, even if…I was foolish and shallow… enough to stoop to begging…So why…would I even give you the satisfaction?"

That's it! I had it with this boy and his snippy comments and fresh retorts! Grabbing the Smith & Wesson from Robbie's holster, Damian, his temper beginning to flare again, quickly pulled the safety off the firearm and pointed it straight at Tōya's fallen body.

Aya pulled and jerked, kicking her restrainer unceasingly. "NO! Tōya!! Don't do it, Damian! You're killing him!!!"

"My point exactly, my dear. He brought it on himself. Any last words Tōya, before I send a shot of metal straight into your brain?"

The teen could already feel his body's temperature steadily sinking. It wouldn't be too long now…

His vision was getting dim and hazy, but he nevertheless looked straight at the megalomaniac. His voice sounded tired and didn't break up like before, but was genuinely happy and witty, just as Aya remembered him when he was a child… "I would say, 'See you in Hell'. But since we're not going to the same place, all I can say is: Have a nice trip down there, and bring plenty of ice cubes, because you'll be staying awhile."

The gun shook in the man's hand, as his body was quivering with his increasing rage. "You little bastard…"

Tōya glanced over at his beloved sister, who was trying with all her might to be by his side, her teary eyes pleading with him to stay with her. He smiled tenderly, and shook his head. He instead whispered low to her, "Sayonara…onee-chan."

Aya looked fearfully into her brother's emerald orbs, "Onii-chan…"

Contentedly, he beamed softly at her—when he suddenly felt another bullet burn through his body! He only winced a second before he could no longer feel it. He then felt another one, then another, then another…they each came in succession, but each felt fainter and fainter, until he could hardly feel their prick at all. He couldn't hear them, or anything for that matter! Nothing except the sound of his heartbeat reached his hearing, and even that was light and long-winded. Tōya just felt tired, and it had been a long time since he was able to just rest…

His eyes began to slowly flutter closed, shutting out all the shadows around him. Yes, all he wanted to do now, was rest…

I laid there watching as Damian emptied the entire clip into my brother-in-law. I watched in silent horror, feeling completely useless and injured, my emotional mind frozen and my analytical mind couldn't help but count all the shots. Taking account of the very first bullet that hit him in the leg during the drive-by, Tōya was shot a total of 25 times…

I wonder to this day if I couldn't have done something, anything to save Tōya's life. However, I also know that Tōya knew his fate, and wasn't going to run from anymore. There had been nothing I could have done for him by that time anyway. He had lost too much blood already…


Aya screamed at the top of her lungs, she began to weep even more than before, like an uncontrollable current. Her stomach was doing wheelies, and it wasn't just the baby within her. "You killed him!!! YOU KILLED HIM!!!!!"

Coming out of his blinding, psychotic wrath, Damian could finally take into account what he had actually done. Looking down at the teenager's limp, bloodied body, he could see quite well that there was no way there was any life left in it.

A smile came upon his lips…

Stockholm suddenly was reminded of the others around him, by the rants of Tōya's only remaining blood kin. Seeing that his third man, Jack, was having quite a bad time trying to hold on to her, he nodded signaling that he could let go. He also looked at Rocko and signaled the same thing.

Aya felt herself finally being hurriedly released. Collapsing to ground, she breathed a small moan, out of the corner of her eye she could see the man, Rocko, painfully pulling the dagger out of Sky's shoulder, letting him go free.

Allowing herself a small breath of relief, she then slowly crawled to her twin's side. Ignoring everything else around her, she went to his bullet-riddled body, her small form completely surrounded by his own blood. Reaching over she pulled at his slippery cadaver with her porcelain hands, she laid his head on her lap and silently and sorrowfully wiped off his face, still handsome, peaceful, and content, but lifeless.

Feeling a hand on her shoulder, she looked up to see her husband's aqua-colored eyes looking back at her in both mourning and consoling. "There is nothing more you can do for him, my love. Nothing except live your life to the fullest, as he would have wanted you to."

He offered her his hand, and pulled her into his arms. As she wept silently in his unwounded shoulder, she whispered. "I never thought it would end this way, Skylark. Why did he have to die like this? Why did he have to die?"

Damian cleared his throat, "Look, I don't have all night, and there is still the matter of you two to deal with. I can't have witnesses, on the off chance that you'd be stupid enough to press charges."

Sky looked up at him, a dangerous glint in his eye as he protectively pressed Aya closed to his chest. "What do you mean, 'if'? You just tortured and killed Tōya in cold blood…not to mention assaulting, blackmailing, and enslaving Aya and me. You best be glad that I'm holding my temper and repressing from taking your life myself."

He shook his head in amusement. "You don't seem to get it. No one would believe you; it's my word against yours. Who is the jury going to believe? The respected president of a famous multi-billion dollar company, or a dropout immigrant teenager and his little Asian wife? I think you're way out of your league here Skylark, just like Tōya was."

Karinkov gritted his teeth in anger, hearing the truth in his words. Even though what he just did to Tōya was deplorable, Damian would never be accused of it. Jurors and judges could easily be bought, and there was no way the guy would even let things get that far. He'd sooner kill the two of them, right here and now.

Sighing, he looked at Damian in infuriating aggravation. "What do you want us to do?"

Aya looked up at her husband in disbelief, but he quieted her with a silent hard look. She was grieving very hard, and her actions and thinking were irrational.

Damian smiled maliciously, "Well, I could have you go back and finish working of your debt for the remained of your 6 years…"

Sky's mouth slowly curved into an angry, curved, silent snarl.

"…but, after tonight, I think I can cut you some slack, and give you the option of leaving town tonight, and the two of us never seeing each other again"

He nodded, "We'll take it."

"No, we won't."

Sky looked down in surprise at his wife. What was she saying?

Pulling away from her husband, Aya marched right up to Damian, a deadly look on her face. When she came within his personal boundaries, she stared into his cold russet eyes.

"If you think, that your money, will keep me from avenging my brother's murder—then you're dead wrong. I don't care if it takes me a week, or a month, or years. I will make you pay for what you did to him, for what you did to Sky, and what you put our family through. I will kill you, you understand? Kill you!!"

The blond looked at her with a little surprise and amusement. "I've never seen you like this, Aya. It's invigorating…"

She glared back at him, "I wouldn't talk that way if I were you."

Damian smiled and stepped even closer to her, so close they were practically touching. "How would you like me to talk to you? You know, it's a shame that you met the Russian before me. I haven't met a girl quite as beautiful as you. Your hair, the shape of your body, the curves in all the right places, the color of your eyes, your tiny cute mouth, man! You must enjoy her a lot, don't you Skylark?"

Totally enraged, Sky lunged at him, only to have Robbie hold him back. He struggled angrily, "Stay away from her, you murderer!"

Aya suddenly slapped Stockholm in the face, to the surprise of all present! Angrily, she said. "What makes you think I would have chosen you anyway? In fact you're the last man on earth I could ever choose to marry…bastard."

Feeling the red mark on his cheek, he looked back at her with slight anger, but more intrigue. Suddenly, he backslapped her hard, almost knocking her to the ground! But her caught her by the hair, and lifted her back up, a large welt across her face.

"Aya!" Sky called out to her.

"It's okay Skylark. I was just teaching her to stay in a woman's place." Damian taunted. Turning back to Aya, she looked back in anger. "Now, now, little one. You brought it on yourself. I understand you're still hurt by Tōya's death, but you'll get over it soon enough. Seriously, I'm really thinking about you and me. I could make you a very rich woman…"

She hissed in rage, "And I'll tell you where you can shove that money. Let go of me!"

He looked at her—and started laughing. "You make me laugh, Aya. You look so cute when you try to act tough." Damian didn't let go of her hair though, but instead, pulled harder. He lowered his voice a little, a menacing tone to it. "But don't make me laugh so hard, that you begin to ache."

Skylark pulled hard, but was unable to work at his top strength because of his injuries. "I swear Damian…if you hurt her, I will shove a knife through your chest myself!"

The man looked at him incredulously, "You're wasting your breath, Skylark. Anyone who's ever threatened me has either become a complete outcast hated by society, or in a concrete box at the bottom of the Pacific. I think you'd better hold your tongue, before you join the second group, rather than the first."

"How about neither?" Aya interjected in rage.

He smiled tauntingly and ran his finger lightly from her nose down to her lips and kept descending. "That…can be arranged—for you."

Feeling totally desecrated, Aya swung out with her fist in fury. However, this time, Damian caught her wrist before it could connect! "No time for games now, kitten. We can do that later… I can take you by my side, make sure you're well taken care of, and you'll never want for anything. I can give you more than the Russian can ever offer you. All you have to do, is say yes. This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm sure you'll make the right decision, of course."

She looked up into his charming brown orbs looked with her sparkling emerald ones. "Well, when you put it that way…I think the best response is in the words of my dear brother. What did he say? I think it was something like: 'You can go to hell'."

Damian narrowed his eyes, a sense of wrath came to his features at first, but was almost instantly replaced by his simple "charming as a snake" looks once again. "So you'd rather stay with the Russian and remain loyal to your brother, than take the life I offer you?"

"I think you finally comprehend something, Damian. You can't take away what Sky and I have. I'm pregnant with his baby, and he'll be the legacy of our love forever!" She shot back.

Surprise came to his face, followed by him shaking his head in amusement and letting go of her, putting his hands in his pockets. "Well, this is goodbye for us then, I guess."

He turned to Rocko, "Get the car started."

The man nodded and went to do as told. Damian turned back to Aya, and stepped back up to her, taking her by the arms. "Congratulations, Aya. I guess this recent news seals our goodbye into a farewell. I'll miss you."

"I won't." She retorted with a sting. "Let go of me."

He hunched his shoulders innocently, "Let me at least give you a kiss farewell."

Aya felt him swing her into his one handed embrace, and then, without warning, he pressed his lips forcefully against hers! Disgusted, she tried to pull away. That's when she felt the pressure and sudden intense pain in her abdomen…

Skylark went red with rage, as Damian forced Aya to kiss him. If he ever got free... That's when he noticed the change in his wife's face. Her eyes went wide with shock, and her body became shaky and shivering. What's wrong now?

Damian let go of Aya, a cruel smirk on his lips. "I hope you know, that I'm one of those guys, that if I can't have you, no one else can…Farewell, Aya."

She stepped back staggeringly, unable to speak. Looking down, her trembling hand touched the handle of the switchblade, protruding from her stomach. Pulling it out with a shriek, she fell to the ground, blood surging from the wound like running water!

Sky slowly, agonizingly put together what happened. Damian had the blade in his pocket and had taken it out hiding it in his hand when he embraced Aya. Then, while he held her with one hand and kissed her, he firmly stabbed her in the stomach with his hidden hand!

"AYA! Let me go! Aya!" Sky felt the panic come to his voice, he pulled and fought despite his injuries. Oh God, please not her!

Damian signaled for Robbie to release him, and watched as he scrambled to his wife's side, checking the wound, then tearing off the sleeve of his shirt and pressing it against her abdomen. It's a waste of time; she's losing too much to hold it off. She chose her fate, the minute she refused my hand. It's a shame, since she was really pretty too. Oh well…

Stepping to the waiting, running car, he entered and shut the door. Waving Robbie over, he said, "Let the lovebirds have their last moments together. Wait till she's dead, and then kill Skylark. Get rid of the bodies. You got all that?"

He nodded, "Yes, sir. Everything will be as you say sir."

"It had better be." Damian rolled up the window, and the car drove down the street and around the corner, leaving all the bloodshed behind it, without a second look back…

Sky in desperation, kept pressing his hand against the wound to stop the flow; yet it only caused more blood to gush out, coating his hands and going onto his clothes. Tears dripped from his eyes as he tried exasperatingly to halt to bleeding in some way. Come on, stop. Stop already. Stop, darn it!

Aya gagged slightly in his arms, claret running from her mouth—a sign that she was starting to bleed internally…

Her hand shaking, and fatigue beginning to overtake her small form, she reached up to her husband's petrified face. Sky looked down at her as she tremblingly caressed his face and pushed his loose raven hair behind his ear. His nose runny and teardrops splattering on her forehead, his heart began to break as he saw the look of pure love and fulfillment on her lovely face. "Skylark…"

Taking her hand in his own, he squeezed it tight. His voice was hurried and cracked. "D-Don't worry, Aya. I'm going to take you to get you some help, ok? You'll be fine, ok? Stay with me, hon…j-just, stay with me."

She shook her head, her mouth curling up adorably and her eyes becoming little slits. "I can always…tell when you're lying, you know? God, you're so handsome…even now. I need you to stay strong…my love. Don't let us go forgotten…don't let Tōya go unavenged…"

Sky felt his heart being torn in two, his whole boy becoming numb. Here his wife was in his arms, and he couldn't do a freakin' thing to help her! His baby was almost certainly already dead, traumatized and unable to breath, or probably damaged by the blade. Nevertheless, he wouldn't remind Aya of that, even though he knew that she most likely knew. "What are you talking about, darling? You're going…"

She put her trembling, lukewarm fingers to his lips, silencing him. He looked back into her loving eyes, tears streaming down his own. Pressing his eyes closed tightly, he clenched his teeth in provocation, thrusting his fist at the ground, unresponsive to the pain it caused. "Why? WHY! Why you? Why Tōya? What have we done to deserve this?!!"

Aya lifted his face in the palm of her hand, she gasped slightly and found it hard to keep her eyelids up. "Darling, it is not for us…to ask…how or why. I would have loved to name the baby Ayden though…"

He cringed at that; it was conformation that she knew.

Yet, she went on talking, "Tōya still needs me, he'll never find his way around heaven…you know how he …has the worst sense of direction. He couldn't find his way to the library…and it was right behind our house. He would travel…for hours…to find that place. We were never far apart the two of us, and that seems to be true in both life…and death."

Sky took her hand and clasped it desperately, "I still need you, Aya. Please…Please don't leave me!"

"You're strong, my Skylark…I remember when you changed your name…for me. You weren't afraid of the reactions you'd get, or anything like that, even when people made fun of it."

He swirled her golden hair between his fingers. "I did it all because of you. I love you, Aya. I love you far more than myself…I would give up everything just to trade places with you right now…"

Clasping his hand back in response, she sighed in brief pain, closing her eyes. "No Sky…your path is different than mine. You have to…trust your heart… as I have all these years…trust it…to guide…you."

"Do you have anything to say?" she whispered out softly.

Sighing with relief he smiled brightly, licking his lips and choking slightly on his tears. He shook his head, "What do you mean, my love?"

She looked up at him; her eyelids slightly open. "You…remember…our song…don't you? Sing it…with me…would you?"

He nodded reminiscing sanguinely, a soft smile on his face. His voice refusing to not choke up, he still tried to sing to the best of his ability…to sing for her.

"Skylark, have you anything to say to me?
Can you tell me where my love may be?
Is there a meadow in the mist
where he's just waiting to be kissed?

Aya's soft voice joined his, the two singing a duet of their love. The song that had been played at their wedding, and was a token of their deepest affection, that seemed as if it would transcend time and space…

Skylark, have you seen a valley green with spring
where my heart can go a journeying
over the shadows and the rain
to a blossom covered lane?

And in your lonely flight have you heard the music?
In the night, wonderful music.
Faint as a will-o'-the-wisp, crazy as a loon,
sad as a gypsy serenading the moon.

Oh, skylark, I don't know, I don't know
if you can find these things,
but my heart, my heart is riding on your wings.
So if you see them anywhere
won't you lead me there?

At this point, Sky couldn't go on any longer. He completely broke down. It couldn't sink in, that he was losing her forever!

Then he felt her cold hands weakly pull his face to meet hers. Aya lifted his mouth to her bloodstained lips, kissing him passionately. Drawing him closer, into her small, cold embrace, she slowly, but using the last of her strength, whispered the last lyric of the song into his ear.
"Oh, won't you lead me there?
Lead me there, lead me there.
Lead me there, skylark, skylark, skylark, there . . ."

As her voice began to trail off, her grip also became slack. Sky looked up at her face to see that not only had her eyes closed once again, but there something else had also changed—it had lost its rosy color…the color of life…

He looked over at her in dread, trying to shake her gently. "Aya? Aya?!"

She was unresponsive in his hands. Her body had gone limp, and her hands were now colder than ice.

Sky felt his body start to shiver, his heart refusing to believe what his head already had figured out…Aya Seika Karinkov…was dead.

Holding her body to him, he wept ceaselessly, uncaring. He rocked back and forth silently, numbness taking over him so completely, he couldn't feel anything…nothing but her…

He kissed her cheek lightly, answering her last words lightly. "I-I'll lead you there, my darling Aya. I'll lead you there…from now and forevermore."

Robbie hated having clean up duty, but hey, the boss was the boss. If anything, tonight was an example of what happens, when you try to cross the boss.

He had waited as the boss had said, and he was pretty sure the girl was dead. Taking the safety off his gun, he sighed and aimed. After this, he would just leave their bodies; let the police look like they were doing something.

It was time to call it a night…

Sky didn't here the gun discharge, nor did he feel the bullets burn into his back. However, before he knew it, Aya had fallen out of his arms, and he had collapsed to the ground!

He lay there, unable to speak, his eyes getting dizzy, as his blood flowed out into the ground mixing with that of his family.

Some part of his brain, reminded him that he had lost a lot of blood himself. Was he going to die? Would fate finally do something right for once?

As he began to lose consciousness, he felt a small spark in his heart. He didn't know what it was, nor did he care. He just let the emptiness consume him…

It wasn't till many hours later, where I would understand what that spark was—and how it would lead me for the rest of my life…


A/N: If you wish the mp3 of Sky and Aya's song "Skylark", tell me in your reviews, and I'll send it to you by e-mail. Catch you later, for the second half of Sky's story and see how the Fallen Angels, become the all new Avenging Angels! Ciao!

22. Renaissance d'un Ange

A/N: Thank you for being patient. I know I took a little longer than I planned, but school is hard and thank goodness it's coming to a close. This is another long chapter, I think it's longer than any of my others. It finishes Sky's story and how the Avenging Angels were formed. I hope you enjoy! I will try to get out the next chapter much faster. ; )

-I. S.

Chapter 21

"So, what happened after that?" Fang asked in solemn earnest. He glanced back over to the framed picture on the bureau, have a totally new view on the background of the two smiling people from the photo, who would never smile or laugh again. He felt a pang of shame as he remembered his previous thought about Sky killing his own wife and brother-in-law. Now that he'd heard the true story, a cloud of humiliation and indignity came over him. How could such a thought have entered his head?

Looking closer at his host, Fang could now pick out the individual scars from out of the many on Sky's chest. The small but fleshy one on his right shoulder was from getting stabbed through on that night. He was sure if he could see the back, he would see the gunshot wounds as well.

It was amazing what this guy had gone through. Even Blade was surprisingly quiet with a mutual respect. Fang thought of the idea of physical pain that intense was astounding. He'd been shot once, and he knew that the feeling was not one he wanted to experience again, but to think of Sky's brother-in-law, shot not once, not twice, but twenty-five times! And then Sky sitting there in a forlorn alley, his beloved wife dying in his arms. His thoughts went back to the dream he'd had where Max and he were in the same position, his only family lying dead at his feet by his hands. He had practically went crazy with grief. He'd felt Max's blood running through his fingers, her life slipping away.

It was then that he realized that he and Sky were more connected then he'd ever imagined. They had gone through practically the same things, except Fang's experience hadn't happened…yet. And it's not going happen if I can stop Blade from taking over anymore of my mind or body. Sky is stronger than even I; he's been through hell and prevailed. He should be able to help me find a way to stop what's happening inside me.

But first he wanted to know the rest of the story. "What happened then? How did you survive?"

Sky had paused some to drink some water, and had been silent for a while. Putting the bottle back down again, he looked back at his young guest. "Hungry? You haven't eaten for some time."

Fang blinked at the change in topic, then realized that his stomach was growling. He blushed slightly; being so enthralled by the story, he hadn't noticed his hunger was growing. What was he going to do? He couldn't very well tell his host, what it was that he had a hunger and thirst for. But he couldn't let his hunger go unchecked either. He might as well play it safe for now and make up some excuse, and then find a food source later.

"No, I'll be fine. I'll get something later—"

Before he could even finish his statement, Sky reached under his bed and pulled out a small, silver thermos. He then threw it over to Fang, who caught it expertly in one hand. The thermos was surprisingly very cold.

Sky nodded to it, "That aught to hold you."

Fang sighed, "Thanks."

Well, he could at least try to drink whatever was inside, even though he knew his body would more than likely reject it. Opening the top, he let the dark liquid slide past his lips, but the minute it hit his tongue and the smell hit his nose, he opened his eyes wide in realization of what the drink really was.

Taking a big swallow, then looked up at Sky, who was smiling with knowing curiosity, he licked the small red droplets from the pointed tips of his fangs. "This is—how did you—?"

Sky put his hands behind his head and laid back to relax. "I do notice things that go missing, Fang. Like, four missing vials of plasma for instance? It was only a matter of time before I put everything together. In case you forgot, I am a genius you know. However, I also understand why you didn't say anything, I mean, it is bizarre to say the least, and disgusting, and mortifying, but that doesn't mean you have to starve yourself. The stuff you're drinking now is a blood alternate. We use it for those who have lost too much blood, and we don't have the right type in stock. It acts as the real thing for a short time, until the body is able to sustain itself again. In you, you'd have to "eat" more frequently, but your body would be satisfied. Think of it as if instead of getting turkey breast once every few week, you'd be getting turkey lunchmeat every other day. It should work, and I won't have to exhaust my small blood bank. What say you?"

Fang had finished the canister of blood solution, or whatever, and put the thermos on the ground, licking the excess off his hands. "I know my new eating habits are kind of creepy, and I don't even know how I came to be this way. I used to eat normal food, but ever since I've been in Jeb's clutches this last time, and since my body began to transform to look like this, I've adopted more than just vampirish looks, but their eating habits and aversion to light as well. I mean I can drink water and stuff, and I can go out in the sunlight, but the sun is starting to bother me more than before. I find that it almost hurts me to be out in blasting sunshine. I know vampires aren't real, but whatever Jeb and the whitecoats are doing to me, they want me to turn out as close to one as possible. It's hard for me to resist…blood now, even though before I would have been repulsed, but now it's the only thing I can eat that I won't vomit back up. However, if you can give me a substitute, I would be eternally grateful. I'm sorry I didn't mention it sooner, but I didn't think you'd understand."

Sky dismissed it with a wave of the hand, "I understand why you might be scared to tell me. If you weren't already kind of abnormal, I would have tossed you out without a second thought. I'll make you some more alti-blood and you can have that. However, I give you fair warning. I don't want to see any fang marks on my men's necks, or the deal's off. Got it?"

"I'd die, before I feed off a human." Fang replied with a serious air.

Sky nodded, "I believe you. You stopped yourself before you mauled me the day that we met. You've sincerely apologized for every man you've hurt, even if it was accidentally. I know you have self-control, that every so often, rage seems to break through, but you still have a good heart. However, just for good measure, we'll keep your "special" dietary needs between you and me for now. My men might not take it the right way. I'll tell them eventually; I don't keep secrets from them. Yet, one must use wisdom and judge the best time to do so. I don't think their ready for something like that."

Fang nodded in affirmation, "You and the guys are really close, huh?

Sky sighed and began looking off into another direction, his mind in another time and place. "My men are my new family now, and they're very precious to me. They weren't always my men, though. And when I first met them, they actually wanted to kill me."

His fingers went to the chain around his neck that held the diamond ring. If it wasn't for his present condition and that of his guest, he could certainly use a smoke. Talking about Aya and Tōya was hard on him, even though it was almost 5 years since their deaths, but he had promised Fang to tell him the whole story…

"Well, it was only the next day that I awoke to find myself St. Derek's Hospital. The bullets had been pulled from my back, having hit my pancreas and liver, but thank goodness my spine had been untouched. They had patched up the wounds in my shoulder and side as well. The pain was great, but the agony in my heart was beyond repair.

"However, no one spoke or talked to me. The nurses and doctors came and checked on me, but they didn't ask me any questions about what happened—they all already knew. Damian's work was well-known in the hospitals of that area, and they had learned that it was better to not speak of it at all rather than risk the same wrath being brought on them. I was okay with that, since I didn't want to talk to anyone either. I just wanted to be left alone in my misery, wondering why I had survived and my wife, the only love of my life, was taken from me.

"Since I was obviously the next of kin, anything that had been on Aya or Tōya at their time of death was given to me, as well as anything that had been in my clothes, since they had to throw my bloody garments out. I woke up one day to find a tray with a paper bag on it. At first, I paid it no attention, but after a time, I got bored and reached out to see what was in it. Inside the paper bag, was only a few items, but each of them became some of the most priceless things to me….

Sky poured out the contents onto his lap. Out came three things: a silver chain-link necklace, a silver diamond ring, and Tōya's pocket journal. He recognized them all immediately. Lifting up the necklace, he smiled with saddened eyes when he remembered the day he had given it to Tōya. He had given it to him right before the wedding; it was a symbol of their friendship and their bond as brothers, not by blood, but just as strong. The redhead had never taken it off; even until the day he died…

Sky put it down, then picked up the ring. It had taken him more than a year and some loans in order to get the money to pay for it, but it had been worth it. Aya had admired it in a store window, and he had vowed to himself that he would get the ring for her. He would never forget the look in her eyes, when he slid it on her finger on their wedding day. She had never taken it from her finger. She had looked so beautiful, so young and full of life…

And you'll never see her smile or laugh again. You'll never enjoy another day out in the park with him again. They were my everything—and now there is nothing…

Angry tears welled up in his eyes, as he clutched the ring and necklace tightly in his hands. Enraged, He picked up everything and violently threw it away from him! Unfortunately, his arm was still healing, so the mementos simply hit the footboard of the bead, and bounced back onto his blanket.

The snap of the journal's spine against the footboard awoke him from his raging grief, and he realized with horror what he had just done. Resisting the great pain, he crawled to the edge of his bed and gathered the items he had thrown. He proceeded to pick up the journal when a small, sealed envelope fell from in between the pages.

Taking up the envelope, he looked at Tōya's scrawled writing on the front: жаворонодкр.


This letter had been to him?

Suddenly, knock came to his door. He knew who it was, even before she opened the door.

Nurse Martinez came through the door; she smiled lightly, "Hola, Sẽnor Karinkov. I'm glad to see you at least doing something."

He didn't respond, but the corner of his mouth lifted a tiny bit.

She took up the tray of uneaten food from his bedside, and placed a fresh tray in its spot. Then, checking the monitors, she smiled, waved goodbye, and then silently left.

He thought it interesting that she was faithful to her job, even though he never responded back to her, and she knew that he wouldn't eat the food on that tray either. Yet she still tried for conversation, talking about her family and her goals of finishing veterinary school. It was impossible to say she was getting paid to do it. St. Derek's was a hospital for the low-rent district, and where the patients who were the scum of society went for treatment. Nurse Martinez was paid close to minimum wage, and she had a little daughter, but she still seemed to treat her job with the same respect as those who were getting paid seven times that.

He looked at the food she had brought him. It was good food, but his stomach still turned at the sight. Even though he knew the medical ramifications of not eating in the back of his mind, he really didn't care. He didn't feel like eating, or drinking, or talking…he felt no reason to.

Turning back to the letter, he slowly opened the seal and took out the two small sheets of paper within it. Unfolding them, he felt a pang of sorrow as he looked at Tōya's neat, small handwriting.

The first thing that caught his eye, was that the letter was written entirely in Cyrillic, the written language of his motherland, Russia.

This letter had been meant for him, and for only him to read…what was so secret that Tōya only wanted him to know? Had he known that he was going to die that night? Is that why he gave me his journal!?

He silently began to read, letting his departed brother's words unfurl…


If you're reading this, I am most likely dead. I've written this simple letter to explain and complete some last pieces to the puzzle. First, I wish to apologize that I've gotten you and Aya into all this. You're probably asking many questions and blaming yourself over my death. However don't waste your tears for me; tell my sister not to cry. I would have wanted to die no other way—than for what I believe in.

When you had aspirations of becoming a doctor, you had a passion to save lives. I know you had to give up your dreams for me, and you don't know how I have punished myself day after day for your sacrifice. Yet, I know you still have that passion, even now.

Death may have seemed to overtake you right now, and it seems as if you've fallen into a drowning pool of hopelessness. But Sky, you can, and you have to swim out of it. You have to live. For there are innocent lives at stake, lives that will now be depending on you, as their last hope.

You must be asking yourself now, "What the heck is he talking about, and why should I even care? It's my fault he's dead, and I have no other reason to live either? Why did he die and I survive?"

Sky was indeed asking the very questions Tōya had outlined. Tōya knew him well…and even though he'd never know that his twin followed him almost immediately to the grave, Tōya seemed to account for her as well.

His mind was confused now, and his brother-in-law wasn't making things easier. The burden of his family's death was a heavy one, and he wanted more than anything to die with them. However, God had another plan, and his life was saved. But what did he have left to live for?

He looked back and continued…

You are one of the strongest, most honorable men I have ever met, and I'm privileged to call you, not just my brother-in-law, but my brother in all senses of the word. I tell you this as a brother: no one's at fault here. It's not over yet. I may be dead, but you're not! I want—I need—you to live. Aya and your unborn child need you to live! If you give up now, you'll not only be letting us and yourself down, but all our wishes for you, all your feelings for us—it will all disappear, like sand through your fingers.

Everyone was born to live, to live and be free and happy. My body may not be anymore, but I still live. Let's live together, Sky. Let us all live through you, Skylark.

You were not the only one who had a passion to save lives…it was mine as well. You haven't met the Angels, but they are the most amazing group of guys you've ever met. They're experts in their area, and they just need someone to tell them they could be something. Damian manipulated them, like he tried to manipulate me. He used their talents for his own selfish gains, and left them with nothing. The Angels may seem like a tough crowd on the surface, but beneath their hard exterior, they've been used and abused and have been brainwashed into thinking that's all their good for. I saw more, Sky. I knew they needed to be saved from his control. I had to help them, Sky. Even though I knew I would be hated by you and Aya, I had to do my best to save them from this pit they were in. I couldn't stand idly by, while Damian played with our lives like pawns on a chessboard. A bond was formed between the Angels and I, I was one of them, but I also became like a big brother to them, just as you are to me. And I knew that it was my responsibility to take the initial hit that would come from Stockholm, when we finally decided to make our declaration of independence.

I can no longer lead my family, my men, but I'm asking you, my big brother, to lead them in my stead. You may feel that it is none of you're affair, but I tell you now, that without someone to guide them, Damian WILL hunt them down and kill them. I'm hoping you're the man I thought you were, and the man I thought I let my sister marry. If not, let God curse me until the end of time for thinking such things.

My journal contains specific details as to the nature of Damian's human trafficking, illegal drugs, prostitution, slavery, and other illegal operations. It holds the details of my plans, and also gives a dossier of each member of the Fallen Angels: their names, specialties, personalities, etc. I hope that it is helpful to you, I'm not an expert tactician like you, but I try my best…

I'm counting on you, Sky. They're counting on you. You are my only and last resort, I need you, big brother. Please, I beg of you, to let go of your grief and anguish and live again! If not for yourself, live for me and for Aya, for even if you don't tell her, she will still agree with me. It all rests on you Sky. I need you to do what I can do no longer. I plead with you for the lives of my men; I place in your hands all I am and all that I love. Remember that angels are not just pretty but they're dangerous, and that they'll do whatever's necessary to protect those they're charged guardianship over, and they do what's right no matter what happens. Can you promise me?



Sky let the pages slide from his hand. His mind went back to that fated night, and remembered when Tōya had asked that same exact question, while dying in a pool of his own blood, the red liquid streaming from his smiling lips.

"Can you promise me?"

He squeezed his eyes together, trying to keep away the tears that were threatening to appear. How could he ask him such a thing? He knew nothing about gangs, he had no part of it. He wanted no part of it! He wanted to be alone in his misery. He just wanted to be left alone!

The prong from Aya's ring dug into his leg from where it lay on his bed. Picking it up, his mind flashed to the alley, Aya lying in his blood-coated arms, her words as soft as rose petals.

"No Sky…your path is different than mine. You have to…trust your heart… as I have all these years…trust it…to guide…you."

He squeezed the ring in his hand so hard it drew blood. His heart…what did his heart know? Tōya's face came to mind again.

"…if I die, someone just like me, or possibly even stronger, will rise to take my place… An angel needs to go home sometime, and when they do, they have to make sure another angel…an avenging angel…can fly down from the sky and take over…"

He now realized, that he was the avenging angel that Tōya was talking about. An avenging angel…how could a man who couldn't even save his own wife and child, possibly avenge anyone?

Then he remembered his wife's face, as she bravely and proudly stood up to Damian, despite his words and actions, and had told the snake that she would avenge her brother no matter what it took. She refused to run, refused to hide from him any longer. Aya had given her life to try to stop Damian, as had her twin brother before her.

Suddenly his conscience's voice was added to that of his family's, his mind in utter confusion. Tōya died to protect his men, Aya died to protect and avenge her family. If you die now, what would you have died for? How could they ever forgive you for being such a coward, that you'd let their deaths go unavenged, that you'd let more innocent lives be taken by the likes of Damian? You made a promise; it's time for you to start keeping it…

Yes, he did remember his words to Tōya that night, his very last words to his little brother…

Can you promise me?

I promise.

But still…

Suddenly, his vision began to get dizzy, the ceiling began to swirl around him, and he collapsed back onto his bed. His stress, guilt, sorrow, conscience, and exhaustion-all of them playing their own little part.

His imagination and conscience went wild and began to weave a world that took control over his mind. It was then he saw Damian's face look at him with haughty, malicious amusement, daring him to try to defy him. The pleased smile as he shot another bullet into Tōya's heart. The villain then stepped on his dead brother's chest, crushing his slowing heart, his voice like venom. You're nothing; nothing but scum under my heel…

Covering his ears, Sky clenched his eyelids closed, a strangled cry came from his throat; the nightmare taking hold of his mind.

Aya heaved up buckets of blood as Damian stabbed her over and over again, the assassin, laughing in Sky's face, as he then cut his wife's lily-white throat. The man taunted with cruel laughter. You're my slave, Skylark—I can do anything to you that I wish, and you—can't–do—anything.

Sky's clenched his eyes so tightly together that it was painful. Blood dripped continuously from his forcefully balled up, rigid fists. His heart was on fire. His grief slowly roasted and burned with fire, becoming anger, then twisting into fury, and then finally into full-fledged rage…

Hot tears ran down his cheeks, his breathing ragged and feral, growls escaping his throat sounding like that of a ravenous wolf. Snapping his eyes open, Sky swiftly sat up and pulled the covers from off of him. Putting his feet on the cool linoleum floor, he sat on the side of his bed, taking deep breaths, trying to get his mind together.

Then, with a slight glint in his sky blue eyes and withstanding the aches and pains from his wounds, he stood up on his own two feet. Walking to the sink in his room, he opened the large cabinet underneath it, and searched inside. He remembered the days when he was a medical intern, and he learned that many doctors and nurses left their street clothes hidden in their patients' rooms, where they could get them immediately after their shift was over, rather than having to go all the way to their lockers.

Knowing for a fact that a young male nurse, who was about his size, used this room for that exact purpose, Sky pulled out a black backpack, taking the man's t-shirt and jeans out, he began to silently slip them on. He then went to the closet and put on his own black gym shoes, which was the only part of clothing, short of his underwear and wallet, that wasn't thrown away.

He went to the medical drawers, and began to systematically pull out replacement bandages, a vial of antibiotic, packaged hypodermic needles, and other materials that he would need to prevent infection and to take care of himself until his injuries had healed up for the most part.

Putting them all in the now-empty backpack, he went to the tray of food that Nurse Lopez had left. The lunch consisted of a chicken sandwich, some mushroom soup, a bottle of water, and a sugar cookie.

Downing the soup in one gulp, he then ate one half of his sandwich and all the chicken from the other half. He wrapped up the remnants for later and put it in his bag, along with the cookie. He quickly finished the water bottle, and then refilled it at the sink and added it to the stash in his bag. Zipping it up and putting it on his back, Sky reached for Tōya's journal and slipped it snuggly in his pants pocket, along with his wallet.

Making the bed expertly, he then sat down on the edge to take a breath, going through his plans in his head. Smiling slightly, he reached over and picked up Tōya's necklace and Aya's ring. Carefully, he strung the ring onto the chain, and then clasped it around his neck.

Touching his finger to the ring as it rested on his chest, he felt the cold metal become warm once again. His voice hardly above a whisper, he vowed, "You were right, darling…it is not for us to ask how or why. I still may not fully know why God chose to let me keep living, maybe it was to save Tōya's men, maybe not. But I'll keep living to find out…I'll keep living, for you darling. And I'll keep the promise I made to Tōya, even if it takes me the rest of the life I have. I'm going to live for all of us, and I will make sure, that what happened to us, doesn't happen again. That is my solemn promise."

With that, he went to the windowsill and raised the pane enough for him to get exit out of it. He was already halfway out, when he heard a voice behind him. "Sẽnor Karinkov?"

He smiled as he looked back at Nurse Martinez, who had walked in, right on time to check his blood pressure. He gave her a broad smile and a two-fingered salute, "Thank you Senorita Martinez, for everything you've done. I know you will be an excellent veterinarian one day. I will remember you, and take care of little Ella. Farewell for now."

He jumped to the ground and took off down the street. Nurse Martinez watched him, until he disappeared from sight. Her surprised look changed to a smile, "Thank you, and be careful out there, Sẽnor Karinkov.

I had lived on the streets of Los Angeles for some time, and knew them well. The address Tōya had given in his journal for the Fallen Angels hangout, was in a poorer part of town, at some empty apartment buildings. I kept to the alleyways and shadows, knowing that when Damian found out I had survived, I'd have more hunters on my tail then I was comfortable with.

When I finally got to the one he had indicated, I knew instantly that someone had already gotten here first. The doors were ajar, the windows were broken recently, and the place had a deserted feel about it. The concrete walls were covered in scorch marks and bullet holes. I thought that maybe I was too late! But then I realized there was no blood anywhere, and realized that somehow, the Fallen Angels had gotten away before Damian's men found them.

So where they were now, was the new question…

Where would they feel safe, and yet nobody would think to look for them?

Sky looked at his reflection in the glass window, grimy with dirt—and that's when the answer suddenly came to him. He knew exactly were they were…

It was late afternoon before he made his way to the street, and the shadows made it hard to see in the streetlight-less paths. But he'd traveled this way so often, he knew every nock and cranny of around here. He had lived here for more than two years, some of his happiest days with Aya and Tōya happened on this street, in the shabby apartment in front of him…

He stood beside the adjacent building, trying to figure out the best way he should approach this, when suddenly, he heard impending footsteps!

Quickly retreating to the shadows, ready to strike if necessary, he watched as the figure came forth from the alley. From the gloomy darkness, came a young teen boy! He was big for his age, but a boy nonetheless. He was grimy, and had unkempt dirty-blond hair, wearing a sullied white t-shirt, wrinkled jeans, and a bloody ramshackle bandage on his right shoulder. It took him a minute to realize, that he recognized this boy!

"Joaquin…Delphi, was it?"

The teen turned in surprise at the sound of his name, instinctively reaching towards his pocket for some kind of hidden weapon. However, as Sky came into the open, a look of recognition and a relieved smile came to his face. "Sky Karinkov? I was just thinking of you, actually. You're Tōya's brother-in-law, right?"

This sudden statement surprised him, "How did you know that? And how—?"

Joaquin raised his hand and stopped him, "I'm a Fallen Angel."

So, the kid was a part of Tōya's gang…no wonder he had acted so surprised when he had told him his name. He studied the boy's shoulder, "How'd you get hurt?"

"I had a run-in with Damian's guys; their bullet only grazed me though. The same way you did, I guess." The kid nodded to Sky's own shoulder.

Sky looked at where Joaquin indicated, and was surprised to see that his own shoulder wound was bleeding again. Must have been all this running around…I didn't even feel it!

The two sat down on the apartment steps, as Sky unzipped his bag and pulled out the medical supplies he'd taken from the hospital. Joaquin watched in surprise as he began to treat the boy's injuries first! "But your shoulder is—"

Sky cut him off by injecting the area around the wound with antibiotic. "Triage is the first rule of medicine. You haven't been treated, you're younger, and you most likely will develop an infection that will kill you faster than the wound itself. I however have been in a hospital, and my bleeding is just from working my arm too much. I can sew that back up later."

Joaquin looked at him queasily, "Sew?"

The man looked back at him amused, "Yes, sew. The wound's too wide to heal easily without using stitches."

As Sky treated the wound, he asked suddenly, "Where are the other Fallen Angels, Joaquin?"

The boy looked away distantly, and instead answered with his own question. "Are you and Tōya still on bad terms?"

Sky smiled at the boy's reservations, Tōya was right when he said that his men were loyal. Joaquin wasn't going to spill his guts to just anyone at the drop of a hat, even if that someone was his leader's kin…

As he breathed he felt the heaviness of Tōya's necklace and Aya's ring on his chest underneath his shirt. A sudden pang of sadness and affection came to his face, one that even caught the boy's attention. "You could say, Tōya and I have never been closer…"

Joaquin studied him, "Tōya told you the truth, huh? He finally told you everything?"

Sky took out his brother-in-law's journal and flipped through it, the pages filled with his Tōya's writing. "Yeah, I still can't believe how blind I was..."

The kid looked at the journal in shock, "How did you get that?! Tōya would never have—unless he…"

He jumped up from his seat before Sky could even finish tying the bandage! His hands were balled up into fists, and tears had begun to well up in his flashing brown eyes, his face filled with rage! "Where is Tōya?! Tell me now! We waited for him for days, and he didn't show! Then Damian's men came and we had to rush out in a firefight, escaping to here, where Tōya said they wouldn't come looking for him. Now you come here, with your questions! Where is Tōya?!!! He betrayed us to Damian didn't he? He sold us out!! That's why he hasn't shown! That's why—"

Skylark smacked the teenager soundly in the face! His blue eyes blazing, he looked at the surprised Joaquin with contempt. "I'm glad Tōya couldn't see you now, you spineless child… How dare you say those things? Tōya risked everything for you and your little group. He seemed to think you were worth saving…but maybe he was wrong. Let me tell you right now, I wouldn't be here if I hadn't made a promise to Tōya, that I would take his place and save you all from Damian's hands! Damian's mine, my quarrel with him is personal, but you Angels are slowly becoming excess baggage! Don't you know that Tōya would be here himself if he could?!"

Joaquin looked at him, taken aback and shamed by Sky's words. However, before he could say anything, another voice spoke the question. "So where is he?"

Skylark turned around in surprise to see that five young men had come up behind him. Each was dirty and rough-looking, and each held some type of knife, gun, or even a lead pipe, however none of them looked like they were going to use them, they were more in shock than anything. Sky guessed that the men had been lying in wait while he was talking to Joaquin, and that they had heard everything. Turning back to the kid, he saw that about ten more had joined him. They were all different. Redhead, brunette, blond, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, short, tall, wiry, muscular…however, they did share some things in common: they were all young, between the ages of 15 and 20, and they all had the look of the hardened street in their eyes. And right now, they all also shared a look of concern and fear, and even apprehension, which seemed to be so foreign to them, that they were uncomfortable and ill at ease. In an instant, all the things that Tōya had said and wrote about them was true. Sky could see and feel how his brother-in-law had been so attached to these guys, because as rough and tough as they tried to make themselves out to be, they were still very much children, trying to make it in an adult world, who had only themselves to lean on. So these were the Fallen Angels…

The man that had spoken was a young redhead, about 18, a butterfly knife moved through his fingers with expert speed. It would seem threatening to anyone else, but Sky could see that he was just agitated and fidgety; the look in his eyes was anxious and scared.

Sky didn't want to talk about this out here; they were all out in the open and at risk from prying eyes. He pointed to his old apartment complex, "Calm down kid, it's dangerous out here. Let's get inside and I'll tell you anything you want to know."

This just seemed to send the guy over the edge. "WHAT?! I don't care about what's dangerous and what's not! I'm no kid, either!"

"Kurt…" Joaquin tried to intercede, but to no avail.

Quicker than he expected, the redheaded teen, called Kurt, grabbed Sky violently by his shirt collar! "I want you to tell me where Tōya is, and I want you to tell me—NOW!!"

His anger was so strong, that Kurt heatedly tore Skylark's t-shirt from right off his back with one large rip!

All of the Fallen Angels could now see the man's heavily bandaged chest, and his bloody wrapped shoulder. But what really stopped them all in their tracks, and make Kurt drop both the ruined shirt and his knife in shock, was the small, almost insignificant ornament from around his neck…

Another teenager, a blond this time, who surprisingly was not only about the same age as Kurt, but had the exact same face, pulled his obvious twin back, and holstered his gun onto his side. "W-Where did you get that necklace? That's Tōya's, he never takes it off."

Sky smiled, remembering thinking the same thing, earlier that day. He slowly clasped his hand around the chain and ring. "Tōya gave it to me…"

Joaquin looked at him aghast, his legs trembling slightly and his voice hardly above a whisper. It was a look that he shared with the rest of his comrades. "What?! Why?"

The Russian-American turned to the boy, sadness in his clear blue eyes, "He gave me everything…even you guys."

The blond twin, who Sky would later learn was named Luke, repeated the question, but the twisted look on his face said that he was starting to put two and two together. "But…why?"

"Because, he's no longer able to. Tōya…Tōya is…he's dead."

The silence that followed his statement, was so absolute, Sky could hear not only the heavy constant thump of his own heartbeat, but also everyone else's too. The horror and shock in Kurt's eyes were heart-rendering, and it was a look that was reflected ten times over in the other Angels around him. He went to his knees in surrender, his fists trembling and clenched tightly, his eyes shadowed and angry tears welling up in them. "Tōya…he's dead? Or do you mean, he was…murdered?"

Sky looked away, unable to face them knowing that the sorrow in his own eyes, would only make things worse. There was nothing he could say that would make the wound easier to bear, so he might as well just tell them outright. "Tōya was captured, humiliated, tortured, and then shot to death—by Damian Stockholm."

There was a simultaneous intake of breath filled with disbelief, like a bolt from the blue, followed by curses coming from all directions. Kurt hit the ground hard with his fist, swearing like a drunken sailor. Luke leaned against the building in utter shock, all strength gone. Joaquin fell to the ground, tears streaming from his young eyes, loud sobs gurgled from his throat. Poor kid…I wonder if he's ever really experienced death before? How close was he to you Tōya? Sky continued to look at the boy with sympathy as it was obvious that he was not just torn up about it, but he was totally crushed, but then, to his surprise, the boy began to…laugh?!

The other Fallen Angels turned to see what was so funny, but Sky was more concerned with the look on the boy's face. He'd seen that look before. It was one that had almost possessed him all those days in the hospital. The boy had completely broken…the frightening, hollow look in his eyes, the manic smile on his face, the demented sound of his voice as he laughed like a madman…Joaquin had lost it.

Sky was about to go to him, when suddenly, the boy pulled a hunter's knife from his pocket! Holding it in his shaking hands, Joaquin seemingly smiled up at the others, yet seemed to be looking at no place in particular. "T-Tōya can't be gone, h-he c-c-can't have left me alone. T-Tōya would never leave me alone. I-I can't be alone again, n-not again. Wait for me big brother, I-I want t-to come too!"

To his horror, and that of the other gang members, Joaquin raised the knife, the blade pointed inward, and proceeded to bring it down heavily towards his chest! Luke called out to him, running to stop the kid, yet knowing with terror that he would never make it in time! However, just as the apex of the blade was about to do its lethal work, a hand quickly reached out and expertly flicked the knife from out of the boy's grip!

The knife landed soundly a few feet away, a line of red on the edge where it had made contact with flesh. Sky wrung out his hand, drops of blood dripping down to his finger tips, and from there onto the cement. He dropped to his knees and crawled to the trembling boy who was sitting there bewildered, silent tears in his eyes.

Joaquin had never felt so alone before…not ever. He had known from an early age, the world was a very cruel place, but he'd never imagined it was this pitiless. Tōya…gone? How could he go on anymore? He didn't want to go back to the life he led before his "big brother". He couldn't, he just—

Suddenly, the teenager felt two warm, strong arms envelop him! He looked up in surprise as Sky, Tōya's real brother, pulled him into a secure embrace his eyes also filled with tears and sorrow. His voice was strong and somewhat familiar, as he spoke to him in soft, reassuring tones. "Now what would Tōya say if he saw you trying to kill yourself, huh? He'd kill you himself if he found out, right? Now look, I know you feel betrayed and alone, but just because you can't see Tōya anymore, doesn't mean he's not here watching over you. You are not alone, young one. I know you and I just met, and it's going to take some time for you to trust me, but I promise you, that I'll be there for you. I won't let Tōya's death be meaningless. I promised him as he died, that I would take his place and look after you and the other Angels, that Damian would not get his hands on you. I gave him my word, and—and my word is my bond."

Joaquin looked up at Sky in wonder, while the other Fallen Angels looked on in astonishment. Sky smiled down at the teen, the look on his face was the very essence of reassurance. It was the same look that Tōya had…

Sky wasn't surprised as Joaquin silently slipped into unconsciousness, the fatigue, both physical and emotional, had taken its toll on him. Luke came forward and kneeled; he smiled gratefully at Sky then he took the boy in his arms and carried him into the apartment building.

Some unknown command went through the group, and they all began to follow Luke. Kurt was one of the last ones; he looked at Skylark hard, but without wrath. A slight smile actually came to the redhead's lips and he nodded at him in acknowledgment, before following his fellow companions into the building. Soon Sky was alone once again…or so it seemed.

"That was a cool thing you did for Joaquin. We owe you our gratitude."

Sky looked over his shoulder and saw that the owner of the voice, was leaning against the staircase pillar. It was a man about the same age as he, but much heftier and taller. He wore jeans, t-shirt, jacket—normal ensemble for a member of the Fallen Angels, his sandy brown hair was tied back, and his hazel eyes looked at him with strength and suspicion, but also a flash of regret.

Sky turned and looked to the man, "You owe me nothing; all I did was tell the truth."

The man lifted his eyebrow incredulously, but continued, "The shock hit hard with all of us, but none was hit harder than Joaquin. He is the youngest of us all. He was abandoned at birth, and ran away from the orphanage when he was seven. Abused and manipulated his whole life, not knowing love or happiness, he became cold, hard and unfeeling, not letting anybody get near him. But Tōya…Tōya saw past that icy exterior. He had shown Joaquin a whole new side of life, a warmer, compassionate side. He treated him with respect and loved him like a brother, and in return Joaquin gave him his undying loyalty. Those words he spoke to you earlier, were just out of worry and fear. He'd never believe Tōya'd abandon us. Joaquin was closer to Tōya then any of us, that's why I'm not surprised that he was going to do what he did."

Sky nodded, "That sounds just like the Tōya I knew. He was playful and immature, but he had a kind, compassionate spirit. He had a deep sense of justice as well."

The man nodded and looked away toward the sunset, an appearance of pure sorrow on his face. "I knew something was wrong. He'd been reclusive the last few days and had a faraway look in his eyes. I guess…he knew what was coming and wanted to spare us. I wish, he could have just let us help him a little more…then that bastard, Damian…" The man's fists were balled up so tight that his knuckles were white.

He then suddenly relaxed and walked down to Sky, looking him in the eye, "Tōya talked a lot about you, Sky. He always held you in high esteem, and he cared about you very much. However, I cannot accept your help."

Skylark was slightly taken aback, "What?"

A dubious small smirk came to the man's face, "What makes you think you'll be accepted into our dismal world? You think that someone like you, can survive here? You? A pretty-boy doctor? Hmph…I suggest you go back to your pregnant wife, and just live your life. We'll get revenge for Tōya, don't worry about that. I accept you for being Tōya's messenger, but let's get one thing straight…you're not Tōya, and you're not man enough to fill his shoes"

The young man brushed past Karinkov, on his way to follow his companions. "I'm sure you could go by yourself," Sky responded, with a dark look shadowing his eyes, "but I have a reason too."

The man, stopped and turned to face Sky's back, "What? Tōya owed you money or something? Look, we'll take care of this…go home, pretty-boy."

The russet-haired teen was about to walk up the stairway, when he suddenly felt a grip of iron take hold of his neck! Without even having time to react, he abruptly felt his head crack hard against the pavement, an unyielding foot pinned him down by his chest, and the steel hand kept a solid hold onto his neck.

Totally surprised by the ferocity of the surprise attack, the young man looked up into his assailant's eyes. He was taken aback by the flames and viciousness that existed within those outlandish blue orbs, and the sparks that grated from that steely voice. "Call me that again, and so help me…I'll break your freakin' neck…"

Karinkov's grip on his throat was beginning to cut off his windpipe, the guy didn't think twice that the one-time medical student could easily snap his spinal cord in half if he wanted too…

Something had snapped within Sky as well, and he had reached his limits… "Now, you listen to me, and you listen good—I don't care about you, or Joaquin, or any of you Fallen Angels. But…I made a promise! I made a promise to my Tōya, my brother! I made a promise, to my wife and my baby, while they DIED in my arms!!"

The teen's hazel eyes opened wide in shock. What? Tōya's sister, and his—Damian killed them too?!

Sky looked away, the pain causing tears to spring forth anew. Blood dripped down his arms, splashing on the gang member's t-shirt. "Yes, they're dead too. Aya died standing up to Damian…because of him…so I'm going to kill Damian whether you guys help or not, and I'm sure you feel the same way. I made a promise that I would get vengeance against the man that took my family from me, but also that I would protect you, the Fallen Angels. I do this for Tōya's sake not yours. Now, if you don't want my help, that's fine too, but doesn't it make more sense for us, who have the same goals, to help each other? I was close to Tōya too don't forget, even that would be enough for me to want this, but he also killed my wife and child…the only things I had left in this world. I want to help you; all I'm asking is that you work with me rather than against me. So let's work together and make sure what happened to Tōya, Aya, me, and all of you, never happens to anyone else. So, kid, let's stop that bastard Damian, together!"

The man could only lay there in awe, he couldn't believe Sky's words, but one thing became clear to him… the Fallen Angels and this man… they were indeed the same, both had nothing to lose, they both only wanted to free the world from Damian's plague.

Sky let go of him and stepped away, he waited silently for the young leader's response. The hazel-eyed young man picked himself up and messaged his throat. He looked sideways at the raven-haired widower, before turning towards the door again and as he stepped inside, a small smile emerged on Sky's lips as he heard the man's next words…

"One, my name's Tawny Baxter, just so we're on the same page. And two, well, are you coming in or not?"

From that point on, I began to be immersed into the Fallen Angels' world. With a little help from Tōya's journal, I quickly learned the names, personalities, and abilities of every member. All of them were willing to do whatever was necessary to avenge Tōya and Aya's death. We slowly began to trust one another as time went on. I found that Joaquin was beginning to stick to me like glue after that day, and I to him. I guess it was fated, ever since the day we met in that alley when I was on my way to tell Aya the news about Damian's decision.

I also found out more about Damian's illegal enterprises, and how much the Fallen Angels hated him. The cruel things he did to them. It was enough to make me hurl…

After some careful planning and the use of Tōya's journal, I finally came up with our strategy against Damian Stockholm. It was a day that none of us would ever forget. It all went down, on a warm night in July…

Damian Stockholm entered his limo, late for another stupid conference meeting. Not that anyone would say anything, they knew better than that. He'd been busy taking care of other business…

He'd just gotten word that Skylark Karinkov had survived his deadly "encounter" and was no where to be found, and also that the rest of the Fallen Angels had still, as of yet escaped radar. Why do they always like to run? Doing it the second time around was just more time-consuming and painful…for them at least.

Putting a cigarette to his mouth, he was about to light it, when the limo suddenly jerked to a stop! He cursed under his breath, "What's that fool doing? He is so getting fired."

He hit the intercom button, "What happened? And it better not be something stupid like a 'red-light' or 'there was a girl in the road'."

The driver didn't say anything, but instead lowered his cap over his face with his gloved hand, before opening the door and leaving the car! Damian looked at him in astonishment. Where was this guy going? Was he crazy? Didn't he know he would get beaten for something like this?

Damian jumped out the car himself to face his driver. It wasn't till then, that he realized that he had no idea where he was. The car had stopped in some sort of forlorn parking garage. What the he—?

He spoke out angrily to the limo driver who stood a few feet away. "Where the heck is this? And what are you doing?! Get back in this car and take me where I tell you. We'll discuss your behavior afterwards and what I'll do with you."

The other man didn't budge an inch.

Damian ground his teeth, and pulled a gun from his pocket, letting the audible click of the safety coming off be the only warning the man would get. "Drivers are a dime a dozen. I'll say this only once more: get in the car."

The driver stiffened at first, but still made no move to go back to the car. Instead he smiled slightly and pulled off his cap, letting his long red hair fall out. "Well then, it's a good thing I don't take orders from you anymore, isn't it?"

Damian knew immediately that this wasn't Dominic, his regular driver…this guy was no more than a teenager!

"Who are you?" he asked, still holding the gun at the ready.

The teen smiled and bowed at the waist. "My name is Kurt Lancaster. I am from the group formally known as the Fallen Angels."

Though surprised, Damian's face didn't show it. Instead, he smirked. "Hmm…interesting. I don't know if you're stupid or just foolhardy, but you saved me the trouble. I just wish that the rest of your little friends could have joined you."

However, before he could even pull the trigger, Kurt threw something from his hand, knocking the gun clear across the pavement! Looking back at it in amazement, Damian looked at the short dagger that had deflected it—the blade had pierced the gun through the barrel straight through!

Kurt looked back at him, another dagger playfully in hand. He called out to the darkness, "Come on out guys. He's invited us, we might as well accept the invitation."

From out of the shadows, footsteps echoed. One by one, the rest of the Fallen Angels appeared, dressed in their usual jeans and black leather. Young though they were, they're eyes told a different story. Not only were they devoid of the youth and innocence that should have been there, it had been replaced by things that shouldn't be there, like hate, vengeance, and wrath…

Looking at Stockholm's face, it was now Kurt's turn to smirk. "Well, you know what they say: Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it."

The Angels easily surrounded him, as a Kurt joined their ranks. Damian however, was not one to lose his cool easily. He ran his hand through his brown hair, and sighed uninterested, stuffing his other hand in his pocket. "I would applaud you kids for your creativity, and I'm surprised how easily you work together. Tōya must have worked long and hard to get you vagabonds to this point…I wonder what you'll do without him?"

Kurt snarled, he gripped the knife in his hand so hard that his skin turned white. It took all of his power to stop himself from going against the plan and throwing the dagger straight into the snake's heart!

Suddenly, he felt a restraining hand on his shoulder, and a hand swiftly remove the knife from his own. He relaxed a little, knowing that their leader was there with them. As much as he hated to admit it, even now, he was afraid of Damian Stockholm, and it was only for his presence, that he could sustain the courage he had…

"Damian, it's been a while. I'd forgotten how much, I hate the sound of your voice."

The russet-haired tycoon couldn't recognize the new, but strangely familiar voice, or where it had come from. As he looked around, he sighed in exasperation. He so hated not being able to see his enemies/victims. "Oh, come now. Don't be a coward. If you have something to say, don't hide. Say it to my face."

He felt a slight tap on his shoulder, but before he could completely turn around to see who it was, he was pushed to the ground, and something slammed hard into the palm of his right hand! Grunting in anger at being caught off guard, he tried to get up, but instead cried out in excruciating pain! He looked down and saw Kurt's dagger, thrust to the hilt, through his hand!

"Hurts doesn't it?"

He looked up to see the owned of the mysterious voice, and immediately recognized the man who stood over him. He looked slightly older, and more roguish, with the black leather jacket and uncut hair, but there was no mistaking those cold blue eyes. "Sky—lark? What are you doing here?"

The tall Russian-American, pushed a strand of black hair behind his ear while smiling at him. "You asked me to say it to your face, so here I am. So, I only see one coward here."

Gritting his teeth in anger and pain, Damian slowly pulled the blade out and absently tossed it in Sky's direction, missing completely. "You're just begging me to put you out of your misery, aren't you Russian?"

Sky stood up straight and laughed at that. "That's funny…"

Then, without a second's warning, Sky lifted his leg and slammed his foot straight into Damian's face, the sound of cracking bone echoing throughout the empty parking lot!

The man fell heavily to the ground, staggered by Sky's sudden kick. Painfully picking himself up with his good hand, Damian wiped the blood from his mouth. "Y-You son of b—ahhh!"

Sky walked up to the murderer, purposefully stepping on his wounded hand, and yanked his head upward by his hair to face his own. Leaning straight into his face, his voice clear but dangerous, "That was the right hand, right? Wasn't that the one you used to stab her with? Wasn't that the one you used to pull the trigger with?"

With each question, he ground his boot heel into the wound making Damian cry out in even greater anguish. Sky smiled as he raised his arm and punched the guy square in the face, taking pleasure in the shock in his eyes. "My name's Skylark Karinkov…remember it."

Sky left the man with a bloody face, walking away to the outside of the ring of Angels. "These guys are very perturbed with you, Damian…and I must say, their rift with you, takes credence over mine. So, I'm going to let them explain their grievances first."

Damian stood up weakly, spitting blood and a broken tooth onto the ground. "Sky…when I get out of here…you are going to be so dead, their not even going to find your ashes when I'm through with you."

"You're in no position to say anything of the kind to our leader."

Sky shifted his eyes over to the speaker; Tawny smirked back at him. Sky inwardly acknowledged this. He hadn't announced himself as the leader or anything. It just sort of happened. The men hadn't fully gotten used to him yet, and he was still adjusting to their world, but they had a common bond and it kept them together. He'd found it easy to pick up where Tōya left off and continue on. He and the Angels came to an understanding, and they were quickly becoming friends once trust had been established. Yet…all this time, not one of them had called him the leader aloud. And the fact that it was Tawny that said so, Tōya's own second-in-command, made it practically official and all the more precious.

Damian looked at Sky in surprise, "Your leader?"

He laughed aloud, "Ha! So you took your brother-in-law's place? Is this what this is all about? You're going to kill me in revenge for Tōya? That's a laugh! But wait…no, you're here for a different reason, aren't you, Skylark?"

Sky gritted his teeth at the way his archenemy spit out his name, like venom…

Damian looked sideways at him, a shifty gleam in his eye, "You're here for that woman aren't you? You're here to get vengeance for that little whore of yours…and your little unborn bastard too. Right?"

Luke, who stood next to his twin brother, whispered to him. "Why is he trying to provoke Sky further? Doesn't he realize the situation he's in?"

Kurt hunched his shoulders, unsure. "Maybe he's cracked? But whatever it is, it's working. Sky looks ready to beat Damian to pulp just using his fists."

Luke looked at the man who was the only living kin of their late leader. The man may have looked calm on the outside, but his trained eyes could notice the slight trembling and the paleness of Sky's skin. Was he sick? At a time like this? It wasn't his wounds; they had been healing up nicely and hadn't been infected as far as he could tell. The only explanation was the pure rage that was pent up within in the man, he'd been holding it at bay for their sakes, but Damian was doing his best to put cracks in that dam…

"Shut up…" Sky's voice was low and dangerously unhurried.

However, Damian didn't seem to see how dangerous the situation was getting. "I'm not surprised that street trash like you hooked up with the FAs, since I guess, street trash attracts more street trash…"

The Angels flinched angrily at that statement, but a look from Sky silenced them.

"I said…shut up."

Damian laughed, wiping more blood from his mouth. "Why should I? Why don't you come in make me? Or are you afraid?"

"Shut up!"

"You're afraid…that you'll be just as useless now, as you were then…that you'll…let them die…just like Tōya….and your wife….and you baby?"

With an almost audible crack, his resolve completely shattered. Sky turned to his mortal enemy, fire in his eyes, and his fists trembling in rage. He came at Damian like a black comet, pure murder in his being!

Damian smiled…

Luke's quick eyes picked up on the gleam of the knife in Stockholm's good hand before anyone else. Realizing with horror what Damien was doing, he instantly moved from his ranks, determined to push the enraged Sky out of the way, even if it meant that his ribs would feel the piercing cold steel instead.

Kurt saw his brother move, and simultaneously also saw the blade in Damian's hand, he immediately knew what was going on, and knew that if he didn't do something someone would get hurt! And most likely it would be someone who was important to him…

With speed that seemed to go against the laws of physics, space, and time, Kurt took another knife from his pocket, one of the many he had on him, and threw it hard!

"Sky! Stop! Luke, get down!"

Though he could hear Kurt's warning, Sky couldn't stop himself in time, from the momentum he had set. Luke could see that too, and instead of getting down, he sped up…


The sound of metal penetrating flesh, followed by the splash of blood rang throughout the empty lot. The Fallen Angels stood petrified by the sound, the drama unfolding around them…

"Ahhhh! I'll kill you, you bastard!!!"

Damian shouted out in agony and anger, his hand bloody had been skewered by Kurt's blade, his own knife falling from his hand!

Sky looked up from the ground where he'd fallen, realizing just how close he had come to death…

He then looked up to his savior, who had pushed him to the ground out of Damian's grasp. Luke pulled himself off of Sky, and up from the ground. He was glad to see that neither one of them was hurt, and also that his twin had stopped Damian from being able to do any more harm. He smiled, that was Kurt's forte—no one could beat him when it came to a battle of blades…

Holding a hand out to Skylark, he helped the man up from the ground. The Russian-American didn't say a thing, however as he looked at Luke in silence, his eyes said everything. There was both a rebuke and gratitude in those blue orbs. Luke could only look into those intense eyes for a few moments before he had to look away and walked back to his place in silence, and stood once again by his brother, who smiled to see that he was unharmed.

Sky approached his injured enemy slowly, a look of silent disdain, hate, and even slight pity in his eyes. "Damian…you live by tricks, and by threats, and by manipulation, in order to make up for the fact that—you are nothing but a coward."

The brunette ground his teeth at the statement, his eyes flashing in anger and holding his maimed hands close to him to try and stop the pain.

"You tried to provoke me before, but I realize how foolish I was to even respond to such drivel from a spineless coward like you…I really must be losing my edge…"

"I'll kill you, Skylark…you won't—"

Sky interrupted the man in mid-threat, "I have no reason to listen to you anymore, there is nothing you can say, that is of any importance to me. Angels—do as you will."

He simply walked away briskly, past the ring of FAs and disappearing into the darkness, completely ignoring the ringing of Damian's shouts from behind him.

The brown-haired man got up from the ground, holding his bloody arms to his sides. He seemed to have forgotten everything around him, his rage tunneling his vision at one man. What happened to the scared doctor, who observed human life above all else? He would have never involved anyone else, or taken so many risks—How could this Skylark be so different from the one he knew before? It was like he had turned into…

He smirked, "You, taking stupid risks, joining the Angels, and even challenging me, huh? You're like you're brother-in-law now, Skylark? Well, just like Tōya, you're going to wish that you never met me…that you had never even been born. Whatever's precious to you, I'll take away. I'll—


Damian was suddenly silenced by a forbidding sound, in his anger against Sky, he had totally forgotten the ring of Fallen Angels around him. Now, he was brought back to harsh reality as he heard a single loud sound filter through the room into his ears. His body began to tremble as he looked around him, his eyes flickering in fear…

Every single Angel standing there, from the youngest to the eldest, held a semi-automatic gun…and they had all, simultaneously, just taken their safety catches off. All their barrels were aimed straight at him, the looks on the faces of their wielders were like ice, without compassion or mercy.

Kurt smiled slightly, "Your quarrel is with us for now."

"It's over, Damian. You're through." Luke added coldly to his brother's statement.

Tawny flicked his lit cigarette to the ground and crushed it beneath his foot. "You killed one of ours. It's only right that we take your life in return, I mean, 'a life for a life', right?"

Joaquin's hand on the trigger was firm and unshaken, his eyes held fury, pain, and sadness. He may have been but 15, but he knew how to use a firearm, and still deeply hurt after Tōya's death, he had plenty of reason to use it. "We've had to stand your cruelty and brutality for so long, cowering before you in fear for what you might do to us. I was afraid of to displease you, knowing that any mistake would only be rewarded by brutal punishment. Tōya was the only person, who made living seem worthwhile. But you couldn't take that, and so you took him away. I can never forgive you, not now, not ever."

Damian fear showing in his eyes, he held up his damaged hands in submission, "L-Look guys, can't we talk about this? Like civilized men?"

Tawny pulled out a fresh cigarette, as he proceeded to light it; he watched the flame of the lighter dance with dangerous conception. "Civilized men, huh?"

He turned his back to Damian, thinking about the idea. The barrel of his gun tapping on his shoulder, its opening still aimed for the criminal tycoon. "Well…the only problem with that statement, is that you don't even know what the word 'civilized' means. And as for us…"

The flame was hypnotic, going from bright to dull, never ceasing its enchanting movements.

"Well, we're not even men. We're Fallen Angels remember?"

The fire could be use to aid someone in danger, or to hurt someone just as easily, it was all up to the wielder as to what it would be used for.

Tawny smiled, "Good-bye, Damian."

With distinct finality, he flipped the lighter top closed, extinguishing the flame utterly and absolutely. At the same time, he easily pulled the gun's trigger…


Concurrently, with the immaculate timing and precision, every other Angel followed the lighter's signal, and fired at the same time as their second-in-command.

Damian could hear the bullets wiz through the air, the sound of fourteen guns all firing at the same time was ear-shattering. His mind has paralyzed, and his body with it. Blood splashed up into the sky and onto the ground, like paint thrown onto a macabre canvas, as the bullets penetrated his flesh. It was minutes before the pain of the wounds finally set in. Shock and surprise that he could be hurt, set in much faster, his eyes were wide and his mouth for once, had nothing to say. Even as his body hit the ground, his own red life-force spilling from the fourteen holes that had made their mark, he lay there in disbelief, his body began to convulse as his lungs began to fill with blood. So this is what it felt like, huh Tōya? This is your revenge against me? I'm not dead yet, you Asian bastard. I will not lose to you.

He turned slightly, as the sudden sound of footsteps approached him. A pair of black boots stopped next to him. "This was much too simple for the likes of you, however, time dictates that this be brought to a swift and complete end. I know you're still alive, so don't pretend as if you're dying on me."

Damian looked up at him, unable to stand, and hardly able to move. "What?"

Sky smiled as he looked down at his bloody form, "You see, I instructed my men to only aim at non-vital areas, which for me, since I was studying medicine before I met you, was quite easy to remember. Death by firing squad is too good for you, we can't soil Tōya's memory by having you die the same way he did. And anyway—"

He bent down low till he was within only a few inches of the man's blood-flecked, sweat-soaked face, his cerulean eyes burning into his own brown orbs. His voice was no louder than a whisper, a single threatening whisper. "I warned you, didn't I…I warned you, that if you hurt Aya, that I would shove a knife through your chest, myself. Like you, I don't make empty threats, nor do I forget my vows."


"I let them get revenge for Tōya, but your life was mine to take…"

"Skylark…you d-don't…you don't know…anything…"

Sky laughed slightly, "Insults to the last, huh? That's just like you Damian, however, I don't have time to stand around and listen to them."

Damian cough a little feeling his body trying to compensate for the sudden onslaught it had endured, but it was a losing battle. "I-It doesn't m-matter…you and them…t-they're going to die t-too. Y-You just bought yourself…a ticket…to death…row." He smiled despite of the pain. "I…will always…beat you, Skylark…it was practically…written…in the stars."

Sky however, didn't seem at all intimidated by the thought of capital punishment. In fact he smiled, and came closer to his adversary, as if he wished to share some secret with him. "So it has been written, so shall it be done…"

With swift surety, he brought down the weapon he'd had in his hand, the force of the blow, driving the weapon to sink, to the hilt, into Damian's heart!

Damian jerked and convulsed at the sudden shock, blood gushed from the wound, and was beginning to run from his mouth and nose. He was bleeding internally, and there was no amount of medical intelligence could save him. He knew that the bastard who had just stabbed him had known that too. He painfully looked at the blade that was used, and wasn't surprised to find that it was his own…the same one he had not that many weeks ago, to kill a certain pregnant Japanese-American woman.

"Yes, I used the same tool you used to take her life. I thought it only fitting to use the same weapon to end yours." Sky quietly answered the question that was in the man's eyes.

Damian spit up more blood, he could feel his clothes soaking in it, his body swimming in it. It was sickening. How had it gotten to this point? He wasn't supposed to die…and definitely not by his hands! This wasn't supposed to be happening! It just wasn't the order of things…

Sky looked as if he was about to take the knife out, and Damian ground his teeth angrily, he couldn't let that little foreigner set the last word. Even as he felt himself losing consciousness, probably for the last time; he took his last energy and spit at Sky, squarely in the face. His voice was faint, but extremely bitter "Go to hell…"

The Russian-American simply flicked the blood from his face, unbothered. Taking hold of the blade handle, he looked down into the man's quickly fading eyes. "You first."

With that, he twisted the knife viciously, causing the man to make on final gasp of pain, before the light completely left those cunning brown eyes…

After about a minute, Sky stood up straight and walked silently away from the cold body that he'd just murdered. The Angels, who had watched the whole thing, had been slightly surprised of how cold the new man in their midst could be, but felt no remorse or guilt over what he or they had done.

Tawny was the first to leave and follow Sky's example, followed close behind by Joaquin and Kurt. The other FAs began to follow suit, none of them bothering to cover up what they'd done, and not one of them looked back at the dead body of their archenemy, who'd they left lying in his own blood in the forlorn parking garage, it would have reminded them too much of Tōya anyhow.

Once they had gotten outside, the cool night breeze hit them head on, waking them up from the melancholy atmosphere that had surrounded them thus far. The Angels were suddenly startled when Sky stopped suddenly and faced them, His blue eyes were quiet and slightly sad, his black hair swirled with the wind, as he stuck his hands in his pockets, his face had a visage that was both expressionless and tired.

Kurt broke the silence with a quiet question, "What's wrong, Sky?"

Sky smiled slightly, "Nothing's wrong. My promise has come to an end. I've protected you from Damian's hand, and I've you get your vengeance for my brother-in-law's death. I know that this little venture will be hard on you guys in the days to come, I'm sorry for having dug you into a hole even deeper than the ones you were already in. But I promised Tōya that you guys would not die because of Damian, and so…I'm taking full responsibility for his death. It was nice to work with you guys, I have to admit…Tōya was right. You guys are amazing, and it was an honor to have known you."

The FAs looked at him in surprise. Luke spoke quietly to himself. "So that's why he wanted to take the killing blow for himself…it wasn't just for vengeance, it was because he was trying to protect us."

It was then that he suddenly heard his brother curse aloud, "Excuse my language, but that's a bunch of bullshit. We all wanted Damian dead, and I'll be damned if I let you go taking all the blame yourself."

Tawny looked up at the blue-eyed man, smoking a slow ring into the air. "I don't really care what you do, Sky…it's just my job to make sure everyone else follows."

Skylark looked at them all in surprise, "But…I…"

Johnny, who was already starting the large van, spoke up. "You lead; we follow…what's so hard about that to understand?"

Tyler crossed his arms in agreement, pushing his glasses up on his face. "You think you can get away from us, just like that? You're sadly mistaken. Tōya left us you as our leader, and it's only right that we take his last order to heart."

"Besides," Shawn spoke up, his wiry frame laughing as if at some hidden joke, "Damian might be dead, but there is always a chance of retaliation, we'll still need 'protection' as you put it."

Sky could not believe this. He was giving them a chance to get real lives, and they were turning him down?! Why? Where was this sudden loyalty coming from?

Suddenly he felt a playful chokehold around his neck. Turning, he looked at Joaquin who was smiling up at him. "Tōya may have left me and gone to a place where I cannot follow, but I'm not letting the same thing happen to you. I go where you go. I do what you do. All you have to do is lead the way."

He couldn't believe what he was hearing! "You guys are serious? You—you really want—"

Tawny shook his head and planted a firm hand on Sky's shoulder. "You've already proved that you can lead us; we're not the type to abandon our own. You have nothing to go back to, and neither do we. We're the same, you and us. Just go with the flow…and you'll do fine."

He then turned to the FAs, "Alright you guys! Stop standing around here and get in the van, I'm not gonna be standing around when the police get here!"

Sky shook his head, totally giving up trying to understand, and instead started laughing in amusement. "Did I tell you to give the order, Tawny?"

The man looked back at him smiling, "No, but I could read it in your eyes."

Skylark gazed out into the night sky through his old apartment window. He and the Fallen Angels had been holding up there for a while, but Sky knew they couldn't stay any longer after tonight. Once news got out about Damian, they'd have to run fast and far to escape the manhunt.

As he sat on the window seal, he looked around remembering all the good times he, Aya, and Tōya had here. He had at last avenged them, but that didn't make it hurt any less in his heart. A slight tear came to his eye, as he remembered that night once again; a memory that kept replaying itself within his nightmares.

"I'm sure they're proud of you…and thankful too. You helped them be at peace, in a way."

Sky turned to the speaker, who had silently observed him.

Most of the Angels had went to sleep, finding somewhere in the apartment to rest whether in a chair, on a table, a counter, or the floor. They had all gone through a lot, and were completely exhausted when they had returned to the apartment building. However there were so still awake, one of them being Kurt Lancaster.

The redhead smiled up at him, knowingly. "I know Tōya was proud of you for what you did, so don't cry for him. He's happy."

Sky smiled back in gratitude, "Thank you, Kurt."

The man scratched his head slightly embarrassed, "Oh, I didn't really do nothin'…it just made sense."

"Not just for that, but for back there in the garage. I was blinded by my anger and reacted foolishly. You saved my life."

Kurt was glad it was dark or his new leader would see how red his face was getting. "Anytime—but you should really thank Luke, he spotted it before me. Plus, I have to protect him too. I mean, he is my little brother."

Sky looked at him questioningly, "I thought you two were twins?"

"Yeah, but I was born first! Tōya…Tōya always had a special connection to us since he was the only other twin that we had met. Even though he and Aya were fraternal twins, he knew exactly the kind of bond that Luke and I have." Kurt looked down affectionately and his brother who was sleeping by his side.

Suddenly, he remembered something and began digging around in his pockets. "Oh! I almost forgot! Before the mission tonight, Luke, Ron, and I went up to Stockholm's mansion."

Sky looked at him in astonishment, "What?! That was foolhardy and dangerous; you not only could have gotten yourselves killed, but messed up the plan as well!"

Kurt shrugged it off, before smiling as he finally found what he was looking for. "Here, this is all we could find. Damian had had all your other stuff burned. It's kind of bent, but…"

He presented a piece of paper to Skylark.

Taking it, Sky was surprised to find it was a photo. Looking at it closely, he gasped slightly, recognizing the precious item. "This is…this is…"

It was a 5X7 photo of him, Aya, and Tōya right before he had asked Aya to marry him! They had been at the park and Aya asked a passerby to take a picture of the three of them. Touching the photo lightly, he stared happily at Aya's shining face and Tōya looking reckless as ever. He felt as if their twinkling emerald green eyes were on him, smiling on him. Putting his hand to the necklace around his throat, he gazed appreciatively at Kurt. "Thank you so much. You don't know how much this means to me."

The redhead relaxed and settled down to sleep, "Yeah…I think I do."

Early the next day, we left the apartment for the last time. We went south to a roadside motel, where we sat down to talk and plan our next move. We weren't going to turn ourselves in to the police, for we knew we had done nothing wrong. We had simply done a job the law couldn't seem to reach. However, the Fallen Angels had lost their raison d'être and were stuck on what they were going to do now. That's when we got the news.

Shawn called us to television, which had been turned to a press conference about Damian's murder. The police were saying that they were working hard to find the killers, but that the job would be difficult since there were multiple people involved. However, anyone could see that the police were not very enthusiastic in their work; they had probably all felt they Damian's cold sting before, and would probably not be grieving at his funeral.

However, right after the chief of police left the microphones, another figure took center stage, and he was definitely no cop.

The man on the screen was tall, young, and aristocratic-looking. He had auburn-hair tied back in a small ponytail, and a pair of cold brown eyes that looked awfully familiar. When he spoke, there was a slight trace of a European accent.

"I will let you know that it will give me great pleasure to continue in my father's stead, and I promise that everything will be the same if not better than when he was the company's head."

Sky looked at Shawn, "That guy is cold and cruel; I can see it in his eyes. And his voice sounds as if it could freeze an icicle. Who is he?"

The man responded bitterly and a look of doubt in his young eyes. "It seems that Damian had children, twin sons."

All became silent in the room as everyone paid attention to this new information. Sky looked at his surprised, "He looked so young, who'd have thought that he had adult children…"

"Yeah," the man went on, "the guy there is Ares, the other was Adonis, Adonis died two years ago from tuberculosis. The two lived in Europe for almost all of their lives, probably in boarding schools and the like. Ares is 22 and has his own castle home in the outskirts of eastern Germany, and just comes to the US for business. Ares has taken over his father's company now. Doesn't look like he grieved much…"

You could basically hear the sarcasm dripping off his tongue. And anyone had but to look at the screen to see why. Of all the things that Ares Stockholm appeared to be, grieving was definitely not one of them.

The man continued his speech with that arctic voice of his, his eyes almost as penetrating as Skylark's. "We are all deeply affected by his grizzly death at this time, but his murderers will be caught! I will make sure those cold-blooded killed pay dearly for what they've done. They will be as fallen angels under the judgment of God!"

There was a sudden gasp around the room as the hidden threat hit them all. Not only did Ares know who killed his father, he was challenging them…

The man looked hard at the screen as if he knew they would be watching, "So, I say fallen angels, run and hide as much as you want, but one day you will be found and paid back in full for the dishonor you have put to the Stockholm name."

Tawny reached over and turned the TV off, he then sighed in resignation. "What a nice guy…he's purposefully daring us to do something. I thought Damian was bad…but this guy gives me the total creeps. I'm sure when he says he's going to 'pay us back" I don't think he means in a legal way…well, what are we going to do now, Sky? It's up to you."

The others all looked to their leader, to find that he was standing in a corner deep in thought, while looking at a photo.

Kurt knew which photo, but could only guess what he was looking for. Maybe he's asking his family for guidance?

After a few moments, Joaquin was about to touch his arm, but was stopped by Sky's words. Without looking up, he asked quietly, "How much did you hate working for Damian?"

They all looked at each other in surprise at the sudden question. Shawn answered bitterly, "It sounded fun at first, but I quickly found out how disillusioned I was. I was constantly used for my ability to hack into computers and stuff and treated like trash. If I didn't do the work by the time he wanted, or became tired in my work, he would have me severely beaten and then starved. I hated working for him and I hated him, I hated it more than I hated anything else."

Kurt spoke up, "It the same for all of us. We were all from of the street, and the promise of food, shelter, and power was hard to pass up. But we were used, he only wanted our abilities and strength. He wanted slaves, not workers. You know this too, Tōya told us you had been forced to slave away your life for Damian because of Tōya's sake. You understand how we could have hated him so much, hated working for him. And then the things we did under his orders…some of it was…sometimes I just can't forgive myself for what I did. I always think there was something I could have done for those poor people I helped to send to hell."

Tyler sighed in regret, "We all feel shame for what we did, but why do you ask Sky?"

The man looked up slowly, his azure eyes as piercing as ever. "Because that man, is going to pick up where his father left off. He wasn't just talking about his legal business either. Call intuition if you will, but I tell you right now, that Ares is going be twice the monster his father was. I asked you that question, to see if you hated it so much, would you be willing to do something about it?"

Tyler took a step back, "Do something?"

"I'm telling you right now, I'm not going to let this Ares, continue his father's reign of tyranny. I won't let him continue the drugs, and human trafficking, and sex slaves. I'm going to stop his operations, destroy his plots, and make sure he hates even hearing the sound of my name. I know this is difficult, but I'm asking you to join me. I know this will make our lives even more dangerous than they already are, but as Tawny said yesterday, I have nothing left to lose. I will understand if you want to back out now, and you may leave at any time. However, if you stay, you must pledge yourself to this group, and know that once you're in, there is no getting out. Make your choice now, because it's now or never."

The Angels looked at each other in shock. What were they to say in response to that? Take an active stance against the Stockholms? Become vigilantes who fight what the law can't? Would it even work?

"I'm with you."

Everyone turned to the speaker, and none were very surprised to find that it was Joaquin. The youngest of them, put his hand of acceptance in the air. "I told you before. All you have to do is lead the way. I go where you go. I do what you do. Plus…it might be nice to play offense this time around."

Kurt smiled and hunched his shoulders before putting his own hand up. "Hey, if the kid can do it, I can't let him show me up. Plus this may be able to help me atone for the stuff I did while under Damian's thumb."

"If you're in, so am I. Plus, I'm tired of just roaming around doing nothing. It's time I actually did something constructive." Luke also raised his hand, joining his twin.

Tawny and Tyler put their hands up at the same time. Tawny smirked, "I told you yesterday, that I didn't care what you did, I just make sure everyone follows the orders."

Tyler grinned, pushing his glasses higher on his face, "You'd probably be lost without me, so I can't let you do it all by yourself."

After only a minute or so, all of the hands were raised, all of the Angels were willing to put their lives in the hands of their new leader, they were willing to follow him anywhere. Unbeknownst to him, he had rescued them from death and a whole lot worse, from a life of slavery. They respected him as Tōya affirmed replacement, but they also respected him even more for what he did and sacrificed for them.

Sky nodded affectionately at them, before making his next statement. "Alright, now that we got that figured out, I'm announcing that from this day forth, the Fallen Angels have been dissolved."

They looked at him in shock, not comprehending. Joaquin reached out to him, "But why Sky? After we—"

Sky smiled at him, cutting him off with a hand. "The Fallen Angels was created by Damian, and with his death I officially disband it. However, with this new day and our new objective, I'm forming a new group, a new gang. From now on, we will be known as: The Avenging Angels. Tōya always used to say to me, 'Remember that angels are not just pretty but they're dangerous, and that they'll do whatever's necessary to protect those they're charged guardianship over, and they do what's right no matter what happens.'By joining the Avenging Angels, you have hereby sworn to uphold these ideals and to keep them so that no one will feel the travesty that we have felt by another Stockholm's hands. Look around you at your teammates; these are your brothers, your sisters, your mothers, and your fathers. You were a team before, now we're a family, and I for one, am glad to be a part of it. As you know, I…I would have probably give anything to have again what I have lost, the family I could have had. However, I'm also happy now, because without that night I would have never met any of you, my new family. I am happy to be your leader, but even more grateful to be your friend. This may not be an actual democratic group, but I promise you that I will treat each of you and your opinions as my own. Know that no one is higher than anyone else, and that I will try to lead to the best of my ability. I don't all the lies ahead, but I do know that when it comes we'll face it together."

At first, everyone was too amazed by his speech to even answer, but soon clapping could be heard, which soon evolved into wild cheering. The Avenging Angels had been born, and despite all their troubles, this was quite a day to remember.

"…and so that's how we got started. It was 5 years ago now. The tattoos came later and then we found this place. We live a life on the run, but with a purpose. It so happened, that my predictions about Ares were correct and then some. We've had our hands full trying to stop and foil his operations, setting people free that he ships into the country, destroying the drugs that he has sold on the streets, and many other things. We send what evidence we can to the police via an untraceable anonymous link on the internet. And however black Ares likes to paint us, most of the people we help spread the word about us and most people in the towns we go to, know the truth."

Sky got up from the bed slowly, and pulled on a clean white shirt he didn't bother buttoning. Reaching for a crutch on one side, he walked up jadedly to Fang. "Hey, you must be tired. You should get to bed. Now that you know everything, you're free to roam where you will. Sometimes after a job, the guys go off and have some personal time, that's why there are so few people here. However, they'll be back tomorrow. I'll introduce you to them all then."

Fang was tired, but he hadn't dared sleep yet, Sky's story of his past had enthralled him from start to finish. "But you shouldn't be up, Sky. You should be resting too, and get your strength back up. I haven't forgotten that it was because of me that you stayed awake all that time and got so exhausted."

The man laughed lightly, "Oh, I'll be alright, I've been through worse. I have to go talk with Tyler and the others. You just get some rest, you can have a good night's sleep here. Know that we will protect you, and will help you in any way we can."

The two walked slowly to Fang's room, where Fang yarned and entered the sparse but gratifying room of his own. Sky watched kindly as he entered and settled down exhaustedly on the bed. "I'll see you tomorrow Fang, and we can see if we can find out more about your missing flock."

Fang sat up swiftly just as Sky was about to close the door. "Wait, there is still one thing I don't understand."


He looked at the blue-eyed man with his new silver ones. "Why? Why are you protecting me, and don't tell me it's just an act of good will."

Sky grinned furtively, "Oh, didn't I tell you?"

Fang looked at him expectantly.

"The company that the Damian, and now Ares owns and is the head of—"

Sky slowly closed the door as he exited the boy's chambers, but not before saying with a smirk. "The company's name is…Itex."

23. Storm Racing

Chapter 22

True to Derrin's warnings, the minute they stepped within the underground complex's boundary, a shrill, ear-piercing alarm began to ring throughout the dark echoing pathway, which annoyed to the bird kids sensitive ears to no extent.

Max held her head painfully, and tried to encourage her sibling to move despite the pain, Derringer's 10-minute time limit warning still fresh in her head. However, she could hardly speak a word, before a sudden sharp pain jerked her, made her fall to her knees, blood trickling from her injured eardrums.


Suddenly all sound stopped, and a strong helping hand lifted her from the floor. "Come one, mes amis. We have very little time. We can rest and lick our wounds when we finish the job."

"Why would we want to lick our wounds?" Angel asked instantly, rubbing her aching ears.

Gasman hurried her along as and placed an unconscious Total (who'd been totally discombobulated by the high pitched noise) in her backpack swiftly. "It's a figure of speech, sis. He doesn't mean literally."

As the six of them made their way further down into the darkness, Max was about to ask Derringer what happened to the alarm, when she saw him put a .22 silver handgun back into a small black holster around his left ankle. She then remembered the gunshots. He must have shot out the speakers, inexplicably ceasing the horrible sound. She looked up at him as they walked fast-paced, and noticed that long trails of drying blood also ran from his ears. He had made those shots while in that much pain?

"Where did you get the gun? You never told me…"

"Again, how can I give you an answer, if you never ask the question, chère?" He smiled lightly as he pushed her along as fast as she could go.

"Did I have to? If someone is packing heat in my flock, I want to know about it." she snipped back.

His voice carried heavy sarcasm and slight derision. "Your concern is duly noted, chère. Would you care to sit and have a briefing about the switchblade in my left pocket as well? Or the C-4 and wires in my right? Or how about the type of fiber blend that makes up my shirt, would you like to know about that too?"

"Listen Cajun, we don't have time for your attitude. And what are you carrying all that stuff for anyway?"

"What I carry on my person, is my own business. Or do you want to discuss that too?"

"What is up with you? I just—"

Iggy snapped his head toward the two of them as he ran. "Look, can you two have your little marriage spat after we finish this. If Derrin wants to carry a gun, I don't see anything wrong with it. Besides, of all people, I would trust him to know how to handle one. Derrin, Max just likes to be kept informed about everything, just indulge her would you?"

The two looked at him; a slight snigger came to the redhead's lips, while Max felt her cheeks get red. Oh Iggy, you traitor…since when do you take his side? Or is it no side? Hmph…you're becoming more like a lawyer every day. And what was with Derringer? I've never seen him more on edge, what is it about this place that makes him so over-sensitive?

Her thoughts were suddenly cut into, by the voice of the man in question. She looked around her and was surprised to find that the pitch-black tunnel was suddenly awake up with small uniform orange lights that lit the way ahead from the walls from floor to ceiling, and the hum that only mechanical objects make.

Before she could take a step in this area though, she felt Derringer's hand stop her, and saw him signal the others to stop as well. "What is it?" she asked questioningly.

He smiled wryly, "I forgot about this part…Alright mes amis, we've gotten to the computer servers area, after this there is a single docking station where Nudge will use her expertise to hack into the system. However, things get a little messy here. With the alarm triggered we now have less than 6 minutes to get the info and get out. The security has also been triggered and now the entire floor from here on is completely electrified. The laser cannons on the ceiling will shoot at the slightest movement and if that isn't enough, a web of crisscrossing heat beams will fry whatever comes in contact with them. So, we're going to have to be careful. Iggy, Gazé, I'll show you the switch panel; it's your job to switch off the electricity to the floor and the beams, and make sure it stays off. If the backup comes on, this entire area will become electrified and even those of us who can fly, will be lit up like a 70 watt Christmas tree. Nudge, you know what your job is; move as soon as it's safe. Angel, you stay with Nudge and watch her back. Max, you take care of the laser cannons since they are on a completely different circuit the rest of the security, and be careful. I meanwhile, will go back to the entrance and try to slow down the alarm, and give us as much time as possible. Ok? We've wasted enough time, let's go."

Everyone nodded and went their separate ways, assuming their positions. There was no more time for talking.

After Derrin showed them the control panel hidden in the wall, Gazzy and Iggy immediately went to work on the wires and circuits. The younger boy was slightly surprised however, that his blind sibling knew immediately which wire was which, and didn't need to be told colors or anything.

With the combined efforts of the two boys, it took them less than half a minute to shut the power down. All that was left for them now, was to make sure no back-up systems came on, or that the power to the computers and servers wasn't shut off in the process…

The two then signaled Max that she was good to go.

The teen girl nodded and unfurled her wings before taking off suddenly into the corridor. The guns, as expected, immediately followed her movements to the letter. Weaving between the hot bolts of plasma, as if she were in a game of dodge ball, Max quickly tracked the trajectories of the shots back to their sources. Grinning with satisfaction, she watched as the beams followed her, letting her speed match her calculation, she twisted and twirled in the air, before suddenly jumping into a high mid-air back flip!

She was rewarded by the loud sound of multiple explosions, as the lasers simultaneously followed her path and ended up hitting each other in a spectacular show of sparks, smoke, and flames.

She looked down as she hovered, to tell Nudge and Angel that they could go on ahead, but the two were already on the run, the little black girl flexing her fingers, ready to attack the small terminal that she had already spotted on the other side of the path.

Derringer meanwhile, heard the blasts and smiled to know that the flock was doing their job with top speed. However, he shook his head, reminding himself of his own task. Their escape time was basically limited by how long it took for the doors to crank themselves closed. It only took him seconds to find the door wires and mechanisms. My, my…the good old clockwork gears, I guess they never do get old.

Looking around, he spotted an overhead pipe, probably used to filter air around the servers. Well, this will do.

With one fast jump and a sharp strong pull, he dislodged the piece of slim piping, hearing a slow hiss of air in response. Hefting the pipe towards the gear, to the normal human eye, there was no way one could get make this work, but Derringer was not a normal human. With a strong push and quick movements, using strength that only a mutant arm could possess, Derrin jammed the pipe into the rolling gears, the sounds of screeching and grinding and the sight of rising steam and bucking metal, were music to his ears.

Then he heard Gazzy call out to his sister. "Hurry Nudge, the backup is trying to come online and we can only hold it off for so long!"

As if to emphasize his point, Iggy pulled back from the wires with a yelp, as sparks flew up singeing his fingers. Slowly, he went back into the panel, tracing wires here, cutting them there While Gazzy picked up here his brother had left off with frayed wire ends.

"Yes, please hurry." Iggy repeated his brother calmly.

Derringer looked uneasily at the doorway, which had slowed down considerably, but had in no way stopped. He then rushed down the pathway, appearing at Nudges side, Angel coming by his squeezing his hand as she felt the agitated unrest of his mind. He smiled reassuredly at the little blond child, before looking toward the other girl as she typed furiously, flipping from screen to screen but yet, seemingly getting nowhere.
"What's taking so long? That monkey wrench is only going to hold for so long."

The older of the girls sighed as her hands danced across the keyboard. "There's like so many encryptions on this thing, it takes time. Also, just in case you were wondering, no one's been on this thing in a long time. I don't feel any vibes."

Max landed next to Angel, looking on worriedly, there time was running out. She was about to encourage Nudge to just try her best, hoping that the boost would subtly lead her to perform better and in essence go faster. However, to her surprise (or maybe not…) Derringer moved the girl slightly, taking over where she had left off, his hands moving lighting fast. Nudge, Max, and Angel watched in amazement as the redhead went through, hacking into the system like a pro, stripping the computer of its multi-million dollar security like stripping the husk off of an ear of corn.

In less than two minutes he was in. Giving Nudge back control of the keyboard, he winked at her. "You know what to look for, ma fille. Look for anything related to your brother by his name, code number, whatever keywords you can think of, but hurry. I hope you read as fast as you talk."

He then left her, joining the other two boys in trying to rework the wires to keep the plasma security and the electrically charged floor from burning them to all to a crisp…

Max shook her head in disbelief, before turning to the computer screen. It'll be the end of time, and he will still be pulling something new from out of his ever-expanding hat. Nudge was already searching around the servers for any mention of Fang. "Only look into stuff from the last few weeks, anything before that we can deal with later." Max commented over the girl's shoulder.

"I'm doing that now, but it's all so jumbled, I have to look using his birth/code number, and that makes it harder to read. Plus, there's so much information and it goes by so fast, I'm trying to read it all, but it's like finding a needle in a haystack, ya know? I've actually have no idea what that saying means, I mean I've never seen a real haystack, and—

"Concentrate, Nudge." Angel told her sharply, "The guys can only hold things for so long."

Max nodded, "Nudge, just scan it for anything important. Angel, I need you to scan what she sees, and be a sort of back-up system, and maybe you will notice things that Nudge didn't. Can you do that for me?"

The girl nodded eagerly, and began to concentrate her mind on Nudge's, the information flowing from the screen to Nudge, and from Nudge into Angel.

However, no more than 2 minutes had went by, when a quite audible snap resounded throughout the tunnel. The pipe that had jammed the gears, giving the flock a precious 5 extra minutes, finally broke under the strain, letting the stronger gears finally get free.

"Merde!" Derringer swore in French, as he raced back towards the entrance. At that same time, large sparks suddenly rose from out of the service panel as well as dark smoke, causing all three boys to move back. Iggy coughed and looked across to Max, "That's all we can do! The thing's a melted, shorted out mess. Get out of there now!"

"I can't do anything else to the door either! Come on, chère! Get them out of there! I'll hold the door myself for as long as I can." Derrin shouted down the way as he wedged his body in the doorway, pushing back as much as he could with the mutant strength he'd been bestowed.

"But I only have a little left to go through!" Nudge wined.

"Stupid, stubborn girl…" Gazzy mumbled to himself as he made to go over and pull her away from the machine, along with his blood sibling, but Iggy stopped him and pushed him instead towards the door. "Go!"

He smiled as he saw the slightly confused look on his brother's face, in wondering how his blind brother had become so orientated. His special ability was working perfectly as he could see almost every nook and cranny of Delta 6 in vibrant color. He could for the first time see his siblings with crystal clarity, and was amazed to see how much they had grown and changed since he had first lost his sight years ago. But he didn't have time to think about it, as ran to their side, "I think we only have about 80 seconds tops, and I for one don't intend on having my butt fried today. Let's go."

Max looked at both of her sibling, a dilemma in her head. They needed to get this information to find Fang, but not at the cost of the flock either. Like always, she decided to make a split-second decision. Picking up Angel she handed her to Iggy, despite the girl's complaints. "Take her, I'll get Nudge out."

"Come on, Max! This is too risky!"

"We have to take this chance."


She turned violently on him, "Just go! We'll follow."

Ig looked at her strangely, but nodded and headed toward the entrance with Angel. When he met up with Derringer, the man was sweating profusely, straining against the metal that was closing in on him. He handed Angel off to her waiting brother on the outside before turning to the redhead. "Let me help you."

Derrin looked at him but shook his head, "If…If I let go now. It'll close completely, and we're trapped in here."

Nodding back into the darkness he asked with a tired sigh, "where's chère and la fille?"

"Max and Nudge stayed behind to get the last of the information. I tried to tell her it was too risky, but you know her—once she sets her mind to something, she isn't easily deterred."

The man sighed exasperatingly, "She's so stubborn, but—I love her anyway. You go with the blondes outside. I'll draw them out."

As Iggy slipped by him, Derrin called into the darkness knowing that the girls could hear him. "Chère, if you don't get your tight derrière out here, I'll drag you out myself!"

She called back in aggravation, "I don't know if I should take that as a compliment, or if I should just punch you in the mouth."

Max knew she was working on borrowed time; she could already feel the floor heating up underneath her. Then, Nudge suddenly grabbed her arm, "I can't do anymore. The computer's starting to lock me out!"

Max breathed out a sigh, "Alright, let's make our escape than."

Nudge nodded, and ran off into the darkness, sometimes gliding and skipping on her wings. Max was right on her heels when she heard Derringer call out to her once again, and this time he sounded a little more urgent.

"Now, chère!"

Max could here the wine of the power as it began starting back up again. Pushing Nudge ahead of her, she pitched her through the door, just as she began to feel the electrical charge in the air. Still hold the rapidly closing doors, Derringer took her arm and threw her unceremoniously out into the rainy night forest. Picking herself up swiftly, she looked up to see the Cajun quickly remove himself from the entrance allowing it to clang shut, but not before the system came up, a laser beam hitting his left arm and cutting through cloth and flesh, the force itself pushing him to his knees.

"Derringer!" she rushed up to him helping him up from the ground, sudden fear for his safety rising up within her. She quickly looked to his arm to see if he was okay, but he playfully brushed her off.

"It's alright chère. I'll be fine." He smiled roguishly at her, even though it was clear that he was in pain.

"Liar…" she retorted back crossing her arms, refusing to believe that bravado attitude this time.

He came toward her, moving a strand of hair from out of her face, rainwater pouring down his own handsome features. "What? You're not worried about me or anything, are you?"

She looked at him crossly, "Of course I—"

Before she could finish, he suddenly held a hand over her mouth and signaled for her to be quiet. A serious look had come over his face, and he seemed as if he was trying to hear something.

She too became serious and listened as well. That's when it came to her—it was far too quiet. Looking over hurriedly at the rest of her flock, she saw Gasman holding Angel close to him while simultaneously holding Nudge's hand, a severe look on all three of their faces. Iggy stood protectively in front of the younger three, his sightless eyes shifting back and forth as if looking for something.

Derrin moved over to Iggy's side, and whispered in his ear. "You can sense it too?"

The teen nodded, "There's someone else here. I know it. I just can't see them yet."

Max was about to walk over as well, when she suddenly heard a most unexpected sound behind her back. Hearing the sound as well, Derringer and Iggy raced to her side, along with the other three bird-children.


The sound of slow applause reached her ears, causing her to whirl around in surprise, tensing her body, ready for anything or anyone…that is, anything or anyone but who was standing behind her…

Out of the darkness he came. His wings as black as night, but seemed not to belong to the hellish body they were attached to. The young man himself, like most of his kind, was very handsome, but that didn't stop his appearance from turning Max's stomach. He smiled pleasantly at them all, even though he knew he was the last person they had hoped to meet on this stormy dark night.

He spoke sultrily through his bared fangs to the young woman, who always ended up trying both his patience and his emotions to the utmost. "Hello, Max…it's been a long time hasn't it?"

She gritted her teeth angrily, as she watched him standing there coolly, the lightning illuminating his smug features. Five more of his kind stood behind him, one of them she was surprised to see was a strange woman with luminescent eyes and long purple hair, an almost psychotic look on her face. Well, this is going to be interesting, they usually don't have female ones. Odds are she'll be worse than the males, 'hell hath no fury…' right?

However, she could feel her flock also assembling behind her, Iggy and Derringer on her left and right flanks, all knowing that another kind of storm was brewing…one that would break out really soon.

She looked back to her opponent, a challenge written in both of their eyes. She decided to play his game, and spoke pleasantly towards him as well, but not without an unhidden sting of pure hatred dripping from her lips…

"Hello Ari, it hasn't been long enough."

A/N: I know that book 3 has been released recently, and I have bought a copy even though I have yet to read it. However, despite what happens or is revealed in book 3, I shall be keeping to my original storyline. I might include some elements of book 3 into the sequel, but for now, this story will only be based on events of books 1 and 2. Thank you!

24. War of the Elements

Chapter 23

"Fancy meeting you here, Maximum...what's it been? A year?" Ari smiled at her, his dark hair curling in tendrils plastered to his face by the rain.

"Stop with the sweet-talking crap, Ari. Either get out of our way, or make your move already!" She snapped back.

He rolled his eyes at her mockingly, "You always have something smart to say, don't you? I've been following you actually, ever since your little escapade in Florida. The bomb the work of your two little terrorists?" He looked pointedly at Iggy and Gasman, who both gave him bitter smiles, even though they knew they hadn't been the culprits.

He looked back to Max continuing, "What brings you to Delta 6?"

"You know very well why we came here, Ari. Where's Fang?"

He walked up closer to her, his glowing eyes seemed to peer into her soul. However, she stood her ground just as determined, poised for anything he might pull.

Circling around her, Ari watched with a smile as the other bird-children backed up, yet still kept their rigorous sights on him. All except the new redhead that is…

Interestingly enough, he smiled back at him!

He stopped and looked at the older teen, even while still talking to Max. "Fang? You still remember Goth boy? I thought you were getting along well with the new recruit. By the way, what's his name Max? I'm afraid we have yet to be formally introduced."

Nobody felt like answering the Eraser, however Derringer surprisingly spoke for himself. "I'll think about telling you, but only if I like you of course."

Ari looked at him in surprise before turning back to Max with a wry smile, "I had no idea you took in stray swamp rats, Maximum. But, I guess looks-wise, he is an improvement over the emo freak."

She looked back at him with the same grin, contempt in her voice. "What? Jealous that I don't take in mangy dogs like you?"

Losing his cool slightly at the smart comment, Ari gritted his teeth in anger. Swinging his hand out angrily, he went to strike Max across the face! "Shut up, wench!"

Making to defend herself, Maximum was suddenly surprised when the blow—didn't come…

Ari was equally surprised when he saw that a hand had come at superhuman speed, stopping it in mid-punch!

"Tch, tch, I think I've just decided something." Derringer said slowly, as he held Ari's wrist in an iron grip. "One, I don't like you, so I'm not telling you my name. Two, you can call me what you wish, but when you speak out of turn to the flock, we're gonna have problems. And three, if you ever raise a cowardly hand to her again, I'll make you wish your grandparents hadn't been born. Normally I don't condone a man hitting a woman, but she is no normal woman, so all I can say is this: If you have to fight her, fight her like a man. That is…if you know how."

Ari couldn't believe this guy! How dare he?!!! His free hand slowly transformed, large claws sprouting from her finger tips. With a sharp twist to the side, he raised his hand in order to attack the incessant man, straight across the face!

Derrin saw the claws too late to do anything, but let go of the Eraser's arm and block with his own. However, before any damage could be done, a solid fist launched out, striking Ari soundly in the face, throttling the preteen into a nearby tree!

"I see you're able to control which part of your body you can transform, Ari. Who knew there was a way to make your body even more disgusting? And if you want to fight someone—" Ignoring the slight ache of her reddened knuckles, Max smiled provokingly at her old arch foe. "—then you fight me."

Ari wiped the blood from his mouth and smiled, "You never did take the easy route…"

Suddenly, that smile became even more feral, as ever tooth grew longer, sharper, and more piercing, saliva glistening on the enamel and dripping from the keen needle-like points. His face elongated, becoming leaner and sharper. Fur grew along his body, and his ears became pointed and sensitive to all sound. Claws grew on the other hand as well, and his golden eyes got even more dangerous as he finished his transformation, dark grotesque wings unfolding fully from his back. The whole process only taking a matter of seconds…

Flying off like a shot towards his prey, he slammed into the waiting young woman, Max holding him off with her extra strength, dragging him into the air on her own wings, launching a solid kick to his side! The male Eraser avoided her attack easily, but instead turned in the air and slammed his knee into her stomach, making her grunt in pain. As the lightening flashed around them, and the thunder roared in response, this acted as a signal to the others below, that their own storm had broken and that the fight had begun.

The four other male Erasers had also transformed, and were eager to get their claws on the bird-children. Seeing Ari strike, was the only go ahead they needed.

Angel and Nudge suddenly found themselves surrounded by a set of feisty gnashing jaws, who thought of them as a quick defenseless meal. Automatically going back to back, the two girls stood sternly on their guard, ready to show this "wolf-man", that these to members of the fairer sex, weren't going to be easy prey.

The other 3 went up in flight against Gazzy, Iggy, and Derringer, ready to test their strength, but the three teens were more than itching to fight anyway.

"Come at me you flea-infested wolf! I bet you couldn't get me, even if I had no wings, no legs, and one arm tied behind my back!" Gazzy laughed, playing a dangerous game of air tag with his Eraser, who followed close to his tail.

Iggy stayed on the ground, and found it quite easy to escape his opponent's attacks just by using his hearing. However this Eraser, whose name was Raven, was a little feistier than the others. Every time Iggy got ready to put up an offense, the hunter moved faster. The Eraser laughed as one misstep, caused the bird-teen to falter and slip on the ground, allowing the predator to pounce, holding Iggy's wrists to the ground and his neck in full exposure of the wolf's gnashing jaws!

Iggy had to grit his teeth in disgust as he felt Raven's hot saliva drip from his shiny canines, hit his skin. "Would you kindly get off me and do us all a favor, and get a breath mint?"

Raven smiled with the thrill of the hunt, choosing to ignore the comment. "You're that bird-child aren't you? Ari said that you're the one who's responsible for blowing up half that building in Florida almost two years ago and the other half this year. Man, you have guts…I can't wait to see them."

Iggy pushed harder against his attacker, but it was hard to get any purchase in this muddy dirt, the thunderstorm causing this fight to become more challenging than usual. However, with the help of the rain, he slipped one hand out of the Eraser's grip and backhanded Raven in the face!

The sudden attack sent pain shooting through the Eraser's neck, which instead of making the hunter to lose his grip, only caused him to get even angrier. Furiously taking hold of Iggy's arms once again, Raven stabbed through the teen's flesh with his claws, relishing in the sound of the boy's harrowing scream and the blood that flowed over his fingers only to be diluted by the constant rain…

The dusty-haired teen clenched his teeth tightly at the pain that came from his punctured biceps, and tried his best not to black out. He knew the minute he stopped resisting, was the minute he would die.

Out of the corner of his eye, he couldn't help but noticing Derringer fighting his own Eraser close by. The older male was holding his own, and was much, much faster than his opponent, which gave him a high advantage. In fact, to Ig's eyes, the man was simply playing with the werewolf, enjoying the frustration his moves were causing. When Iggy had cried out, Derrin turned in alarm and was almost too distracted to protect himself from his own Eraser foe. However, the moment he knew his little brother wasn't dead, the man forced himself to look away and went back to fighting his own battle.

Iggy smiled wryly, Derrin wasn't going to help him; he was watching to see how well the teen could fight on his own, now that he had matured his powers. He was testing him. A swell of pride took over him; this was a test of sorts. Derrin wanted to see how much he could do on his own. He wanted to see him fight for himself as a matter of pride, and that the only time Derrin would step in was if he thought Iggy was in mortal danger. Well, at least what he thinks of as mortal danger…

As he clenched his teeth against the pain shooting through him, a thought came to him. If he failed, he would fail all the training that his older brother at taught him, and in essence, he would fail Derringer…

He couldn't…wouldn't, let that happen.

Raven smiled, his long razor sharp teeth, ready to be used in what they were meant for; he couldn't help taunting a little. "You know, this is hardly even a victory, you being so blind and helpless, it's hardly worth the effort."

The corner of Ig's mouth turned up slightly, a slight twinkle in his sightless eyes. "Boy, are you off today. You've been wrong twice in a row."

As if by sheer determination, yet with methodical and simple force, the bird-child wrapped his hands around Raven's wrists with a grip stronger than titanium, and proceeded to slowly draw the Eraser's claws from his flesh! Hardly a hiss of pain passed the lips of the tawny-haired fifteen year-old, as he pulled Raven from out of his arms and using his advanced strength to push his back enough to get to his knees. "One, I wasn't the one who blew up the Florida building, as much as I would have wanted to."

Raven howled in pain as the bird-child's grasp caused snapping sounds in his wrists, the pressure enough to break bones. Iggy was finally to his feet, and held his attacker's arms extremely tightly. Raven couldn't go anywhere, he couldn't find any way out of it...

The blind boy then took away one hand, his eyes looking spine-chillingly into the Eraser's own. His voice was just as frightening. "Two, I may be blind—"

As Raven tried to initiate a desperate, surprise strike, Ig fell into a crouching position in order to avoid the high kick aimed at his head, his hand automatically touching the ground in order to steady himself. As expected of his new power, his mind was flooded with complex, jumbled up color images. Fitting together like pieces of a puzzle, the pictures instantaneously became a moving scene within his head, showing him everything that was going on around him. The mutant teen smiled; he never would get tired of that.

Then with one fluid move, Iggy flew upward, aiming a fist straight into the Eraser's face!

Raven went down with such a heavy crushing sound; you would have thought he had gotten hit by a freight train. Landing by his head and watching as the now unconscious Eraser converted back to his original form, his nose broken and bloody, and his wrists a mangled purple mess, Iggy let the rain run along the outline of his clouded blue eyes. He finished his earlier statement coldly, "—but I'm far from helpless."

From a little ways away, Derringer grinned. C'est mon frère!

Viper watched as all the fighting went on around her, feeding off the violence like it was some sort of drug. Her body trembled with the excitement of the battle, the feeling of people's very life's blood hanging in the balance. Ooh…it just made her all tingly all over!

A cruel smile traced her lips and she flexed her fingers, wanting badly to get in on the action. But I have a job to do first…but Ari promised that after I finished I could have some fun. And after this is over, he even said I could go join my Sephy if I wished.

She giggled like a schoolgirl at the thought of her violent lover. Now there was a man who could spill some blood…just the thought of her silver-haired darling, could stir up the most brutal and erotic feelings within her. She had to stop herself from involuntarily shivering with ecstasy!

Sighing, she calmed herself deciding to get back to her job, before she got herself totally aroused…

She watched the battles with her keen eyes once more, before taking a step back, her dark figure melting into the darkness.

Max and Ari continued their deadly dance in the air, as their allies on either side, battled down below them. The flock leader could tell that her foe's abilities had advanced quite a bit in their time apart. His wings were no longer clumsy, and his movements were more agile and fluid. She had to admit, he was putting up quite a fight. But that still only made him about half as good as her.

That's when she heard the cry in the night! Hearing Iggy's scream, Max turned with instant worry about her slightly younger sibling within her. What was happening down there? Where was her flock? Her quick eyes tried to look for her brother, her motherly instincts blinding her reason for an instant.

However, that crucial instant was all her opponent needed, to gain advantage of the situation. Ari swatted Max across her exposed side, careful not to hit her with his claws and cause unnecessary blood loss, but tossed in some extra force to more than make up for it. The blow sent the female teen flying through the air and into the branches of a nearby fir tree! He laughed dangerously, "You should look out for yourself before you think about others, Maximum. It might cost you more than a broken rib, next time."

Max inhaled sharply as she untangled herself from the sharp tree limbs and needles, the fractured bone on her left side screaming from the abuse. Anger retaking her, she reached out for a nearby thick branch, breaking it off with one hand. Hefting in her hands and with nothing more than raw will, she sent it hurling at her enemy. "Take your own advice, Wolfy!"

The flying wood only grazed Aki's side, as he was already able to sense its trajectory. As it passed, he easily took a hold of the branch by the base with one hand. "Wow Max, you certainly have gotten soft in our time apart. It seems that you needed me more than I thought."

He spun the heavy piece of wood around him once to build up momentum, before launching it back at its originator. And as he predicted, it struck her with much more awesome force than it had him a minute earlier.

Max struggled to pick herself up again, her whole body having taken the brunt of the blow as the solid branch struck her in the abdomen and knocked her to the ground. She gritted her teeth to the pain. What was wrong with her? She should have seen an attack like that from a mile away.

Then she almost immediately answered herself, knowing exactly what the problem was. My mind's on the flock. Ever since I heard Ig cry out, I can't concentrate on my own fight. Are they alright? I know that Derrin won't let anything happen to any of them in my absence, but I can't help but worrying. But what happens if Derringer gets—no, I can't think about it, I have to trust that he'll be just fine. I have to…so I can apologize for not following his advice, and instead getting us in this mess.

Out of the raining darkness, Ari landed on the uneven ground, making his was way over to her. "You see, this is why we need each other Max. We need the constant competition to make ourselves better individuals. You were never out of my mind as I trained my mind and body. It helped keep me focused these last two years. And look at you, without me around you've completely slacked off."

Max stood up as straight as she could, putting herself into a fighting stance. "You know, during the last two years, you were never in my mind. And you know what? I need you, like I need the avian flu!"

The male Eraser growled ferociously and practically pounced on his prey. Max was able to launch one light punch, which hardly fazed him, but she knew she was in trouble if she didn't shape up. She, though ready for him, was already off balance from the pain. Aki took advantage of that by ramming a hand against her injured rib, while simultaneously kicking her legs out from under her. The move easily and painfully sent her to the ground, and the Eraser was instantly on top of her, using his own greater weight to keep her held down, and his muzzle touching the soft skin of her cheek.

Slowly, his head morphed back to that of a human and he looked at her with an almost depraved and desiring look. "You just love getting me riled up, don't you? You know, I don't really get mad at your witty retorts anymore, I only pretend to get mad, in order to get a response out of you. It's almost like it's become a ritual between the two of us. Wouldn't you say so, Maximum?"

Max tried to back away as much as possible, using her hands to push up on his chest that was pinning her to the ground, his proximity a little too close for comfort. Her voice was full of sarcasm as she spoke, "Well, since we're all friends here. Could you please get your clawing hands off me, and get your face out of mine."

Ari flexed slightly, as his right hand reformed into that of a human being, and traveled slowly, almost caressingly, along her arm to her shoulder, across her collarbone, stopping only when it reached the center of her chest. He smiled at the look of revulsion on his archenemy's face in response to his touch. "I don't know, Max…I kinda like the position we're in. But…I am a gentleman despite what you may think. I'll honor your wishes."

Suddenly, he gathered up the cloth of her soggy shirt in his fist and stood up, picking her up with him. However, he didn't stop there. In one haul, he pulled her up into the air by her shirt holding her so that her feet didn't touch the ground, and even her wingtips were barely skimming the ground. Pulling at his hand to let her go, Max tried to wriggle out of his grasp, to no avail. "Let me go, Ari!"

She sought to kick out at him, but he held her body carefully out of reach. He brought her up higher, looking as sly as a thieving jackal, as the lightning illuminated his twisted features. "Your wish is my command."

Hauling back, he suddenly threw her forward, flinging her up in the air and towards the dark trees!

Feeling herself free-flying through the air, with no guidance whatsoever, she tried her best to stop her body from flailing about. Tree branches snapped in her wake, cutting into her skin and thwacking her in the face, and to try to steady her body herself would cause even worse injury. Acting fast, she blindly reached out with her hands, trying to find some purchase; to find some way to stop herself before she hit something that could really cause her body harm.

Grabbing at a shrub, she fell to the earth, skidding on the water-soaked muddy ground until the friction finally stopped her movement. Laying there quietly for a few seconds, she simply inhaled and exhaled, trying to get her heart back under control. She let the rain drip down her back, weaving in and out of the rips and tears in her shirt and soaking through her already saturated jeans. Under her breath she cursed Ari. His extra strength had sent her from out of the battle site, and into the rainy darkness of the forest. She had no idea where she was, but she knew she had to get back to her flock. She also knew that Ari would come looking for her, the annoying bastard that he was. She had to keep moving; hopefully her wings hadn't been too damaged…

Stretching her wings slightly, she felt a slight ache, but other than that they seemed to be fine. Picking herself up groggily from the hard ground of pine needles and rocks, she pushed the hair from out of her face. Her chest ached greatly from the broken rib on her side. Gritting her teeth, she tried to hold off her anger until she could utilize it effectively. It would make no sense to get herself all thrown out of shape, just at that darn Eraser's whims. She had to stay on her guard, despite her injuries. Aki could attack from anywhere in this dark, torrential night…


The girl turned at the sound of her name, ready to do battle. But the person who was behind her wasn't who she was expecting—not that that didn't make her glad to see him nonetheless. How had she not recognized that Louisianan drawl?


She threw herself in the redhead's waiting arms, giving him a hearty hug herself. What was he doing around here? Had Aki thrown her toward the flock rather than away from them?

The Cajun slowly let go, and held her away so as to look her over. "Are you okay, Max? I saw that guy throw you and I thought the worst. Come on Max, we have to get out of here."

She nodded, "I agree, we have to get the flock back together. Is Iggy okay? I heard him cry out."

Derringer suddenly grabbed her shoulders and shook her soundly, "Would you stop worrying about them, and worry about yourself for once! They can take care of themselves. I want to get you out of here and to safety, please Max!"

He then held her tightly, his hand to the back of her head. "I can't stand to lose you, Max. Can't you see that?"

Maximum fell speechless in his embrace, feeling his arms surround her, his wet skin sticking to hers. She had never seen this type of behavior in Derrin before, well he had always been protective, but he had always struck her as the type who understood her connection with the flock, and knew that she would never leave them no matter what. And what was with the caresses all of a sudden? Though she enjoyed the contact from him in the past, Derringer knew as well as her that this was neither the time nor the place. And he and Iggy were close, why did he totally disregard her question about their brother's safety? Something did not add up here. She had never doubted her instincts, and her instincts were telling her something wasn't right…

"But Derrin, we can't leave without the flock. The Erasers will kill them." She said almost absently.

He just held her closer, "I don't care, as long as you're safe Max."

Suddenly, with great force, Max pushed herself out of Derrin's arms and stepped away from the man. Her teeth gritted in anger, "Stay away from me, you monster…"

Her eyes became like cold ice, piercing at the other's soul. Her stance changed from relaxed, to that of combat.

The Cajun looked at her strangely, and made to step near her, but was stopped by the freezing chill in her eyes. "What are you talking about, Max?"

She narrowed her fair orbs straight at him, "I thought there was something strange about you—you're not Derringer…"

The man looked at her sideways, "Are you feeling okay, Max? Maybe you hit your head a little harder than I thought."

"Shut up, and stop using his voice! You are not Derringer. For one, the real one would never leave the others behind. He doesn't do murder."

He gave her a crooked grin, which in any other circumstance she would have seen as cute, but in this instance, she just saw it as disgusting. "I was only looking out for your best interests, Max."

The young woman looked at the male with malice, "Would you just stop it already?! I should have noticed it in the very beginning, but as you said, I think I hit my head a little too hard…because the real Derringer—almost never calls me, 'Max'."

The redhead smiled slightly, having already figured out that there was nothing else that could be done. The prey had seen past her predator's proverbial "sheep's clothing".

Starting at the feet, "Derringer" began to morph and transform. The sneakers shifted into a pair of black leather stiletto boots, while the tall jean-clad masculine legs rippled and shifted into two very feminine ones connected to a very feminine body, in a very, very feminine black leather pantsuit with matching jacket a gloves! Last but not at all least, the bright red hair came down from its messy ponytail, and turned from scarlet to bright purple; the yellow eyes swirled into the same color of bright, luminous violet.

Max immediately recognized the woman as the one she had seen with Ari. She shuddered as she realize that she had let an Eraser hold a caress her like that. And a female one at that! Ugh! Derrin can never know! "You! You're a shapeshifter!"

The purple-haired femme fatale sighed in exasperation, her hands on her hips, "No, duh…of course I am, Maxie. And I usually don't get found out so fast, but I did my job for just long enough I think."

Max arched an eyebrow, "Just long enough for what?"

Suddenly, something that felt like a cross between a 60 ton anvil and a fuel tanker, slammed into the back of her head, battering her to the ground! Falling out, white sparks in front of her eyes, Max struggled to cling to the light, while the incoming darkness was rising to conquer her. It however was a losing battle as she was struck once again, this time causing her to completely blackout, her last thoughts drowning in the rain. What the heck was that? Was the woman only a distraction? Will the real Derringer and the others be okay without me? I can't let them down…I must…I…must…

As the bludgeoned bird-girl didn't get back up, Viper grinned at her crumpled form. "Just long enough for that, Maxie-waxie."

She looked up at Max's attacker, who kneeled by his victim, checking her pulse. "Did I do a good job?"

Completely human again, Ari smiled evilly and nodded, while his fingers ran lightly along the outline of Max's jaw. "You did fine, Viper."

Viper was the first and only successful specimen of her kind. An Eraser who could morph into anyone she saw, with just a thought, and a physical change a DNA. It had taken years to get it right, and even more time to get the clothes as well as the physical features of the body. And though the procedures and experiments had caused her to go a little off in the head, it was one of the biggest successes his father and the other scientists ever had.

And he had to admit, she had been excellent for his purposes: Distracting Max long enough for him to be able to get behind her and knock her out, with a well placed blow to the back of the head. He wasn't surprised when the avian girl didn't go down from the first hit, her determination was strong and her stubbornness was even stronger. That being as it may, he had to hit her a second time just hoping that his strikes hadn't caused any brain damage, but knowing Max's resilience, even that probably wouldn't be enough to keep her under for as long as he needed. He had a little bit of a trip ahead of him, and he didn't want her waking up on the way. And of course, he had come prepared for just such an event; hopefully the vial hadn't shattered in all the fighting.

Reaching into his pocket, Ari took out a small metal box no bigger than a miniature pencil case. Clicking it open, he shuddered slightly at the sight of the syringe and vial inside. Like the bird kids, many Erasers (Ari included) didn't enjoy the sight of hypodermics, scalpels, and other surgical tools. Now he didn't have a complete breakdown like that emo freak, Fang, but he didn't quite enjoy it either.

Quickly taking the hypo in hand as well as the vial of some sedating drug, he quickly filled the chamber with slightly more than the required amount (with Max's resourcefulness, you always needed more than required). Moving her sleeve aside, he jabbed the needle into her arm and injected the drug into her system, watching silently as she shuddered in response.

Putting everything back in the metal case and then slipping it in his pocket, he stood up in the rain and looked over at his compatriot who had stood around silently observing, "You are in charge from here on, Viper. When everything's over, go back to HQ with the others in the truck. I'll tell my father while I'm on my way that it was: mission accomplished."

She nodded as she watched him pick the silly bird girl up roughly by her dirty blond hair and pull her body up. He then flipped her into his arms, putting one arm under her neck and the other under her knees. Turning, he began to head away into the forest toward where they had parked their vehicles, when the changeling Eraser called out in a slightly whiny voice. "Ari! Ari, you promised that after I did my job, you'd let me have fun…can I please, please go play now?"

The male smiled and shook his head at how much of a little girl she was before he continued walking. "Of course Viper, I told you that after I got Max, I didn't care what you did to the others. Go on and enjoy yourself, and do me one little favor. Play with the scarlet swamp-rat first could ya?"

She swirled around on her toes in happiness, "Thanks Ari! And I was going to play with him first anyway, he looked soooo deliciously fun!"

He nodded and continued walking away, hearing the female Eraser leap into the trees and take off toward her potential "playmates". He laughed slightly, knowing those goody-two-shoes bird freaks were going get quite a messy challenge when it came to Viper. Well, let Viper have her fun, at least she was out of his hair, not to mention all those snot-nosed brats. Looking down at the prey in his arms, he licked his lips in anticipation…he had gotten what he wanted.

The bona fide Derringer, was growing increasingly tired of his opponent. He loved a good fight as much as the next mutant, but this was plain ridiculous. This guy is hardly worth the effort…He had even slowed down his movements to that of a normal human male, and the Eraser was still not giving him any challenge! Derrin had to stop himself from yarning. What do you want me to do, get down on my hands and knees and beg for you to fight with some oomph? Petite can fight better than you, and she's 8 years old!

Finally getting tired of getting tired, Derrin went into a flip jump, while simultaneously using his legs to pin his foe's neck, and also to dislodge his jacket from his person. Flipping the Eraser with him, he landed on top of the wolf in a whoosh. Keeping his hands on the sleeves, he quickly spun his jacket around the Eraser's windpipe, where his hands had once been. With one expert pull by the sleeves, the makeshift garrote did its work, the werewolf mutant gasping for air before finally falling out cold. Derrin however, made sure he didn't kill the creature, pulling a little softer than his hands were used to. Looking shakily at them, he shook his head with a pitying smile. "I've done that move so many times; it's hard to remind my hands not to do what they were trained for."

Taking a look around, he saw that Iggy was now helping Gasman fight his enemy, the tag team doing excellent as always together. Though they would have to watch those wounds of Ig's, they were deep and could get nasty if not treated, but all in all, his partner had done an excellent job in learning how to fight with his new powers. Looking over to Nudge and Angel, they were making short work of their own opponent, and would be done with him soon. He looked up into the sky, he couldn't see that leader Eraser or chère anywhere, but he would soon find them. If he played his cards right, she might even let him team-up.

He grinned and was about to move out, when a sudden shadowy force hit him hard from the side, sending him spinning through the dark trees and almost to lake shore! Knowing that that shadow was a new, more powerful foe, Derringer sniggered slightly while picking himself up and looked at his newest adversary. Maybe this time I'll get a challenge out of the guy…

Having impacted with him, the foe had also fallen to the earth, and to make things interesting, the man who had knocked him down to the ground—just happened to be a woman!

Picking herself up lithely, arching her back sensually like a cat, she snapped her head up, looking at him like a predator seeing its prey for the first time.

She flicked her hair behind her back and licked her lips. "Well, aren't you a handsome one? I'm going to enjoy playing with you…"

He arched his eyebrow, "Sorry darlin', you not my type." He said, letting his Cajun speech become more exaggerated.

Though, looking closer now, he had to admit that the woman was beautiful in her own way. Dressed fully in shiny, tight black leather, a classic figure, and a head full of neon violet hair, if it wasn't for the insane look in her eyes, she would have been perfect. But this little beauty is definitely more deadly than her looks conceive. I remember seeing her with that Ari character, so she must be an Eraser, but what kind of powers does she carry. I don't like the idea of fighting a woman, but it doesn't look as if I have any choice in the matter…

She flashed those eyes at him again and giggled like a little child, "I'm going to enjoy this! Let's play, pretty boy!"

Throwing herself at him, she came after him with a high kick to the jaw, followed by a fast punch to the gut! He had to rush to defend himself, and had to be even faster to get his own attacks in. She came into such close quarters with her assaults, that for once, he couldn't use his speed! She kept changing fighting styles, from kickboxing to judo to taijutsu, and on and on! It took it out of him to match her tit for tat.

The two went at it violently, until she made one slight mistake and he grabbed her wrists as she tried to withdraw, and with one twist and a throw, twirled the both of them to the gravel with a slam! The female Eraser looked up into his face, both of them breathless as they lay on the ground. She was grinning like a Cheshire cat. "You're fast. I've been watching you and I like how you play; you don't bore me. My name's Viper."

He breathed heavily, out of breath. "Nice name…suit you."

Wrenching herself out of his grip, she twirled herself to a crouched standing position, her opponent doing the same. She put her hands behind her back and laughed like a schoolgirl who had a crush. "Well? Aren't you going to tell me your name?"

"I think no, darlin'." He answered dryly, "I don't like ya well 'nough for that."

She shook a finger at him, "You mean, like you know your lover, Max?"

That statement shook his focus. "What?!"

She chuckled, "You see, I already know your name, Derringer. I just wanted to hear it from your lips, your voice sounds sooo cool!"

Derrin was suddenly getting tired of this fight; Viper's comments had not only turned his stomach, but also made him very uneasy concerning chère's wellbeing. "Let's just finish this…I usually don't approve of hitting girls, but for you, I think I'll make an exception."

She leered at him slyly, "Then how about we take this up a notch?"

Slowly, she peeled the black leather gloves from her hands. They were unscarred and as fine as porcelain, and she had a perfect manicure with a thick coating of silver nail polish. He looked at her in question, "Why you do that? You mess up your pretty nail job."

She giggled again, but instead of putting out her hands as if to attack, she crossed her arms over her chest then closed her eyes in concentration. Derringer looked at her bewildered. What was she doing? Taking a nap? He looked closer at her, scrutinizing at what sort of trick this Viper had up her sleeve. She was open for attack, but she probably knew already that Derrin wasn't the type to attack her while she was unarmed and not presenting an offense. She was a devious one, but she couldn't expect him to wait here for—wait a minute!

Something was changing about her! Was it just him, or did her nails get a tad sharper and an inch longer in the last five seconds?!

Yes, it was true! Slowly but surely, her fingernails grew longer and longer, and sharper and sharper; extending two inches past her fingertips, five inches, seven, ten… Before he had even time to take a second look, her "nails" had become a foot long! Wide at the base and razor thin at their point, they were like a dozen silver needles, each one poised to kill!

She then snapped her eyes open, her face looking like that of a demon. She answered his previous comment, eagerness and excitement dripping from her voice. "Oh, I don't think I'll mind."

Suddenly she went twirling on her toes, like a whirling satanic ballerina. Derrin hardly had time to move out the way before she would have collided with him! Crouching at the ready, he suddenly winced at the startling pain that came abruptly through his right arm. Looking to his previously unwounded limb, he hissed slightly, as he could see blood dripping from five thin, but deep lacerations, in perfect lines on his forearm…

Derringer cursed in three different languages, holding his arm to his side in pain. Why did I have to fight the dancer from Hell?

Viper stopped for a second and smiled at him, licking the blood that dripped from off her needlelike nail extensions. "Delicious…"

Suddenly she was on him again, and they began their deadly dance again. However, this time, every time he tried to deflect a mortal attack, he received a nasty present from her mutant fingers. He quickly learned that these were not your normal nail enamel, nor were they even the fake kind you could get at the store. These nails were made of metal, something like steel or titanium, and they were a working part of her body. So, not only was the woman a genetically engineered mess, but she was also had a compilation of cybernetic components. No wonder the girl's crazy.

Seeing an opening once again, using a roundhouse kick Derrin hit her in the stomach, sending her sliding through the slick mud and gravel into an evergreen tree, the branches shuddering from the impact. Yet, as she was sent back, her hand had reached out to his leg, not able to gain hold, her claws dig into his flesh, sending five more lances of bloody pain into his calf.

Gasping raggedly, he tried to hold the agony that was filtering all over his body, at bay. He had to stay strong; he had faced worse pain than this before. This was nothing, it was simply a matter of mind over flesh. The problem came in the fact, that through he was getting some hits in he just wasn't doing enough damage, while he was taking a heck of a lot, enough blood was running out of him that he could be in some hack shounen anime.

Viper stood up and twisted her backbone back and forth, limbering her body. "Wow, this is the longest I've played with anybody—well, except my Sephy, but by this time, we've probably gone on to do other things. Wait a minute!" She spun around in happiness, "That's just what I'll do! Don't go away now!"

Before he could even say a word, she was already in the trees and out of sight. Looking after her in total confusion, he called after her to come back, but she either didn't hear him or she had her own plans in mind.

He shook his head at the strange demonic girl, he couldn't figure out what her game was. Taking the time to get a breather, he wiped his hand across his brow, not surprised to see blood smeared all over his hand. He suddenly shuddered and fell to one knee, crimson plasma spurting and falling to his feet onto the smooth stones beneath him. He could easily dull from his mind the gash he had gotten from the laser in Delta 6 earlier, but this was intense! Gritting his teeth, he attempted to push the waves of agony away. He had to get himself in charge of this pain. If he passed out now, he would be a sitting duck and that wouldn't help the flock much. As much as he didn't want to, he had to revert back to the training of long ago, of the past that he had forced himself to forget…


His eyes flickered open at the sound of the voice, his concentration broken, the pain came back to him, but he didn't mind it as much since he knew who the voice belonged to. Turning, he looked at the girl who came toward him a little worse for wear, but still the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

The two embraced and Max came away little but staying against him, she stood looking at his blood on her fingers. She looked up at him with those beautiful eyes, concern flooding them. "Oh Derringer, you're hurt!"

He shrugged it off, "It's nothing, chère. Just a few—well maybe a lot of—scratches. I'm more concerned about you, are you okay?"

She looked at him irritatingly, "Would you stop worrying about me and worry about yourself? What would I do if something happened to you?!"

He looked at her enchantingly, "You're so protective of me, all of a sudden chère. One might think you actually care."

Surprisingly she didn't get mad, but silently looked up at him and held him closer to her, a strange look in her eye. Her voice became soft and almost sensual. "Of course I do, you idiot. I love you…"

If that last statement wasn't enough to send his world spinning, then the next action would send it into a hurricane! Coming close to him, the girl leaned up and placed her lips upon his, pressing harder and harder, the kiss becoming rougher and more passionate. He didn't respond at first, but slowly but surely grew into it. The stood like that for more than a minute, and as he wrapped his left arm around her waist, she moved to put her right around his neck, and bring him closer—

But with a single lightning movement, Derringer stopped her grabbing hold of her wrist and held it in the air, away from his body!

She released his mouth, backing her head away slightly, looking into his eyes with question. "What's wrong, Derringer? Don't you want this too?"

He looked at her, his emotions shielded beneath a mask that somehow clamped down into place on his true features. He seemed to look at her for hours, when only seconds were going by, before he finally answered her, his voice soft yet grave. "Yes…but not from you."

As if to emphasize his meaning, he tightened his grip on her wrist, causing her to gasp slightly and her fingers to shiver…including the long metal claw that tapered at the end of each finger, poised to instantly sink the cold metal into the warm flesh of his neck if his restraint ever relaxed. He smiled at her solemnly, "You'll have to do better than that if you want to deceive me—Viper."

The morphing Eraser grinned at him, before transforming back into her original form. She got closer to him, flicking out her tongue like that of her namesake. "So you figured it out, it must have been the way my lips felt, I can never seem to get that part right…but I really think you enjoyed it, more than you'll ever admit." Then she got even closer and hissed out dangerously, "And you maybe fast," nodding to his hand around her wrist, "but you're not fast enough."

Derrin smiled back at her, before slightly gasping with gritted teeth, blood running from the corner of his mouth. Taking a step back, he looked to see the skin of Viper's fingertips touching his stomach. She pulled her hand back slowly, first her fingers, and then her claws…inch by torturous inch, from out of his abdomen.

She had driven her claws to the hilt, into his body the minute they hugged, and even though he had noticed the contact, he had been too surprised by her performance as Max to feel the added on pain of her skewing him on her hand extensions. Once she exited him however, the oxygen reacted on the wounds in force, causing bright spots to dance in front of his eyes, and him to almost double over with enforced torment. His mind struggled to think amidst the suffering of his wounds. Why was he hurting so badly? He had endured worse than this…

As he stumbled away from her, she pulled her captured hand from his grip, putting it back down to her side. She watched as her opponent shuddered from the anguish and began to move dizzily from the lack of blood, as he put pressure on his pouring wounds, the red liquid running thickly over his fingers. She frowned a little, as if just remembering something. She said innocently, "Umm, Derringer? Maybe it's a little late to tell you this, but—my claws secrete something called pure "quicksilver" into anyone I use them on, every time I cut them. I'm immune to this "quicksilver", though. I hope this doesn't affect our fight in any way…"

Derringer clenched his fist angrily. No wonder his wounds hurt so much and his body felt as if it was caving on him! Every time the witch scratched, slashed, or stabbed him, she would leave in his body systems, quicksilver—a.k.a. the 80th element Hg, otherwise known as mercury!

He angrily leaped out at Viper, holding her down with her arms away from him. "You sick psycho! You've been poisoning me all this time?!"

She looked up at him angrily, "I only let one man handle me this way, and as cute as you are, you're not him."

Grabbing hold of Derrin's arms, she unfurled a pair of black and white wings, each of the pure black feathers looked as if their tips had been dipped in pure white paint. Quickly catching an updraft, she soared towards the sky, taking her opponent along from the ride. "Hang on cutie; I doubt you'll want to fall from this height."

Derrin angrily stopped struggling, trying to avoid contact with her poisonous claws. She had much more strength in those arms than he thought, as she was able to carry him while in flight. They soared into the sky and above the lake, wind and rain buffeting them as they traveled. She took him to the top of a small cliff that jutted out about 25 feet above the raging lake surface.

Dropping him suddenly, he rolled painfully on the rock before jumping to his feet, lightning and thunder reflecting his anger and fatigue at the situation he was in. He was soaked to the bone (and God, did he hate water), his new family was in trouble, he was heavily wounded, and he had an elemental poison running through his system. He wanted this battle to be finished! He was getting tired of this fight, tired of these Erasers, and really tired of this she-devil!

Derrin brought his hands forward, ignoring the rain mixing with the much more vital liquid oozing out of the thatch work of cuts on his arms and his palms. His amber eyes pierced into the very body of his opponent. "Let's get this done, demoness. Cause Derringer gettin' plain annoyed now. What you have to take us all the way up here for?"

Viper flipped a strand of wet hair from out her face, "I like to have a fight with a view. And don't look now cutie-pie, but your true slang roots are starting to show."

He knew she was right, his emotions were even affecting his grammar and speech now. He must be getting really frustrated now, and his worry over Max's safety wasn't helping at all. "Just get on with it."

She smiled that infuriating smile of hers, "You are tiring of this fight, as am I I'm afraid. You are one of the best fighters I've ever faced. However, I don't have all night and I must take care of your other little winged friends. Those other guys I work with, except for maybe Ari, are complete buffoons, as I'm sure you very well know. I wanted to play with those little feathered morsels myself anyway."

Derrin felt a livid, feral blood that had lain dormant for a long time, rise up within him. He launched himself at her, striking at her side. She blocked and thrust out with her foot into his chest, knocking the air out of him. She quickly followed that with straight punches to the face and stomach, only one of which he could avoid. Thrusting her spiky boot into his throat, she swatted him across the face with her hand, leaving long fresh marks on his cheek.

Totally ignoring the stinging pain, Derrin flipped over her and kicked her in the back. Using his speed, he punched her thrice in the face, before grapping her arm and tossing her down the cliff. Skidding on the slick stone, she was able to use her claws to gain traction; the metal against stone causing sparks to fly in the night. She leered up at him, running up the rest of the way. Derrin quickly caught her hands as the tried to make contact, holding her arms in a hammer lock. "Stop this now, or you'll break an arm."

She laughed, "That's what you think, Cajun boy!"

With the dexterity that only a trained contortionist is supposed to have, she flipped her legs almost completely in the air, swinging them behind his head and using her forced pressure and momentum, to actually swing herself onto the ground behind him, twisting herself out of his grasp and causing him to fall to the ground! Groaning in pain, Derringer tried to raise himself up, but could feel the mercury take affect even more than before. He was getting dizzy and his motor functions were off, he could hardly stand. His super-speeding powers were all but done for. He was moving by the clear need to survive, and that was all.

He stayed that way trying to catch his breath, as he heard the click-clacking of Viper's heels as she approached him. He didn't have the strength to look up at her, but she made due by grabbing onto the pale flesh of his neck and painfully yanking him up from the ground, her claws scratching his skin, dripping their silver poison.

He tried to push her back, but she easily batted him away, well aware of his weakened form and taking every advantage of it. But of course, Derrin's simple frame of mind, wouldn't allow him to give up, no matter the physical condition he was in. He continued to struggle, kicking and striking at his assailant. However, she being in a little better condition than he, was able to dodge his clumsy attacks and still keep her hold on him. Finally, dragging him across the ground to the cliff's edge, with one quick and sudden move, she flung him over the edge and into open space!

Holding him in midair by his throat, she watched his face twist with agony as gravity worked its magic on his wretched form. She smiled, "Now what if I was to drop you right now? Can you swim, Derringer? Though maybe not even someone like you can survive dropping from this height into these waters."

He reached up and grabbed her arm, venom worse than a snake's bite in his voice. "Coward! Devious female! Hidin' behind cheap tricks and deceptions, Fight me like a woman! Or should I say—a viper!"

She laughed merrily, "Oh, what a nasty mouth, calling me all those names. Nice choice of words though, cutie. But don't worry, I'm not going to just drop you. That wouldn't be fun."

She drew him back to the very edge of the rock and then tilted in close, too close for his comfort. Disgustingly, she leaned over even closer and licked the blood off the side of his face, relishing in the melody of elements, the iron, oxygen, carbon, as well as other life giving compounds with a taste of mercury, that could be found with only plasma that she had infected. "Well, I couldn't say goodbye without giving you a goodbye kiss…and, without a little present to remember me by."

She then reared her free hand back, and with murderous gusto, thrust the knives on her fingertips solidly into his chest, causing the Cajun to cry out in sudden torture. She reveled in the sight of his blood rolling over the skin of her fingers and of the shriek he instinctually gave out.

She pulled out her sticky "nails", only to strike again with force…and again, and again, and again. Laughing with ecstasy every time he screamed and the rush of more and more blood, crimson rivers running their course down his body. When she thought he had had enough, she stabbed into him one more time, but this time she didn't exit, but instead stretched the width of her fingers, letting the needle-like knives slice through his torn up skin slowly. "I wanted to tell you before you die, Derringer that I really did enjoy our time together. It was the most fun I've had in, like, forever. I can't wait to play with your little family as well."

The young man gritted his teeth against the anguish, blood spilling from the side of his mouth. "No…"

She stopped moving her fingers, seeing that he was no longer any threat. "The little girl and her dog wouldn't be any fun at all; I'll just break their tiny frail necks. The little boy might be a little more fun and the other girl too, but I'll tear their limbs off as easy as tearing the leg off a grasshopper."

Derrin raised his head up tiredly, the spark of determination still within him. "You leave them alone; they have nothin' to do with you…"

She moved her fingers a little, causing him to gasp with pain. "Everyone is my playmate if I wish it. I've watched your protectiveness of that blind kid, who's not as blind as he would have people think. Perhaps, I'll tear out his little wings first, and then make him listen as I pluck out every feather. I'll then gouge out what's left of his eyes and feed it to him. And then, we'll have some real fun. I don't know if he can survive as long as you, but…we'll see how much he can take."

The anger stewing inside of the young man suddenly intensified ten times over. He had at first been only thinking of his own pain, and how it would all end, but suddenly he remembered Iggy's words:

"…you aren't alone anymore. That no matter how many walls you put up, no matter what your mind keeps telling you. We will be here for you. We are your family now, and its okay to let us in, if only a little."

He was no longer alone in the world, and he had others who were counting on him. He had a choice to make, and one that could only be made by him, and he didn't have much time. A pity it took this lady snake's crazed murderous intentions, to remind him of his responsibilities. He began to move his fingers trying to gain life out of his battered body once again. He could reach what he needed, but could he bring himself to use it?

Viper continued on, not noticing a thing in her blood-lusting ecstasy. "And then, after I'm done with them, I'll ask Ari if I can have the lovely Maximum Ride, after he's done with her. Now she'll be the real prize, she is a legend in the Eraser ranks. I have something especially special planned for her…"

She looked up at her victim, trying to get a look at his face, but his untidy hair was covering his beautiful eyes. He was so still, she wondered if he had already passed out. But the vibrations from his heartbeat and lungs against her claws told her otherwise. "Is their anything you wish me to tell her for you? Any last message?"


She frowned, then started moving her hand once again, causing new, fresh cuts. "Hey! Are you sleeping? You're not supposed to sleep when I'm talking!"

Like lightning, Derringer's arm moved as it did when he was his normal self, grabbing her hand and holding it close, ignoring the pain as he jammed her hand further into him. When he looked into her eyes, she trembled; his eyes were like orbs of yellow fire. He spoke low, his voice like the personification of the threat. "No darlin', I have no message you can give. You see, you just crossed the line. I may not have enough strength to stop you. But I do have enough power to kill you."

She looked at him with a twisted look of unbelief on her face. "I think you've lost a little too much blood to the brain, hon. You're becoming delusional."

This time he smiled, "I may be delusional—but you're dead."


A sound echoed through the air, and this one was even louder than the thunder that it mimicked. For once, the smile was not present on the violet-haired woman's face, it was instead replaced with surprise, anger, and shock. She sucked in big gulps of air, suddenly not able to breathe as easily. Red and silver liquid ran from a hole in her chest, the result of a bullet fired from the .22 derringer handgun in Derrin's bloody hand. Looking from the gun to the wound to the empty ankle holster, she turned to her shooter. "You had a gun…all this time?"

Derringer's hand went weakly to his side, but he kept the gun in his grasp. The serious and fiery look on his face however, hadn't changed. "I promised 'never again'. But you threatened my family. You threatened Max. And that changed the status quo, darlin'. A long time ago, I vowed to never use a gun on a human being ever again. However…" He whispered into her ear, "I don't think you really qualify."

Her legs faltered slightly and she let go of Derringer's throat, putting a hand to the hole in her torso. Her calm, incorrigible smile had returned. "This won't stop…me, cutie-pie. I don't die easily…and I don't forgive easily either. Next time we meet…I won't…be so nice."

He lightly lifted an eyebrow, "Will you now?"

She tried to pull her hand away from him, anxious to take her leave, but his grip held fast. He teetered a little from the force, but still held. He looked at her with a grin of his own, "Who said—I was done fighting?"

He wrapped his arm around her waist, and whether it was by his own will, or a fault of the storm, or the instability of their injured forms, the two's combined momentum, sent them both flying of the edge of the cliff! Viper tried all in her power to separate herself from Derringer, but he only wrapped himself that much more tightly around her. The two tumbled through the air for more than 7 meters before crashing through the surface of the deep, tumultuous lake at the below them. The water quickly engulfed them as their unintentional dive from such a sheer height, sent them deep within the confines of the lake.

But even below the surface, things were not calm as a fight erupted causing the waters to swirl and churn just as it did on the surface. Water could not stop the two hated enemies from continuing their fight, seemingly to the death. Separated upon impact, blows were almost immediately exchanged and no punches were pulled as only one victor would be allowed to leave this liquid palace.

Back on shore, the time slowly went by the elements watching in hungry earnest. There was a time limit to this fight, calculated by how much more their finite bodies could take, and how long their lungs could hold out from absence of oxygen.

But as this fight went on below, things were also changing above. As time went on, the movement became slower, the ferocity was becoming tame. The storm that had been raging since the late afternoon, was finally slowing to an end. Just as the storm that had been ravaging between Eraser and bird-child was coming to a close…a bloody close.

And with the dissipating of the storm clouds, the stormy seas also followed suit. The waters calmed and surface was on its way to becoming placid once again. However, the calming tarn was suddenly churned once again, as a lonely figure walked through the frothy waves and struggled onto the stony shore. It walked slowly and carelessly, not really caring where it was, or what the time happened to be, just that it had survived.

Only able to go a few feet ahead of the tide, the figure soon collapsed from utter fatigue. Its eyes closed tiredly, totally oblivious as the waves crashed and swelled around its legs, simultaneously washing away crimson rivulets that spilled over the smooth stones leading from the source that was the body, to the waters the source of life…or death.

As the rain began to finally slack up, the last Eraser went down under Iggy's fist. He stood up breathlessly, looking around to take an assessment of the situation as it stood and where all his siblings were. Angel, Nudge, and Gasman gathered behind him, trying to catch their breath after their battles. "Everyone okay?"

Gazzy nodded, "Everyone's accounted for except for Max and Derringer. I'm okay, and I've checked over Nudge and Ange; they're both okay. Max and Ari went to the sky and I soon lost sight of them. Derrin went off into the forest with another opponent, but I lost sight of them also. All of our own opponents are out colder than a block of ice."

Ig nodded before looking down at Angel, "Can Total track them both down?"

The little dog shuffled his way out of her arms looking like a shiny black ball of saturated fluff, "I could—if this storm wasn't washing away every scent in the whole darn place. Besides, my nose is all stuffy; I am so going to catch a cold."

"We all are, if we don't get dry and in a safe place soon." Iggy looked back to the dog's keeper. "Angel, I need you to use your telepathy and Nudge, for you to use your psychic empathy to see if you can locate both of them. But I want you two together, you're safer that way in case we have more trouble. Gaz and I will go together. We'll meet up back at the cave in—Ahh!"

Iggy winced greatly at the pain that flashed through his arms, instinctually holding on tight to his still bleeding wounds. He'd forgotten about those wounds from his first battle, his mind being consumed with adrenaline and the love of the fight. Now that that had drained off, the pain had come back with a vengeance.

Gasman was at his sight in a minute, "Nudge, you and Angel get going. I'll take care of blind bravado boy here."

Nudge placed a hand on his shoulder worriedly, "What about you? He's injured and you'll be his only defense. Can you handle it by yourself, I mean, what will you do if these creeps wake up? Or there are more Erasers out there? Or what if—"

Gasman put a hand on the girl's shoulder and gave her his most reassuring smile. "I'll be fine, and I'll take care of Iggy. Don't worry about me, Nudge. It'll take more than a couple Erasers to put me down."

Her cheeks reddened slightly, "Just be careful, Gaz. I have faith in you."

She then turned to the other girl while unfurling her wings. "Let's go, Ange."

The two lifted off and flew above the trees, trying to get some fix on their missing siblings. Nudge tried to stop her mind from worrying. He'll be alright. He maybe three years younger than you, but he's quite mature for a ten year old, and much stronger than he appears. So why are you so worried?

"Because you care about him, of course."

Nudge looked over at Angel, her face getting flushed once again. "What?"

The eight-year old blonde rolled her eyes, "Mind-reader! How come you guys keep forgetting that? Especially when your brains are shouting out your thoughts so that they show up in mine like huge billboards! My bro will be okay, don't worry about him. And oh—"

Angel slyly winked at the girl, "I won't tell him a thing."

Nudge blushed even more, "W-What are you talking about?"

The blonde sighed and pointed to her head.

Nudge's face couldn't get any redder and mentally sighed. This is what you get having a telepath as a sister. She knows everything…

Angel laughed, "You'd better believe it!"

As the two girls disappeared over the trees, Gasman turned back to Iggy trying to shake the warm feeling that had somehow come over him, ever since Nudge had voiced her concern over him. "Look, let me take a look at those wounds."

He reached for the 15 year-old's arm, but the blind teen waved him away, "We don't have time for this, we have to clear this area fast and we need to find Derringer and Max."

Gazzy rolled his eyes, "Oh shut up already and get over here, 'oh fearless substitute leader'. If you're injured, you'll just slow us down. "

Iggy sighed, knowing his brother and best friend was right. "Alright, just hurry and bandage them up, will ya? You can use cloth from one of the Eraser's shirts or something. We might be able to find some proper bandages later."

The ten-year old smirked, "I don't think that'll be necessary."

Reaching over to the teen's arms, he slowly rolled up the sleeves so that he could have access to the wounds without touching them too much. Iggy used his powers to see what his brother was doing, but was still mystified as the boy held a hand above each wound, barely touching it, before closing his eyes in concentration.

At first, nothing happened, but soon Ig began to notice an unearthly green glow surround the Gasman's hands! At first it flickered a bit, but soon went steady. At that moment, his arms began to tingle, not in a bad way, but as if a feather was lightly tickling his skin. Looking from Gazzy's luminescent hands to his wounds, he had to stop from gasping as he watched the bloody ripped flesh begin to suddenly and almost literally weave and knit itself back together! The skin interlaced itself back together and merged into one piece of skin, making both his arms whole once again and without practically any pain!

Once the injuries had completely healed, the glow disappeared and Gaz put his hands down. Opening his eyes once again, he smiled at the shock on his brother's face. "Does that feel better?"

The young man flexed his arms, but couldn't find a trace of the previous pain. He looked over at his brother astounded. "Yes, they're as good as new. But how—?"

The boy laughed lightly, "What? Did you think you were the only one with hidden powers around here?"

That line slightly bit into his heart "Look, I'm sorry I didn't tell you about my new powers but—"

Gaz held up his hand, "Hey, no sweat man. I understand that sometimes we want to keep stuff to ourselves. I developed my new powers about a couple months ago, but I was so scared of them, I couldn't even show them to myself. But then one day, Nudge and I were on recon, and she fell and cut her leg really bad. Blood was gushing everywhere and I couldn't stand to see her in so much pain. Taking a leap of faith, I decided to use my powers to heal her, and to my surprise and hers, it worked. Nudge agreed to keep my abilities a secret as I tried to figure them out, and after much practice on myself, it became easier and easier."

"I'm impressed. How does it work?"

Gazzy shrugged, "I of course don't know the details, but as far as I can see, my healing powers require a mix of concentration and physical energy that I combine and exude through my hands. Flesh wounds like yours are easy now, anything else more than that however, I'll have to work on. By the way, how far does this new power of yours go? I've never seen you fight like that before, and in Delta 6 too."

He smiled and moved a blond hair from out of the boy's face, "I can see everything better than I ever could before, with just a touch. I've been practicing and training for so long with Derringer and it's been worth it. I can really see again."

Gaz laughed at the happy glee in his brother's voice. "I'm really happy for you, Iggy. Even though I was kind of jealous of all the time you were spending with Derrin, now that I see how happy this new vision power has made you, I don't really mind now."

The taller boy took him into his now strong right arm. "Hey, I hang out with Derringer, and he's my brother and a very good friend and teacher. But you'll always be my partner-in-crime, right?"

Gaz smiled before pushing his brother off playfully and taking to the sky. "You can bet on it. And while we've been talking, even the rain stopped; now let's start looking for our missing flock members before I grow roots."

Iggy joined his brother in the air and was about to comment on what kind of plant he would grow into, when a scream rang out over the conifer forest!

Gaz turned towards the lake, "That was Angel!"

"Come on!" Iggy tilted towards the right and took off towards the shore.

Nudge had used her powers to feel the vibrations in the air and forest to trace and find both her missing siblings. Angel was simultaneously trying to feel for any kind of familiar thoughts with her mind.

"I have a feel for Max, she was with Ari and they were really going at it." Nudge said absently.

"Do you know where they ended up?" Angel asked.

"This way." Nudge flew down into the forest followed by her sister. As they landed, they could instantly see there was no trace of their elder sister.

Angel looked around, "I don't see her. Did she go somewhere else?"

Nudge felt around the wet ground and the trees. "Her vibes end here. She and Ari and someone I've never felt before were here, but there wasn't much of a scuffle. I don't know what happened, but I can't feel anything else."

The blonde nodded, "This makes me concerned, this reminds me too much of when Fang disappeared. You lost his vibrations and I could find no trace of his thoughts, just like I can't sense Max's right now either. I don't like this, Nudge."

She nodded, "I don't either. Can you feel Derringer's thoughts?"

Angel flew to the sky followed by her sister, "I can feel something closer to the lake."

"Yeah, his vibrations go that way too. They're light, but I think that's just because I'm in the air and he only goes on the ground." The other girl followed her sister in the direction of the water. "Why don't you concentrate harder than normal, he's probably unconscious and he doesn't have the same kind of brain patterns as we do."

She hovered over the trees next to the shore and nodded. Putting her fingers to her temples, she concentrated more than usual searching for her big brother. She was excited to feel the familiar threads of his mind almost immediately and delved deeper, trying to get a fix on his location.

Suddenly, her mind was consumed with an agony to the like that her young body had never felt before. Even in all those years in the School, it was nothing like this type of raw and unprocessed anguish that was Derringer's psyche. In response, the only real thing she could do, was what her body instinctually would do:

She screamed.

Dropping to the earth, Angel fell out of control. Nudge gasped and swooped down to catch her, only able to get to her at the last minute. Laying her lightly on the shore ground, she looked over her sibling with alarm. "Are you okay, Ange?! What's up?"

Angel sat up and massaged her aching head, "That's the last time I take one of your suggestions…oh, my head hurts."

"What happened? Is Angel okay?"

Iggy and Gasman swooped down from the sky; Gazzy automatically went to her side. "Are you hurt sis?"

She nodded her head, "I'm alright, I was feeling deeper for Derringer's mind and—it was more intense than I could take. He's around here alright though, I know that for sure."

Nudge and Iggy looked around them while Gaz helped Angel up. Nudge squatted and felt on the ground around her for vibrations. Iggy did the same and used his vision to look for his missing brother. However, it was Angel who found him first.

"Got him, he's over there." The girl pointed to the east part of the shore.

The four bird children hurried over to the place she had identified, all of them using their night vision, were able to see the even enlarging figure on the beach getting larger and larger.

Iggy was the first to reach the fallen body and turned it over on its back. He gasped slightly with both relief and concern as he saw that the man was indeed Derringer and that he was breathing, if shallowly, but that bruises and deep cuts lined his face, and his hair was totally taken apart. He couldn't see the rest of the man's body so well because of the dark clothes, but he could take a guess that the man had fought quite a battle.

"Gaz! Get over here!" Iggy called as he worriedly shook the older teenager. "Come on, Derringer. Wake up would ya?"

Gazzy was at his side and immediately began using his healing powers to heal Derringer's face and head, both internally and superficially. As both of the girls already knew about his powers (there was nothing that could surprise Total anymore), nobody was taken aback as the scratches on his face sealed back up and the bruises went away.

Both Nudge and Angel stood together, their wings fluttering in apprehension as they watched with a silent prayer that the man would be alright.

Ig was completely frustrated. "Come on, Derrin. I need you to get up, we have to get the flock out of here, and you know what? You are two darn heavy for me to be carrying out of here!"

Gaz smiled; his brother or even he could carry Derringer out with little effort. But he too was worried about the redhead. He had just healed his facial injuries, but who knew how many others there were under the surface. He silently watched as the man's chest rose and fell slowly but evenly. Worry consumed him and in anger, he hit Derrin's ribs with his fist, "I know you're alive! Now just get up, or so help me, I'll undo all I just did!"

Iggy pushed the boy back, "What are you doing?! You want to injure him more?"

Gaz looked up at him, tears welling up in his eyes. "If he stays like this, his condition will get worse! If something happened to him, and I couldn't fix it, I—I don't—"

A robust Cajun voice suddenly interrupted them. "You know? If you guys gush on any louder, you'll wake more than me up."

Everyone jumped up from their spots and happily surrounded the scarlet-haired teen as he looked up at them with half open eyes and a tired but still charming grin. "It nice to see I was missed."

Nudge laughed, "Of course you were! Well, I hope you're okay. That's more than I can say for whatever Eraser you fought. I mean, you took him down right. I'm so glad you're alright. I was getting worried and—."

Gaz put a hand on her shoulder, which stopped her talkative streak in its tracks. He smiled, "Let the man catch his breath a little, Nudge."

Derrin smiled back at them all before putting a hand beneath him to slowly sit up. Pain surged through him, but he stalwartly ignored it. "My opponent was a female actually."

Iggy looked at him in surprise, "I didn't know they had female Erasers."

He nodded while squeezing the excess water out of his hair. "They do, and they can pack a punch. We fell into the water and fought there, but she suddenly pushed me away and quickly disappeared into the depths of the lake. She won't be coming back anytime soon, though. You would have loved to meet her, chèrechère?"

He looked around about him, surprised not to here a word from the girl and turned to Iggy. "Where's chère?"

The blind boy shook his head, "We haven't seen her since she went to fight Ari."

Angel then spoke up, "Nudge and I traced her as far as a mile and a half away from here, but then the trail went completely cold. I can't pick up even a trace of her thoughts and Nudge said her vibes stopped in the edge of the forest and that was it."

Worry suddenly gripped the Cajun's heart, even more than it did the rest of the flock. He kept remembering how Viper would constantly make references about Max and how the girl had come to know his name. Could the girl have had something to do with chère's disappearance?

Nudge spoke up, "In the last place I felt Max's vibrations, I felt two others as well. One was Ari, and the other was some unknown person I hadn't really felt before. But…now that I'm on this shoreline, I feel those same unknown vibes again. They're female alright, a sultry female at that, and probably the girl who was your opponent. She was with Ari and Max, when Max went down."

Gazzy looked up at Iggy, "That can only mean one thing."

Ig in turn looked down at the still seated, solemn Derringer. "It was an ambush of some sort. Max is most likely captured or—" He didn't even want to finish the statement.

Everyone sat there silent and still at the gravity of the situation, the only sound that could be heard, was the crashing of the waves against the shore. They had lost another member, and this one was their leader. Angel was the first to ask the question that was in all of their minds.

"What are we going to do now?"

All of a sudden, Derringer stood, fierce determination in his eyes, and dusted himself off before sniffing at the air. "I'm going after her, of course."

He turned to Iggy, "In Max's stead, I am in charge. With me gone and Fang is still MIA, that puts you as substitute leader. This place is not safe for any of us anymore. Take the rest of the flock to that place that I showed you and stay there till I return with Max. If I don't return in two days, take the flock and go in search of Fang with the information Nudge gathered. You will then be the permanent leader of the flock, unless you find Fang and then everyone decides otherwise."

Ig looked at him in alarm, "Wait a minute, I can't—you—"

Derrin gripped his shoulders, "Remember what I told you before, Iggy. This is one of those times that I need you to be strong. The other three are counting on you as leader. Don't let them down, and you won't let me down. Do you understand?"

"Why not let us go with you? How you plan on tracking Max? You don't have powers like Angel's or Nudge's." Iggy looked at him with concern.

The man however closed his eyes and shook his head. "I have her scent and I've tracked down harder targets, and I don't want anyone else putting themselves in danger unnecessarily. I'll go after her myself, and make no mistake, I'll come back with somebody, either Max or her kidnapper's body, or maybe even both if I prefer."

Derrin smelled the air once again, and then began walking to the west when Iggy tried one more ploy. "What if she's out of the state? Ari already has a huge head start, and you might need back up."

Derrin looked back at him, that self-assured smile on his face that seemed to be able to spread that same assurance to everyone else it touched. "It doesn't matter the distance. I'll find her if I have to run around the earth twice and search under every rock and crevice in the process. Your job now, is to protect your siblings. Don't stop for anything until you get to the house. Be careful and move swiftly, remember everything I've taught you. I'm relying on you."

The sandy-haired bird child closed his eyes in silent surrender. He then sighed, "Alright…I won't let you down, Derringer."

The redhead nodded and saluted him with a wink. "I'm proud of you, mon frère."

A slight flush came to the almost sixteen year-old's cheeks as his other three siblings gathered behind him. They watched as Derrin walked away, the fates of two of their siblings was in limbo and it was about to become three. The uncertainty of the situation was immense and the security of the flock was in grave danger. But Derrin had faith in his new siblings. He had trained Iggy in more than just how to use his powers, whether the boy knew it or not. However, his mind was being flooded with concern over Max's safety. If something happened to her…Just wait for me, chère. I'm coming for you.

Another shot of pain came through him, reminding him of the condition his body was in. It was mere determination and strength of will that was all that was keeping the effects of the mercury's poison at bay. Blood was still pouring from his many wounds, but he kept pressure on that discreetly, so as not to alarm the others. He had taken note of the facial injuries that Gaz had healed, confirming the suspicions that he had held about the ten year-old's hidden powers, but there had been no time for him to heal all of his many wounds. Not with Max's life at stake…

He was about to take off when he heard his brother's voice again. Turning, he saw that Iggy and the other three had already taken to the sky.

Ig looked at the redhead with solemnity, "Come back safe, Derringer. I don't want this to end up being a Pyrrhic victory(1)."

The man smiled at him and nodded, "You'll be a lawyer yet, Ig. Now get going!"

With that last farewell, the speed demon took off at top speed, become only a blur to their eyes, sending rocks and grass asunder as he went towards the west, through the forest and out of sight in less than two seconds.

The blind bird child waited for a few seconds after he was gone, before sighing and turning to the others. "Alright, we have to make time. We have about two hours flight ahead of us. Be careful and stay together, and keep me and each other in your sights at all times. We're crossing the border into Canada. Gasman, you're on my right flank, Angel is on my left. Nudge, you bring up the rear. Total goes into the backpack until we get to our destination. Everybody got it?"

They all nodded and got into formation. They were all tired and hungry, but none of them mentioned their discomfiture in the current crisis, their minds already consumed with concern for their absent comrades. Iggy flew off in the direction according to the map that Derringer's mind had painted in his own. He kept all his own tormenting emotions at bay, keeping them inside his heart for the moment. He was the leader now, and he had his charges to keep up with. He wasn't about to let Derringer down—to fail was not an option.

Angel noticed the tumult in her brother's head, but didn't say anything knowing it would make him agitated. There was however something more that was bothering her, other than her missing siblings that is.

It was the awesome pain that she had felt within Derringer's head. Usually pain in the subconscious plane, were the result of the conglomeration of messages sent to the body from the brain telling the body that it was in pain and to get some help. She could still feel the agony exuding from him, even when he was awake and talking, and she couldn't help but wonder what he must be feeling himself. He has many other, more serious, injuries than the ones Gaz healed. He's just like Max and Fang when it comes to hiding weakness. I just hope…

She took a small look behind her, in the direction the man had gone. The last traces of his mind were disappearing from her field of view.

Jeb had fallen asleep at his desk, going over some papers, when suddenly the sound of his cellular phone ringing awoke him.

Grabbing at the device, he pushed the talk button and spoke groggily, "Yeah?"

"Mission accomplished, father."

Suddenly, all the sleep drained out of the man's body as he recognized his son's voice. "Ari? Where are you? And you have Max?!"

"Oh, somewhere in the Rockies, and don't act so surprised father. I told you I would do it didn't I? Did you find Fang?"

Jeb sighed, "Sephiroth and his men are still tracking him. We'll send Viper over to help him as soon as she get's back."

"I left her in charge of the men, while I took Max. She wanted some playtime."

The man instinctually shivered in his seat, "Hmm, I hope she doesn't make a big mess that I'll have to clean up. What's Max's condition?"

"Oh, she's fine. Sleeping soundly right here next to me."

Jeb rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. "As long as that corner is taken care of…Good job Ari. I'll take care of things from here, just remember out bargain and be careful, son. Max is sly and a spitfire."

"I've know her since we were kids, father. I know what she's like. And I do remember our agreement, and don't worry, I definitely won't kill her."

There was a sudden click at the sound of Ari's line clicking off. Jeb put down his own phone and sighed, "Well, that's one down and one to go."

Getting up from his chair, he walked over to the obedience tank that stood a few feet in front of it. Knocking on the glass, he watched the girl inside look up at him painfully. "You should know that we'll catch Fang in time, with or without your help. If you talk now things might go a little easier on you."

The raven-haired young woman stood suspended in the water and spoke clearly through the microphone in the breathing mask. "I told you, like I told you the last time you asked: I don't know where Fang is. He didn't tell me anything, and even if he did, there is no possible reason that I'd tell you. "

Jeb looked at her curiously, "What did he promise you?"

She looked at him surprised, "What?"

"You made a deal with him, didn't you?"

"I don't know what—"

He placed a hand up to stop her, "Hey, don't underestimate my intelligence. I know Fang would have never told where he was going, in order to protect you. You see, when you've worked with these kids as long as I have, you start to know their behaviors. Fang wouldn't tell you where he's going because he probably didn't know himself. No, I don't blame you for not knowing. However, you've never denied helping him get free. And that—I do blame you for, Virgo."

The young woman snarled angrily at him from under the mask, "Then why all the stupid questions?"

"Psychological analysis." He said matter-of-factly.

Virgo strained against her restraints in fury, "'Psychological analysis'? That was torture, you bastard!"

He shrugged his shoulders, "'Analysis', 'Torture' whichever word is best for you. Now tell me, what did Fang promise you?"

She turned away from him, "Go to Hell."

He sighed and reached over next to him, throwing a switch. Suddenly, an open current switched into place under the tank, which was channeled by the water as well as Virgo's metal restraints. She screamed at the touch of electricity, but the flow wasn't enough to kill her—just cause excruciating pain.

Jeb watched nonchalantly as the girl scream and shook in the throes of agony and waited a minute before flipping the switch again. "You want me to repeat the question?"

Virgo breathed hard and sweat from her body mixed in with the water. "M—My brother…"

He looked at her strangely, "Your brother? What are you talking about?"

But the time of weakness had already passed. Her eyes of defiance flashed at him. "You figure it out, Batchelder."

He smiled at the sound of a challenge before switching the electricity back on. "You can bet I will."

Going back to his desk, he began typing into his computer, drowning out the sounds of female shrieks with the constant click-clack of the keyboard keys.

Ari hung up his cell phone and put it down next to him in the car as he drove. Leaning over, he pushed on the radio, but was all but shocked when he heard the loud screams of heavy metal coming over the speakers. That Viper….

He quickly turned the channel to something more interesting.

Soon the strings of a violin playing Beethoven's "Fur Elise" came over the air off some classical station. Breathing a sigh of relief, he looked over at the young woman sitting in the seat next to him.

Her hands were handcuffed to the headrest bars and her feet to the metal at the bottom of the seat. She looked so peaceful and beautiful, just sitting there.

As he drove the steering wheel with one hand, he moved a piece of hair from her face with another. Happy for the first time in a long time, he smiled as he looked back towards the road.

"Just sit tight, Max. We'll be home before you know it."

1: A Pyrrhic victory is a victory with devastating cost to the victor

25. Angelic Intrusions

Chapter 24

The night was becoming early dawn, but that didn't stop Derringer any. He kept his stalwart pace, only stopping from time to time to catch Max's scent in the air, and track the car marks in road. He reasoned that if he continued this way, he would be leaving Montana and entering the Rocky Mountain border between it and Idaho. Where was Maximum going? Or rather, where was she being taken to? There wasn't much up those old mountain trails…No facilities he could think of.

Suddenly, he tripped in his steps and landed on his knees, his body temporarily paralyzed by a sudden lance of pain shooting through his body, instantaneous violent nausea rushed through his stomach and he vomited raggedly upon the ground. A mixture of blood, food, bile, and other fluids shot through his system and heaved out his mouth.

Staying that way for a time until the pain and spasms subsided, he wiped his mouth and got up from the ground. Sighing, he laid a hand to his throbbing abdomen. His hand came away slick with blood and his skin covered in angry red mercury burns. One side-effect of quicksilver was that of sudden vomiting and other gastric problems, and the fact that he was starting to throw up was saying that the poison was progressing. He didn't need this! He didn't have much time.

Standing up straight, he started running again back on his track, his visage and path set. He couldn't stop for himself, she was too important to him. The fear that clawed at his mind, made the pain feel like nothing. He couldn't lose her. No matter what happened, he couldn't lose Max like he'd lost Beretta. Never again…

As he began to pick up the pace, the wind was not even able to keep up.

Sky sat that night, Kurt, Luke, and Tyler around the table near him. Joaquin stood by the roaring fire place in deep thought. All four had just listened to Fang's story as told by Sky, and the enormity of the subject almost blew their minds. Kurt was the first to speak, "That bastard…human experimentation is low, even for him."

Tyler spoke slowly, "How much of this mad science do you think Ares has done?"

Luke hunched his shoulders, "Fang and his friends are probably just the beginning. What I want to know is, what about all these kids' parents? Do they even know?"

"Not likely, Fang said that when one of his brothers found his real parents, and that they said that the doctors told his mother she had lost the baby. They've probably been stealing embryos and/or newborn infants that fit the profile they needed. The parents don't even know that their child is alive and well." The distaste in Sky's voice was plainly visible.

"This is completely blowing my mind. No wonder that boy doesn't trust very well. I wouldn't blame him if he actually did disappear right into the night." Tyler rubbed at his nose, removing his glasses. "Even though some of us didn't have model childhoods, at least we had some sort of past. At least we had some degree of freedom during our lives. To think of these children never even getting a chance at that since the day they were born…Ares loves to control lives, he's exactly like his father in that respect; maybe even more so."

Sky looked over to Joaquin, who had been silent the entire time, his back to them. "What's your opinion on this, Joaquin? You're pretty quiet over there."

The young man didn't move, his voice was soft but a trace of dangerous steel could be heard on its edge. "Sky…you know about my past…my childhood. How…I was left in an alley when I was only an hour old. How in the orphanage I was in, they chained the kids to their beds for hours on end, not letting us eat or drink or even go to the bathroom unless we did exactly what they said; whatever pleased them. Humiliation and degradation were the norm there. My childhood ended there; they stripped me of everything, all of what it meant to be a child, even of what it meant to be a human. And…and it—it was the last straw when they took…well, you know what they took—I ran away the first chance I could get. I was only seven, and living on the street was no picnic. I soon had whatever ounce of love, trust and hope that was left in me, wiped away by the poisonous grime of the city. Survival became my only creed, I did anything and everything I could to insure it. I learned fast. Thievery, car heists, prostitution, whatever I could do to stay alive, I did. It was either me or them, and I won that coin toss every time.

"When I hooked up with the Angels, it was only because of the money. I didn't care about the people, and even Damian's abuse didn't really touch me. I had experienced exploitation and cruelty from many others before him, and one more didn't hurt. Then…then Tōya joined up. He—he was the only person who actually made mefeel again. I had thought I had lost all my emotions, but then Tōya—I don't know how he did it—but he was the first one in a long time who could make me angry. He would constantly treat me like an equal, and he gave me what I hadn't experienced in a long time: respect. And I felt anger, an emotion I had long thought to be useless and therefore rejected. I didn't trust him, and thought he wanted something in return. However, when I finally confronted him about it, my anger having finally spilled into rage, all he did was laugh and smile, asking me if I 'felt better now'. And I was honestly surprised, that I did feel better. That expressing emotions to him, was easier than keeping them inside, and that Tōya didn't ridicule me for it. Slowly, I transformed when I was around him, I became someone I hadn't known I could be—I became myself. I learned how to trust again, and I learned how to care for others. That's when I began to truly hate Damian. I hated him, not because of how he treated me, but because of how brutal he was with my teammates, and especially with Tōya. He became my anchor line, my first friend, and he taught me how to be the man I am today."

Joaquin stepped away from the fireplace and walked to a nearby counter, where he picked up a bottle of Pepsi and drank a large swig in a rush. There was solemn silence at the table where his speech had brought back many warm memories for all the men present, of their friend and previous leader. They also all realized that for Joaquin to talk about his dark past so openly he had given them one of the most precious and delicate gifts he could ever give: his trust…knowing that they would never betray him.

The young man sat down at an empty chair, his face showed sadness and resolve. He looked over to Sky, who gazed back at him with a light, but knowing smile. "Fang's been through a lot, but hasn't crossed the lines that I have. There is still some innocence in there. He goes out there on his own, and either Ares will capture and break him, or the streets will do it for him. I won't let that happen. I won't let him go through what I went through."

A fire flashing in his eyes, he stated strongly. "I understand more about him than I thought I did. He and I are two of a kind: men who weren't allowed to truly live, treated as if we were less than human, yet still trying to make our own way in the world through blood, sweat, tears, and simple determination. I will protect him with my life, Sky—I want to protect all of them. We have to find Fang's brothers and sisters, and we have to stop Ares from doing this to anymore children."

The man nodded in agreement, "Sometimes, if we just take the time to understand someone before we judge them…we might just find some of them, inside of us. Keep that in mind next time you feel like being hostile towards one of my guests, ok Joaquin?"

The dirty blond nodded his head sheepishly, feeling ashamed at his behavior. Sky has a way about finding out anything and everything that's going on around him. "I apologize, Sky."

"Water under the bridge, Joaquin, and I know that you already apologized to Fang, and you get bonus points for that."

Sparing the young man any further embarrassment, he got up from his seat on one crutch and hobbled over, taking a Coke from behind the bar counter. He was instantly all business, "Tyler, look into our schedule and see what our agenda for the next month is going to look like, because taking down Ares' private Dr. Moreau and Dr. Mengele labs are going to become our top priority."

The young man nodded, getting up from his chair and leaving to do as he was told.

Sky then turned to the Lancaster twins, "Kurt, I need you to check our supply inventory in arms and our operation attire. See what we may need for sneaking into the Itex holes. When Ron gets back, he'll take over, and then I want you to report back to me for your next assignment. Luke, until Tony or Shawn gets back, I'm going to need you to go computer surfing. We need to find all there is to know about these bioengineering facilities. We know that Fang escaped from one, so there maybe one in the immediate area. But don't count on that, since neither we nor he knows how long he ran or flew."

The redhead got up to do his job, but his brother blanched in his seat! "Sky, you know I'm not computer savvy. I don't like them and they never liked me. I can hardly use Google, much less crack into Itex's secret files."

"I know Luke, I don't want you to do anything big. Just surf the internet for anything related to Itex and science. If you see anything suspicious, you mark it down immediately. You might not be good at computers, but you have killer instincts Luke, and that's what I'm counting on. When the other boys get back, I'll have them take over, and like your brother, when they do, you report back to me. Nothing grandiose, okay? Just simple surfing, alright?" Sky responded placatingly.

Luke sighed and then got up to stand with his brother. "Alright, I'll do my best…"

"That's all I ask for."

The twins nodded and headed off together down the hall.

Sky drank some more of the dark cola, before hobbling back to the table. At one point exhaustion hit him hard, and he tripped clumsily almost falling to the ground, before strong supporting hands held him up and led him back to his seat.

Crashing for a minute, he rubbed the bridge of his nose in fatigue. Opening one eye, he smiled at the man who sat across from him. "Spasibo, Joaquin."

The younger man nodded at the Russian word of thanks, but the worried look on his face didn't disappear. "You're still not well. You need to get some rest Sky, and I mean real rest, or you won't be able to lead this mission."

Sky stretched slightly, sensing the fatigue that was beginning to consume him. He had tried his best to hold it back, but his best wasn't quite cutting it anymore. "Maybe you're right…I think I will go to sleep for a while. But if anything happens, anything at all. You are to wake me up immediately. You got that, ljod babochka?"

Joaquin smiled lightly and nodded. Ever since Tōya's death, he had always felt slight queasiness in the pit of his stomach whenever he encountered harsh violence, like there was a nest of butterflies hidden in his soul wanting out. After a time, he was able to quell this feeling, by making his whole body cold and unfeeling in the face of threats, like he was a walking ice sculpture. Sky had known the exact feeling himself, when Joaquin had finally explained it to him. He said that Joaquin was like an ice butterfly, fun and fancy-free, but oh so dangerous. After a time, "ice butterfly" became Sky's pet name for him, though he usually used the Russian equivalent of "ljod babochka" saying it didn't sound as girly as him being called a "butterfly".

Joaquin got used to it, and he liked the name a little—as long as it was only Skylark who called him that. (Anyone else and he might die of embarrassment…)

"You know what your job is, Joaquin." Sky's voice broke through his thoughts.

Noting that it was a statement rather than a question, the man nodded. "I'll protect the boy. Make sure that no one gets to him. Be his bodyguard. I got it."

"Just don't make it look like you're his bodyguard. You know how boys are at his age."

"I would have loved to have had a bodyguard when I was his age."

"Well you got one didn't you? Or what was I? Chopped liver?" his boss looked at him incredulously.

Joaquin smiled and laughed a little at the look on Sky's face. He remembered the day they met very well, and how Sky had saved him from some of Damian's thugs. He could never forget that day, how someone, a complete stranger, risked his life for him, uncaring of the consequences. He had been about Fang's age at the time, and Tōya and Sky had shown up to be his bodyguards. He could do no other, than to protect Fang in the same way.

Suddenly, the sound of an alarm went off, shocking both Joaquin and Sky from their simple moment. A gun instantly found its way into the young blonde's hand, as the emotion left his face and his emotions became like ice. He strode in front of Sky, telling him absently to stay put, knowing instinctively that the man would probably not listen to him.

Skylark stood for a moment, trying to push his immense fatigue to the side, and draw up on any stores of adrenaline he had left. That alarm meant that someone had gotten into the Conservatory without access: they had an intruder. He had to protect his men, no matter how tired he was.

Tyler, Luke, and Kurt came through the passage way, each armed and dangerous.

"Well now, we haven't had one of these in a long time. I hope its not one of those nosy kids again, we'll scare them half to death." Luke smiled grimly, before taking the same pathway Joaquin had taken.

Kurt flipped a knife into the air, and then pushed it back into the sheath on his side. "Well, we can't take that chance."

He saw Sky put his crutch to the side, but he shook his head with finality. "You stay here Sky, we'll take care of this. Tyler, guard him with your life—make sure he doesn't go anywhere."

Tyler nodded and avoided his boss's infamous death glare, as he watched Kurt leave the room down the same pathway the others had taken.

"I don't need a babysitter, Tyler."

The man smiled warmly at the man, before stationing himself at the door way, a mechanical, transforming crossbow in his hand. "Yes you do, Sky. Or else you'd run yourself ragged."

The Russian-American sighed; he knew there was no getting around his men when they went into protective mode. They were almost as stubborn as him; maybe it rubbed off somewhere.

He stayed standing, knowing instinctively that if he sat down, he most likely would not be getting back up. Bending down slightly, he slipped a razor-sharp silver dagger from the sheath hidden around his ankle. Tyler nodded at him silently with approval, acknowledging the fact that every man in the house was always armed whether they were awake or sleep, sick or in perfect health. Sky had drilled that practice into their heads on more than one occasion.

They both stood at the ready, waiting in silence to see exactly how this new threat to their lives was going to pan out. Either man was quite ready to give his all, even his very life for the other or in the protection of any other Angel. They had a camaraderie, not born through blood, but through fire, and let the world be damned if they didn't watch each other's back with all that they had and all that they were.

Fang jerked awake at the blaring sound of an alarm ringing in his ears. At first he thought he was back in school and they were having a fire drill. But why were they having one in the middle of the night? And why was he sleeping in a warm bed instead of sitting in a hard desk?

As he searched his memories, the events of the last few months rushed back into his head. He was a guest at the headquarters of the Avenging Angels gang, and they had just told him that both his and their enemies were one in the same. They had offered him, medicine, food, shelter, protection, and a hand of friendship without wanting anything in particular back in return.

Sitting up, he looked around and tried to ignore the torturous blare. He knew that kind of alarm anywhere, they were all the same. It meant there was an intruder. Someone had entered and was a threat to Sky and his friends…

A dangerous red glint came into his cat-like eyes, and Blade laughed softly at the promise of the coming action. Fang, even more than Max in some respects, had always been protective of the ones who became close to him. And those who wanted to hurt them, paid very dearly.

As silently as he could he slipped out of bed and out the door, hardly noticing as he didn't walk but glided over the floor and down the stairs. He had an excellent memory and remembered where everything had been from his first time around. His senses were stronger and keener than he had ever experienced before. He could see every detail of the dark rooms and corridors, and he could hear the movement of every rodent and insect in the immediate vicinity. The hearts of every person in the building burned on his eardrums, and he could trace each and every one of their whereabouts. His claws grew out silently, and his eyes glowed with a slight scarlet luminescence as he made his way through the stone maze.

When he entered the small sitting area where Sky and Tyler stood in wait, the two slightly shivered at the sight of him. This was nothing like the wiry boy they were used to. Fang had taken on the guise of a silent and very efficient predator, his dark wings curled around him like a metallic cape, hiding the concealed strength that lay coiled up and ready to strike.

He looked at his host and simply said, "There are two intruders; stay here and I will deal with them. If there is a way to communicate with your other three men, give them a message…"

He easily sidestepped the stunned Tyler and started down the dark corridor ahead towards the entrance, before turning and glancing slightly at the bemused Skylark. "Tell them: Don't get in my way."

As Fang unfurled his wings and took off silently but swiftly into the darkness, Sky's voice spoke to him in a matter-of-fact manner, "Nothing lethal Fang, try not to make a mess. And remember…you can't have your cake and eat it too."

Fang smirked at the hidden warning, calling back behind him. "Don't worry, I won't spoil my dinner."

As he watched the kid disappear, Tyler looked at Sky who seemed perfectly content and knowing as always. "You're just going to let him go? He's only a kid."

Sky shrugged, "Let him prove himself if he so wishes. The boy's a fighter, and I can't hold back that instinct within him. Joaquin will look after him if things get too hairy."

Sky didn't have any worries that Fang couldn't handle himself, he was only worried that the mutant teen would kill the intruders and create problems he could do without. He had surreptitiously warned Fang that he could not feed off the intruders, and he hoped that that would be enough for the boy to curb his animalistic desires. The last thing he needed was for there to be a rumor starting up that the abandoned museum was haunted by the undead…

Reaching on the counter, he grabbed a radio and tuned it into a particular frequency. "Kurt? Kurt, pick up, I know you're there."

The radio receiver hissed with static for a bit before the male's voice picked up. "Yeah?"

"You're about to have some more help coming your way. He only asks that you don't get in his way."

Sky heard the man curse softly, "Don't worry about him, Sky. We'll look after the kid. Man, talk about headstrong and stupid…"

His blue eyes sparkled with amusement as he responded, "Yes, he is like you in many ways…don't count him out yet. He can surprise you."

At that moment, one of the "intruders" swore loudly as he helped his associate, who had through a drunken stupor, tripped the alarm to the hideout of the notorious Avenging Angels gang.

He knew that while there were probably only a few of the members in the old museum were inside, they would all be scrambling to capture the intruders and protect their home. The man looked behind him at the steel gate that had slammed down in front of the entrance, preventing escape, and another identical gate in front of them, preventing them from going any further. They were two rats trapped in a cage, and the cats were about to descend upon them in force.

The man sighed and looked at the man he supported on his shoulder, the man was a colleague, partner, friend, and unfortunately, drunk. They were so in trouble…

He stood there and looked at the other man, "You should have waited for me to disarm the security system. Now we're both going to be in the doghouse."

The male simply sighed and slumped to one side murmuring, "Dawn…"

He shook his head and turned away from the intoxicated man. He had been slurring through the words "dawn", "that bastard", and "kill" ever since he had found the man. He didn't know if they were just random words or were parts of coherent thought. He guessed he would only know when his friend was sober.

He spoke quietly to himself again. "Sky is so going to kill us…"

Out of the blue, a cold chill seemed to creep into the air and he shivered unconsciously at the sudden sensation of foreboding and doom, which had rapidly seeped into the room. Gasping slightly, he looked around him uneasily. He could feel a presence in the room even though he couldn't see it as of yet, and it was making the hair on the nape of his neck stand on end with apprehension.

A voice quieter than a leaf flying on the wind, but colder than a cutting artic blast, whispered almost directly into his ear. "Sky won't kill you…but I have no such compassion…"

The man swung around to face the chilling voice, only to be greeted by thin air. Uncertainty and fear swamping him, he placed his barely conscious friend on the ground and stood in front of him as some sort of protection. His hand went to his pocket and closed around the switchblade hidden inside. He spoke into the relative darkness, the challenge in his voice more for his own sake, than that of his unknown opponent. "Whoever you are, show yourself. If you know about Sky, then we should have no problems. Can't we come to an understanding here if I just explain."

Without warning, a hand shot out of the darkness and grabbed his throat in a vice-like grip! Instantaneously, he brought out his weapon and slashed the enemy's arm deeply once, before the other hand knocked the knife away without effort.

The hand didn't seem to move an inch, even though the dark blood was dripping continually from the wound. He tried to get the arm to let go, but the hand only drew tighter and lifted him up from the ground. From out of the darkness, the figure to which the arm belonged came forward. His eyes like burnished red fire, and his skin like silver, the dark wings unfurled upon his back made him look like some kind of fallen angel. The man almost laughed at the irony of that.

Though the creature looked to be only a boy, he had great strength, which he was currently using to put a crushing hold on his throat. The voice that came from his mouth was cold and dangerous just like the creature itself. "There is nothing to explain. You are a threat—and threats get eliminated."

Joaquin, Kurt, and Luke stood on the other side of the gate, listening to Fang work his magic. They couldn't see anything because the door and gate were made of solid steel, but they could still hear pretty well.

Kurt whistled quietly, "We should have him as a permanent interrogator. The kid's a natural."

Luke looked slightly worried, "Good, but I think he's a little violent, we can't let him go overboard. And I'm sure that guy injured Fang…Sky's not going to be happy about that."

Joaquin held up a hand for silence for a few seconds as he listened in concentration. After a minute, he looked back at the brothers. "Something's off here, that voice is muffled but sounds awfully familiar."

The other two got close and listened hard through the metal. The intruder sounded as if he was trying to buy some time, but Fang wasn't going for it. Kurt looked back at Joaquin, a frown etching his face. "Your right, if I didn't know better I could have sworn that was—"

Luke went towards the door, "This isn't getting us anywhere, and if this man is who he sounds like, this could all be for naught. We said we wouldn't be in Fang's way, but we have more of a stake in this then he does. And if that's just a kid, we could have permanently scarred the boy for life."

The other two men looked at the blond as he opened the hidden door between them and the intruders, before looking at each other and shrugging. One thing about Luke, was that he always liked to take the path of least resistance and face his problem. The two stood up straight and followed him, only to stop short when they saw that Luke had froze in the doorway, looking stunned at the scene that played before him and of the three figures in the room. Looking over his shoulders, Joaquin and Kurt also saw what was happening, causing both to gasp sharply.

When Fang had approached them in the darkness, they could hardly make him out. But here in the light, they could see that the boy had indeed changed. He seemed taller, but they then realized his feet weren't on the ground and he was actually floating an inch or two from off the floor! The wings on his back weren't totally responsible for that, as they still surrounded his body like a cloak. His body exuded power and strength, and his once sinewy physique was now clearly sculpted with well-built muscles. His fingers were keenly clawed, and the grayish silver complexion of his skin appeared to almost put a dark shadowy halo around his body. The red glow of his elliptical eyes and his fanged smile sent a shiver down their spine. Blinking heavily, the three men turned from the sight of the boy they had thought they knew, and redirected it towards the two intruders.

Instantly, they recognized both faces even though they had never seen the two in such rotten condition before: one so drunk he was barely conscious, and the other held by Fang's hand, as helpless as a kitten.

The one in question turned slightly from Fang and looked to them, relief washing over his face. "Luke! Joaquin! Kurt! Help me out guys, this…thing, won't listen to a word I say!"

The three shook off their surprise, and Joaquin was the first to wedge between the other two and approach the otherworldly teenager. Fang growled slightly as the man approached him, but the dirty blond was not to be intimidated. He placed a firm hand on the boy's crushing arm, careful to avoid the blood knife wound, but trying to will him to let go. "There is no danger here, Fang. This man is a friend, not an enemy. He will not harm you again, but you must let him go."

Kurt had moved to Fang's other side, while Luke had gone to check on the intoxicated male. Seeing nothing immediately wrong with him, Luke moved the man's shirt aside and showed Fang his back. "See, Fang? He has our symbol on his back. He and the man you are holding are two of ours. They are Avenging Angels like us, like Sky and Tyler."

The boy looked at the three of them and then at the telltale tattoo of wings, a dagger, and a halo. In his mind he decided that if the other guys vouched for the intruders, then maybe the two didn't pose a threat. He slowly released his grip on the other man's throat, Blade growling but following the body movements in acquiescence.

The man dropped to the ground and consciously rubbed at the claw marks in his neck. Luke leaned over to do a quick check on him, but didn't see much of anything wrong. Fang curled his wings back into the niche in his back, and his claws sheathed themselves in his hands again as if they had never been. His body relaxed and his feet landed on the ground, his eyes returning to their "normal" yellow-silver tinge. He looked over at Joaquin, who smiled at him and nodded in approval.

Kurt helped the man that Fang had dropped up off the floor, before helping his twin brother carry the other man by having him lean on both their shoulders. They headed toward the doorway as Joaquin took off his shirt and gave it to his Fang. The boy took it questioningly, and the other man motioned towards the bird-teen's wounded arm. "Keep pressure on that until Luke can fix it up."

The man then headed to a control panel just on the other side of the doorway, and began pushing different buttons. The alarm quickly ceased, and the gates rolled back up into position. Fang shivered thanks to the evening desert air that suddenly gusted in. The man he had been threatening looked at him suspiciously, as if trying to gauge what had just happened in the room that night. Fang on the other hand, took the time to actually look at the guy now that he was no longer an enemy.

The man was Native American, tall and muscular, yet lean. His skin was a dusty rose cinnamon and his hair was long and jet black, tied into a tight single braid down his back, weaved and secured with rough gemstones and leather. He had dark blue eyes that were almost black, and wore a modest ensemble of a black leather jacket, blue jeans, and a denim shirt. However, the large silver and amber earring, tapered with two white and black feathers, took all thoughts of "modest" away. He had a stern gaze about him, but seemed to be warm at heart. Fang hoped that the man wouldn't hold this little incident against him for too long. After all, he had already forgiven him for the wound on his arm that was hurting like blazes, even with the shirt wadded up against it.

Joaquin waved the two of them towards the door, closing them into the darkness as they passed through. The minute the door shut, overhead lights came on and the passageway was lit with hazy luminescence. Joaquin hit another button the panel next to the door causing the door to lock and the sound of a slight whirring to hit his ears. Fang guessed the man had just reset the security system.

Kurt and Luke, who were supporting the platinum blond drunk, had waited in the hall and upon receiving a nod from Joaquin, the whole group moved forward.

Joaquin meanwhile, slipped his gun back in his shoulder holster that was now plain to see since he was now bare-chested, and then pulled the radio unit from off his side. "Sky?"

The walkie-talkie like device hissed for half a second before the Russian gang leader's voice answered. "Go ahead, Delphi. What happened?"

"False alarm Sky, it was only Tony and Curtis."

"What happened? Both of them know the correct way of getting in. Let me talk to Curtis."

Joaquin glanced at the unconscious man, Curtis, awkwardly. "He's—ah—kind of indisposed now. Look, we're coming towards you. We'll be there in a minute."

The blond turned off the radio before turning to the other man, Tony, in question. "You'd had better get a good explanation together. Sky's already going to hit the roof because of Curtis. How the heck could you let him get that drunk?"

The male's dark eyes flashed, "It wasn't my fault! I found him like that, wandering through an alley. I figured I'd sneak him in, but he accidentally tripped the alarm before I could unlock the door. And anyway, who in blazes is the kid? I didn't know we were harboring vampires here."

Fang growled angrily and was about to say something, but Joaquin stopped him. "His name is Fang. He's the boy Sky brought in, and he has his seal of protection on that kid. You just hurt him, so for right now I'd be thinking up something to say when you see Sky again and he asks how Fang got injured."

"That was self-defense! That 'boy' was about to kill me!"

Fang suddenly wedged himself between the two men. "I wouldn't have killed you. I only wanted you to think that I would."

They both looked at the teen in surprise as he continued, "Sky made me promise not to kill you. I wanted to though…I thought you were trying to hurt my friends, and I just couldn't have that."

He smiled slightly and looked at the black-haired Native American, "I'm sure you would have done the same if you're as loyal as the other guys around here. My name's Fang, and yes, I guess I do kind of look like a vampire. But let's not get in the habit of calling me that, okay?"

There was a slight threat in the bird-child's voice that made caused the man to only nod in response. After walking in silence for a minute or two, he spoke aloud solemnly while still looking ahead. "Name's Tony…Tony Rainshadow."

Fang nodded in affirmation. "So I'm guessing the guy smelling like vodka, gin, and a slight shot of whiskey, is Curtis?"

Luke looked back at him, a slight crease from a frown on his face. "You certainly know your liquor."

The teen shrugged, "Never touch the stuff, but one of the guards we had, used to drink all the time. At first all the smells assaulted my senses, but I eventually was able to put each particular scent with the liquid itself. I now know most of the base components and about thirty different drinks that can be made from them, all by scent."

Tony smiled slightly at him, "It's good to know you've got a good head on your shoulders. I just wish Curtis had had one though. Sky is going to be furious…"

"'Furious' is not a strong enough word." Kurt murmured from in front of them.

Talking specifically to Fang, he asked, "Did Sky tell you about his uncle?"

"He mentioned that he had run away from him when he was young."

Luke continued the story, "Well, Sky's uncle was a severe alcoholic and it turned Skylark off the stuff completely. Also…Aya couldn't stand liquor either."

Tony took up where he left off, "Sky never said we couldn't drink, but if we ever do, we're careful not to let him know about it. And we all know not to get so totally drunk we can't function in our duties, or even worse, to become dependant on it. If either of those happened, Skylark would have our heads on a platter. I have no idea why Curtis would do something stupid like this. I've never even seen him with alcohol before…"

His voice trailed off as they neared the first room on the left. Tyler looked at the five of them with a curious raised eyebrow, but at Curtis, his face grimaced. He mouthed to Joaquin, telling him this was the last thing Sky needed. However, before Joaquin could even answer, Skylark himself, limped from behind Tyler and glanced over his men, taking in everything at once and quickly compartmentalizing them in order of importance. The look on his face was quickly becoming darker and darker…

Fang swallowed hard. Kurt was right in saying that "furious" was too weak a word to describe Sky's reaction. He could easily feel the waves of anger rolling off the man, and even though he was supported by crutches and as pale as a sheet, Karinkov's current disposition made all his men squirm under his piercing blue gaze.

After two minutes of silence, Sky spoke; his voice was like ice grinding on diamonds and brokered for no debate.

"Lancaster, take Fang upstairs to sickbay. Make sure he's not going to bleed to death, then get back here immediately. Other Lancaster, take De La Vega and sit down before he falls on his face. The rest of you—sit down now."

When Sky was in this mood, he would start to call them all by their last names. Luke knew there would be no conversation, no discussion, till their leader's orders were obeyed. He took Fang by his uninjured arm and led him hurriedly across the room and into the other corridor, taking him up the stairs. Neither of them talked, even Fang was intuitive enough to know that now was not the time.

Once they wound their way through the corridors to the all-to-familiar sickbay room, Luke motioned to Fang to sit down on the bed while he took out some bandages. Pulling the bloodstained shirt away, the older man gazed at the wound. "He cut you deep, but you should be okay. I'm going to need to give you a few stitches when I come back, but for now I'm going to put a tourniquet on your arm and you use the shirt to press against the wound, okay?"

Fang nodded and watched as the man went to work. The laceration didn't really hurt, but he guessed that was only because he was used to pain. He was also distracted by what had gone on downstairs. The two recently introduced Avenging Angels, Tony Rainshadow and Curtis De La Vega, had caused quite a stir, and somehow he had a feeling that there was a lot of explanation that had to go around before the issue could be resolve. Fang understood Sky's position. When a person became drunk, their inhibitions are severally lowered. A man could do or say things, which he would never have done or said were he cognizant. And if that person had possession of information that several other lives depended on and such secrets spilled out because of intoxication, the result of such an act would be more than disastrous…

Luke had finished tying the tourniquet extra tight and only slightly smiled reassuringly to Fang before leaving the room briskly; knowing Sky was probably counting the minutes.

Finding himself alone, he looked around the very familiar white room; the raven-haired teen sighed. He was starting to think he was never going to leave this room.

I'm hungry again.

Fang rolled his eyes. Shut up Blade, I've already eaten. You've had enough action for today.

Yeah, we merge quite nicely Fang.

The teen shuddered as he remembered the way he had looked when he had seen himself reflected in Tony's eyes as he clutched the man's throat. He had not known that he had become that savage…that Blade had combined with him so effortlessly and completely that he had not even sensed the change…

I prefer not to think about it.

It felt good to flex my muscles a bit. Allow me to do something for you.

The teen laid back on the bed and relaxed, resting his eyes. My aren't we generous? What could you possibly offer me? I already share my body with you. You know my needs.

What about that bird female that so fascinates you? Max-something? I don't know why you keep ignoring the emotions you have for her. It disgusts me, but even I can feel how much you pine for her.

Fang's eyes snapped open. She is none of your concern.

Blade shrugged, Hey, I'm giving you a gift here. So do you want to talk to her or what?

Fang sat up, not giving the pain in his arm a thought. "What are you talking about?"

Blade laughed, I'd stick with conversing in your head if I were you. People might start thinking you're going crazy.

You said I could talk with Max. What did you mean by that?

Just what I said. You can communicate with the female if you wish. Not for long though, we don't have enough energy.

"We"? How can there be 'we' if you never tell me anything? How can I talk with her?

You never ask me anything, Fang. I can do many things, only some of which I have already shown to you. Another one of my—our—abilities, is to use telepathic rapports to communicate with others. All you have to do is call out for her mind.

Call out to her?

Yes, but don't think to make a habit of this. I'm only giving you a break today, and after you've finished with all your mortal needs and such, you are to feed me, got it? We have a deal?

Fang thought about it. To be able to talk to Max again…after all this time? Alright, go for it.

Just call her to you, I'll do the rest.

He breathed a sigh, and then took a deep breath, Max?

Maximum Ride had never been a girl to panic. But right now, she felt downright terrified.

She was somehow trapped inside her own head, her consciousness fighting to awaken, but her body was totally irresponsive. She couldn't move, couldn't see, couldn't do anything but roam through her brain and wait—and God knows if frustrated her to no end!

The last thing she remembered was being ambushed by Ari and that purple-haired bimbo, and getting knocked out cold. After a while, her mind had tried to rouse her, but something prevented it. She had been trapped inside her subconscious, just as useless as if she had been in one of Jeb's cages.

While trapped there, her thoughts went instantly to her flock and if they were safe. She knew Derringer and Iggy would look after everyone, but she was still anxious as to if they were okay after the Eraser attack. She hated being helpless and unknowing. She didn't know how to handle it, and it was beginning to drive her nuts.


The young woman felt her body tingle from the sudden mental contact. Overwhelming happiness overtook her. What took you so long, Ange?

'It's me, Max.'

Instantly, she felt as if a dark, cold breeze had snaked up her spine, sending shivers over her. She now recognized the voice with shock, even though the pitch of his voice was slightly warped, it didn't take away from the unique lethal characteristic it carried.F-Fang? Is it really you?

'Yes, it's me. It—it sounds good to hear your voice again.'

She mentally shook herself to attention, Fang! We've been looking everywhere for you, ya big lout! Tell me where you are, right now!

'Thank you for the nice hello, Maximum. I missed you too…'

If she had been talking with her natural body instead of her mind, she would have found herself blushing. I-I didn't say I mis-ssed you. Who could miss a silent dominating jerk like you?

'I'm not dominating.'

Oh no? Every time I make a decision without consulting you first, you give me that "I-am-so-going-to-talk-to-you-about-this-in-private" look with those ridiculously dark eyes of yours.

'I'm glad you notice my eyes.'

Max blushed even more. I don't. Now tell me where they are keeping you, and when I hook back up with Derringer and the rest of the flock—

Fang totally interrupted her. 'Who's Derringer?'

She mentally hit herself in the head, remembering that Fang would know nothing about Derringer. She had always wondered how she would tell him, but now that she was faced with the chance, she decided to do the simplest thing.

Derringer is the newest member of our flock.

Fang was quiet for a minute or two, before he finally answered quietly. 'So…I'm gone for a month, and you've already gone and filled the spot, huh?'

Alarm shook her heart, followed quickly by anger and her quick temper. Don't be so dense, Fang. No one could ever take your place. Derringer is an addition to the team, not a replacement. He's only been trying to help us find your sorry butt. You should be grateful that—

He interrupted her rant again. 'How do you feel about him?'

What do you mean "how do I feel about him"?

'Well, the tone of your voice whenever you say his name is…is just plain obnoxious.'

She gritted her teeth. What are you? Jealous?


Of all the answers, she had expected to here. That wasn't one of them. Fang was jealous? Of Derringer? She had never thought such a thing was possible. 'Fang…'

Once again she was interrupted in her thoughts, but this time—it was an entirely different voice. The voice sounded similar to Fang's, but much more deadly and dangerous. Umm, I know this conversation is getting nauseatingly complicated, but I can't maintain the connection for too much longer, Fang. You need to tell your girlfriend, goodbye.

'She's not my girlfriend, Blade.'

Max didn't know why, but that statement stung her heart. Who is that, Fang? Who's Blade?

'None of your business, Max. No—scratch that. Let's just say he's "the newest member of the flock", okay?'

Fang, why are you being like this? You know what? We don't have time for this. Tell me where you are and don't change the subject this time.

Fang sighed, and when he spoke again, his voice had a little less malice. 'All you need to know is that I'm safe. But something they did to me…I don't know, but it's changing me, and I can't be around you or the flock right now.'

Fang, I—

'Sorry, but I can't…Good-bye Max.'

She felt his presence leave her and jumped out to grasp it in vain. Fang, wait!

But he had already left. And the feeling he had left her with, was worse than the one she had started with beforehand…

Fang lay on the bed, his emotions slashing at his very soul. A silent tear steamed quietly down his face.

I hate to bother you in the time of your trivial weakness, but I expect you to keep up your end of the deal.

Shut up…

Don't make me force you, Fang. Look, so what you're girlfriend got herself another shoulder to lean on? It's just another weakness that we can cut out of our lives.

The growl that left Fang's throat, could have been mistaken for a wolf's. I said, shut up!

Blade sighed. Hey, be mad at the Derringer guy, not me. If you have a problem with the guy, just take care of it.

Fang blinked. You mean try to talk things out with him?

Actually…I was thinking more on the order of—killing him.

Ari had been cheerfully driving at breakneck speed down the empty roads, when he first heard Max beginning to murmur. At first he just listened to her voice ramble, but then he began hearing coherent words, the words "Fang" and "Derringer" among them.

Anger and covetousness lanced through him, and in a snarling rage he pulled over recklessly to the side of the road. Reaching behind him, he fished for the anesthesia kit.

Filling the needle, he jabbed the hypo into Max's arm with violent gusto, listening with satisfaction as her murmuring stopped and her body was silently still once more. Sighing he returned the kit back to the backseat of the car, before returning his attention to the woman sitting next to him.

His unearthly eyes flashed as he lightly touched the skin of her face. Caressing her face and neck with an air of possession, he smirked with knowing approval when he heard her inadvertent moan.

"You are mine now, Maximum. I will let no other have you, and you can never escape me. I will make you forget those other men, and that is a promise. Now it can be a pleasurable or an un-pleasurable experience—but that is totally up to you…"

A/N: Hello, this is Irene Sharda and Merry Christmas everyone! This is my Christmas present to all of you. I hope you enjoy and don't worry, I already have started on the next chapter. Have a pleasant Christmas everyone and a blessed New Year!

26. Demon's Heaven, Angel's Hell

A/N: This is a small warning that this chapter is going to be more intense than my previous ones. It's a little darker, but just swing with it, okay? Happy Reading!

Chapter 25


"AHHH!" Max screamed at the abrupt enflaming pain that had suddenly awakened her.

Gritting her teeth in agony, she focused her eyes. Her right leg felt like it was on fire! What the heck—?

"Nothing like breaking someone's leg to give them a little wake up call."

She could recognize that cold amused voice anywhere in a heartbeat. "Ari…you heartless…"

She lunged at him in fury, only to find her arms restrained! Come to think of it, how was she standing vertically, if she wasn't standing? Looking up, she saw that her wrists were shackled in irons and chained to the ceiling. Looking down, she could see that her ankles were also chained together to the floor. She couldn't move much…if at all.

Ari stood in front of her, leaning casually against a far wall. "What's the matter, Max? Having trouble moving?"

She balled up her fists in anger, but stopped when she felt the chains begin to cut into her wrists. She took an assessment of her surroundings. She was somewhat bleeding from a number of scratched and cuts on her skin, her side and her leg screamed for attention that she was unable to give them at the moment.

The last things she remembered was getting ambushed, then being trapped in her own head. After that, she remembered Fang had somehow connected with her mind with the help of some guy named Blade. He had refused to tell her is location in all his stubbornness, and now she was finally awake and at the hands of a madman! And now, she was in an old, stone room, one with a low ceiling and a couple of flaming torches lit the place. It was like an old storeroom from the 18th or 19th Century. She looked once again at her chains. Better make that an old dungeon from the Dark Ages…

"What's going on here, Ari? What have you done with the flock? If you so much as—."

He shook his head in pity, "What's wrong? Don't you like being here with me? None of your precious "siblings" are here to distract you…it's just you and me."

He walked slowly in her direction, until he was just a foot away, before reaching out towards her.

Max closed her eyes and visibly flinched, expecting the worst. But instead, she felt Ari's cold hand lift up her chin lightly…almost, tenderly.

She opened her eyes to look at his pitiless smile. "What's wrong, Max? Did you think I was going to hurt you or something? Well…I guess you would expect that, seeing as you 'killed' me twice and all. Good thing, I don't hold grudges against beautiful women, right Max?"

She looked at him strangely, "What's with the compliments? What is it you want, Ari?"

Shifting small steps closer to her, until he was basically only a hairsbreadth away, Max suddenly felt very uncomfortable and vulnerable. Especially since she couldn't really move out of his reach…

He whispered quietly into her ear, "I want—your attention. All of your attention…"

Ari began caressing her face softly, his warm breath tickling her cheek as he whispered in her ear. "Tell me what it is you cherish most."

She cringed abruptly, trying not to throw up, as he lightly licked her ear.

He smiled, turned on by her response to his touch. Moving her face near his with a steel grip, he said lightly, "Please give me the pleasure of taking it away."

She could only look at the face of her captor in rage, with all her fury, she spit in his face. "Go to Hell…"

He only smiled his psychotic grin all the more, and with one hand wiped the spittle off.

Then tightening the grip of his other hand, he leaned in close—and forcefully kissed his captive, hard and with a passion!

As hard as Max tried, she could not get away from the revolting action. Her mind began to spin with alarm and disgust, her instincts beginning to cause her to panic. She tried to scream, but Ari's mouth deafened the sound. She could feel him press harder, his tongue conquering her mouth, obviously enjoying her terror.

Just as she began to think her mind couldn't take anymore, the Eraser finally let go, moving away as he lingeringly let go of her hair. "Maximum, you were always the woman for me. I knew it when I used to look at you through that fence, watching you play with flock. I used to feel left out so I'd daydream of just playing with you. That one day, you would notice me."

She gagged, trying to get the taste out of her mouth. "Ari, you were like, only three or something! And what are you now? Ten?!"

He hunched his shoulders, unconcerned. "You know, I can't even remember how old I am. But, it matters not…Max, what's age to us? Our genes have been so scrambled; we can no longer go along human standards. How many ten year-olds can do what I can do, Max? Maybe my puberty came early; I don't know…I really don't care."

Max had once met an insane young man. He'd been one of the failed experiments at the School, and had gone crazy after the many painful testing that had been done to his body. He had been just like normal when she first met him, but after the weeks began to go by, she could just see him crack and breakdown more and more, until finally…she knew his mind was gone. He'd start talking about strange things, and mutilating himself. He once attacked a guard and was later put down, judged as dangerous and a failure by the whitecoats. However, she could still remember the look in the boy's eyes. One of complete regression from the world, yet having an almost obsessive attentiveness within them…it was the same look Ari had at this moment.

The crazed Eraser in question went on, "It took me years to realize it, but I found out that one couldn't just hope for Maximum Ride to notice him—you had to make her. You had to command her respect and then her attention. You had to bend her to your will, to break her, and break her, until she was forced to notice you… So, I decided to do just that. How do you like it so far?"

She looked at him with pacification, not sure how deeply rooted his madness was, "Listen, Ari—"

"How did Fang gain your attention? Or that redhead swamp rat? How did they do it?" he asked suddenly.


"Well, it's obvious you're very affectionate towards Fang, anyone could see that. And after our brush in Delta 6, I can see you have feelings for that rugged Cajun as well. I just want to know, how they bent you to their will so easily."

"It's nothing like that, Ari."

The Eraser went to the table and poured out a couple of glasses of what looked like vodka. "You know I'm not supposed to drink alcohol until about ten years from now, but I have no idea if I'll live that long, I mean—Erasers don't have a very long lifespan. Not that my parents care. Father doesn't care about anything but his experiments, and mother……Am I even allowed to call her that? To me, she's just Anne, the whore who runs the place and married my father, yet no one can ever know about that, least of all their own son. I bet they aren't even cognizant of my relation to them, much less my age."

He brought the two glasses with him and stood in front of her, downing one with one shot. He then threw the glass to the floor shattering it to pieces. "They were more interested in you, one of their organisms in a Petri dish, than they were with their own flesh and blood!" He squeezed the other glass so tight that it began crack.

Then suddenly he began to relax, and smiled that grin again. "But I guess, even you couldn't hold their attention for too long. Now they have something even more interesting to observe. Your "brother", Fang? Remember him? Or have you been around the scarlet stallion so long, you've forgotten? I thought you two had something going on? I really didn't take you as the philandering type, Max…"

"Shut up!" she snapped, trying to hold down her anger. She didn't want to upset Ari, he was obviously unstable. "Where is Fang? What did you do to him? What did you do to Derringer?"

"I suggest you forget the both of them, Max…I mean, it's not like you'll ever see either of them again. Want something to drink?"

He offered her the other glass, but she ignored it, looking at him with contempt. "Answer me!"

He went closer to her, his voice changing slowly from dangerously pleasant, to dangerously menacing…

"I don't have to do anything you say, Max. You're in my hands now…and that's the way it's going to stay. Now I suggest you drink this, because I might get offended, and not give you anything else for say…two weeks?"

"I'd rather die than drink that. And how would I? You have me chained up." She answered back snidely.

He looked at her pitifully, "Oh poor Max! Here, let me show you."

He reached out and grabbed her neck with a vice-like hold! She automatically gasped, trying to get air into her lungs. But instead, he began to poor the fiery liquid down her throat! She began choking, but he still kept pouring the stuff down, until she had no choice but to swallow!

He kept pouring until it was all gone, then throwing the glass away, he held her throat and kept it that way until she had finished the entire horrible liquor. Then with an almost caring gesture, he leaned up and licked the spilled drops from her the side of her lips, causing her to repulsively shiver. Finally, he let go, allowing her to breath once again.

As she sputtered and coughed violently, he got another glass from under the table and poured another drink, this one for himself. He looked across at her with pleasure. "I'll feed you later, but I just want you to get used to your new home for now. Maybe, after you learn to behave, than I might think about unchaining you."

She looked at him with venom in her eyes. Her rage overriding her reason, her voice was slow and cold as she spoke. "Why…in the world…should I do that?"

He arched an eyebrow at her, "Because I want you to, of course."

"Well, how about—I don't feel like it?" she retorted.

Ari shrugged and walked up to her nonchalantly, "If you feel that way, how about this?"

Without warning, he raised his hand to her, slapping her violently across the cheek! His voice was below zero, as he watched a long red welt rise up on her face. "Either you learn to behave like a good girl, or—you get punished. Is that clearer for you?"

She looked back at him vehemently, trying to ignore the pain that was coursing all over her body, from the jarring of her broken leg that the slap had caused. "Do you think I'll ever do anything you say, Ari? You may keep me here, but I'll never willingly obey you. Is that clear?!"

To her surprise, he turned away, laughing lightly for a few minutes before finally explaining. "You know? My father asked me that same thing when he gave me my orders. He told me…not to kill you, and asked 'is that clear?', and of course, I said yes. I promised him. And you know what? It might surprise you Max, but I do keep my promises. I'm not going to kill you."

He then looked over his shoulder at her.

Max couldn't help the shudder that went up her spine, at the deadly glint in those glowering eyes. "Ari…"

He turned fully around, and she was surprised that his face swiftly lost its angry tension, and his eyes softened. He almost seemed…well, normal and a little sad, and looking at her tenderly and with affection. His hand lightly stroked her skin, barely making contact. His voice for once had lost its harsh bite, and instead was soft and poignant. "I'm sorry, Max. I really am. But you really give me…no other choice. I guess you always did like to do things—the hard way…"

With a sudden movement, he pulled her into his embrace, his head lying on her soft chest as he spoke. "I thought you might have learned by now, Maximum. I don't hate you. In fact, it's just the opposite. I want you Max, and I want to take care of you."

He let go, stepping away only slightly, but leaving a hand over her beating heart. She looked at him warily, not liking where this was going…something was really wrong with Ari, and these sudden mood swings were making him unpredictable and very, very dangerous. She didn't like the touch of his hand on her, but she had to placate him until she could get herself free—and then it would be no more kid gloves.

Yet, her mind shifted to thoughts of Iggy and Gasman, Nudge, Angel, and Total, and especially…did Derringer make it okay? Was he alright? He had been right in his warning against the operation tonight; she had walked right into a trap, which had caused her flock to be in danger—was she a complete idiot or what? She would definitely apologize to him, when they met again. And what of Fang? What had he been afraid to tell her? And why didn't he want to return to them? Mentally shaking her head, she had to remember that she had a more immediate situation right now. Pushing all thoughts of her siblings from her head, she pushed herself to concentrate, she had to find a way to get Ari to let her go and get out of here.

"I'm sorry Ari…but I don't need you to take care of me. I'm sorry I wasn't quite there for you when we were together at the School. I thought your father would have taken care of you; I didn't know then that he was a conniving, underhanded jerk. Somehow, whatever was done to you turned you into—"

She abruptly stopped, screaming out as an audible crack was heard in the air. As she was talking, her captor's face had remained still, while his arm had noiselessly snaked up her arm to her hand, and dislocated her right index finger!

He smirked at the way she tried to smother her outcry and the look of vehemence that flooded through her once understanding eyes. "Now that's the look I like to see. You are so much prettier when you're angry, then when you're filled with pity. What goes on between my father and I, is none of your concern."

Another crack resounded in the dungeon-like chamber, but this time she was able to hold back the cry of agony as he dislocated her second right finger.

Ari smiled at her resilience and the slight anger at his virtually nonexistent father quickly dissipated. How could such a woman rile up these angry emotions within him one moment, and then calm his heart and comfort his being the next, he had no idea. "You truly are beautiful…"

However, as his hand came down from her throbbing digits to stroke her face, she quickly leaned away, avoiding his touch. Her voice was just as cold her actions; all sympathy for him was gone. "If you think you can flatter me into submission, than you are dead wrong. I want nothing to do with you, and the sooner you get that into your head, the better. You won't let me go? Fine, I'll get out of here on my own, but when I do, there's going to be hell to pay, Batchelder!"

At first, he seemed surprised, shocked even, at her outburst. Then that self-same smile came back upon his face, and he laughed softly before turning from her and walking back over to the table. Max didn't know what to expect out of her archenemy, but she would hold her own, she would not break. Ari had never truly beaten her before, and she would not start now.

However, when he spoke to her again, she couldn't help but shiver at his tone of voice. "I thought that maybe you might have learned Max, that I don't give up and that I don't take rejection well. I thought you understood that, but I see now that I'm going to have to discipline you."

"And what will you do to me Ari? I've won against you many a time. What makes this time any different?"

He kept smiling at her gently, but she watched with wariness as his canines became longer, and his fingers turned into sharp claws. "I'm much different than the last time we fought Max. And I think I will show you how different……tell me Max, have you heard of the 'Three Threes' of life?"

When she didn't answer, he ticked them off on his hand. "Three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food, chose any of those three and a normal human body's biological functions will completely and utterly cease to operate."

"Ari, this is no time for useless facts—"

She stopped suddenly as he grabbed her throat again and gazed into her eyes. "Of course you aren't a normal human, so to you it will probably only be like excruciating torture. So……which 3 do you want, Maximum?"

She snarled back, indignant at his behavior and ignoring the pain from his claws digging in her skin, "Do you think you can scare me, Ari? There is no torture you can do to me that I shall fear. I have been through enough pain in a lifetime not to even care anymore."

To her surprise, he laughed out loud, "Ha! Oh Max, I do love that spunky spirit of yours!"

He looked at her with slight admiration and some other emotion she couldn't quite identify. "Your indomitable nature, is what makes this a challenge, it's what makes this fun. You see, after during the two years since we have last seen each other, father has been continuing to perfect the Erasers, giving some of us who survived the procedure, more abilities than even you can guess at. Viper, the female who you met out in the woods, is one such example; I however, am another…"

Max looked at him in examination, "I don't notice anything special, Ari. But then, if Jeb is the same whacked-out nut job I know he is, than what you're saying is probably true. But what does that have to do with anything?"

Ari shook his head in pity at the unknowing and overconfident young woman. She didn't know that the situation for her was completely and utterly hopeless. He had longed for her for more than three years now, and now that he had her in his grasp, he was never going to let her go. She was putting on a brave face now, but she would soon know who the actual master here was. She would soon know the full meaning of the word "agony", and that he was her only salvation. If she ever wanted the pain to stop, she would have to surrender herself to him, and he would only agree to total and complete submission. He had complete ownership of her, body and soul—she just didn't know it yet…

"Max, the powers my father gave me, manifested as being cerebral. I can't use them often because they tax out my brain easily. However, I'm going to show them to you, Maximum."

She rolled her eyes in return, "I feel sooo lucky…"

He laughed softly at her standard response, before coming closer once again and grasping her chin firmly and looking into her striking eyes. He lightly kissed her lips, not caring that she flinched at the intimate touch. Activating his power, his eyes suddenly dilated and began to glow bright emerald green, power radiating off of his body in waves!

Max took one look into those ethereal luminescent eyes, and her body suddenly lost all function. She was sucked into those blazing green orbs, unable to stop herself from drowning within their depths until she was totally surrounded by their intense power, like they were some sort of wormhole. What was happening here?

Before she knew the full extent of what was happening, she found herself in total darkness. There was no light at all, and neither was there a floor or a ceiling, no way to tell up from down, left from right. She knew vaguely that this was not physical reality and that she was not really here, at least not literally. This was all happening somehow in her mind…or at least, she thought so…

She had no idea how she gotten to this place, but the sensation—or the absence thereof—was not pleasant in the least. What the heck did Ari do?

'Patience is a virtue, Max.'

She flinched at the sound of Ari's amused voice answering her thoughts. "How the heck are you in my head? And how can you here my thoughts? Are you a telepath too now, Ari?"

She blinked surprised that her voice still worked in this place, wherever this place was…

Her thoughts were interrupted by Ari's pleased laugh, "No, my little Max-y, I am not a telepath. I am something much more interesting."

She twisted and turned around in the darkness, but could not see or pinpoint anything, much less her demented archrival. His voice seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere. "Where are you Ari? Show yourself! What is this place?!"

"This place—is mine. Just as you are…"

Her anger flared, "I belong to no one."

She could almost feel his smirk from there as he laughed lightly at her, "That's where you're wrong, Maximum. I do own you. However, it seems that I have to prove it to you, baby. As I said, this world is my world and here: my wish is your command. I can do anything here, but it won't affect the physical world. I can show you anything that has ever existed within the imaginations of man…maybe I'll even show you those Three Threes I was talking about… Rest assured, our corporeal bodies will be absolutely fine…I can't say the same for the mind though."

"You're insane, Ari!" she screamed angrily.

He kept speaking, ignoring her. "Did you know Maximum, that it is truly the mind that determines pain? It's the electrical impulses traveling up and down your spinal cord that tell you you're hurt. Now, you say you can do fine without me, Max? I'm going to hold you to that. I'm going to leave you now. And I'm not going to return until you beg me to…until you plead to become mine. When this is over Maximum, you'll understand…you'll understand completely."

Before she could respond again, she felt his presence leave her alone in this forlorn abyss. Well, this is just great. What was she to do now?

She slightly regretted her short temper, knowing that it had lost her any chance to bargain with Ari, who she did have to admit, had the upper hand here. But that boy could be so irritating! How dare he presume that he owned her? Like she was some pet that he could pamper or neglect at will? That he had a right to kiss her…to touch her? Just thinking about where the Eraser's hands had come in contact made her want to take a shower underneath Niagara Falls!

And now he had left her in this strange black hole, telling her ominous threats and/or ultimatums. And though she held Ari in the highest disdain, she had to wonder what new powers those dastardly whitecoats had given him. Was he able to construct illusions and screw around with the mind of his victims? Was that what this was? Some giant, grand illusion?

A tingle began to crawl up her spin, and while she didn't notice it at first, it grew in strength the more it traveled. It was suddenly joined by others of its kind, each stronger and more intense than the one before it. Max at first just simply rubbed or scratched at the irritating sensations, but it stood to fact that that soon wouldn't cut it.

The irritant sensations soon became vaguely painful, and while Max tried to put the pain behind her, to block it from her brain like she always did, her mind simply wouldn't work as she commanded it too! She instead began to feel anxious. Panic began to consume her mind and her heart became heavy with distraught. She had never considered herself an emotional woman—so why were her feelings going all over the place without her permission? It was making her uncomfortable and she didn't have time to deal with both her inexplicable bleeding heart, as well as the bizarre sensations of pain!

She suddenly burst out into tears without notice, and her body curled up in a futile effort to stave off the pain. W-Why is my body b-betraying me l-l-like this…?

Of course no one answered her questions. No one helped to comfort her emotional and physical aches and pains. And it was a certainty, that no one told her—

That this wasn't even the half of it…

As his eyes slowly returned to normal, Ari looked at the unconscious young woman chained up in front of him. His chest heaving in an effort to try to catch his breath, he wasn't at all surprised when his legs crashed beneath him and he fell to the ground. Using his new mental powers always had a habit of wiping his energy reserves dry, and his body was often immobile for at least a half hour afterwards.

But he had to admit, it was well worth it.

Max would be stubborn enough to not call out for him for at least an hour's time, but she would fold. They all did eventually…

As he looked up at her, he smirked as he heard soft but painful moans coming from her throat, and small, silent tears begin to fall down her cheeks. Yes, it wouldn't be too long now…Max was many things, but she was still part human…and it was that human part that was going to be her undoing.

His new powers were quite strange and uncanny…but they made him more of a threat that anything the Flock had ever seen. Even Viper had respect for his abilities, and that was saying quite a lot when it came to her.

In a nutshell, using his own mind, he could send his victim into their subconscious and en masse, trap that person there. His mind would then jumpstart the nerves all over his victim's body to send messages of different varieties of physical impulses from all over her body. He was single-handedly able to tell her brain that anything was happening to her body, and it would believe him. He spoke with the brain of his victim through neuron synapses, deceiving it into thinking that all sorts of pain and torture were happening to the host body. He could say that she was having a car crash, fracturing twelve bones, he could say she was being burned alive in a five, he could even say that she was being drawn in quarter, and her brain believed every single lie—and responded accordingly, sending back out signals of the very agony that one would experience in such situations. Yet, it didn't stop there.

At the exact same time, he also sent signals of sensitive situations such as the death of a family member, a relationship break-up, a betrayal of friendship, and of course her emotions would respond fully to every command. Not knowing what to expect, her normally hardened resolve would quickly crumble to nothing.

It was the perfect form of torture.

One that didn't harm the victim physically, but it was just as effectual as any form of possible corporeal punishment. The longest anyone had lasted under his powers, was an hour and a half. Many that came before had even lost their minds…

But he wouldn't let his Max get that far. He would let her feel enough pain just to let her know who held the true power. Just to give her enough in order to break her.

He was going to possess her body and soul before all this was over, and by taking control of her thoughts, he had already won half the battle.

He smiled wildly as he heard the female bird-teen's moans escalate into whimpers and tiny screams. Oh Maximum, you never did like things the easy way. I truly didn't want to do this, but you always have a habit of forcing my hand, little one…

Curtis De La Vega rose his heavy eyelids painfully, the lights in the room burning his cornea. What the heck happened? His head felt like a fuel tanker hit him square in the face and left him to die. Raising a hand to his aching skull, a cold voice suddenly interrupted his muddled thoughts.

"Feeling better?"

Hearing the voice of his friend and leader brought some relief to him as he took in his surroundings. He had some how gotten home to the Conservatory, and he was now safe for the most part, among his friends and adopted family. His vision getting better, he could see that he was in his room, lying on his bed, his old clothes removed and replaced with new fresh ones. Glancing over to the area where the voice had come from, he saw Sky leaning against the wall watching him, a pair of crutches lying slack against his arms at the ready for his use.

A thought of worry came over Curtis as he wondered what had happened to his young leader in his absence, but the vice on his brain suddenly got tighter and he had to close his eyes in order to detract from the pain. However, in the midst of it, he still dutifully answered his boss' question. "My body feels like road kill, but other than that, I think I'll be fine."

Sky had a strange dark look on his face, and Curtis wondered even more what had happened in his home. The sapphire-eyed man took up the crutches and limped towards him, he looked haggard and tired, but the anger that lit his eyes seemed to temporarily revitalize him. "Something wrong, Sky?"

The man ignored his question and instead, laid a hand across his forehead, before taking up his wrist and measuring his pulse. "No fever…and your pulse seems fine."

The Hispanic nodded, "I told you I'll be fine. I just need a little rest is all…

Sky lay his crutches against the nearby nightstand and sat on the bed, before looking directly at him with those striking blue eyes of his.



A sudden sharp crack resounded through the room; the sound bouncing off the walls in one continuous echo until it finally dissipated…

Curtis could not contain the shock as a raging shade of scarlet spread across his right cheek, smarting stings traveling across his flesh in little sparks and lances. Of all the things he had expected, he had not remotely thought that Sky would so violently slap him! He had known the man was mad, but why the heck was he taking it out on him?

"What in the world was that for?!" he asked disbelievingly.

Karinkov stood there seething, "How could you do such a thing, De La Vega? You put this entire group at risk with your hedonistic behavior!"

He could only look up at him with surprise, not understanding a thing the guy was talking about. "What—"

But Sky would not be stopped, "Look, I'm a sensible guy. I know that some of you drink, and I'm patient with that. But to get drunk and then fall apart along the alleys of the city?! I'm glad Rainshadow found you before the police—because then both you and I, and all the rest of the Angels, would really be in trouble!"

Certain things began to click in his head as heard the irate man's tirade. "Wait, you think I was drunk?!"

"I don't think—I know! I had to throw your clothes away because of the stench! Of all my guys, I didn't think you be as irresponsible and selfish as to—"

Curtis jumped to his feet, no matter how much it made the pressure on his brain quadruple and the room to start swirling around him. "Sky, listen—"

The Russian turned from him, foreign curses coming from his lips. "God, Curtis! I'm not going to kill you for what you've done, but if you start giving me excuses for your behavior, I might be sorely tempted…"

"Skylark, LISTEN—TO ME! Por favor!"

When a continued silence went on for the next couple seconds, Curtis gripped the bedside and lowering his voice, continued. "Please believe me, Sky. That wasn't how it was. I would never endanger the team like that. You guys are my familia, and you know how much that means to me. Family always sticks together, hermano."

Sitting back down, the torture to his head becoming too intense, he looked at Sky, trying to judge the other man's emotions. The alpha male looked over his shoulder at him sternly, but without the spark of anger from before. Both men were quiet for five very uncomfortable and long seconds, before Sky was the one to break the silence.

"I'm going to listen to your explanation, Curtis. You deserve at least that. However…if your excuse isn't up to par, you will have to face the consequences of your actions, correct?"

Curtis nodded and settled back on the bed as Sky got comfortable in a nearby chair. The Russian-American sat back and closed his eyes before nodding his head, indicating he was ready.

Pushing back some stray blond hair from out of his face, he began his sad and strange story, a slight undercurrent tone of bitterness and hatred in his voice.

"You know that I lost my parents when I was fourteen and it was my older brother, Julio, who took care of me after that. When I got involved in the F.A.s, Julio was still there for me and everything, even though he totally disapproved. However, my brother for all his protectiveness of me, he didn't take care of himself enough. He was killed in an accident with a car."

Sky's eyelids fluttered slightly at the reiterated news. He remembered when Curtis had shown him a picture of his older brother. The man was the exact opposite of his brother, jet black hair instead of platinum blond, short instead of tall, blue eyes instead of brown, a look of trust a kindness on his face rather than the scars of street life. But he could tell that the two had been close, and that Curtis had truly been crushed at the fact of Julio's death. It was something he encountered multiple times. The others of his little clan had similar stories of sad childhoods and it was like a common past time. But that didn't make it any easier to listen to…

Curtis continued, "I know for sure that it was a threat from Damian to keep me in line, but as always there was no proof. I did stay in the Fallen Angels, but I rebelled silently in my own way. Assuming the same mantle of guardianship that Juilo gave me, I took on the responsibilities for Julio's wife, Sandra, and their two sons that my brother strangely named, Dawn and Dusk."

A slight smirk and a coughing laugh came from Sky, but the man just nodded and told him to go on.

"Well, since the day of his death till now, I've been doing my best to take care of my sister-in-law and the boys, even if I can only visit them once or twice a year. This was one of those times I thought I could get away to see them, since we has just finished that big trafficking bust and you had given us the weekend off. They still live in LA, but seeing them all again is well worth the risk. It's not that far to get there by air."

"The risk would have been lessened if you had told me of them before." Sky interrupted him plainly, "Most of us have no family outside the gang. They would be put in danger because of our harsh lifestyle. I have a responsibility towards you, and that transfers to them as well, because they are your close kin. I honestly hope you didn't go commercial, did you?"

The other man looked at him incredulously, "What do you think I am? Loco? Of course I got Rex to take me."

The gang leader nodded in approval. Rex Hampton was a pilot they had met two years ago on a job in New York. Ares had had the man's license revoked when the African-American had had the "audacity" to try to press charges after Ares had raped the man's wife. Stockholm making the man's life a living hell, Sky had approached Rex with a proposition. After all the details were worked out, Rex and his wife Angie, moved to Arizona with them. They helped Rex get his own private plane and a fake license that could stand up to the most intense scrutiny. Sky took care of the couple and in return Rex provided secure air transport for the Angels when they needed.

Sky smiled a little as he thought of the man who was now expecting a child in six months. He hated being a burden on him at such a precious time, but Rex was always more than willing to help, feeling that anything was worthwhile to take down the evil reign of Ares Stockholm.

"Thank you for telling me now. Later this week, I will take measures to make sure your sister-in-law and her nephews are protected, even if that means bringing her here." He blinked as he looked back at the Hispanic male, "However that still doesn't explain why you were intoxicated…"

A flash of distress and anger went through Curtis' eyes, "I wasn't intoxicated—I was drugged."

The other man looked at him with surprise and concern, "What?"

He turned away in frustration, but it was not aimed at his leader. "When I got to LA, there was a problem. I went to Sandra's place but she wouldn't answer the door, so I had to pick the lock. When I went in, I found her curled up on her bed crying her eyes out, Sky…"

Karinkov began to get a sick feeling down in the hidden depth of his stomach. "What happened, Vega?"

He looked up at his leader with tear-welled eyes. "He took them Sky! He took my nephews—mis sobrinos! Sandra told me that three months ago, some men dressed in black, broke into her apartment during the night. They beat her and trashed the place. And then…¡Dios mío! They stole the boys right out of their beds, Sky! They ripped them from their home, from the safety of their mother's arms!"

His hand curled into a fist so tight that he was starting to draw blood. "And then she said that that the police have been not any help in the least. They basically said to her face that she was lying, that the boys had simply run away and that she had fallen down some stairs. Can you believe that! Of course you and I both know who's truly behind it, and I was just too thoughtless to think that he wouldn't find out about the only blood kin I have in the world. I should have known! Debo ser la persona más estúpida del mundo! Que jodido bastardo…"

Sky watched the man for a time, His heart going out to the person he held as one of his little brothers, wanting to watch over him and protect him from danger. "You are not stupid, tsipotchka. Ares doesn't work in the same reality as those with sanity. I think sometimes I go insane a little…just so that I can understand how he works. Now I know nothing of your nephews, but are you absolutely sure it was Ares who was responsible?"

Curtis' face was totally downcast as he nodded, "I had been hoping for another answer myself when I promised Sandra I would find them. I know Dusk (he's the elder) will look after Dawn. Those two have always been really close, especially after Julio was murdered. I had hoped to find them somewhere in the city, even though after three months, even I knew that was a slim chance. I eventually told Sandra that I would talk to you and perhaps have her moved somewhere safe. I came back here as fast as I could, but my mind was totally consumed with worry, I didn't know that while I was driving my car, I was being followed."

Blue eyes narrowed at the revelation, "'Followed'? By whom? And did they follow you from the plane or—"

The Hispanic shook his head in response. "No, they don't know about Rex or anything. They followed me in a dark van on the road once I got back here. I actually didn't pay any attention to them until they tried to run me off the road."


"They kept trying to cut me off and push me off the path, and eventually it worked and I skidded into a ravine."

The older man looked down at him with worry, probably thinking that he should give his man another examination.

Curtis continued, "At some point I fell unconscious, and the next thing I knew, they had me inside the van, tied up, shooting stuff up my arm. They tried to question me, asking me to betray the Angels. One guy even tried to drown me, by dumping several bottles of alcohol down my throat to try to make me talk. I of course showed them all, that we Angels are loyal only to one man and that I would never betray him, even when the drugs were making my head spin, and the alcohol—even though I kept spitting it back in their faces—made me want to puke. But that's when they threatened me with the lives of my nephews…"

Sky had to sink back to his seat from the enormity of it. What was Ares plan this time?? "How did you get out of there?"

He sighed in return, trying to stave off the piercing headache that came with remembering. "When they found they couldn't get anything out of me, they left me alone, drugged and tied up, thinking I wouldn't be a threat. While the idiots were eating, I picked my handcuffs and got out of there. I don't know how far I got before my mind caved to the drugs. The next thing I knew, I was here in sickbay."

The room was silent for a few tense moments as Curtis looked toward his boss, who was deep in thought. He knew that there was a chance that the goons he had left behind had followed or tracked him and he would never know it. He hoped that this would not be the case, for then it would be quite true that he had put his entire family's lives in jeopardy.

As if knowing his thoughts, Sky spoke to him solemnly without looking up from his steepled hands. "I doubt they followed you here, Curtis. Tony found you, and he would have made sure that no one was trailing you. What I'm worried about is that somehow, those men knew you were in the immediate vicinity, and that Ares may be getting to close to actually finding our location. I'm going to step up security and then I'm going to start Tony on our newest assignment."

He looked up at him, his blue eyes intense with purpose. "We will find your nephews, Curtis. You have my word. You have proven your innocence and I apologize for not letting you explain in the first place."

The man smiled crookedly, "Gracias, Sky. I'm not going to delusion myself into thinking that Ares hasn't done anything to Dusk and Dawn by now. They've been missing for three whole months, and they might actually be injured or…worse."

"You mustn't give up hope, for Sandra's sake. For right now, you have to heal and be strong for her. You've been in a car crash, had unknown drugs pumped into your system, and even tortured into talking. I'm going to—"

But as Sky reached for his medical supplies, he winced as he muscles screeched in protest. His body was warning him that if he didn't get some actually sleep soon, if was going to drop again, and this time it was going to take more than soup and water to get him back on his feet again.

Curtis saw the intense weariness that seemed to overshadow the young man. He felt slight guilt over the fact that he was in a way, partially responsible for that. "Why don't you rest Sky, I'll be fine."

The older male smiled back in appreciation, his face apologetic. "Taking care of the kid has really worn me out."

It took a minute for Curtis to remember who 'the kid' was. "Oh, you mean that strange boy you found in the park? I think you said his name is Fang; everyone's been waiting to meet him. Is he okay?"

He nodded, "Yeah, we moved him to another room. We think he may be linked to another one of Ares' plots and so we're going to be keeping him with us for awhile."

Skylark took up his crutches and got to his feet, "Despite your reassurances, I'm not sure of your health. You might have a concussion or something and not know it. I'll send Luke up here to check you out, and don't give him any grief okay? Tomorrow, I want you to call your sister-in-law and tell her to get her things packed. I'm going to talk to one of my LA contacts, Evan Lyles, and see if he can't take her in for the time being. I don't like the idea of her living alone in a place that Ares knows where to find her. Evan lives outside the city with his sister, and they have enough money and security to protect Sandra. Will that satisfy you until we can actually find a new home for your cuñada and rescue your sobrinos?"

Curtis felt a swell of pride and unworthiness of his leader, who was doing so much to help people who weren't even his own. Sky had lost his entire family years ago, and his Angels were all he had in the world. Because of this, he treated his Angels as his kin, and their problems were his problems.

"Thank you, Sky. My boys mean the world to me. They're all I have left from Julio, and I'd die before I let another Stockholm take away my family again."

The other brushed his black hair behind his back, before heading toward the door. "Rest for now, it's practically daylight. I'll see you again later, okay?"

The Hispanic nodded and leaned back onto his pillow as he watched his chief depart. He silently wondered, how any of them had ever gotten along, without a man like Skylark within their midst…

Sky had only walked three feet when his legs once again collapsed under him. Falling hard to the ground, he groaned in both annoyance and soreness, before trying to reach for the wall to attempt to push himself back up.

Suddenly, hands grabbed him around the torso from behind and pulled him up. As his arm was pulled around so that he was supported by the other's shoulder, he looked over into the brown eyes of his second-in-command, who was sporting a toothy grin.

"Overworking yourself again, pretty-boy?"

Sky gritted his teeth, but knew that Tawny only used the aggravating nickname as a slight rebuke. "When did you get back?"

The brunette grabbed the crutches with his other hand as he held onto his leader solidly. "Twenty minutes ago, Joaquin filled me in on what's been going on here in my absence, and I agree with the others in that you need to rest—right now. I'm going to take care of things for the time being, and absolutely no arguments."

His blue-eyed friend smirked, "And what makes you think I'm going to give you an argument?"

Tawny looked over at him peculiarly, "Because I know you."

He laughed softly, "Right you are, tovarishch. I will relent this time however. But I expect you to keep the others on task. I've given most of them their orders, but I do need to tell Tony to add two more targets to his list."

"Did you chew Curtis out? Because I'll gladly do that too." He said with a steely tone to his voice.

Sky's eyes drooped slightly, "Yeah, about that…it's more complicated than we thought. Let's walk and talk."

As the two made their way to the dormitory floor, Sky explained to Tawny all that Curtis had told him, as well as the new twist in Ares' constant attack against them. The man listened closely, his anger rising in that Ares had had added innocents to their dangerous little game of cat and mouse.

"Looks like we're going to have another fight on our hands, but I still want you to sleep. You need the rest. I'll make sure to keep the troops on their toes."

Sky sighed, the tiredness spreading even to his resilient eyes. "Finding those two boys are going to be our top priority. Tell Tony to get on this now, and Luke to go up and check out Curtis; he might have some head injuries."

"And what about the kid?"

"Tell Joaquin to look after him tonight. I have not forgotten that boy's fate." His free hand twisted into an unyielding fist. "That svin'ya…these children all deserve a future, but with men like Ares, no one is safe. Experimenting and scarring their young bodies for his own personal gain….I won't rest till I've found and freed all these children from that scum's twisted grasp. My own child was denied a life, but as God is my witness, I vow to make sure Fang, Dawn, Dusk, and all of those captive children are freed from the Stockholm shadow, once and for all."

Tawny simply gazed at his superior and friend as the man spoke his determined and obdurate words, a glimmer of admiration in his hazel eyes. Even after all these years, his love and respect for Skylark never seemed to fade. In fact, if anything—it was intensified.

As they made it to Sky's room, Tawny pushed him onto the bed and placed the crutches far out of reach. "The next time I see you out of bed, I want you to be able to walk with your own two feet. You understand me?"

Sky laughed a little as he looked up at his stern taskmaster. "Sometimes I think you're too good at giving commands, tovarishch."

He shrugged his shoulders in return, while making sure food, water, and the radio and cell phone were within easy reach of the bed. "Well, what did you expect? I learn from the best. And you know what? You've been calling me that 'toe-va-retch' or something word for all these years, and I've never stopped to ask you what it means exactly. It had better not mean something extremely stupid, or cute, or something."

Those azure eyes could not have gotten more mysterious sparkle, if diamonds themselves took their places. "Remind me when this is all over, to give all you guys a lesson in rudimentary Russian. You're a smart man Tawny, I'm sure you'll figure it out eventually."

The man simply answered by splashing him with water from a nearby bottle. "You have got to be the most frustrating man I've ever had to work for."

He received his answer as he walked out the door, the same, now empty, plastic bottle hitting him playfully hard in his back. "Insubordination is a crime, you know."

Tawny laughed as he closed the door. "It's a good thing I'm already an outlaw!"

She could feel every bone in her body, break and shatter into small pieces.

She could feel the petals of fire's flames lap and eat at her skin and tissue, burning her all the way to the bone.

She could feel the unbearable pain and pressure of a man's body on top of her, ready to ravage her for the tenth agonizing time.

She could feel the tears run in torrents down her face, from a broken heart she didn't have an explanation for.

She felt all these things all at once, and yet all separately, and her brain was beginning to crack and fragment in an effort to make sense of it all.

She was in Hell, and she welcomed death to come and claim her at anytime, even unconsciousness would be a mercy. Yet, no such mercy was allowed to be bestowed upon her. She was wide awake to ever agony, to every amount of anguish, to every possible torturous amount of suffering that was afflicted upon her. She had tried to resist, but it only became worse and worse as time went by.

And how much time had gone by? Minutes? Hours? Days? Months? Years?

It didn't matter, time didn't seem to exist in Hell. Nothing mattered anymore to her. She couldn't stand this any longer.

She was going out of her mind…

Her voice called out, only a slight cracked whisper. "Help-p me…."

Feelings of doubt came at her from her heart. No one can hear you. No one can help you.

A small, almost forgotten sliver of determination came to her, and with all the remaining energy that she could mange, she shouted out with her mind a cry for aid. "Someone…Anyone…HELP ME!!"

Iggy and the remaining flock soared through the early morning sky, not stopping for rest until they reached their destination. Everyone had been quiet since Derringer had left them to go after Max. Even Nudge didn't say a word, but chose to fly closer to Gasman, while Angel ended up next to Iggy.

The youngest of the flock used the silence to send her mind out to look for any type of danger. At one point, her mind-net caught on to something. And subsequently—she screamed.

The other three turned to her in alarm, and Ig quickly swooped down to catch Angel as she fell out of the sky, her concentration broken.

The three hovered over Angel in midair, as she regained her bearings.

"What's wrong, Ange?" Gazzy asked anxiously.

The young blonde girl trembled in her big brother's arms as she remembered what her mind her seen.

"I-I saw Max…she called out for help."

Iggy cocked his head to the side in thought. "Is she close to us?"

Angel shook her head, "No, but her shout was so loud that I couldn't help but pick up on. Probably every telepath in the country could."

Tears began to spill down her face, as she remembered the misery and pleading in that outcry. "I-I've never heard Max like that before…she—she was in so much pain…"

Iggy grimaced and took the small girl in his arms, pressing her head to his shoulder. He then continued flying on their present course, the other two following him, the worry in his visage, reflected in theirs.

He was worried about Max, and Angel's news had only increased his concern. However, it also increased his resolve. He had to get the flock to a safe location soon. He would protect them, and he had to hope above all else, that Derringer would find Max before something—irreversible happened.

Fang laid down motionless on his bed, his mind drifting thorough a dreamless sleep. It had been one eventful night, and his body needed to heal the wounds that still dotted his flesh.


Jumping up from the mattress, wide awake, Fang gasped as the horrible images flashed through his head, accompanying the voice, that shrieking outcry for help that seemed to rock his brain.

He knew that voice, and he knew she was in pain! Max!

Instinctively, he jumped from off his bed and unfolded his metal wings as he walked to the window. Sky and the others would understand. It didn't matter that he had no idea where she was, he had to save Max. His heart felt if it was being squeezed in an iron vice as he remembered that scream, that pleading howl for relief. If something happened to her…

However, just as he pulled up the shutter, his body suddenly froze!

Are you out of your mind, Fang?

Shut up, Blade. What are you doing to my body?

Our body, and I'm not letting you go out and do something stupid that could threaten my life.

Fang growled in outrage and anger, so much that he spoke aloud. "Listen! This is MY body, and I'm going to save Max whether you approve or not!"

No, you're not…

Watch me.

Fang pushed all his strength against that of his unwanted "houseguest", and found that he could move ever so slowly if he applied all his will.

Don't test me Fang. If you die, I die. And it will be a snow day in the Sahara, before I risk my life for some dirty-blond broad, who sleeps with the very next man who catches her eye.

Don't you DARE talk about her that way!

Anger filled his heart and he pushed even harder against Blade's will, and finally stepping onto the window sill, the night breeze hitting his face.

You're not going to leave this room. This is my last warning to you.

Blade was tired of arguing. If his vessel wanted to be naive and stubborn, he would just have to use a firmer hand on the restless young boy.

Fang no longer responded, but instead began to reserve his strength in order to successfully launch himself off into the skies.

Suddenly, he screamed and howled as large blue sparks of electricity crackled all along his body! Each charge lanced over his skin and through his flesh, muscles, and organs, his body smoked and sizzled under the onslaught.

His body still weak, Fang was quickly conquered by the pain, and he tumbled off the window sill to the hardwood floor of his room, unconscious. Needless to say, the minute the bird-teen was reduce to steaming immobile heap, the electric charges that had plagued him disappeared, leaving his body to recover.

Inside of Fang's mind, Blade sat on his side of the brain and watched his vessel's side, slip out of consciousness. Well, it wasn't like he hadn't warned the boy, but then again, Fang was mostly human. Humans had a habit of becoming obstinate idiots, at the most inopportune times.

It was time Fang realized that while this body was half his, he was the more dominant and the stronger of the two. Fang was subject to him, and not the other way around.

One day he would have total control…but until then, he would have to bide his time.

Blade watched without comment as the human called Joaquin came into the room in worry, probably having heard Fang's screams. He looked over the body and quickly carried it back to the bed, before closing the window and then, interestingly enough, sitting down and relaxing in a corner of the room, probably to personally look after his bizarre charge.

Blade didn't mind, he liked it here. For humans, the Avenging Angels had proven interesting and worthy company. Here he had food and shelter, and he was perfectly comfortable—he was in no hurry to leave.

Derringer fell to the roadside once again in pain. But this time, it wasn't from his wounds, but from the psychic blast he'd just received.


He could recognize that voice anywhere, even within the telepathic bolt that had just hit him. The images and feeling that accompanied that shout for help drew a shudders down his back, and the pain in the plea awakened the feral heart within him.

Derrin had yet to tell the flock the obvious nature of his own spliced genetic make-up. However, to learn the truth, one only had to look into his eyes….

Nearly fifteen percent of his DNA was feline in origin, and it was that part of him, that was aching for control now. For, cats were both very protective and very dangerous—but above all, they were territorial.

He had already marked the flock, and above all, the flock's female leader, as his own. And he would destroy any challengers…

The redheaded Cajun stood slowly to his feet, his golden eyes aglow in the early morning night. His fingers curled into fists, and his nails became longer and curvier, with keen points.

How dare they touch HIS woman? How DARE they hurt her?

He let his rage simmer low within his abdomen till it smoldered and boiled into a flaming inferno. Nothing—No One—was going to come between him and what was his.

Using Max's plea as a beacon in the night, Derringer sped up the mountain paths like a freight train down the metal rails, his mind focused on a single goal…on a single woman.

Ari, who had recovered from his zapped energy, sat at the table looking at his writhing captive in amusement. She was so beautiful when she was in agony…

He too had heard her mental cry for help, but he had ignored it.

When she called for him, and only him, to save her—that would be the point in which he would go into action.

Until then, he was quite satisfied to just watch his Maximum struggle.

Max felt real despair take over her as her last call for help went unanswered, except with more agony and hopelessness. She had no more strength, no more plans, no more ideas, no more tricks…she had nothing…

As much as the thought should have piqued her, she wasn't strong enough to be concerned about her pride any longer. At this point, she would do anything to be released from this infernal, damned place.

There was only one way…

"Ari…A-Ari…" the feminine voice was broken, breathless with malaise.

After a few minutes, his voice nonchalantly returned to her after having been absent for what felt that an eternity, "Hmm? Did you call me Max?"

"P-Please…no more…"

"'Please what, Maximum?"

"Please Ari…I-I can't…I can't take it anymore…"

"You want my help, Max?"

A shudder came to her voice at his sweet, condescending tone. "I—I…"

"What was that?"

Her voice began to sob "I'm begging you…take me from this place."

"Then tell me the words that I want to hear."

She felt the tears flow even more, her spirit crumbling as her pride was torn from her piece by piece, and crushed into pulp. What else could he possibly want from her?! She had already begged him!

Then she remembered his words…

'I'm going to leave you now. And I'm not going to return until you beg me to…until you plead to become mine.'

Her heart began to join the remains of her pride, as Max waveringly formed the words on her lips.

"P-Please…Ari…let me become…y-yours…"

She could almost feel his smirk of triumph. "If I release you, Max, you will belong to me, to do with as I please. Is this your choice?"

Her head hung, and she no longer had the strength or want to pull it up again. "Yes, Ari…t-that is my…my choice."

The minute she said the words, the pain and misery that had pushed her to the brink of insanity, abruptly disappeared! The darkness that had held her prisoner also receded, bringing her back into full consciousness.

It took her a minute to realize she was back within reality, but even that didn't make anything any better. Gasping to catch her breath, she realized her body was covered in sweat, and real tears covered her cheeks.

She shivered as she felt Ari walk up to her and lick the tears from her face. But even then, she didn't look at him.

She didn't dare look at him.

To look at him, would make everything real…

Ari smiled as she didn't resist his touch. Lightly caressing her cheek, he whispered into her ear, "You are mine now, Max. Do you understand what that means?"

She tried to turn away from him, but he grabbed her chin roughly and forced her to face him. "I said do you understand what that means?"

She bit her lip, trying to look away from those intense eyes.

"It means…that you own me."

The Eraser lowered his lips to her own and kissed her possessively, loving how the object of his affections, didn't defy him as him as he dominated her mouth.

He released her and smiled as she looked away from him, her eyes glistening from unshed tears. "You won't regret your decision, Max baby. I'm sure you'll come to take pleasure in your life here…I know I will…"

She watched silently as Ari walked away from her and out the door, locking it behind him. She then let the tears flow again. Whatever shards of dignity she had had left splintered, as she realized that she had just surrendered to her archenemy. Her spirit had been broken, and her soul was shattering.

How was she supposed to face her flock now? What would she say to Fang? To Derringer?

Did she even care anymore?

She just wished the blessed darkness would come and swallow her up again—and just end it.

She didn't feel like fighting anymore…she didn't have the strength…

27. Torturous Interlude

A/N: This is another dark chapter just as warning, and to all my readers, I am thankful for your patience and persistance. You make a young college girl proud to be a writer! ; )

Chapter 26

Dr. George W. Batchelder was going over some research samples in his office, when his phone suddenly rang. He looked at it for a second, knowing that it was the wee hours of the morning, before picking up the receiver. "This is Batchelder."

An amused voice came on the line, "How's my favorite brother?"

George laughed as he instantly recognized the speaker. "Well fine, considering I'm your only brother. What's happening, Jeb? Life in the southwest treating you well?"

Jeb sighed, "We have a little bit of a situation here that's running me ragged, but other that that, everything's fine. Anne sends her love."

"Give my sister-in-law a hug for me. So, Jeb, what can I help you with?"

"I need your help in a little experiment of mine. You're the expert in DNA recombination, and I needed to ask you some advice."

George sat back in his chair and relaxed, "Ask away."

Jeb laughed lightly, "Well, I can't ask you over the phone…matter of national security, you know the drill."

"Aww, you're working for the Feds again? That's gotta suck."

"We never stopped working for the Feds, but let's just say that this time I want to keep it between us, okay? I'll see you in three or four days."

George almost fell over off his chair. "What are you talking about? You're coming here?!"

"Well, how else am I going to ask you my questions, big bro? Don't worry, I'm giving you a heads up so that you can have time to hide any of your pet projects away by the time I get there." The other doctor stated with amusement.

The older Batchelder ran a hand through his hair and gave an unsteady chuckle. "Well okay, I guess. Do you need anything set up for you?"

"A small standard lab will do fine; I'll only be staying for a week or so. I need to confirm some things with you, that's all."

George began to write down all the things he need to do to get ready for his brother's arrival. "All right, I'll be waiting for you. Call me when you have further plans as to when you'll going to arrive."

"You got it, take care George." Jeb said with finality.

"You too, little brother."

As George hung up the phone, he quickly began dialing other numbers. While he loved his brother and would share anything with him, he knew his employers wouldn't be too happy about a doctor from a rival organization studying their experiments.

He was already talking with another member of the staff, seeing if they could clear out some of the extra supplies in the west wing, when his doors suddenly burst open, revealing one of his lab techs. "Dr. Batchelder!"

George looked up at him in annoyance, "What is it? I'm on the phone here."

The young man pointed outside the door, "Specimen M4308 is on a rampage again, we can't keep it sedated!"

The doctor stood up in annoyance and anger before stalking out of the room, trailed by the flustered technician. That's it! This was the third time this week, and he had had about enough out of the little…thing! M4308 was going to learn the rules of his facility. He was not going to have all these problems that his younger brother seemed to frequenting lately.

Bursting into the observation room, he beheld a familiar sight. His orderlies and techies, as well as a few security agents were stacked on top of the struggling creature, trying to avoid its gnashing jaws and flying fists. In fact the beings true form could no longer be seen under all the bodies. All that was now visible of M4308 was a single golden eye, filled with pure hatred…

He rolled his eyes at the obvious disdain, and picked up a vial from a nearby shelf. While he hurriedly prepared the correct dosage into a hypodermic, he irately berated his staff. "All of you are pathetic! It takes six of you to control him?!"

However, the men and women were too busy holding down the test subject to pay close attention to his words. George sighed and moved in between the people, and jabbing the needle none too gently into the M4308's hindquarters.

The subject growled with outrage as it felt the drugs being shot into its bloodstream and felt the affects of the tranquilizer immediately. Becoming almost totally paralyzed, the techs and security could now slowly begin to get off the test subject, letting M4308 lay there unmoving upon the cold tile floor.

Putting down the hypo, Batchelder shifted a hand through his hair and ordered everyone out of the lab and to check on other projects, only telling two orderlies to stand outside the door and wait for his call. When everyone had left the room, he slowly approached the creature on the floor, squatting down to look at it straight in the eye.

"Now, you know this is unacceptable. You can't keep on in this manner; you're giving both me and my men headaches."

M4308 looked up at him, its voice coated in venom and his razor sharp teeth gnashing. "I can solve that problem easily for you—how about I remove your heads completely?"

George smiled down at it and shook his head in amusement, before kicking the creature solidly in the face, sending him flying across the floor and into the wall!

Walking over nonchalantly, he picked the unfortunate subject up by its neck collar, ignoring the bloodied face and piercing golden orbs. "I will not be having anymore of these outbursts from you, M4. You will do what I tell you, when I tell you to do it. Do you understand me?"

M4308, or just M4 for short, hissed in anger, before spitting in the man's face. That was being nice. If he wasn't paralyzed, he would have put his hands around the head doctor's neck and squeezed until there was no tomorrow.

Taking a hand to his face, George simply wiped the offensive liquid off with his coat sleeve. He looked up at the young creature who had been making trouble for him since day one, before cocking a slight smile.

"I guess that's a no…"

Before M4 could blink, his head cracked to the side, as George slapped him hard across the face! His brain felt as if it were bouncing on the back of his skull…

He was suddenly thrust up against the wall, his bruised arm twisted cruelly behind his back as the doctor sneered in his ear. "You know, we've been through this before and I've tried to be nice, but you've stretched the limit of my patience and my mercy…"

With a sharp wrench, George snapped M4's arm in half causing him to cry out in pain. However, the outcry only lasted for a second as he simply sucked in his breath, trying to brace himself against the agony, determined to not let the doctor see his tears. He had promised himself when he had first been brought to this place, that he would not let any of these bastards ever see him cry. Even after all the horrible things that had been done to him—after they had stuck him with so many needles, he'd swear he was a pincushion, or when they gave him blood transfusions ten and fifteen times a day so that he probably didn't have any original blood left in his body, or even after the excruciating transformations that his body went through, that were against man and nature—even after all that, he would not give into the butchers. He would never give in.

However, he wasn't prepared or what the Angel of Death had in store for him today…

George let go of his broken arm, but kept a tight grip on his good one while he whispered in his ear, his tone of voice like he was making some routine house call. "Here is what I'll do, M4. If you're good and play nice with everyone—I'll let you see M5 for a few minutes."

The young test subject who had once had name and a life, one which was now all but stripped from him, let a sharp gasp escape from his lungs. His voice was no bigger than a murmur, "You'll…let me see him?"

George went on as if he hadn't heard anything, "He's been quite lonely without you. He's always calling out for you. He cries all the time…"

M4 felt his hand curl up into a tight fist, the feeling beginning to return to his body. "Leave him alone, Batchelder…you can do anything you want to me, just don't touch him."

"Using threats is not a good way to ask a person with total control for a favor, M4. Yet, you really do care for him, don't you? I understand, I have a younger brother myself you know."

The dark-haired doctor smiled, deciding to use M4's real name to get his point across, "Dusk…I'm sure you want to see your brother, as much as he wants to see you. However, if you keep acting this way, I'm afraid that I cannot allow you two to interact. I cannot have your disrespectful and unruly behavior to taint him. Now, I'll only give you this offer once. If you reject it, not only will I have to keep the two of you apart, but for every time you misbehave, since it makes no sense to punish you, I will punish him instead. Do you understand now, Dusk?"

As feeling began to return to him, M4308, the young man who used to carry the name Dusk De La Vega, felt his body begin to tremble all over in both fear and anger. Thoughts of his little brother and the suffering he must be facing crowded his mind, not allowing him to even think straight. But all he could think of, was how the doctors had mutilated and experimented on the small boy's body, like they had done to his own. Pride refused to let him give in to the satanic mad scientist's demands; however his pride was quickly overshadowed by the demands and duties of his heart.

"How…how do I know if…if you'll keep your promise?" he asked through gritted teeth.

George seemed to have to think about that, "Oh I don't know, I guess you'll just have to trust me, won't you?"

His fist became even tighter till it began to draw blood. "I'll never trust you…."

The man blinked at him in interest, "Trust is not the issue here. Will you start acting correctly, or will you make your brother suffer?"

The teen turned away, his face becoming stoic. "You…won't be having any trouble from me. I swear it…"

George felt the boy's body grow slack once again, even though the drug had probably fully worn off by now. Capturing the M4's jaw with one hand, he turned the kid's face around in order to look straight into those golden, almost inhuman, eyes of his—eyes that now betrayed the huge war between his principles and his feelings and duty to his brother, raging within his soul.

He smiled.

"I'm glad you decided to do the right thing, M4. I would have hated to have done something…drastic. Now, I want you to lie down quietly on that lab table while I have someone take your blood and dress your arm, ok? I don't want to have to be called back in here, because if I do, I'm going to give custody of your brother to a certain doctor friend of mine…and well, I think you know who I'm talking about, don't you…."

M4's eyes instantly flew open in horror, as his entire body began to tremble in fear and terror. All former anger at Batchelder drained from out of him, and was soon replaced by a total visage of pleading placation.

"Please! I'll do whatever you ask! Just please don't let Him near my brother! I swear, you can do whatever you want to me, and I won't say a word. Just don't let Him have Dawn, I beg of you!"

"That outcome is all up to you, M4. It's up to you to protect your little brother. It's always been that way for us older siblings hasn't it? I've had to protect my little brother when he gets in trouble too. I understand what you're going through. Now, lie down on that table like I told you and I'm going to send the nurse and orderlies in, okay?"

He saw the alarm in the boy's eyes had lessened some, as he gave a sharp nod by way of answer. Letting go of his experiment's body, the teen flopped to the floor with a sense of desolation surrounding him. He looked up at him for a minute, a small spark of that characteristic rage and resistance still lit from within the back of those saffron spheres. However, it was a spark that was quickly snuffed out once he put his hand suggestively on the cell phone clipped to his waist.

He watched in silence as M4 turned away knowing he was beaten, and slowly crawled with his one good hand, to the stainless steel table in the center of the room and lifting himself up onto it. Lying flat on his back, the teen didn't even flinch as he snapped closed the shackles that fastened him to the cold metal surface.

Smiling triumphantly, George patted the despondent child's cheek in the same vein as a parent reassuring their child. However of course, the effects of the two separate situations were totally opposite.

After leaving M4308 to his underlings to make sure his wishes were realized, George Batchelder moved down through the halls of his compound, checking with certain departments to make sure that everything would be ready for Jeb's arrival.

As he walked through one darkened hall, he swore angrily, reminding himself to get a janitor to fix the stupid lights down on this level. He continued walking in the darkness however, knowing the place like the back of his own hand.

That is, until he heard a voice, that despite its distinct pleasantness, made the blood in his veins feel like it was made of ice water.

"It's a shame really. Specimen M5475 is quite a work of art. There are many things I could imagine doing with him…"

George turned to the source of the voice, the mysterious doctor's cigarette glowing in the shadows that engulfed him and masked his identity. But the head doctor didn't need to see his face in order to know who he was. His mouth fell into a grim line as he turned to the man who had been a guest at his facility for the last three weeks.

"You were listening?"

The man's voice never changed from its normal sweet tone, "Naturally… I have to say that I enjoyed how you dealt with M4308. Broke his spirit in under twenty minutes, not totally mind you, but well enough to be able to control him for awhile."

His eyes narrowed at the amused figure, "And I'm sure you could have done better?"

Soft laughter filled the hallway, "Of course…"

George shook his head as a grin came to his face, "I only let you be alone with him for fifteen minutes last week, and now M4 is terrified of you. I don't know how you do it."

Taking a long drag on his cigarette, the doctor responded, "I didn't really do much, he's almost too old for me to educate properly. Standard procedure was enough to find out what I wanted from him. You can do what you want to him for all I care. However, M5 is still quite trainable. I've never had a chance to be alone with him, but looking over his file and observing him and his abilities, I find him quite interesting. I'll take him on if you want."

Batchelder shook his head after a second, even though his smirk got wider, "No, I'll give M4 a chance to shape up, but the second he starts rebelling again, you can have a crack at the brother. However, right now I have to finish getting ready for my own brother's arrival early next week. How long do you expect to be staying yourself?"

The cultured voice answered once again in that characteristic way of sounding ordinary yet condescending at the same time. It made George's stomach turn, but he reminded himself that that was just his long-time colleague's usual way of speaking. He probably wasn't even aware of it. Or else he simply didn't care…

"For another week maybe, until the government decides to call me back into action again." A sigh escaped from his lips, "How I do yearn for the good old days when I still had my first little ones under my wing. But alas…"

George cocked an eyebrow at him before turning to leave, "You are a strange one sometimes… Well, catch you later."

As the quiet guest continued to smoke while watching his host leave into the darkness of the other halls, he let his mind drift back to thoughts of his first little ones. Especially his favorite lost boy who had left him without permission, more than three years ago…

Oh my, my, I have heard so many stories about you, and all the trouble you've gotten yourself into, little one…wasting all my training like that… One day, we shall meet again my child, and I'll make sure you stay right where you belong…my dearest Derringer…

Max looked up as she heard the door open once again, her eyes were dull as she observed her captor walking toward her, his arms folded behind his back as he observed his prize.

"Sorry to keep you waiting. I hope you are comfortable, Max. I want you to feel at home."

The winged teenage girl didn't even look up as Ari spoke to her, instead choosing to stare at some invisible spot on the surrounding walls.

Noticing her despondency, the Eraser went closer to her and ran his hand lightly down the side of her neck. Though her body didn't move visibly in response to the contact, he could still feel the increase of tension within her. He smiled, liking the fact of the fear that he could raise from out of her.

Maximum herself, tried her best to ignore her jailer and instead recollect all the shattered pieces of her broken soul. She had had no idea that anything could feel so empty and forlorn as her spirit did right now.

Normally, she would have found something in which to say, something to counter Ari's words, but as of this moment, she found nothing for which to fight with. Not even thoughts of the flock could awaken her. All she could think of was how she had failed them and how she didn't deserve them as family. She had cracked under pressure, and the precious strength that she had prided herself in day after day to get her past the worst of trials, had been stripped away from her, leaving her unprotected and defenseless before her greatest enemy.

Ari noticed her melancholy producing shadows all over her form and it made him frown, "Are you not happy here with me?"

When she didn't answer, the teen snarled in anger. He was trying to be sensitive to her feelings, and she wasn't even going to speak to him? Drawing his hand back, he struck her full across the face, "Answer me!"

She looked up at him without enthusiasm, "What do you want me to say, Ari? I can say anything you want to hear, but you would still know the truth."

He looked at her and cracked a smile, a light laugh issuing from his lips, "There is one truth I do know, and I'm going to be quite frank with you, now that we belong to each other."

She looked up at him incredulously, "'Each other'?"

He shrugged before he caressed her cheek tenderly, "You belong to me, and I'm willing to be only with you. That's no big sacrifice on my part."

"I feel so privileged…" the girl answered dully.

Shaking his head in amusement, he sighed. "I don't like it when you're so monotonous, Max. You need to lighten up. Is there anything that I can do to make your life here more enjoyable?"

Normally, she would have said something along the lines of that, he could serve her his head (preferably roasted and barbequed) on a silver platter. However, at this point, she simply looked away from him and kept her mouth firmly closed.

He looked up in thought, a hand underneath his chin in concentration, "Maybe you would feel better if I brought in some familiar faces to cheer you up? How about I bring Angel and Nudge here for you? I mean, I don't mind if my woman has a couple ladies-in-waiting."

Max issued a small gasp as the names of her two sisters hung out to air, almost as tangible as the people to which they were connected to. The thought of having all the pain that she had just went through, be visited upon other who were so close to her heart, sent a familiar spark up from the bowels of her soul and throughout her entire body in a flash until it reached her outermost extremities.

Ari didn't miss that spark as it showed itself within her dark eyes. He simply smiled and continued, "Maybe I'll bring in Iggy and Gasman and let them be my own personal slaves, too. I can't let them get close to one another though. You know how dangerous those two can be when they're close to one another…"

He then noticed the winged girl's mouth move, her hair shadowing her face as she spoke to him, her voice soft and quiet as a butterfly's wings, "Don't—touch them."

He looked at her with mock surprise, "A silent threat is it? Well, it seems you still do have a bit of that temper that I love so much down in there. I know you so well, I think I know you better than anyone, even my dear dad and you flock."

He held her face up by her chin and smiled at the lightly gritted teeth that her mouth had become, along with the reignited ember within her eyes. "You don't know how much…my heart…and my body, have yearned for yours…"

The absolute genuineness and desire she heard within his statement made her look upon him with surprise. "What kind of trick are you trying to pull here, Ari?"

Looking away from her, he let go of her head and turned his back to her, putting his hands in his pockets. "I told you earlier, Max. We're being frank with each other now. No more lies, no more tricks, no more taunts when it comes down to the serious stuff. The truth is that I've been attracted to you for quite some time now, and it's been tearing me up inside that you never even took the time to notice me as anything but your foe. However, I think that now that we're together for the long haul now, I'm hoping you might see me differently."

She looked at him with bizarre fascination. After all that Ari had done to her and the flock…hunting them down like animals…torturing her to her breaking point, and laughing as if he had some serious case of schadenfreude…touching her as if he owned every inch of skin on her body…why was he suddenly showing such a benevolent side?

"Ari…after all that happened to us, after what you did to me—"

"I only did it so that you would understand!" the male shouted back at her.

Turning towards her again, she was surprised to see traces of tears welling in his eyes! In all her years and in all their encounters, she had never seen him once shed a single drop of moisture until this moment…

As much as she wanted to hate him, her feminine heart began to leak through her stubborn veneer. "Ari…"

Coming closer to her, he pushed a lose strand of her hair behind her ear. "Can't you see, Max? I wanted you to know to what lengths I would go to procure your attentions; to prove myself to you. I can't let you go Maximum—my heart won't allow it…"

Without warning, he embraced her tightly, and held on like she was the only thing keeping him afloat in a huge deep ocean! The shocks just didn't seem to stop coming, as she felt her sworn enemy's heart thump against her chest at the racing speed of their mutant kind. His chin rested on her left shoulder and his arms were clasped tightly around her torso as he whispered softly into her ear, "You'll stay with me right, Max?"

It was often said that one often caught more flies with honey than vinegar, and while she knew for certain that she would be leaving this hellhole as soon as ably possible, her abductor's jumbled emotions had put a stop to her sharp words. Instead, she tried another approach, speaking softly with understanding.

"I'll stay with you, Ari."

She felt his lips curl into a smile against her skin, "You don't know how good it is to hear you say that—"

Max suddenly felt a heavy tug on her back as well as a sharp pain lance through her body, in her wings in particular. She was about to ask the Eraser what the heck he had done to her. However, the pain was quickly forgotten when Ari next spoke, his voice sickly-sweet yet icy at the same time, that she knew that something had gone terribly wrong.

"—even if it is a bold-faced lie."

He lifted himself and stared into her eyes with his own, so cold and dead like that of a shark. "I told you I know you like no other. However, I can take your words for face value as well, if you want. You'll be staying with me either way."

That's it. He is defiantly either bi-polar, has multiple personality disorder, or just plain insane. She knew that to lie to him was probably not the best approach, but it had been the only one she knew of that wouldn't send him over the edge. Ari probably did know her well enough to call her on her falsehood so fast; denying it would only prolong the inevitable.

However, she tried her best to not lace her words with wrath, "Of course what I said was a lie, Ari. You know there is no way you can keep me here forever. However, I am also willing to come to some kind of truce with you Ari, but only if you let me go."

He smiled at her, before leaning forward a bit and kissing her lightly, "It doesn't matter anymore, darlin'. You can't leave even if I wanted to release you."

Taking a step away from her, his hands were now visible. One hand held a keen, blood-stained hunter's knife, the point shining sleek and deadly in the candlelight.

The other hand however, held eight objects…eight very large, white and tan-speckled feathers was held with his grip, drops of blood and small pieces of bone dripping from the roughly cut apexes.

She looked at the feathers in absolute terror and trepidation; the wolf-hybrid retained his insane smirk as he watched the horrific emotions dance across the face of his captured prey.

He watched as she tried to move her wings toward the front of her as if in disbelief, only to wince in pain. When she was finally able to see the tips of her wings, the already pasty nature of her skin, palled even more, making her almost as white as a sheet.

Even though her vocal cords were already raw from screaming during Ari's mind torture, a sudden scream of horror issued from her throat.


He laughed as he threw the precious feathers to the ground, "What did you expect, Maximum. I told you that I would never let you go."

Max gritted her teeth together as a string of swear words issued from her throat. How could she not have noticed him cutting away her treasured feathers as he held her in his embrace? She looked down as the floor, and then back up at her wing tips. Of her total twenty primary feathers, the four largest feathers on the outermost points had been ruthlessly cut off at the quick, eight in all. The bone could be seen, blood falling from the scourging wounds.

She looked up at him in rage, "How…how could you? Y-You…"

He nodded, "I cut away your pinion feathers in their entirety. Without them, a normal bird would only be crippled, and could soar to small heights before fluttering back to the earth again. However, you're much bigger than any bird, without your pinion feathers you won't be able to get enough thrust to lift yourself two inches off the ground."

Before she could even stop herself, she felt moisture upon her cheek, as unchecked tears slid in rivulets down her face. She thought that that…that monster…had broken her spirit before. But it was nothing like what she felt at this moment. Her ability to fly was who she was; her wings gave her life. To take that away from her was more painful…more agonizing…than the worst possible torture.

"H-How could y-y-you, Ari?" She asked again, the tears causing her words to become muffled and choked, but no less livid.

He looked at her in concern and came closer, "Oh, don't cry, baby. It was only for your own good. Come on, you know I can't stand it when you look so pained. It makes me want to cheer you up."

The look in his eyes this time as he came ever closer to her, along with the blade that stayed steady in his hand, stole any bravado she had procured straight from out her heart, and sent chills down her spine. "What are you doing?"

She shuddered for what felt like the millionth time that day as he silently wiped the tears from her face. Using the bloody edge of the knife, Ari lightly made invisible doodles along her skin, dancing the dangerous point along her face. "Even though I don't like seeing you so unhappy, the breathless look it leaves you with, is quite attractive."

With one swift downward swipe, the knife's blade fell along her chest! Closing her eyes in order to stave off the pain, Max held her breath in anticipation of the attack. Only the fiery sting of punctured skin didn't come…


Opening her eyes, she looked down to see the first button of her shirt clattering to the ground, with a tone of finality that drove a stake of panic deep within her body. She clinched her hands into tense fists, even though it only caused more blood to run from her abraded wrists. The gaze of her enemy's eyes was getting more crazed by the minute.



Another button fell, as the Eraser once again attacked with the knife. Every time he came at her with the stainless steel weapon, he seemed as if he was about to drive it deep into her flesh, only to soften his strike at the last minute and only skim it along the cloth of her shirt, taking a single button along with it.


After only a minute, every button had been removed and her shirt hung open leaving her body exposed to his dark eyes. She shivered with fear, as her wings automatically came around to shield her from his gaze, even though it hurt to move them after their recent mutilation.

"Ari…s-stop this, it's not you…:"

He frowned at her, a shadow passing over his form. With one swift movement, he grabbed the feathered appendages by the joints and pulled them back viciously.

Yelling out in pain, Max pulled her wings back before he sprained them, damaging them further. "Stop it, Ari! Get away from me!"

He smiled in amusement at her suffering, "I told you before, and you admitted to it by your own free will. You belong to me, Max; to do with as I will. I do not know why you are being so shy, darlin'? You've never been so timid before…"

As he laid his hands upon the flesh of her neck, soon accompanied by the searing heat of his mouth and tongue on her skin, she then wished she could simply stop feeling altogether. The hurt, the shame, the pain...feeling anything at all became more than she could bear. Will I ever escape this hell? She felt dirty, disgusting, and lower than gutter trash as she lay at the mercy of her worst enemy. Every caress, every touch, every scratch made by his knife, stained her more. When would this night end? Would it ever? Or would it just be one night that continued on and on, in a never-ending vicious cycle for eternity?

She cried out in anguish as his transformed fangs sunk into the soft tissue of her chest, causing blood to come pouring out, joining the other crimson streams that were making their way down her body to the claret puddle on the stone floor.

Ari leaned up and looked into her face, licking his canines clean. "You taste delicious, baby. I expected this fiery part of you, but there is this sweet cool mint there as well. I like it, Max."

However, when he went back down to lap at her pulsing wound, she pushed herself away, using her body weight as leverage, even though this action caused severe agony by jolting her broken leg and ribs.

She had made up her mind that she would not let this go any further. She had been caught by surprise, but she had her bearings around her now, and her soul and spirit would simply not tolerate any such treatment.

Her voice was matter-of-fact and nonchalant as she spoke, as if she was simply talking about the weather.

"If this is the way it must be Ari, then—kill me now, for I would rather die now…then live as the object of your pleasure. If you do not kill me…then know that I will take my own life if necessary. Release me, or kill me—those are your only options."

He blinked at her stalwart statement, "You won't do something that drastic, Maximum. It's not like you to take the easy road out."

She had to smile at that, "Ari…you do know nothing. If you knew anything about me, then you would know that you have taken away everything that has given my life meaning. My flock, my wings, my freedom, my independence, you are even now trying to conquer my body and take away the one gift that I can never get back and would never willingly give to you—ever. I have nothing left to live for, Ari. And even if you don't kill me as I have asked, and even if I never have a chance to take my own life, know that if you take my body this night, all you will hold captive in this prison of yours will be but a corpse. Whatever you do to this body, it will not matter, because it will not be me."

Ari knew that the young woman was telling the truth, however, he was never really truly concerned. He shrugged in response, "My father only gave me two orders to obey, Max: to keep you here, and to not kill you. He said anything else outside of that was allowed. I have no discrepancy with any of the orders he has given for this assignment and so therefore I will obey them to the letter. I will not kill you nor release you, and personally speaking…you have no room to bargain here. Anything that you do to thwart me, I will do to your sisters and brothers twice over. You know I am making no blind threat and you will think twice about trying my patience."

She snarled, "I will not be your slave Ari! You may threaten my flock however you may like; they will stand up for themselves. If you think that threatening them will stop me this time, you don't know me as well as you think you do."

Her injured, bloody, and tattered wings, snapped back around her uncovered body, in a gesture of a self-protective defiance. She would not let this be taken any farther, she had been stricken with fear and panic the first time, but no more

His eyes narrowed as he glanced at her visible determination. While he liked her spark and ferocity (in fact it was one of the things that made him so infatuated with her), her stubbornness he could quite do without.

Max watched as Ari turned away from her and walked away to the table in the corner. She slowly let out the breath she had been holding for what felt like forever. Never had she been so fearful in all her life.

No, she had never really feared death. Her life meant very little to her in the long run. Her true fear at this point was of what her enemy could do to her, before she could find a way to enter Death's comforting embrace. Ari was not the Ari she knew anymore. Sure, there were parts of him still in there somewhere, but somehow the twisting and turning emotions that made up the tense turning point in a boy's life, namely puberty, had taken a darker turn in the already disturbed Eraser. He was too sporadic, difficult to pin down, and very, very dangerous. He was more treacherous then he had ever been, in all the years that he had hunted them all over the States.

However, she had very little options open to her. He leg was broken, so there was no way she could walk out of her, even if she could hold her own against the pain of the other injuries. Ari had effectively clipped her wings, so she was not able to fly out of here either. Her only option, if she should ever be able to get free, would be to crawl and she doubted she would be able to distract the Eraser enough for that. And even then, she had absolutely no idea of where the heck she was…

She had practically given up hope for rescue some time ago. Angel, if she was ok after the fight, was probably not even close enough to hear her mental call. And Fang, he could communicate mentally now, but…

She watched as her keeper kept his back to her while he sipped at another drink; probably one to take his fractured mind off edge after she'd just snubbed him.

Looking down at her injured wings and ravaged body, she solemnly realized that she didn't really have much else to lose. I can try…

Closing her eyes and using her mind, she called out into the night, hoping against the odds that someone would be able hear her mental plea.

'Angel…Angel, can you hear me?'

She was answered only by silence, but that didn't put her off in the least. She would call out till her proverbial throat became raw.

'Angel, if you can hear me, please answer.'

"She'll never be able to hear you from this distance. You're wasting your time."

Her eyes snapped open as she looked toward the man who had interrupted her. "What are you talking about?"

Ari just shrugged his shoulders as he leaned against the wall. "You forget that I now have psychic powers as well. I can hear the thoughts and rustling going on in your brain as easily as if you said them out loud."

She gritted her teeth in frustration. So she had made a mistake, she wouldn't admit that to him. "I didn't forget. I just didn't care."

"You're lying…"

"Shut up! I'm trying to ignore you."

Ari laughed at his pet's show of opposition. He might as well let her get it all out of her system, since it would only hinder their relationship later on. Or, at least that had been the general idea…until he heard her next thought.

'Fang…I know you talked to me before. If you can hear me, please respond. I need you!'

Max suddenly yanked open her eyes once again to the sound of a loud crash resounding within the prison's walls, but almost yelped in sudden fear of the man who stood raging in fury before her.

The Eraser's eyes had gone completely bestial; his fangs were extended and gnashing, shining with saliva. He stalked toward her in rage.

"I will NOT hear his name in my presence!"

He grabbed her by her throat, before striking her square in the face! Max could feel her ears begin to ring as her captor shook her so soundly, she was on the verge of getting whiplash.

Ari had definitely gone over the edge, "You wretched girl! I am the only one for you! Why do you plead for others to save you? You will only lead them to their deaths, for I will kill anyone who tries to aid you! I will surely wipe that look of hope from your face, even if I have to beat until you are only black and blue."

The female bird child could hardly breathe, much less speak, so she only looked at him in rebellion, making sure he understood that she would never back down. She had almost lost her resolve before, but she wasn't going to lose it ever again. She would fight this monster till there was free, or there was no breath left in her body.

The Eraser knew utter defiance when he saw it, and it only enraged him further. "You think because I crave you, that I shall not discipline you, then you are gravely mistaken. I can read you like a book: You hope for either a chance for escape or for rescue by your comrades. You hope that I will die a grotesque and slow death. You hope that because of your human blood, your feathers will have a chance of growing back and that you will one day fly again."

Ari smiled viciously as he watched the surprise appear on his woman's face. She kept forgetting that he could pick up on her most secret thoughts if it so pleased him.

Coming closer to her, his clawed hand once again around the knife handle, he walked steadily toward her. "You cannot escape me, and I already told you what would happen if someone tries to rescue you. I'm afraid I will not die in the near future, and I have a very simple answer as to whether or not your feathers will re-grow…"

Circling her, he leaned slightly over her shoulder and whispered directly into her ear, his tone like that of an aroused lover. "…feathers can't re-grow if—there is no wing for them to grow back on."

With swift rapidness, he grabbed the base of her left wing and put his blade against the hard surface, preparing to hack through feather, blood, and bone alike!

Terror and petrifaction racked her body as she felt the cold metal against her wing, and suddenly all of her defiance and bravado ran from out her body like water from a leaking cup. Flying was everything to her, her wings as important to her as breathing. It had crushed her when he had cut off her feather, but to cut off her wings…that would simply and utterly—kill her.

"Ari, Ari don't do this. Stop Ari, you can't do this. You can't! Ari, let me go! Ari! ARI! ARIII!"

She cried out his name over and over, pleading with him to her upmost ability. At this point, if she could, she would have even gotten on her knees before him and begged to release her wings. Cut her anywhere he wished, beat her, kick her, but don't take away my precious wings, you murderous bastard!

The Eraser simply reveled in her appeals, knowing that he was still in control of her, that once he destroyed the symbol of her freedom, she would crumble and become all his. Honestly, he hadn't wanted to hurt her like this…but she had left him with no choice.

"If you don't fidget, it won't hurt as much, baby. It'll be over before you know it." His voice was annoyingly sweet, as if he was placating a child that was getting his first shot.

Her screams became riddled with shuddering sobs as she realized with despair that he was—very certainly—going to sever her wings from off her body.

However, the minute he was about to plunge the knife into flesh and bone, the door to the chamber burst open!

An unbidden frosted wind swirled through the room the empty doorway, slamming and opening the heavy door, while chilling both surprised inhabitants to the bone. In the resulting stillness, an equally chilling, incorporeal voice spoke stridently throughout the room.

"I do believe that the lady is begging for you to release her. No, no lady should have to beg, and least of all, from the likes of something like you."

Max looked around adamantly for the voice's source with her tear-stained eyes, begging that she was not delirious. She could place that voice anywhere, and she was unduly grateful for its timely interruption and its southern caress.

Unfortunately, Ari recognized the voice too, his hackles bristling as his face contorted to one of rage and indignation. How dare that, that—rodent come into his inner hideaway and attempt to tell him what to do? If he was planning on stealing his Maximum away from him, he would be sorely sorry that he had even made the attempt. He wasn't going to let Max go…not now, not ever.

Coming from behind his lovely captive, his body coiled tightly and ready to pounce at any moment. His grip was tight on the knife as he lifted his nose to the air in order to smell for the intruder. "Where are you swamp rat? I can smell your stench from here."

Max watched as her captor geared for battle, knowing from the look on his face that this night, he was taking no more prisoners. "Derrin, watch out! Ari's not himself!"

The Eraser in question, spun around and struck her soundly in the head, adding yet another bruise to her already throbbing corpse. How dare she take sides with that Cajun trash!

Without warning, the flames that had lit the dungeon-like chamber, were snuffed out simultaneously. The one light bulb in the ceiling actually exploded, sending glass shards in every direction!

All light was quickly and effectively extinguished, leaving the room in total, pitch black darkness…

While her night vision was usually flawless even Max had trouble seeing in the inky blackness. Using the distraction to her advantage, she quickly folded her wings back into the slits in her back, gasping a little in pain as they protested the sudden rough treatment. She looked to Ari, but he still hadn't moved an inch. In fact his leering grin had gotten wider.

"You can't hide in the darkness for long, coward. I will find you eventually. The smell of you has changed slightly though, swamp rat. Is that the smell of your fear affecting you? If so, I welcome it."

A cold breeze swirled around Max's body, and before she could even blink, Ari was sent flying backward as if by some unseen force! He was effectively thrown against the wall behind her, that she had to twist around to see that the same invisible force was fighting gravity, and keeping him trapped against the brick and mortar.

She blinked in surprise, not knowing what was going on! Was this really Derringer's power?

As if on cue, a figure suddenly shimmered into materiality before her, standing as if he had always been there.

And maybe he had…

She recalled hearing no footsteps, she had never seen Derrin actually enter the room, and yet—here he was before her…or so it seemed.

There was something different about the man who stood there in front of her, as if he was, yet was not, the same guy she had grown to love as a brother.

More power and authority seemed to radiate from the redhead's body, than she had ever felt in all her young life. He stood straight and tall, his unclenched hands sported long, curved claws on each finger tip. Even with his clothes ripped and torn, an ethereal glow seemed to come from inside of him, making him like a beacon within the dark room. Aberrant air currents swirled and whipped around his body as if in subservience to his beck and call, the wind itself was saturated and crackled with electric charge, so that any sudden movement would cause a scattershot of every type of lightning to shoot forth throughout the room's confines.

As he began to walk toward her, she noted that his visage seemed to betray not a single emotion. His eyes glowed a fierce, piercing gold; his long unbound crimson hair, now seemingly streaked with gold as well, shifted and flowed languidly, as if it had a life of its own. His every step was graceful and sure, he moved assuredly with a feline's strength and agility, yet each step also held so much more.

Max inhaled sharply as he moved passed her, only a slight flicker within his eyes signaling he was even aware of her presence. A millisecond later, the tiniest lift to the corner of his mouth appeared; a ghost of the charming grin she was used to. But as fast as it appeared, it was gone. His attention fully fixed on his prey, those illuminant orbs intensifying with ardor.

In that instant, she was not completely sure, but for a single second her heart seemed to literally—stop beating. The look in those impassive eyes had chilled her very blood, but that hint of a smile had filled her with hope and conviction.

She knew then, that this was the Derringer she knew.

Yet she also concurrently realized, that this was most definitely not the Derringer she remembered.

She couldn't quite explain it, but even though her teammate and sibling was there, there was something else walking with him as well. Something…mysterious, and commanding…something she couldn't quite put a name to. Yet, while it was Derrin's mind and intent, something else was guiding his actions. Something that her captor would soon have to contend with…

She watched in silence as Derringer approached the ensnared Ari, the Eraser snarling and struggling to free himself from the potent male's telekinetic (and since when does the Cajun have telekinesis!?) grip. Max could have sworn the wolf boy was starting to foam at the mouth.

The entire time as he walked, the redhead had not made a sound, his footsteps so light on the ground; he might as well have been gliding. As he came face to face with his enemy, without a word, his hand lifted and the restraint on Ari tightened even more.

When Derrin finally spoke, the voice that now came from his lips stunned her. When he opened his mouth, a slight echo came to his words as if it were two people speaking instead of one. His tone was calm and even, almost bored. His normal accent was gone, and in its place a slight lyrical yet aristocratic brogue emerged. However, it was the way he said things that had surprised her the most, sounding as if he were a knight who had emerged out of a medieval tale; a feudal lord who carried absolute and supreme authority…

"Thee was warned: Do…not…touch. Yet, thy hath explicitly disobeyed the command which was given you. Thus, for defiling that which does not belong to thee, I shall pass swift judgment upon thy soul, and thou—" The room suddenly became icier then a blizzard in the middle of January, reflecting the new tone of his voice as he concluded his statement.

"Thou shalt die…"

28. Internal Guardian

A/N: Yes, I know it's been so long, and I'm sorry for it. I however am in my last years of my undergraduate studies, so things have gotten pretty tight. I have a very long chapter here to make up for it. In fact, it was so long that I had to actually cut the end part off and save it for next chapter. lol

Know that I'm still hanging in there and I thank all of you for your continued support.

Chapter 27

By the time Derringer had made his way into the mountain hideaway, his body was screaming out in agony and constantly threatened to completely collapse, with or without his consent. It was only his sheer determination and strength of will that kept him continuing on his path. Every time he fell in pain, or spit out the blood that gathered in his mouth, the memory of Max's scream made him get back up and continue on his way.

He was close now, he could feel it. The Eraser's stench was getting stronger, as well as Maximum's, but so was the smell of fear, despair, and hatred. As he continued on, the air becoming colder and thinner, he acknowledged that he was probably somewhere in the Rocky Mountain range of Montana; snow beginning to line the desolate landscape.

It was less then fifteen minutes and two more inches of snow later, that he had found the car. The footsteps had long been covered up, but it didn't take him long to find the door hidden against the mountainside himself. The creature must be holding up in one of the old abandoned mining areas inside of the mountain.

Pushing hard, the lock broke and he stepped into the room, making his way in the cool but dry passage way. Torches had been lit, but Derrin didn't need them. His training had long since taken over his movements, making his footsteps soundless, his eyes totally observant, and he was not to be impeded by something as simple as lack of light.

Except for the torches, it didn't look as if much had changed in the last hundred years. The rock walls and ceiling were held up by wooden beams that were weather-beaten and rotting, and cobwebs lined the place like draperies. He could easily see footsteps outlined in the layer of dust on the floor, most of them only leading up to one room. Hearing the sound of movement inside the room, he came closer, making up his strategy as he slinked against the wall. How was he going to get chère out of here? How many enemies were there? It wouldn't do him any go to rush—

His thoughts suddenly ceased, as the sound of hard slap resounded throughout the pathway, followed by intensely hot, angry words issued by a male voice. A female voice soon answered and they went back and forth until he suddenly heard the female voice pleading and begging for the male in the room to stop hurting her, to not do her any more harm.

He recognized both voices with ease, and the fact that he knew that the pleading voice belonged to his beloved Max, caused his rage to boil over in its intensity. How dare he!

The ire in his blood caused him to see only crimson red, as a fury and a sense of indignation he had never felt the like of, consumed him. He wanted to rip the werewolf apart, one small piece at a time in order to preserve the pain… He want to hear the thing scream in every pitch, in every language… He had promised more than three years ago that he would never kill another human being again. Well, he had also vowed that he would never shoot anyone again, and look at where that had left him? He had already broken one vow this night, why not another?

One thing was for sure, he would never forgive anyone who had mistreated his lady in such a way. He would destroy anyone who had laid a single finger of ill will towards her. The very thought sent such anger and wrath through his body, that he could think of nothing else.

Very slightly and slowly, in response to his rage, something began to stir and awaken within his mind, like a jasmine flower slowly opening up to the starry sky. He stopped and stood still as he felt whatever it was rise up slowly, as if asking permission. The presence was familiar, having awoken within him only one other time in his life—when there was a mortal threat to another person he held most dear to him.

That person he had lost.

For that person's death, he had never forgiven himself.

When the presence had arisen within him then, more than 3 years ago, he had been new to the experience and quite unsure of what to do. He had hesitated to give his permission and had at first resisted the entity's helping hand of renewed strength. Due to his hesitation, the only person he had loved and the only other person he could call family had been ruthlessly taken away from him. And the sorrow, the rage, and the self-hatred he had felt was everlasting.

Never again…

He would not let history repeat itself. This time there would be no hesitation, no resistance. This time, he embraced the entity and immediately let it begin to saturate into his self being. It went slowly but totally. Always the gentleman, the being was. It never forced him to make the change, in truth; it never even spoke to him. It only seemed to lurk in the back of his consciousness, silently waiting and watching like a minuteman, ready to extend his hand when the time came that its presence was required.

Once he had shown that he had accepted the entity's help, he felt a wave of heat come over his body. It exploded like a blooming flower from out of the back of his brain and along his spinal cord, through his nerves, and along every inch of his body. The essence spread out within his mind, just as it had the first time years ago.

Thy heart is in the deepest pain for the one thou lovest above all else. I have answered thy call.

Derrin blinked in surprise. Never before had the entity even tried to communicate with him, he didn't even think it had the ability. Yet, here it was, talking within his mind as if it always belonged there.

Am I going crazy?

A soft laugh answered him back in amusement. Thy head is still in correct working order, young one.

Well, if that's not my split personality talking then, who are you?

A symbiotic being that has existed alongside thee for most of thine life.

Well, that made things about as clear as mud…

And what shall I call you?

There was a small shot of warmth against his face, as if the other had smiled.

Why should I tell thee a name thou could never pronounce? I am only thy guardian, and keeper to thine most precious treasures.

Then I will call you 'the Guardian', and I will ask you to not be doing anything strange in my head, since you seem to have made a home in my brain…

I have lived eons before thy birth; alas, thine death shall also be mine own. Thy heart is linked to mine, and so that which thou cherishes, is also cherished by me. I know thee wishes to fight of thine own will, and normally I would not interfere. But I sense a danger to thy life and to the life of the maiden that has captured thy mind and thy heart.

Derrin didn't know how Max would take to being called a "maiden", but he had to admit that what the Guardian said was true.

I can feel your spirit pulling on mine. What do you want me to do?

Allow me a temporary freedom so that I may protect that which is ours.

Although he didn't quite understand everything that was the Guardian, and he should be entirely concerned that there seemed to be a whole other sentient being, living on the inside of him. However that didn't matter right now. The Guardian might seem strange, but he had to admit that above all else—he trusted him…

Help her Guardian, I allow you full use of my body in order to make sure she's safe.

So it has been said, so it shall be done. I shall not fail thee.

The Guardian slowly let his energy spread throughout his vessel's body, letting it fill and affect the human shell, allowing the power that he had held leashed for centuries, finally extend back into physical limbs. Though he had lost his corporeal body many years ago, his charge's image was not that different from his own. It would not be that hard to adapt it.

The Guardian carefully covered Derrin's consciousness with his own, making sure that he would shield his vessel from any and all harm and danger. He had never fused this completely with his host and he had to tread carefully on this new ground, even though he knew that time was of the essence.

As if in answer to his thoughts, the damsel's screams and pleas began to turn to sobs and begging, to which her captor only mocked her. Derringer's fury shot through his own separate mind like a hot lance, and before he could stop him, a small amount of his power was unleashed without restraint, causing the dungeon door to burst open by arctic winds pulled by his control!

Derrin spoke out in righteous anger, and because they were still in mid-transition, his voice was that of the boy, but it held his power and force of will.

"I do believe that the lady is begging for you to release her. No, no lady should have to beg, and least of all, from the likes of something like you."

Pushing his will harder and faster than he would have liked, the Guardian took total control of his borrowed body, making sure to thrust the boy's mind further into the subconscious, before wrapping himself in a cloak of invisibility. No use giving the enemy the advantage too early…

I pray, thee must restrain thy anger and let me do my duty to thee and thy maiden. Thee cannot fully handle the power to which I wield, and thee may cause more harm than good.


Givest thou trust to me, Derringer, as I trust you with my very essence. I have abilities that are beyond the comprehension of mortal men. I shall be thy sword and thy shield. I shall not betray thee.

He felt a trace of uneasiness when his plea was left unanswered, but he breathed a sigh as he heard a quiet reply.

I trust you, Guardian.

Letting his host quietly settle, the Guardian focused his attention on the scene in front of him. Commanding the winds to guide him into the chamber, he looked over the situation with his own eyes, in smug satisfaction that while he stood directly in front of his prey, his quarry was still candidly unaware of his full presence.

He quickly and strategically noted the statistics of the room, noting that there was only a single entrance and little maneuverability within the stone walls. His opponent looked to be a young teen with normal measurements. However, he could tell that there was nothing remotely normal about the boy's eyes, or the insane, feral fire he could see within their depths. So this was the wolf-boy that had captured the lady fair…

However, when he finally looked to the captive who had been kept in this makeshift prison, he had to stop himself from instantly cracking the boy's neck with the very will of his mind!

The female was chained up, bloody and beaten, her garments torn and her wings injured, Derringer's woman was scared, tired, and was reaching the breaking point of her fragile female mind. He doubted that the lady would have lasted another day under the bastard werewolf's harsh treatment. How dare he?!! The female body was the cradle of life and therefore should be revered. To misuse and abuse something so precious was a sacrilege!

It was despicable! He was outraged at this dishonorable behavior. Women were precious treasures to be loved and cherished, and along with children, were to be protected above all. The female that Derringer cared for, happened to be part of both categories, and therefore should be doubly guarded. While he couldn't understand the maiden's strange desire to fight in the way of men, he would make sure she was protected on all sides, and would never find herself in the enemy's hands again.

The wolf child seemed to sense his presence in the room, despite him being invisible. The Guardian knew that his host's outburst had cost them the element of surprise, but things such as that could be handled accordingly.

The wolf called out to him, "Where are you swamp rat? I can smell your stench from here."

He rose in eyebrow in amusement. Did he actually expect him to answer?

He smiled with admiration and consideration as the maiden called out a warning.

"Derrin, watch out! Ari's not himself!"

Don't worry thy little head about me, milady. I shall not misjudge the fiend…

That's when the animal struck the girl, shouting at her in rage for her brave attempt.

The Guardian felt his temper escape his control for a moment, and with it went his previously leashed powers. A stray angry thought extinguished every single source of light in the compound, whether natural or electric. His air currents were at the ready, eager to obey his commands.

If he lays another single finger on her, I will personally see to it that he is eviscerated, dismembered, and decapitated, making sure that he's completely conscious for every single moment of pain and anguish.

Worry not about the lycan's punishment, Derringer. He shall receive talion justice, as is the way of my people. It shall be by mine own hand.

The creature in question, Ari, seemed to have excellent night vision, as he simply stood his ground.

"You can't hide in the darkness for long, coward. I will find you eventually. The smell of you has changed slightly though, swamp rat. Is that the smell of your fear affecting you? If so, I welcome it.", He taunted.

Smirking, the otherworldly being decided to flex his proverbial muscles again, and give a little reminder to the peon, of exactly who he was dealing with.

With a single thought he sent Ari against the far wall, making sure that he was none too gentle with the vile creature.

The Guardian decided he might as well reveal himself, so that he could properly answer the challenge put before him. Making himself visible once more, he mentally smiled at the surprise on the two mortals faces, but his pleasantry quickly disappeared when he saw the wolf extend his claws.

He walked toward his captive, stopping only for a moment to give the maiden girl Max a second of his host's warmth and comfort, before going on to confront his enemy.

"Thee was warned: Do…not…touch. Yet, thy hath explicitly disobeyed the command which was given you. Thus, for defiling that which does not belong to thee, I shall pass swift judgment upon thy soul, and thou—"

He paused for a moment in order to make sure that inescapable outcome was clearly understood.

"Thou shalt die…"

The wind harkened his statement, surrounding and swirling around him with the leashed power of a thousand wild horses. His authority was absolute, and silence reigned within the room. Even Ari would have agreed with his statement if his mind was already so overcome with pure rage, that it could see nothing else.

With one hand the Guardian held the wolf prisoner, while he extended the other, unlocking the winged maiden's chains with his power. As her arms fell down to her sides, and her body listlessly began to collapse to the ground, he caught her carefully with his mind and slowly, delicately laid the distraught, injured female to the floor, sitting her against the wall.

He then made sure to make a barricade of energy around her. Though invisible, it was thicker and stronger than titanium and could be maintained from a distance as long as he stayed conscious. He would make sure she stayed protected, as was his duty, while he went to deal with the riff-raff.

Turning back to said rabble, he spoke once again. "This duel shall be fought betwixt I and thee, no other shall interfere."

He slowly released the lycanthrope, allowing him to fall unceremoniously to the ground. The wolf coughed a little, massaging his throat before looking up at him with unadulterated loathing.

"'Duel'? What century did you step out of?" Ari asked with slight caution, since the range of the Cajun's powers were unknown to him.

The Guardian did not deem the question with an answer. He had picked up the gauntlet. It was now the other's turn to make the first move, to draw first blood.

Getting to his feet, the Eraser could see the seriousness of his opponent, and though he did a better job at hiding it, the glowing eyed redhead was just as mad as he was…well, maybe what everyone said about redheads having explosive tempers had some truth to it. Maybe I should have been born with flame-red hair…

Well, he might as well go along with whatever this guy was planning. Then when Max saw that not even her Cajun cavalier could save her, she would give up any hope of ever leaving him.

However, despite this joyful thought, Ari's voice was like the grating of knives on granite, "So we're going to do this the old-fashioned way, whoever wins gets the lady?"

The other's golden eyes narrowed at the challenge, "If that is thy way of looking at the situation."

Max blinked slightly at the words that the pseudo-Derringer spoke. Normally, she would have protested the chauvinist-laced words, but as of right now, she didn't even care. If he was as chivalrous as his vocabulary made him out to be, then she would be all for his "saving the damsel in distress" routine.

She was a damsel. She was in distress. Rescue her for goodness sake!

However, she couldn't help but shutter as Ari looked at her for a moment, his grin becoming wider, showing his pristine, finely honed canine fangs. His eyes telling her that it wasn't over between the two of them.

"Wolf, I am thy opponent. Thee need not look at the female."

Ari turned back to the redhead with a smirk, "I simply wished to look upon my prize, swamp rat."

The other being narrowed his eyes, the glowing orbs as piercing as a double-jacketed bullet. "Tis a prize one such as thee is not worthy to look upon."

Holding his hand in the air, hot blue energy began to gather in his palm. "Let us not overbear the maiden's fair, delicate eyes with any more violence, and take our battle to another field."

Then with a simple blink of an eye, both the Guardian and Ari disappeared from the room in single flash of bluish-white light.

Max gasped in surprise, but relaxed only slightly behind the shield that Derrin had placed around her. How had things ever gotten to this point? Still, a flicker of hope came to life in her damaged heart and she prayed that Derringer would win against that devil's spawn. Because if he didn't—she knew that the Cajun wouldn't be the only one who would lose their life come dawn.

She huddled her broken body against the wall and waited, muttering to herself, "You had better come back to me wonder boy, just so I can make you pay for all those 'fair maiden' quips…"

The two reappeared upon the snowy mountain caps, the two opponents on opposite cliffs. Ari had to admit, that the teleportation act was quite startling. The Guardian however, acted as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

Well if that didn't just tick him off. Before he could even think further, his body completely transformed, his fangs and claws shot out of his body, fur grew along his skin, his bones twisting and popping to take on a more canine shape. His lupine instincts leading him to howl out his challenge to his opponent, as the swirling white snow swept around his large ebony wings.

The same snow that made a contrasting setting for the Eraser, made the Guardian shine even brighter, as well as give him the perfect atmosphere for him to battle within. His body camouflaged perfectly within the snow and wind of the mountain, even with his dark clothes, his essence swept over him and reflected the moon's light. His eyes glowed strongly, as his hair whipped in the wind like splashes of blood on the purity of the snow.

Even though the wind screeched within the mountain passes, the Guardian's voice could be heard loud and clear. "It seems that thee has the ability to transform thyself into a wild dog of the forest, as well as use the abilities of flight, speed, agility, and strength. Thee even seems to have a expanded mental capacity as well."

The Eraser growled as the Guardian listed off his capabilities like one would list the capabilities of a dishwasher. However, the other paid no attention.

"Because of thine human frailties, I shall limit mine capacities so that this may be an honest duel. Thus, even though thou doest not deserve it, I will keep my honor where as thou hast not. I—"

Before the sentence could even be finished, the wolf struck out first and fast, his fists hitting hard as the Eraser, wholly angered and full of feral fury, leaped upon his prey, knocking them both down the snowy mountainside! The Guardian, not having expected such a vicious first attack, crossed his arms to protect his body from his opponent's claws, while forming a telekinetic barrier against his back to slow their fall.

Ari noticed right away that the golden bastard had been taken by surprise. He smiled in anticipation. He was going to enjoy this. He was going to rip the Cajun swamp vermin piece by piece—but oh so very slowly…letting him suffer every single agonizing moment of it.

The man was going to learn that no one was going to take Max away from him. And after he had finished playing with the rat, he would take his head and present it to his lady. She would definitely know once and for all, that no rescue was coming for her and he was all she had.

What the crap? Ari mentally shook his head. Ugh, that rat's old-fashioned ways were starting to infect his mind.

As the Guardian proceeded to stop their descent, he too revealed his claws. With one broad swipe he tried to bat Ari away from him, only for the wolf to jump out of the way at the last minute, avoiding his keen fingers.

The wind howled as the two finally stood, facing each other at a standstill. The cold meant nothing to either of them. Ari fueled by his anger and hot mutant blood, and the Guardian felt right at home in his natural element.

"The right of first blood is still unclaimed. The next move is still thine own."

Ari leered at his opponent, "Well then, I say we change that."

The wolf ran forward before bounding into the air, arcing in mid-leap before slamming his feet down next to the other, punching the Guardian in the side with split-second agility.

The other grunted in annoyance before jumping around the wolf, and kicking the animal in the back, sending him sprawling in the snow. He snarled in defiance while waiting for his feral opponent to rise again.

However, he waited a second too long as Ari's agility made him faster than he had been even mere moments ago. His anger fueling him, the Eraser grabbed the Guardian's leg, hoisting him in the air. Twirling him around in his paw like a sling, the teen let go, causing the man to whirl through the air, before crashing into a mountainside!

The Guardian sucked in breath at the impact, moving his body in order to lessen the damage to his host's body. Using the speed of Derrin's legs, the Guardian arose from the snowy rocks and began running against the cliff faces. Launching himself in the air, he summoned the north wind currents to carry him, giving him the liberty of flight as he scanned for the lycanthrope.

"Looking for me?"

Clawed hands that could barely resemble a human's, wrapped around his chest and turned him around. The Guardian didn't have time for defense as Ari, who hovered in the air on his black wings, swung his claws forward, rending his flesh over and over in rage!

In desperation to get his borrowed body away and prevent him from losing more blood than necessary, without thinking, the Guardian teleported away, only to land haphazardly on a snow bank. The force of the move too hard on the loose white drifts, he fell, rolling away down the mountain for a few seconds before finally coming to a stop against a stone in the path.

Taking a shallow breath of the cutting, cold air, the Guardian lifted himself up slowly, trying to catch his bearings.

His first thought was of his injuries, worried he quickly appraised his vessel.

How art thou feeling, Derringer?

Me? I should be asking you that question.

Thee hast already been gravely injured, and I would not have you hurt further. I shall waste no more time testing the rogue.

Testing? You mean you let him do all that to you?

Well, I needed to see his fighting skills in action, or else I wouldst not know how much force I should apply to mine fist.

There was a brief silence for a moment, before Derringer spoke once again.

Hey, do what ya have to do. We can't leave chére alone too long.

Do thee wish me to end it now? I wouldst like to continue for a little longer.

Can you assure me that chére's life won't be in danger if you do?

Mine pride is not that high in that I wouldst forfeit a maiden's life for mine own pleasure. The lady hast been grievously injured but she is strong and shall survive. Even now, I have been drawing her pain unto myself and extinguishing it.

Then tear the guy to shreds. Everything he did to chére, pay him back tenfold.

Thy word is law.

The entire exchange between host and symbiote had taken only a few seconds, and was enough time for the Guardian to catch his breath and collect himself, brushing the snow from his clothes. He looked down at the white precipitation and saw that its purity had been tainted by the crimson rivers of liquid life that had spilled from out of him in the injury.

He smiled.

Ari landed behind his foe, thirsty for the chance to spill more blood and cause the rat more pain. He couldn't help but taunt, "You still have the chance to beg me for a quick death. I might even consider it."

The Guardian spoke evenly, "On the contrary, thee shall be the one begging before this night is over. And know that I will not give it any consideration in the least."

He gathered himself up from the ground and slowly turned to face his opponent, spitting out the bile that had collected in his mouth out onto the snow, more crimson claret splattering out, onto the white purity. Moving a hand to wipe away any trace from his mouth, he smiled, letting his fangs gleam in the moonlight.

"I am an honorable warrior, and so I let thee have the opportunity to draw first blood."

As he spoke, a hissing sound came through the waiting silence, only interrupted by Ari's gasp of shock and amazement as steam wafted up from the wounds along the Guardian's face, the long scratches knitting themselves together before the Eraser's very eyes.

"Thou hath taken that opportunity, and so now it be only just that it is my turn to strike back."

When every single one of the scratches had sealed, leaving not a trace of their existence behind, the extraordinary being walked towards his opponent, the smile on his lips sending chills into the very soul.

One second he was walking at normal speed, and the next he leaped at herculean velocities! Grabbing the lycan by the scuff of his neck, he raked his claws forward, putting an extra push of strength into his movements. Needless to say, Ari fell back, flying through the air at the resulting impact, crashing with a loud crack, into the surrounding stone.

The Guardian shot into the air, higher than before. Hovering above the mountain tops, he proceeded to call the wind, and the snow, and the ice to his subjugation.

"By the foundation of this place,

With thy presence, do me grace.

Wind and willow, shriek and whine.

Come to me terrors of peak and pine.

Water and ice guild my hands,

All four corners, across all lands.

Come to me now, and serve me well;

Never shall thee die, never shall thee quell!"

At his call the peaks howled loudly, the ground trembled and the currents of the north, south, east, and west rushed to obey their master's beck and call. Across the face of the earth, tornados stilled, hurricanes calmed, thunderstorms lightened, as all the air came under the Guardian's command.

The mountain pass shook and quaked with the intensity of the extra energy, and the being's eyes glowed extremely bright with the intensity of the power now flowing in his veins.

Any sane person would have avoided such an individual at any cost. However, Ari Batchelder was well beyond sane at the moment, and had been for some time. The power display that his foe had exercised, had only caused him to want to destroy the encroacher all the more.

Picking himself up from the crater where he had been thrown, not bothering to wipe the blood from his face, he launched out into the sky. Eager to take out his injured pride on the swamp rat, he gave up a maniacal laugh as he came after the blood-haired bane.

The Guardian easily saw him coming. Grinning, he moved his hands and watched as the wind buffeted the flying Eraser, not deterring him, but giving him some difficulty. Even though he could easily have called up a cyclone to bring the creature down, he wanted to have a chance to get his hands dirty this time.

Lightening arched in the sky as the two clashed. Ari struck with a forward punch, only to have his fist caught in the other's hands. The Guardian grabbed on and twisting around on one foot, he whirled his burden into the air, before winking and giving up a laugh as a resulting flurry of ice javelins rained down from the sky, each icicle at least five inches long!

Dodging the frozen knifes was near to impossible, and unless you had some sort of way to shield yourself, as of course the Guardian did, one could easily get cut up and altogether killed by each of the sharp points. This of course didn't stop Ari from trying to dodge them, but it was like trying to avoid a snowflake in a blizzard. That, on top of the fact that though he had gotten better at flying with them, his bulky wings were still clumsy and problematic, causing quite a few of the razor sharp frozen daggers to pierce his body.

The Guardian watched his enemy, his countenance as cold and merciless as the ice which he controlled. The Eraser fell to the earth with screams of pain, when an icicle submerged itself into the creature's right wing. With a single wave of his hand, the onslaught ceased. But he was far from done.

Scrapping his claws against the air above him, the Guardian collected St. Elmo's fire on each tip, making them glow and crackle violet. Going down in freefall, he called the air to part and to push him faster toward his target.

Ari was too exhausted from trying to fight the element and from blood loss, that he was unable to even put up a defense against the striking blows from the icicles. They pierced him in his wing, leg, hand, and side, coincidentally (or not) the same places where Maximum Ride had broken and/or traumatized bones.

He fell to the ground so hard with nothing to break his fall, so that even his mutated body began to shatter under the force. Ari's hatred and fury began to ebb under the torrent of agony, but before he could do anything about it he was hit full force from above, a sensation of white fire searing into his abdomen, arching up his backbone and leaping around his nerves!

The Guardian's eyes flared with life, as he looked into his enemy's eyes with solemn and barely hidden hatred. "Who art thee, that thee feels that thou canst hurt the innocent?"

He swung out and hit again, causing blood to spurt through the air. "Who art thee, that thou thinks thou canst escape justice?"

Calling down the freezing rain, the lightening cracking through the sky, the Guardian glowed with ire and power as he grasped Ari's neck in a clawed hand and slapped the teen repeatedly, gaining momentum as he struck. "Thou. Think. Thyself. A god?"

His growl of indignation could be heard above the wind. "Well, tis about time thou looked into the eyes of a true immortal!"

He shook the Eraser like the broken ragdoll he was, before tossing him once again at the ground with dismissing disgust. With a single thought and a flick of his wrist, he silenced the elements, the night sky immediately clearing at his demand as if it had never been. Only the wind remained, swirling around him as both a shield and a weapon, as soft as a lover's caress, but as dangerous as a blade's song.

The Guardian stood on the ground and looked down at his enemy with antipathy. The boy had reverted back to his original form sometime during his beating and looked almost vulnerable as he lay among the rocks. His limbs were twisted at strange angles, and blood soaked the strips of clothing that were left on his body. However, even though the body looked to be only a child, the Guardian didn't feel sympathy, and only a trace amount of pity.

"Thou hath fought and lost mortal. T'was not unexpected or undestined, as all lines led to this point. Thou entered a battle with a being thee could neither vanquish nor begin to comprehend."

A sword made of a mysterious blue energy and light appeared in the Guardian's hand, both beautiful and ethereal. He laid the point at Ari's throat.

"Look into the eyes of the one that has beaten thee. I will keep my honor and will finish this face to face."

Ari knew that he only had one chance. There was something unearthly about the Cajun rat he thought that he was fighting. The man was not totally human, that was for sure. He would admit that he had dangerously underestimated his opponent and that it was now costing him. He could barely move, his body in agony and his energy gone. However, if he wanted to live in order to later lick his wounds, he would have to make this one last ditch effort.

Spitting out a mouthful of blood onto the ground, he said ruefully, "I'll look at you rat." He slowly moved his head up and met the Guardian's eyes. He smiled as he heard the gasp and watched his enemy back away, his hands trembling, the energy sword disappearing.

Ari smiled, his eyes glowing green as he began to enter the other's mind. "But you might not like what you see…"

Dawn De La Vega didn't like his new name. He refused to answer to it. They hurt him a lot because of that, and he tried not to, he really did. But it hurt so much! They hit him for no good reason, and even when he let them do what they wanted to do, they still hurt him.

They kept sticking him with needles and cutting him with knives. Then they would strap him down and make him breath yucky gas that would put him to sleep, only for him to wake up in more pain and changes in his body. It was pain all the time, even the superpowers he got, weren't worth it.

And worst of all, he missed Dusk. They wouldn't let him see his big brother, even when he asked nice. He wished he could at least talk to him. He was very lonely. There was no one else to talk to other than the doctors, and he really didn't really want to talk to them. He had always hated going to the doctor; now he would have something to tell his mom about doctors being bad for you.

He curled up in the dry room as thoughts of his mom brought fresh new tears to his eyes. He so didn't want to be a crybaby, but he couldn't help it, he was afraid. He wanted to be at home, snuggling in his own warm bed and have his mom stroke his hair. He remembered he had told her that he was too old for such mushy stuff, but he would say he was sorry when he saw her again and ask her to do it all the time. He had to see her again. He just had to…

He tried in vain to wipe his eyes as he heard the lock being turned on his door. However, he was surprised when doctors or guards came into his room, but instead a big grey lump was thrown inside, jarring hard as it struck the floor. The door was quickly locked again and Dawn looked with both fear and interest at the moving mass that was now in his cell. He watched it for a second, before finally getting the courage and curiosity to check out the new visitor.

Yet, before he could get any closer, the thing looked up at him! Dawn quickly backed up, his fear taking control. The eyes looking back at him were dead at first, but then they seemed to come alive as they recognized him.


All fear went out the window, because though the voice was slightly deeper than before, he definitely knew his brother's voice when he heard it!

"Dusk! I can't believe it!"

He practically ran over, knocking his slowly rising brother back to the ground, before engulfing him with a huge hug. He felt the other boy's laugh and smiled with happiness as he backed away from his kinsman. As he looked over his sibling, he saw that there were changes in his body as well, but he didn't care. He was too happy.

He felt Dusk embrace him fully as well, tightly as though he didn't believe he was real. "Oh D, It's been so long! I thought they might have lied to me about letting me see you, but they kept their word for once."

The older boy backed up so that he could see the younger's face. "Are you alright? Have they hurt you?"

Dawn didn't want to lie to his brother, but he didn't want him to be worried about him either. "I'm alright."

His brother smiled at him understandingly before pulling him close once again. "You're only seven. You can't expect to hide much from me."

All of a sudden, he felt something break inside him and he could no longer hold the tears back anymore. Letting out a loud sob, he collapsed into his brother's arms and cried. "I want to go home! Why are we here Dusk?"

The older brother held the younger close, rocking him slightly, "Shhh, I want to go home too. But listen to me." He held up Dawn's tear-streaked face up with a finger, "We'll get through this, okay? We're going to find mama, and hug her so tight we might never let go."

"I bet Uncle Curtis is looking for us." The little boy whispered. "He'll find us, won't he Dusk?"

The question was more a statement then a question, so he left it as that. Instead of answering, Dusk held and rocked his little brother until the boy fell asleep. He then picked the boy up and walked to the metal slab that served as a bed, laid him down, arranging him so that he would be comfortable. Moving a hand through the soft locks, Dusk watched Dawn sleep and thought once again on their situation. What was he going to do? His little hermano was willing to wait for Uncle Curtis to save them, but Dusk wasn't that patient.

He was never truly close to his uncle. After his papi was killed in an accident more than six years ago, he had been at odds with Curtis. He had no doubts that his father's death and their kidnapping, had to do with their wayward uncle. He came over and saw them every so often, but Curtis was an outlaw, and because he was constantly on the run, he was not dependable in Dusk's eyes. Now, he knew that his uncle and his friends weren't nearly as guilty as the public made them out to be, but that didn't mean that he trusted the man either. If he was to get them out of here, he would have to do it under his own power.

"You know? If you were mine, I'd have to separate you two."

The voice that had filled the furthest reaches of his nightmares, speared right through his thoughts and Dusk felt as if his heart had jumped out of his skin! Turning around, unable to hide his fear and trembling, the preteen turned and looked behind him at the man who had to be the devil incarnate.

Taking a drag from his cigarette, the guest doctor leaned against the wall near the door, watching the two brothers with amused, observant eyes. "M4308 and M5475…such bland, cold names. I'd give you names with a little more meaning."

The man's voice was kind and gentle, as if talking to a little child. Yet it held a freezing subzero coldness that Dusk felt chill every bone in his body and bring terror to his very soul. He stayed petrified where he was as the doctor continued to speak.

"M4, hmm…I'd give you the name Sauer, and M5…I'd have to chose between Colt and Steyr. But since you two are brothers, I might go with Steyr. Sauer and Steyr, don't you think that sounds ideal, M4?"

Dusk nodded his head, while trying to press himself against the bed frame, as far away from the man as he could get, and still keep Dawn's body between himself and…Him.

The blond man smiled, showing a set of perfect white teeth. "You're trying to protect your little brother…that's nice. You remind me so much of my Beretta. She would always try to so hard to protect little Derringer." The man gave a light laugh as if trying to imagine the incredibility of it, before taking another drag of smoke. "I did tell you about Derringer didn't I? He was my star child, my favorite. I do miss him terribly."

The doctor exhaled a puff of smoke, before putting his hands in his pockets and walking toward the adolescent prisoner. The shivers along Dusk's back grew stronger as the man approached, and he instinctively tried to make himself smaller, coiling into a fetal position. As the doctor kneeled next to him and caressed his cheek with one hand, a small cry of alarm issued from his throat. It was a cry that he quickly tried to stifle when he saw Him smile in response.

"You're such a nice boy, M5. Or is it Dusk? You like being called Dusk don't you?"

He nodded.

"Well Dusk, if this experiment with you and your brother works, you might be given to the military. Do you know what that means?"

He shook his head.

"That means that you will probably belong to me. Wouldn't you love that Dusk?"

The boy squeezed his eyelids tight, trying to hold back the tears, all the while nodding all the same.

The doctor looked at Dawn and lightly moved the hair away from the sleeping boy's face. "And Dawn will probably love me too. We'll be one happy family, especially when your big brother Derringer comes back home. That would be awesome wouldn't it?"

Dusk looked toward his little brother, panic squeezing that air from his lungs as the man touched him. He had no idea how long he'd stared, until a firm hand took hold of his chin and roughly pulled his face up so that he was looking into a pair of crystal clear sky blue eyes.

The touch was brutal, but the voice still held its simple calmness. "Why didn't you answer me? Didn't you hear me ask a question, Dusk? When someone asks you a question, you're supposed to answer them, right?"

Dusk nodded vigorously, as much as man's hand would allow.

"And you would like to come and be my Sauer wouldn't you?"

He nodded again, anything so that the man would let go and he wouldn't have to look into those eyes any more.

"What about Dawn? It's not nice to leave him out. He would like to be my little Steyr wouldn't he?"

Dusk froze once again at the sound of his brother's name.

"Maybe I should just ask him. This is a kind of personal question, maybe I should just wake him up…"

Dusk shook his head vigorously, speaking for the first time since the doctor had entered the room. "N-No, please, d-don't do that. H-He w-w-would like it, I p-promise!"

The man smiled with pleasure, like that of a parent for its child. "I thought so. So, you're going to be a good boy and do what the other nice doctors tell you, so we can all be together, right?"

Dusk looked away, but nodded immediately.

The doctor pulled the adolescent's head back to look at him, "Make sure Dawn does too okay? I'm counting on you, young one. You don't want to disappoint me do you?"

Dread shot through him and Dusk forced his mouth to open, "N-No, doctor."

The man let go of the boy's face and he fell down in a heap on the ground, trembling in fear at the doctor's feet. The doctor looked down at the boy, that calm smile never changing. "That's good, Dusk. And you can call me 'doctor' for now until you're actually mine."

Placing his half burnt cigarette back into his mouth, the doctor gave Dusk a pat on the head and before turning around and leaving the room with a friendly wave. "Be a good boy, Dusk. I'll see you soon."

As soon as the door closed shut, Dusk let out a gut-wrenching sob, and cried like an infant…

George Batchelder was waiting for his friend as he left M5's cell. "How do you do it, you smug bastard?"

The man shrugged, "It's an art."

George followed the man as the two strolled away to the doctor's lounge. "You should meet my brother when he comes. I've already told him how good you are with working with kids, and goodness knows that man as too many of them. Guy can't even handle his own kid."

"I would be delighted to meet him."

"Did you truly want M4 and M5? Already trying to take my projects before I'm even finished with them?

"Well, I'll end up getting them anyway someway or another. You know they'll go to the military once you perfect your technique. I seem to always get the prototypes once everything is done. So why shouldn't I at least prepare the little ones for what's to come?"

"Well, why didn't you talk to M5? I don't think he's even seen you and I doubt M4 mentioned anything."

The mysterious doctor put out his cigarette in a nearby ashtray. "Oh, I know he didn't. But I need some personal one-on-one time with Steyr before I talk to the two together."

"He's still M5 while he's here."

"Details, Batchelder…simple details."

He gave a light chuckle which never failed send the hair on the back of George's neck standing straight up. "I can just imagine how a pair of my collars would look on them. Their pale little neck with a thin ring of solid black to give contrast, the mixing of the milky white, with forbidden darkness, and maybe a tinge of red…ah, what a masterpiece. Oh, I think they'll make a nice addition to my little family indeed."

George could only stand and look at his friend in wonder, before picking up his steps to follow the man and thanking God, he was not one of the doctor's "children". "Dark, I've said it once and I'll say it again. You are one sick bastard, you know that?"

Dr. Dark Talion stopped and looked back at the George, the smile that never seemed to leave the man's face got a little bit wider—and a whole lot scarier. It was a smile that could have frozen the Sahara three times over.

"So I've been told…"

The Guardian felt the wolf-child enter his mind. It was like feeling a virus, infect every bit of his psyche, as if trying to flood his head until his own thoughts couldn't breathe.

How childish.

Protecting his mortal subconscious charge, the Guardian quickly built a mind barrier to the oncoming onslaught. Pushing the wolf boy back, it was instantly clear as to who was the better telepath.

Ari screamed at the harsh and sudden rejection, before collapsing onto his stomach in pain.

"Thy power is nothing to mine. My mind is too strong."

The guardian looked down upon Ari, anger and pity making his eyes glint even more. The wolf knew he was beaten, and only looked up at the other with bloody, malice-filled looks.

"I would torture thee, as thy hast tormented mine innocent maiden: without mercy or a shred of mortal compassion. Nonetheless, my time grows short, and I'm afraid I must give thee a hurried end."

"What will you do, swamp rat? You kill me, and Max will hate you for the rest of your life. She hates killers. Why do you think I had to make her fall in love with me?"

"She might hate me, but I am not the one who loves her. And because of that I will destroy thee on his behalf. "

The wolf glinted back.

"But do not worry, thy requiem shall be in song."

That was when the Guardian revealed his final and strongest ability. It was his most beautiful and most deadly.

Opening his mouth, first one note came, and then another. Soon it was a torrent, as the Guardian began to sing aloud a melody that had no words and no stanzas, yet seemed to be a magical language in itself. It went on and on, with only small breaks here and there, but that only made it more remarkable. It was haunting and outlandish, but it only made the listener want to listen more; with one note, the voice had its audience hook, line, and sinker.

The song at first, was light and airy, strong and bold, it was daring and traditional, everything music was supposed to be, no matter your preference. Ari could only listen with awe and amazement at the sound of the Guardian's tireless voice. Even if Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Handel, and all the other great masters had combined their efforts in order to make the most spectacular composition their genius minds could come up with, it would still but nothing compared to the beauty and unearthly majesty of the music that came from the immortal's throat.

The song went on forever it seemed, a constant string of notes that only paused for effect but not to actually draw breath. Ari was mesmerized by it and could only sit still on the rocks, his pain and hatred forgotten. Little did he know, was that the song was much more than a piece of music, it was not of this world. The tune was magic, this particular harmony could go down to the very depths of the soul—and utterly rip it right out of your body.

Like Odysseus and the sirens in Homer's Odyssey, the song would pull the unknowing Eraser to his death. Even now, while Ari was too infatuated with the beautiful melody, it was going through his body and spirit like a poison, destroying all it could find. All of the boy's barriers were down, allowing the Guardian free access to his mind and body. However, as the being guided his song through Ari's brain and into the part that contained his memories and feelings, the Guardian and Derrin watched the boy's life flow around them. Every pain, every sorrow, every disappointment of a young boy's heart trapped inside a monster's body, was open to them.

Mon Dieu…the kid's own parents did this to him? At least since I never really had any parents, I can dream of their care and love, but this…this is just horrible.

His mind is shattering, Derringer. Thee cannot feel it as I do, but it is coming apart at the seams.

A pang of guilt and empathy seemed to bloom within Derringer's consciousness. The Eraser hadn't asked for what happened to him, and he was actually losing his mind because of the tortures that his own parents had put him through.

I wish there was another way…

The enchantment is not yet irreversible. If it is thy will, I will stop the damage I have started.

The two continued to look at the boy's mind in silence for a few more moments before they together came to the same conclusion. Derrin signaled his agreement as the Guardian stopped the venomous melody, and instead began to speak once again, his voice full of compassion and sorrow.

"Thou poor, unfortunate lad, whilst I cannot forgive thine trespasses, for that is only for mine vessel's damsel to decide, I understand that thee was driven to this point. The ones who were supposed to protect thee, abandoned and hurt thee. Thee small, damaged child, not allowed companionship or love. Thine emotions became twisted and dark, and drove thee to obsession. "

The Guardian conferred with/ Derringer for a moment before speaking once again. "Though thine sentence was to/ be death, my host has decided to have mercy on thee. I shall not kill thee like I first intended. My voice is what petrifies thee. I can command with my song anything I want from thine body and soul—even thy death. But I shall not kill thee, but neither can I allow thee to see or even touch the Lady Ride again. So instead, I will grant thee a gift."

Ari's eyes fluttered in confusion, even while semiconscious and paralyzed.

Bending down, the Guardian put a hand to the Eraser's head, "No more hatred, no more rage, no more sadness, I shall the grant thee the gift of taking them all away…and giving thee life instead."

He placed his hands on the teen's broken body and closed his eyes, letting the music seep from out of his soul. His song had changed and Ari felt once more. However, by the time the ownership of his battered corpse became his own again, he didn't want to move away from the soothing voice and the warmth and comfort it provided.

The Guardian's hands began to glow and his energy flowed out. As he sang his song, he spoke within his head to Derringer.

When I am done, thee will once again be in charge. I will not have enough energy to retain my form.

Alright, I'll handle it from there. Thank you for all your help Guardian.

It is my duty and my pleasure, young one.

The Guardian pushed his power from out his fingertips and through the power of his voice. He slowly manipulated the boy's body and mind, his work tedious but simple for his superlative mind. The wind softly blew, gentle whispers issuing as if they were talking to each other in curiosity at what their master was up to.

Ari had no idea what the Guardian was doing, nor did he care. He had never felt this wonderful, this free before. He felt tenderness and light filling his mind, and all at once nothing seemed to matter as much as they once had. Why had he been so mad at—what was his name? Hmm, who cared? He was tired of being angry. He was tired of hating the world, being jealous, being—alone.

He realized now that that was the reason that he had wanted Max…that was strange, her name wasn't so clear anymore…to be with him. He wanted someone to be with him, someone to love him, someone to pay attention to him, for him. He was so tired of trying to prove himself and gain his parents' notice, only to be denied time and time again. He was willing to give everything up to the light, it was a huge respite.

And it wasn't just his mind that felt lighter; his body was also feeling relief from the constant clumsiness of his bulky wings and the never-ending ache of the wolf within him. Being an Eraser was no glory job, quite the opposite actually. He never asked to be this way, and he was tired of it. Terror was fun but tiring and he was weary of people being scared of him. He just wanted to have fun, to eat whatever he wanted, to have friends who wouldn't run away from him, to play games and go to school like normal kids, to have parents to come home to who would celebrate his successes and be proud of his accomplishments. He wanted to be encouraged when he failed, to be loved instead of kicked, insulted, and humiliated. Oh, to have a birthday party, and Christmas…

He would give up all his "powers" if he could just have a life like that. A simple, normal life…

But even those thoughts were getting to be fuzzy as his consciousness began to escape him. Every single event seemed to be passing though his mind, yet getting lost in the shuffle. But what did it matter? He never liked any of them much anyway…

The Guardian sighed with exhaustion as he took his hands away from the boy's body. It had taken some time and energy, but his endeavor was a success. He took a look at his handiwork and smiled at the results.

Quite a well done job if I must say so myself.

He felt Derringer move around inside him as if trying to get a better view. There was indignation in his tone.

Who is this boy, Guardian? And where did that bastard wolf go?

I have not only healed his wounds, but have undone all the damage that was done to him at the hands of his parents and their minions. He is now whole and unblemished, his mind once again repaired. He is the boy he was born to be—entirely human.

Derringer was stunned. He looks so young now.

The wolf aged him, he has only seen about nine or ten winters.

So he's really only about the same age as Gazé and mon Ange. He looked almost two times that.

The shock however, of all the Guardian was capable of, was still overwhelming.How is this possible?

I told thee I had abilities that no mortal man could comprehend.

And you weren't kidding… The Cajun whistled with admiration. What will we do with him now? And won't his parents and their group just do more experiments on him now that he has somehow "mysteriously" reverted back to human?

They shall never know. He shall become a dead entity to them.

Won't he just go back to them and tell them what happened?

Nay, the boy no longer has any memory of them. In order to completely repair the mental damage done to his mind, his mind had to be almost totally erased. His body knows all of its knowledge that it has gained since he was a babe, but none of the memory of his life.

Derringer could only sit silent in shock. How could you—

It t'was the price he had to pay.The Guardian said with firmness.Thou swore that he would die if he touched the maiden, and I must honor that vow. Nevertheless, because of the changing circumstances, I changed the punishment to a different kind of death. A death that for him, shall either be a curse of roaming the earth in constant search for his old self, or—it shall be a gift that canst give him a new life, free from the poisonous touch of his parents and people. The choice to make will be his alone.

But to be without a name or a past…

I have given him a new name within his memory, but it shall be his choice of whether to keep it. It is a name that fits the duality of his new and old self, yet shall be the opposite of all that he has been. He shall no long be a ravenous wolf, but a protective ram; neither predator nor prey.

As he let the thoughts settle, Derringer sighed in resignation and exhaustion, Well, whateva. What we gon' do with 'im now? Deh-spite what you say, I not taking him wit us.

The snake temptress was right. Thine strange dialect becomes even stronger than usual when thou art fatigued.The Guardian observed thoughtfully. His vessel only shrugged, too tired to think about it.

I will transport the boy to a safe location that I found within your female's thoughts. I shall be completely drained thereafter, and as I warned thee, you shall have to take over thine body's functions. Art thou ready?

Jus' do it, copain.

Aye.The Guardian then held out a hand, above the Ex-Eraser's body and light began to engulf it. A swirl of blue energy came around the unconscious boy and soon, he disappeared without a single trace.

As soon as he had put his arm down, the man fell to his knees before collapsing prostrate on the ground. Derringer felt a slight rush before finding himself back at the forefront of his mind, and in control of his body. Testing his arms and legs, he made a quick assessment and found that everything in his body was exactly like it was before the Guardian had taken over.

Merci, mon copain. I am in your debt.

The Guardian did not speak, but a wave of reassurance and camaraderie came over him as a response.

Wanting nothing but to get back to Max and leave this godforsaken place, Derrin made his way over the mountain face, back towards the path that would take him to the abandoned mining tunnels, and back to the girl he'd left behind.

Dr. Valencia Martinez looked outside of her window; her preteen daughter was looking at something outside. She opened the door and called out into the night, wrapping her shawl around her shoulders. She spoke into the peaceful darkness.

"Ella! What are you doing out there? It's the wee hours of the morning and you know you have school in the morning."

The girl turned surprised and looked at her mother, her face flushed with embarrassment of being caught. However, she quickly got over it as she remembered why she was out in the yard at four-thirty in the morning.

"Come out here mom, quick! There's someone out here and he looks like he might be hurt."

Sighing, Valencia walked outside, shivering as she walked on the wet grass in her bare feet. "You had better not be making up stories."

The girl turned and looked at her as if she couldn't believe her mother would even have the audacity to even suggest such a thing. But she didn't say anything about that, and instead explained why she was up.

"I woke up and was going to get a glass of water when I saw this bright light outside the window. Something told me to go investigate, so I came out here. I didn't see any light, but I did find this guy."

When Dr. Martinez finally got close enough to see the dark haired boy on the ground, she quickened her step before kneeling down and checking the boy's vitals. She sighed with relief that the young one was only sleeping deeply. Scanning the boy's body she was glad she didn't find any wounds. The poor thing was dressed only in tattered rags, his bare body exposed to the elements.

Looking closely, the boy seemed almost familiar to her but she couldn't quite figure out why. He was nothing but a young boy, somewhat younger than her fourteen year-old Ella. Why was he out here in this shape, and all alone?

Valencia was awoken from her thoughts when she heard a groan come from out of the boy's throat. His eyelids began to flutter and soon opened to reveal a pair of warm hazel eyes. He looked at her with curiosity and interest, but not the slightest amount of fear.

She smiled at him reassuringly, "Hey guy, my name is Dr. Valencia Martinez, and that's my daughter Ella."

Ella smiled and waved when the boy's eyes turned to her.

"What are you doing out here this late? Where are your parents?"

Closing his eyes, the boy seemed as though he was deep in thought, a small crease coming to his forehead. But when he opened his eyes, they were just as blank as before. "I…I don't know. I can't remember."

Valencia was taken aback by the crystal clarity of the boy's voice. If it continued on this caliber, he would be a most accomplished singer as an adult. American Idol would be a piece of cake for a voice like that.

Thinking back to the task at hand, she gave a little frown at the boy's lack of memory. "Well, what's your name? Do you know where you live or who your parents are?"

Closing his eyes, the boy tried hard to think again, but nothing seemed to come up. His whole mind was a blank. He looked back at the woman and her daughter and shook his head. "I don't remember anything."

The doctor looked back at the girl, who hunched her shoulders in return. Turning back towards him, the doctor lady offered her hand to help him up. "Well, I don't think you'd lie to me, and I haven't seen you in this town before. I'm going to examine your head and see why you're having trouble with your memory. If you have nowhere else to go, you can stay here tonight. I won't toss a ten year-old out on the street to the wolves."

The words seemed to jog a single thing within his mind, and the boy blinked for a moment and thought hard, but nothing would come. Not a single memory about who he was would come to mind. Well, all except—


The nice lady doctor and her daughter stopped and looked at him. "What?"

"That's all I can remember. My name is Aries."

The lady smiled brightly, "Aries…that's a nice name. I think it means 'ram', after the constellation."

"That must be why you're wearing that pendent, it goes with your name. Maybe you parents gave it to you." Ella looked at him excitedly.

The boy, now called Aries, looked down between the threads of the shredded shirt he wore. Around his neck on a light chain, was curly looking V made of a peculiar bluish silver metal that gleamed and shimmered in the moonlight. Touching the delicate looking thing, he found it to be quite cool to the touch despite being near his hot body. It was a nice trinket, but it did nothing to turn the wheels in his mind.

Before he could even ask the question, Ella spoke up. "That's the symbol for Aries. The two curly sides represent a ram's horns and the stars that make up Aries in the sky form a V."

Aries nodded in understanding as they led him inside the house, looking around, he saw that he stood in a clean and warm kitchen. The homey look sent a pang to his heart, but he didn't know why.

The two women led him up a set of hardwood steps to an upper floor, where they took him down a hall to the last door at the end. The doctor lady opened the door, revealing a comfortable bedroom painted in greens and blues, with sky blue carpeting, pine furniture, and a large bed with white sheets. "This is one of the guestrooms. You can stay here for the time being. I'll go find you some clothes and bring my bag so I can check you out."

She turned towards her daughter, "You go to bed. You still have school tomorrow, Ella."

The girl gave a little whine of disappointment, but left anyway after a stern look from her mother. As she passed him, she winked and gave him a smile of reassurance.

Aries smiled back before her mom led him over to sit on the bed. "I'll be right back, okay Aries? Make yourself comfortable."

As the doctor left, he looked around the room in silence and felt another pang come to his heart. Why did he feel so happy? It was as if he had been looking for a place like this all his life. Now, that didn't make any sense, since he could even remember his life. He couldn't remember where he came from or if there was anyone out there looking for him. He didn't even remember what he looked like!

Standing up, he walked over to the dresser and tentatively looked at himself in the mirror. Looking back at him was an adolescent boy about a decade in age. He had a head of tawny hair, shaggy and uncut, falling along his thin shoulders. His skin was pale but evenly toned, and light freckles dusted his cheeks underneath his wide hazel eyes. He was quite tall, but no giant; and his figure while wiry, showed muscular curves of strength.

So this was who Aries was.

He felt his lips turn up and watched his reflection smile with him. He liked Aries. He liked him a lot.

29. A Lovely Night

A/N: Hey everyone, it's been a long time. Well here's another chapter and I am going to give a small warning that there is lot more fluff this chapter, so have fun!

Chapter 28

Maximum knew the exact instant that the strange shield over her disappeared. Firstly, the pain returned with a vengeance and set her teeth gritting against each other. And secondly, there was no longer a strange charge within the air around her. The force field had been real; when she moved her hand against the space around her, it came in contact with resistance. The minute she touched it, the shield blazed to life and resembled liquid electricity the while it flowed harmlessly around her fingers, it didn't allow her to pass through. It kept her in and everything else out.

She didn't know if its disappearance meant happiness or ill for the battle happening above her. Was Derringer okay? What had happened to Ari? She sat within the dark room utterly defenseless, quietly wondering who would be coming through the door and whether she would ever see sunlight again. She swore to herself, that if she ever got out of this alive, she would never go into another cave again for as long as she lived.

In fact, after this nightmare, she would have to do a lot of searching and contemplating about her life. Her life as she had known it had ended this night. Ari had done a job on her, and he had done it thoroughly. It might not have been the job that he had sought out to do, but had shattered her all the same.

Never had she been so unsure, she had been rocked right down to the core, and it scared her. She was floating alone without a boat or a paddle, almost too tired to stop herself from drowning. Laying her head against the stone floor, she did her best not to jostle any of her broken bones and wounds. Despite the cold and the pain, it was not but one second later before she fell out of consciousness.

Max's eyelids fluttered as she felt a soft kiss upon her brow. She struggled to raise herself out of her blessedly uneventful unconscious state, which had suddenly fallen upon her. It took her quite some time to bring everything back into focus, for it was at least half a minute before she realized that the arm that was held beneath her, was quite real.

Panic closed in around her and she immediately began to struggle, forgetting about her many wounds. It was so dark and she didn't trust her eyes anymore. She didn't want to see the face, she just wanted to get away. However, against her wishes, the arms simply enfolded her closer and all she could do was blindly beat her ravaged hands against the torso. She felt utter shame as tears fell down her cheeks unwanted. How could she cry? She, Maximum Ride, who had never truly cried for herself a day in her life? How could her body betray her like this?

When her fists did nothing to move her attacker, her instinct called for her to try to kick out at him, but the minute she moved to do so, her body excruciatingly reminded her that her tibia and fibula had been snapped in half like twigs, not only causing more of those traitorous watery droplets to flow from her eyes, but pulling a scream from throat.

The feathery touch of her attacker's fingers wiped away at her tears as soothing sounds came from out of the darkness. "Shhh, It's okay chérie, I'm here…it's me."

Max felt as if the whole world had shuttered to a halt without her grabbing on to anything, sending her floundering and skidding a kilter. She knew that voice, and she knew that term of endearment. But it couldn't be…could it? Was this nightmare truly over?

She paused in her movements and looked up into the darkness in disbelief. Her eyes, which could see perfectly in the dark, actually looked for the first time. She began to assemble the features of the person who held her. Her hand trembled as she reached forward, not sure if what she beheld was real or a mirage. "D-Derringer?"

However, her sudden loss of adrenalin and the jarring of her dislocated fingers caused her to hiss at the sudden pain. His hand took hold of hers and he lightly caressed her palm before lowering her hand back to her side. "You shouldn't move, chère. Not until I can get ya outta here and to safety."

Max watched his golden eyes glow in the dark like twin coals. But it wasn't like before, it was more earthly this time, as if his eyes reflected the smallest bit of light like that of a great hunting cat. She had noticed it before, when she had caught glimpses of him at night around the campfire, after he had removed his shades. However, this was the first time she had really looked at them before in this way. Ari couldn't know something like that about Derrin, could he? He couldn't be scrambling with her brain again…or was he? How could she know for sure?

She looked at him closely, her voice quiet. "H-How do I know you're real? That you're you?"

He looked down at her in surprise for a minute, before the look changed to one of sympathy and compassion. "Do you feel alone anymore?"

Her eyes lifted in astonishment at the words. The same words she had asked Derrin—the real Derrin—on the night that she and the flock had initiated the man into their fold!

Those two-timing tears began to fill the corners of her eyes once again, but this time she didn't hate them or try to brush them away. Beaming, she deftly lifted her arms towards him, "No."

Delicately gathering her in his arms, Derringer lifted her up as he stood upright, letting her circle her limbs loosely around his neck. He leaned down and kissed her tears away tenderly. "Neither do I."

Shifting as much as she could without jostling her leg, she huddled against him, making sure she had contact at all times. If he was a dream, she didn't care to ever wake up again. She would stay with this man, human or fiction, as long as he took her away from this place.

"Get me outta here, Cajun. Please…take me out of this place." Max pleaded softly against his chest.

The redhead took a moment to cast an eye over her, his mouth pressed in a firm line as he took in the bruises, cuts, and many injuries that his girl had suffered. Once again his anger towards the wolf boy rose up and burned once again, only to be quickly extinguished when he remembered that the boy had received his punishment and would never hurt Max or any of the flock again. What was done was done, and those who had sent the boy would pay. He was surprised that she hadn't asked about what had happened or about his unearthly transformation, but then again, he had no idea what to tell her if she did ask. Right now he had to take care of his girl, and find his family. It had been a long night. It was time to go home.

"Come on chère, I'm gonna get ya outta here. Tell me if I jolt ya at all, okay darlin'?"

He waited till she nodded before clutching her closer and then, using his strength and speed he sped through the mine shaft's twist and turns, careful to keep her broken leg steady. He knew he should have put a splint on it, but he had no supplies and he was hoping that he could get her to Gaz before that became necessary.

It wasn't long before he had found his way back to the entrance, and out into the crisp mountain air. He felt Max shiver in his arms and looking down at her, he felt his face flush as he realized the condition of her clothes. He instead did his best to ignore her near naked form and looked only at her face. "I'm sorry that you feel a chill, love. I would in any other situation offer you my jacket, but it's so shredded and stained with blood. It's not even worthy of a mangy dog. Will you be okay?"

Maximum was beyond the point of embarrassment, and simply snuggled closer to her rescuer's chest, letting him warm her chilled flesh. "I'll be alright. Let's just go."

Easier said than done, Derrin thought uncomfortably as he tried to overcome his base nature, but his girl wasn't making it simple. He finally just let a little bit of the pain he had mentally been keeping out, seep in to cure the problem. Oh Mon Dieu, well that did the trick.

Max looked up at Derringer when he suddenly let out a pained hiss. "Are you okay?"

He looked down at her and she saw a slight sheen of perspiration line his forehead as he crookedly smiled at her. "I am now. Let's get going."

She crooked an eyebrow at him in confusion before letting it go. "Yes."

Hurtling up the mountain face, Derringer came to a halt on an outcropping as he was trying to get an idea of what path he should take. However, his breath was suddenly taken away at the panorama that lay out before him. "Chère! You've gotta look at this. It is so trés magnifique!"

At his words and slight shaking to get her attention, Max turned slightly around and looked at what had gotten him so excited. Staring out into the darkness, she could only gasp at the beauty that was revealed to her. For what seemed like the first time in forever, she grinned widely at the wonder before her eyes.

The moon was full and had risen high in the night sky, bathing the earth in its silver glow. The world was spread out beneath it, unspoiled by cities or towns, just a wash of nature crisp and alive, beauty incarnate. The mountainside was spread before her, followed by the forests and hills, land spread out as God had created it. The clouds had cleared and stars blazed in the sky like minuscule torches, and the air was so invigorating and alive that it made her human side want to cry and laugh with joy. The animal side of her also heard the call of the wilderness and instinctively she began to unfurl her wings to soar out into the night sky and take in the beauty. The agony that raked her body stopped her in mid-transformation, and her smile froze on her face as reality crashed once more around her.

Derringer could feel the animal within him growl in its want to stretch its legs, even though he could also feel the Guardian simply "roll over" in exhaustion within his subconscious. But then he felt a slight shudder against his chest, and at once all of his attention went back to the woman within his arms. She was his top priority; he and everyone inside him seemed to at least agree on that.

She was crying again, yet this despair seemed so much worse as it was contrasted by the picturesque setting framing her. He could not wipe away her tears with her in his arms, so he did the next best thing. Nuzzling her cheek, he held her as close as he possible could without hurting her. "What's wrong, chère?"

Max hated appearing weak in front of anyone, but she was beyond that point now. She had hit rock bottom, and the bad guys had struck a devastating blow this night. Using her undamaged hand she ran her fingers lightly along the slit that hid her wing. She could feel Derringer's gaze on her, watching her movements but she didn't have to courage to meet his eyes. She instead looked back up at the moon, the celestial body looking more like a lifeless, barren chunk of rock than the enchanting vision it had been a moment ago.

"It's so strange," She said half to herself, the despair evident in her voice, "that I was put through so much pain in just giving me superhuman abilities, for it to be all taken away in an instant. And it wasn't even that painful…"

Fresh tears filled her eyes, "At least physically…"

He pulled her closer and burrowed his face against her cheek in sympathy and supplication; a behavioral instinct that came from his feline DNA. "Please don't cry chère. It's tearing me apart."

She tried to wipe them away, but they just kept coming. In fact they seem to increase at such a rate that she eventually covered her face with hands and simply wept. "My wings, Derrin! H-He took my wings from me."

Derringer could feel his heart being strangled by his girl's cries. He didn't know what to do in order to comfort her, or even if he would be able to. "Ma chérie, you have your wings, they have not been taken from you."

She sat up and pushed her wings out ever so slightly so that he could see the ravaged area where her pinion feathers had once been. She could tell by the continuing silence that he had seen and understood her plight and doom. "He might as well have. He broke my leg to prevent me from running away. He crippled my wings to keep me from flying out of his cage. He might as well have killed me for all the use I am to anyone!"

Harsh hands flipped her over so that she had no choice but to face him, their faces were so close there was but a hairsbreadth between them. His angry stare hit her unswervingly and she could not avoid its punishing gaze.

His voice was low but severe, "Now ya listen ta me, mah mademoiselle. I didn't save ya jus' so ya can go all suicidal on me. Dying ain't gonna get rid of your problems, and believe me, we still got problems. So ya can't walk? So ya can't fly? Broken bones heal all the time, they was made that way. Feathers can regrow."

Derrin saw the uncertainty in her eyes and he leaned his forehead against so that she would see the conviction in his own. "They can grow again. And even if they didn't, ya still an essential part of the flock, ya're a necessary part o' my life, and if ya forgot, you still got a few jobs to do yet, mah darlin'. Gazé and Nudge still have some growin' up ta do, and in case ya 'aven't noticed, they got a bit of a crush on each other."

She looked at him in surprise, "But they're only kids!"

"They're preteens, and their hormones have been ragin' for awhile now, chère. And there's petite Ange, she needs ya like any baby chick need its mother. She got power, but she still a little girl. And Izzy, he beginnin' to find 'imself now; tryin' ta become a man for his family. He need ya ta guide him in the right direction. And did ya forget all about Fang?"

Max froze at the name and her heart felt the shame pierce her heart like a knife. How had she let despair grab her like this? How had she let Ari…win?

To her horror, even more tears fell and she looked away from Derrin and buried her face within his already soaked garments. "I'm sorry I'm being so weak a-a-and pathetic! It's just that I–"

He again brought her closer in comfort, his voice soft and cooing with solace and reassurance. "I know, chèrie…I know he hurt ya. But ya know what? No one ever gonna hurt ya again. He ain't ever gonna touch ya as long as I live, ya got that? Ya got me, chère?"

Maximum felt his words soak in and the confidence that came with them. She let them calm her and let him be his support. For the first time in her life, she totally gave up control and leaned upon another. Her weeping began to let up and she settled once again in his arms.

Derringer waited in silent patience for her cries to end completely and her shudders to still before he leaned forward and kissed her forehead and then continued on. "Until ya are back on your feet chère, I will be your legs for you to walk and run anywhere you wish to go, and I may not be as good as a pair of wings, but I'll try my best to fly you through the night."

Feeling the wind rushing past her again, Max used her sleeve to wipe her face before looking up at the redhead. Her smile was warm as she commented softly, "Once you calm down, your strange dialect goes back into hiding, Cajun."

He gave a small laugh and grinned roguishly, "Yeah, I've been told that quite a few times. As you know, I usually speak the King's English, but when I get tired or angry I just can't be bothered. It doesn't bother you, does it?"

"No, not at all." She answered quietly before leaning back against him. "I think it adds to your character."

In the silence that followed, Max gave a sigh and unintentionally breathed in Derringer's scent. While it had traces of sweat and blood, there was a deeper undercurrent of pinewood and spice. It was something she had never really noticed before. Well, that made sense as she had never been this close to him before. She could the feel the steady thump of his heart against her, strong and relentless in its duty.

As she listened to the beats, Max remembered a night where she had fallen asleep within Derrin's arms after he had finished singing a lullaby to the kids. He had always sung for the children and she was glad for it. But she, and the slightly selfish child that was within her heart, was drawn to his voice and always wanted him to sing just for her. She wished…she wondered if…


Her voice was so soft that he actually had to slow down in order to hear her. "Yes, chère?"

Her voice stayed low and her eyes never looked at his face. "Would…would you mind singing…to me?"

He smiled as her face flushed in embarrassment, "Maxiée, look at me."

She waited for a little before doing as he asked. When he was gazing into those striking brown orbs, he warmly responded. "Mon chèrie, tonight, your every desire is my command. Never be afraid to ask me for anything."

"Thank you" she said with a voice a little higher than a whisper.

Derrin gave a mental sigh even as he kept his face the same. Oh chère, where did my spitfire go? What song can I possibly—

But then, his mind thought of the perfect melody that would suit his scathed girl, and hopefully give her the reassurance that everything would be alright.

Although she had heard Derrin sing before, Maximum was once again astounded by the rich tone, clarity, and beauty of his voice. But her eyes went wide as she listened to the lyrics and realized that he was indeed singing the song to her:

"Let me be your wings.

Let me be your only love.

Let me take you, far beyond the stars."

Lifting her up higher in his arms, he nodded for her to look around. Deciding to risk it again, Max turned away from his chest only to gasp in shock and grab onto his arm. He was running across a giant lake, no land in site and only the moon and stars accompanied them as they speed through. He only grinned widely before continuing to explain the truth to his wounded "fair maiden".

"Let me be your wings.

Let me lift you high above.

Everything we´re dreaming of, will soon be ours."

Max held on tightly as he began to run faster, the water's spray dancing on her face. The air filled her lungs and pure elation began to rise up within her chest. Up ahead, she watched what she had thought to be a lake and actually was a wide river, end suddenly! She knew it to be a waterfall and turned to warn Derringer, only for him to give her that knowing, daring smirk that she knew so well. His grip tightened and his speed increased with the current, all the while, his voice was steady and sure.

"Anything that you desire,

Anything at all,

Every day I´ll take you higher,

And I´ll never let you fall."

She could not even gather enough breath to scream as he vaulted from off of the water's edge! For a moment, they were in midair and nothing existed except for the two of them. Their eyes met, and for a single moment, they were actually flying…but then gravity seized them again and she clutched tightly to the redhead's neck as she gritted her teeth and waited for the impact.

Yet, instead of crashing on the rocks, Derringer changed direction in midcourse, preforming a full in-half out somersault outwards towards the water's surface further downriver, out of the way of the jagged stones, all the while still holding her in her arms! He began moving in a continuous, rapid circle as they neared the water's surface, so that instead of plunging through it, he swirled across the river and his legs instantly began to pick up the pace once again. He beamed in joy at the rush, but when he looked down, he saw Max had as of yet to take her hands from over her eyes. Well that wouldn't do.

He bent close enough to blow against her ear, causing her to jump in surprise. She looked around them in surprise, and he smiled at her speechless shock as he raced and weaved backwards and forwards across the waterway, lifting a faint spray into the air of dazzling water droplets.

"Let me be your wings.

Leave behind the world you know,

For another world of wondrous things.

We´ll see the universe and dance on Saturn´s rings.

Fly with me and I will be your wings."

With spectacular dexterity, he picked up his speed and leaped, spinning into a double axel before landing and taking off, intertwining across the river as if it was made of ice.

Once she knew that his recklessness wasn't going to get her killed, the joy of his intrepid moves finally hit Max's heart, and she laughed at the rush and energy of the movement. She kicked up her uninjured leg and let one hand release its grip and wave through the air in her building excitement. "How are you doing this? You can go across the water as if it was solid."

He spun around in figure eights and spinning spirals, his soles barely skimming the surface giving her a feeling of weightlessness that was both similar and different from what she was used to.

He answered thoughtfully, "I have no idea in truth. When I run across the water at a certain speed, I have to vibrate my body a certain way. Somehow, this creates enough surface tension at that point, that I can skate across as if it's rock-solid. I can't do it in a storm or anything, but every other time is fair game. Now, if I stop pulsating at that rate and don't begin running immediately afterward, I will sink. But enough of that."

Bringing her back up straight, he grinned at her with a desire that made her blush, and for the first time truly realize how close they had gotten.

"Sing with me, chère."

Max's eyes shot open in disbelief at the unexpected demand. "But I-I don't sing! And I don't know any songs, let alone this one."

He shook his head, "This is my song to you, darlin'. You know it, as sure as you know my voice."

She looked at him in dismay, but before she could argue further, he began again, his voice fervent and expecting.

"Anything that you desire,

Anything at all."

For the first time, Max seemed to truly hear and understand his words, and without consciously making a decision, answered back, her voice enervated but still willing…

"Anything at all."

His look of pleasure this time, was different than both his boyish grin and his charming smirk. There was such a heat to it, that she knew that if he was looking at the water rather than her, it would crackle and steam. No one had ever looked at her like that before.

And despite the way he was longingly regarding at her, his voice continued without a hitch—with more ardor than ever.

"Every day I´ll take you higher,

And I´ll never let you fall."

A strange feeling was rising up inside her, a feeling as if she was being drawn. Raising her free hand to his shoulder, she looked up at her rescuer with new eyes. She knew Derringer to be handsome, but that wasn't what captivated her. She knew, from more than his words, but from the strength of his gaze and spark in his eyes, that he would do exactly as he said. That he would be there to support her and to keep her from falling; that he would stand by her till the very end.

In her heart she felt a heat that seemed to spread like wildfire, and her voice shot out into the night, almost of its own free will.

"You will be my wings."

Derringer's scarlet locks seemed to mix with her flaxen ones, as he twirled them around the unoccupied tributary like it was a grand dance floor. And likewise, his voice began to meld with hers.

"Let me be your wings."

She raised her hand to the side of his face, and the next line came out without thought. Yet, even as she said it, she had to wonder if it wasn't true? A thought of Fang came to her mind, and a twinge of uncertainty arose, but she banished it quickly. For right now, at this time and at this place, she was with Derringer, and nothing else mattered.

"You will be my only love."

The shock of her statement almost sent them both cold river's depths, but he picked up speed and vaulted forward, spinning once again into another axel jump. When they landed, he turned to see her watching him with a wide grin of happy excitement. His heart filled with amusement, and he couldn't remember a time when he had been happier, or more content.

"Get ready for a world of wondrous things."

This time there was no hesitation when she answered back.

"Wondrous things are sure to happen."

Together, their voices fused as one, with the same thought and the same purpose.

"We´ll see the universe and dance on Saturn´s rings."

Bringing her closer, Derrin tilted his head and gazed at the once-fragile treasure that lay in his arms, and was satisfied to see the life back within those dark hazel eyes once again.

"Heaven isn´t too far."

Lightly touching his face, Max felt herself pull in closer to him. Remarkably enough, her wings had ceased to hurt, and his constant intertwining lulled her into a sense of peace and bliss she had rarely felt before. So, she felt she had to correct him.

"Heaven is where you are."

Their melodies melded together one last time, as their eyes stayed fixed on each other.

"Stay with me and let me be your wings..."

Silence followed as their last note hung in midair when the Cajun gave a soft chuckle, "You're going to take me flyin'?"

Laying her hand against his chest, she went up close and whispered in his ear. "When my wings heal, I'll do it first thing. I'm no "fair maiden" you know."

She went to lie back against his shoulder, but his hand stopped her. Keeping her still in one arm, he stood still on the water while tilting her head up to meet his. This time, the hunger and heat were unmistakable, even to the most blind eye.

"Now that's where you're wrong. You happen to be the fairest maiden I have ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on."

Her cheeks stained red, but she could not divert her gaze from his magnetic orbs. Her voice was a breathless whisper. "How do I know that I'm not the only maiden you've ever laid eyes on? At least within age range."

"Well, then you'd know that you are beyond compare then, don't you?" he answered, his voice long ago had gained a husky tone.

Before she could think of an answer to this, his lips touched hers and she felt a shocking spark race up her spine in response!

After a second or two, she silently answered back, kissing him in return. The moment she responded, he took the opening and deepened their kiss, stealing her breath away at the same time. Instinctively, she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer, if that could be possible.

Though this wasn't her first kiss, she had to admit that she had never been kissed like this. The boy that she had kissed that night so long ago, was nothing compared to fierceness and thoroughness that was Derringer. She remembered when they had first met and he had been giving her mouth-to-mouth, and she had accused him of kissing her. Now, she knew how wrong she was. How had she ever confused that, with this?

After a few more moments, they both came up for air and Max was a little jealous that her partner seemed to be no worse for wear and ravenous for more, all the while she was gasping for breath.

However, instead of kissing her again, Derringer gave her a questing look before asking her a question, "Did you mean what you said, chère? Do you love me?"

She curled her uninjured fingers into his long hair before kissing his cheek and lying on his shoulder. "I've loved you for quite some time, Derringer. It's the kind of love I have for you that has changed."

He raised an eyebrow, "Changed into what?"

She looked at him and hesitated for a few moments before simply answering, "I don't know."

"That's a pretty vague answer, chère." He said with slight disappointment.

She took his face into her hands and kissed his lips lightly as more of a reassurance than a proclamation. "It's the only answer I can give you right now. You have given me a lot to think about."

He moved her hand from his cheek to his lips, brushing them against her fingertips with a tenderness that made her want to sigh.

"Then that's all I can ask of you, ma bienaimée." He grinned before simultaneously continuing on while gifting her with another searing kiss.

She kept her head this time—barely—before settling in against his chest. "'Ma bienaimée'? What happened to 'chère'?"

"'Chère' is for the everyday. 'Chérie' and 'darlin'' are for the more pleasant times. And 'bienaimée', that shall be your warning that I am about to kiss you."

Her face flushed once again she pursed her lips in mock exasperation. "Is that all you think about? And how many women have you used that kiss on anyway?"

He weaved through some protruding rocks before responding to her accusation. "You would be the first, chérie."

She snapped her head back to look at him in disbelief. "You can't tell me that was your first kiss!"

He shrugged, "That was stolen from me by that piece of work, Viper, earlier tonight (or last night I guess it is now). But it was nothing compared to what we just shared a moment ago, chérie."

"Viper got to you too? That girl is scary—but wait, so minus the homicidal nutcase, you've never kissed another girl other than me?"

Derrin lifted up his golden eyes in thought, "Well, I think there was that time Ange was—"

She hit him playfully on the arm, "You know what kind of kiss I mean! Are you seriously saying I was your first?"

He raised an eyebrow at her astonishment. "Why are you so surprised? As you well know, there aren't really many opportunities for the 'freaks' like us to be in any kind of relationship. I told you I was a pretty much a lone wolf before I met you."

Her forehead creased in thought, but she guessed that it did make sense. She and the flock had never had time for anything serious with anyone but themselves. It would have raised too many questions. So she guessed it would be the same for him. But still!

"It's just that you seem like you've had a lot more experience, and I just thought…" Her voice trailed off as she realized the implications of what she was saying, and once again, heat rose to her cheeks as she tried to look in any direction but his.

But she couldn't help but feel and hear his amused laughter at her statement resulting predicament. "Well merci, ma chérie. You're not that bad of a kisser yourself. And your jealousy is unfounded, but nonetheless appreciated."

She frowned and hit him again, but this time it was thoughtlessly and she jarred one of her dislocated finger, making her hiss out in pain.

Derrin looked down at her in concern. "We'd better get you to the hideout before you break something else, chère."

She groaned and hit her forehead against his chest. "It's all your fault, Cajun. I am not jealous. I was just wondering that's all."

Derringer simply glanced at her before shaking his head. "Hmm, they say curiosity kills the cat, but I think for a bird it just makes them more beautiful. And I think you are quite la belle alouette, my darlin'. You have nothing to be jealous of, ma bienaimée. I've never felt for anyone the way I feel about you. You know I love you, d'accord?"

Her eyes snapped open at his bold statement, one that he had alluded to, but had never quite said so firmly aloud until now.

Max turned to look at him, but was met halfway as he again led her into another vehement kiss. This one wasn't as reckless with abandon as the first two, but the passion was still well ablaze.

After what had felt like an eternity wrapped into a mere few seconds, he finally released her and she sighed before looking up at him with expectation. He blew a tendril of honey blond hair from out of her eyes, "I gave you warning, darlin'. And if you don't get that sultry look from off your face in the next few seconds, I'm going to warn you again."

She looked at him with mock daring, and not a bit of innocence. "You forgot to say 'please', Cajun."

His eyes went wide at her teasing, before his smile became rapacious. "Not on your life, bienaimée."

They had been traveling a ways now, alternating between the roads and the waterways. He knew they would soon be close to the house, which was a good thing. While he had improved his beloved's spirit, he knew her body was still deceptively broken.

It was only the fact that she could heal faster than the norm that was keeping her from going unconscious from her many injuries. He wanted to get her to Gazé before a complication occurred that the boy wouldn't be able to heal. Also, there was the question of his own wounds…

The Guardian's magic was slowly wearing off, and while he could use his training to keep the pain muted, eventually his wounds would open again. But it wasn't far now. Hopefully he could there in plenty of time.

He looked down at the precious treasure that had fallen asleep within his arms, and a sense of wonderment came over him.

So much had happened this night, it was almost as if he had become another person. He couldn't believe that this morning he had simply been wondering on how to stay on Max's good side. And now…he had never intentionally meant to go as far as he did, but things had quickly progressed out of his control. He had never thought he would be fortunate enough that a girl like Max would even consider him, much less allow him kiss her.

He had no delusions that it would be an easy road from here. He knew that Max's feelings were confused and divided. His rival for her heart was not here to challenge him, but that didn't make Fang any less of a challenge. He had her time now, but Fang had built up a relationship since the two had been children. Well, it mattered not to him. He had known for some time that he had fallen for the lovely spitfire, and tonight had finally admitted so to her. Now the choice was hers, and he would let her make a decision. However, that didn't mean he was going to release the ground that he had gained tonight. He was a man after all, with all that ridiculous, yet somehow essential male ego.

He scanned ahead and breathed a sigh of relief as he spotted the safe house in the distance surrounded by the forest pine. Putting in that extra burst of speed, he was at the porch steps in half a second.


He looked down at his half-sleep girl who had just been jostled awake. Max looked at him through tired eyelids, the result of everything crashing down on her at once.

"We're here, chère. Just rest while I find everyone else." He reassured her, before starting up the stairs.

She sighed and went back to sleep as he looked through the dusty windows. He kicked open the door, revealing a darkened room full of dusty rotten furniture. His night vision revealed that there was no one about…odd. Iggy would have known to post a—


He froze at the sound of a gun being cocked, and his eyes swiveled to the right towards the source of the sound.

A voice came out of the darkness, "Don't move if you want to live."

He piqued an eyebrow, "Mon frère, I have come through way too much for you to shoot me in the back now."

A female voice cried out happily, "Derringer!"

Immediately, a gas lamp was lit and the door was slammed shut behind him. Angel and Nudge came running towards him from behind a nearby wall. While Gasman, who had been positioned behind the door, dropped the stick he would have used for a weapon before crowding around him too.

Iggy unprimed the revolver he had found in the house's safe, before placing it in his pocket. It had been a long restless watch, and his powers had all suffered for it. He was back to being mostly blind again.

"Derringer! Are you alright? What happened?"

The redhead bypassed the concerned children and walked into the inner living room, placing Max on the threadbare and dusty, but still sturdy sofa.

Angel appeared by his side, "How is she? Is she going to be okay?"

He smiled reassuringly, "Sure she is, petite. She's only sleep right now. She was awake the entire way here."

He turned to Gaz who was on his other side, Nudge not far behind, her hand clutched in his. It seemed that the sight of her sister in such a condition caused the girl to become understandably speechless.

"Gazé, I know you're tired and this maybe new territory for you, but chère needs your talents desperately."

The boy nodded, "Tell me what you know."

"She has a concussion, her ribs are fractured, her leg is broken, some of her fingers have been dislocated…

He recounted to the boy all of the injuries he had noted, before stepping out of the way for him to go to work. Gasman didn't even blink at the idea of the large task, and instead cracked his knuckles and went at it, his hands glowing a bright green as he started from the head down.

Seeing that Max was well on her way to being taken care of, Derrin let the rest of the Flock gather around their fallen sister as he slipped back into the entrance parlor.

He had taken only a few steps before he stumbled and had to lean against the wall for support. Raising his hand, he wiped away the sweat that had begun to gather on his brow.

His legs, suddenly gone weak, caused Derringer to have to walk the wall in order to get to a chair that looked sturdy enough to hold his weight. Feeling warm moisture on his chest and legs, he placed a hand inside his jacket, only for it to come out dripping crimson…

So, time's up.

It was his last thought before he lost his grip and fell to the floor. His eyes rolled back into his head as he could no longer hold back the pain that he had been successful thus far in keeping at bay. Blood quickly spread out along the wood planks from his many newly reopened wounds.

The claret liquid spilled from out of the side of his mouth and joined the ever enlarging pool that was collecting beneath him. Yet, his face was relaxed, as if content that he had achieved his goals, despite the cost. His bienaimée—his beloved—was going to be fine, and that was enough for him.

And that was how Nudge found him, not a minute later.

A/N: So that's it for now. I hope you enjoyed this chapter (and any flamers can go elsewhere, cause I don't care). If there so happens to be a person who HASN'T heard The song "Let Me Be Your Wings", look on youtube or google and I assure you you'll find it. Here's hoping for the next chapter coming out in less than a year! :P