In Reverence by Kimsa Ki-Lurria

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Friendship, Hurt-Comfort
Characters:Angel, Iggy
Published:2009-03-17 19:07:19
Updated:2009-05-19 19:07:39
Packaged:2021-04-22 03:02:32
Summary:They took his wings. First they stole his sight, and then they crippled him when he tried to adapt. For Iggy, it took everything he had not to break. For his flock, it took everything they had not to break along with him. Extended and completed.

Table of Contents

1. Chapter 1
2. Chapter 2
3. Chapter 3
4. Chapter 4
5. Chapter 5
6. Chapter 6
7. Chapter 7

1. Chapter 1

Disclaimer: I do not own Maximum Ride, its plot, or its characters. I'm only borrowing them for this oneshot.

Timeline: Err...none in particular...just after the first book, I would say. Around there.

Rating: Barely T. Just barely, for injuries and the like.

Warnings: Super-Iggy-angst, blood, Erasers.

~ Reverence: profound respect and esteem mingled with fear and affection.

In Reverence

He sat in the corner with his back to the door, clammy forehead pressed against the rough, peeling plaster in front of him. The morning's cold seeped in through the dusty window and made bumps rise on his bruised skin. Somewhere in the room he heard a forgotten clock, left behind when the run-down house's owners had packed up and disappeared, clicking its way through the minutes.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

Clicking its way through his despair.

Iggy closed his unseeing eyes and breathed shallowly, inhaling the dust motes and smell of old paint surrounding him. His chest felt empty and full at the same time, as if it couldn't decide whether to deflate or explode or do both at the same time.

He wished it would just hurry and make up its mind. It wasn't like anything worse could happen to him that had already happened.

C'mere, birdie…

Iggy reflexively twitched at the memory of the harsh, grating voice grinding against his ears like jagged sandpaper. Instinctively, he reached up and covered his ears with his long hands. The movement pulled at the wounded muscles in his back, sending sharp jolts of pain through his arms. He winced and lowered his arms tentatively.

He wanted so much to just brush the pain away. Just to be normal Iggy, smiling and joking and goofing off with Gazzy and the rest of the flock. He just wanted to go back to normal times, to tease Fang and Max or listen to Angel's sweet voice or complain about Nudge's nonstop chatter.

With any other injury, he would have. But this wasn't just any other injury. This time, the School had struck right at his heart. First they had taken his sight. Now they'd crippled him, just when he'd become confident of his abilities again.

Iggy moved his shoulders experimentally and almost cried out at the pain the simple movement caused. He drove his forehead harder against the wall and shuddered.

With any other injury…

The clock ticked away.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

He heard the light, small footsteps climbing slowly up the stairs beyond the door long before their owner reached his room. He felt a short burst of satisfaction that he at least still had his extraordinary hearing. They couldn't take that away from him.

His brief moment of relief vanished when he realized that they probably could, and would if they ever caught him alone again. It would be even easier for them to catch him now that they had literally destroyed his freedom.

The footsteps reached his room and there was a pause before a tiny hand knocked on the shut door. Angel's worried voice filtered through the weathered wood.

"Iggy? It's me, Angel. When…when are you gonna let Max help you?"

Iggy breathed out slowly and bit his tongue to keep from replying.

I don't need help right now. What I need can't be brought back by her messy bandaging.

He heard the scratched floorboards creak under her when she shifted her miniscule weight. "Iggy?" she tried again. "Can't you hear me? Can I come in?"

It was an effort to swallow and wet his throat. The dry interior was still rough from so too much screaming.


She fell silent at the sound of his hoarse croak, but only for a moment. "Iggy, really. Max is really worried. We're all worried. At least let us stop the bleeding. Please? You could…die."

I know, he thought bleakly. But would it really matter?

"I'm as good as dead anyway," he whispered desolately.

Something brushed against the interior of his mind, a familiar yet uninvited presence, and he knew instantly why Angel had been the one to come to him instead of Gazzy or Max. She was the only one who could read his thoughts.

"Get out," he muttered resentfully. "That's cheating."

"Well, you wouldn't let me in. How'm I supposed to help if I can't tell what you're thinking?"

He clenched his teeth and curled his hands into fists, driving them into his thighs. "I don't want your help," he hissed.

Angel's too-wise, six-year-old voice drooped. "But you have to let me. What if they get infected or something? Just let me in, please? I promise I won't…I won't touch them if you let me in."

Iggy opened his eyes and lifted his head, glaring furiously at the blackness in front of him. All of a sudden, it was just too much for him. Rage and frustration rose in him in a fiery swell, and he hit the floorboards with one fist. They broke under the force of the punch and he growled and drew his hand back at the feel of warm blood on his scalped knuckles.

"Iggy?" Angel's voice had grown even tighter with worry. He forced himself to ignore her and nursed his hurt hand.

God, why me? He raged silently. Why'd they have to catch me?

Angel read his thoughts again. "Do you wish they'd have caught me instead?" she asked in a tiny voice. He sighed and shook his head, even though she couldn't see.

"No," he answered. "I wouldn't want them to catch any of you. I just…I just wonder why it had to be me."

"Oh. I get it, I think."

He let out a bitter, half-hearted laugh, aware that this despair was so unlike him but not particularly caring. "No, you don't. You don't get it, none of you do. They blinded me, Angel. They blinded me and like that wasn't enough, they took advantage of that and…and then they crippled me! How can you get that? How can you understand what I'm feeling right now? Huh?"

Silence fell, broken only by the abandoned clock's lonely clicking. The floorboards creaked as Angel shifted her weight again. "I…I guess I can't," she admitted quietly. "Sorry."

Iggy grunted and lowered his head, suddenly ashamed. He shouldn't have yelled at her like that.

"I know you didn't mean to," she said.

"But I did anyway. And just because I'm…" Tears suddenly welled up and choked his voice, and he wiped furiously at his eyes before continuing. "…Hurt, doesn't mean I can snap at you like that. Sorry."

"It's okay."

It's okay, little birdie, relax! It won't hurt a bit, we promise!

He flinched at the sound of deep, rasping laughter and drew his legs up to his chest, burying his face in his knees. His face flushed with pain and humiliation. When they'd grabbed him, he had known that he was in for something especially bad. It showed in the way they held him tight, their grip crushing but not obliterating like he was used to. That was not a killing grip. That was a torture grip.

He'd known something bad was coming and had screamed like a whipped child when they did it. He had tried to keep it in. But it was impossible.

"I'm sorry," Angel whimpered from the other side of the door. "We should have been paying more attention. We should have looked out for you."

What complete dead weight. Why do those idiots keep you around when you can't even see your enemy in front of you?

"It was my own fault," he said tiredly. "I messed up and made a stupid mistake. He taunted me and I let him get me mad. I followed him, and that was just stupid. You'd think I know better, huh? I should've known he would have back-up."

Angel didn't say anything and he wrapped his blood-streaked fingers around each other.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm sorry I shut you out. All of you. I know you guys were only trying to help. …I was afraid. I was upset and hurting and I let it take over."

"We didn't know what to do," Angel said. "As soon as we got you away from the Erasers, we were just thinking about getting somewhere safe so we could fix your wings. And then when we found this house and you kind of just…it was like you didn't really know what they did to you until we came here. And then you just ran up here and wouldn't let us come in, and you didn't have anything to stop the bleeding with, and…well, Max was mad and scared, I could tell. And Gazzy looked like he wanted to cry, and Nudge did cry. And Fang…he just went really quiet. You know how he goes all still when something's really wrong. Like that. We don't want to let you stay hurt, Iggy. Please let me in."

Iggy wet his lips, his heart pounding in his narrow chest.

"The door's not locked," he said quietly.

There was a long pause before Angel drew the courage to open the door and step into the room. He heard the door whine as it swung open, and Angel let out a horrified gasp. Iggy winced. She had seen the dark blood streaking the dusty floor first, and now…

"Oh, Iggy."

Her wobbling, sorrowful voice finally undid him. He shuddered with the force of his grief and pain and doubled in on himself, trembling, tears trailing down his dirty face. Silent sobs wracked his frame as he let loose all of his pent-up frustration and anguish. Angel's footsteps skirted the blood trail left by his wounds and she knelt by him, wrapping her small arms around his shaking shoulders.

"It's okay," she murmured into his shirt. "It's okay."

"How…how do they look?" He coughed back his misery and reached a hand back, brushing his sensitive fingertips against the ragged, torn ends of his once-beautiful wings. The Erasers' claws had cut deep, far past the primary feathers, into the secondary and blood feathers.

Angel's blond curls brushed his cheek as she turned to look at the tattered remains of his freedom. "They're…" her voice wavered and failed, and she shivered before she spoke again. "They don't look too bad. They'll grow back. They'll be…fine…"

She turned and buried her face into his shoulder again. She didn't continue. She didn't have to. They both knew it was a lie.

He quieted and they fell into silence, her holding onto him, and him holding onto himself. And somewhere in the room he heard a forgotten clock, clicking through their despair.

A/N: Originally, this was supposed to be a two or three-shot. That changed when I decided that it would just be better on its own.

Why was this catalogued as tragedy? Although Iggy didn't die in a literal sense, his spirit pretty much did when the Erasers cut his wings.

Any comments would be much appreciated.

- Kimsa

2. Chapter 2

Extended on request. Thank you, dragonheart3, for your review and favorite. I hope you like the new chapter.

Again, I don't own MR. Any of it. So please do not sue...

In Reverence

Chapter Two

His flock's eyes were like needles piercing his pain-wracked frame, diving beneath his skin and threading in and out, in and out, stitching their picture of worry of anxiety. He might not be able to meet their gazes and read all the emotions pent up inside, but he could feel the unspoken grief weighing the air down like a shroud. It made it hard to breathe. Or was that just him?

He hadn't realized just how weak he felt until he tried to make the trip down to the living room. The ground pitched beneath his feet with every slow step and his head swam nauseatingly. If he had been able to see, the world would have swirled and twisted.

He felt cold.

Iggy kept his short, tattered wings tugged in against his body in case he staggered and fell. It was all he could do to keep upright, though he'd never admit it. Angel's comforting presence and her tiny hand in his blood-streaked one drove him forward through each agonizing step.

He couldn't let his flock see his weakness. They needed to believe in him. He needed to believe in him.

For a moment, when he finally cleared the staircase with Angel's guidance and stepped into the living room, there was absolute silence. The only thing that broke it was that infernal clock, ticking endlessly away somewhere upstairs. He felt his family's anxious gazes the minute they hit him and went still, sightless eyes searching for…well, what, he didn't really know. Something. Anything. Any word, any noise, anybreath of relief at seeing him on his feet. His flock was completely silent.

Angel squeezed his trembling hand and he let out a low, tired sigh.

That soft noise broke the silence.

They rushed in on him, the younger ones crying and trying to hug him without hurting him, and Fang touching his shoulder to let him know he was there. He didn't feel Max. He wanted to ask where she was, but for some reason his mouth wasn't cooperating.

His family drew away from him one by one. Small, grimy fingers encircled his arm and their owner's identity registered in his muddled mind — Gazzy.

"Iggy?" The younger boy's voice shivered with uncertainty. "Are you okay? You're shaking…"

Iggy tried to give him a smile but only ended up wincing. He still felt…cold. Maybe the chill from outside had sunken into his bones while he'd been hiding in the room upstairs…

"C-cold," he got out. His tongue felt too heavy and his friends' needles were beginning to hurt, sending sharp little pinpricks through his crippled wings. Some rational part in his brain realized that he couldn't really be being sewn up with needles, but that didn't stop him from feeling like he was.

It reminded him of the Erasers' talons sinking deep into his wings, tearing and pulling and shredding the only means of survival in his lightless world...

Got you, you little freak!


Fang pressed a cool hand against his forehead and Iggy flinched away from the touch, imagining it belonged to a monstrous wolf-mutant. A deep frown tarnished the other boy's voice when he spoke, but the words seemed to come through a dense fog.

"Crap. Gazzy, give him your jacket. We need to keep him warm."

Gazzy fumbled with the heavy fabric and fought with the zipper. Fang gripped Iggy's arms, making the taller boy wince as thin fingers pressed into the bruises decorating his skin.

The Erasers grabbed him, yanking on his wings to bring him closer, and he fought them but could not escape...

"Iggy, talk to me, man. How do you feel?"

Iggy shook his the memories away. There were no Erasers here.

"Tired. Dizzy," he breathed. He felt himself start to sway and shook his head, blinking at the sudden exhaustion that was bending his body to its will. The needles kept on jabbing him.

"Needles," he gasped, trying to make Fang understand that he was hurting him. Fang loosened his grip.

"Here, Iggy," Gazzy said. He reached up to wrap his jacket around Iggy. His trembling hands moved too quickly and he accidently brushed the rough coat against the edge of Iggy's wounded wings.

A burst of pain jolted through Iggy's entire body, needles piercing and plunging deep beneath his skin, and he cried out in pain. He heard Gazzy gasp and the Erasers roar with laughter, and then everything went dark.

Pain preceded sound, and sound preceded feel. Coherence came last, dredged up from the depths of unconsciousness. He was lying down but he was moving — car? Where did we get a car? — and every bump they went over sent a wave of pain rolling through him.

He let out a strained groan and felt someone's fingers on his face.

"Iggy? Are you awake?"

"N-Nudge," he said in a slurred voice. "What…?"

"We're with Doctor...Martinez? Martinez. We're with Dr. Martinez. Max went to go get her since she didn't live far away. She came like a couple minutes after you collapsed and we're…we're going to go get some help for you now."

"Don't need…help," he muttered. "Just need the needles…out…"

"He lost too much blood. He's delirious." A woman's voice. Far, yet so close. "Just keep talking to him, Nudge. Try not to let him fall unconscious again."

Sleep did sound nice…

"Okay! Iggy, can you stay with me? Please, you've gotta hold on…we're only a couple of blocks away…I think…"

"'M tired," he protested.

"I know, but you have to stay awake! Okay? Iggy? Listen to me…"

But he couldn't. The darkness and warmth swelled up again and enveloped him in its grasp, and the needles pricked him once more before he let sleep carry him away.

This was short, even by my standards, but this is where I wanted it to end. Plus, they may be stronger than your average human, but I can't see members of the flock losing too much blood and not passing out. So I couldn't really draw out the scene. Wah. :/

In comparing this chapter to the previous, I think I like the first one more...

Ah, another note: I've changed the second genre to Friendship, since there's going to be more of that later on...

Read and review, please! The next chapter will likely be the last one. Or not. We'll see. It depends on the response to this one and if I can bear to prolong Iggy's suffering. ;)


3. Chapter 3

Thank you all so, so SO much for your reviews/favorites/alerts! I hadn't expected to receive so many…it was a wonderful surprise. I replied to the people I couldn't contact at the bottom.

Since Iggy is out cold, we'll be switching briefly to Max's POV…I apologize. I can't wake him up just yet, but who knows, maybe you'll like a chapter in Max POV…

Don't know if I'm overestimating the intensity of the situation, but I'll warn you anyway: possible tissue alert!

Disclaimer: Repeat after me. Kimsa does not own MR. Kimsa does not own MR. :)

In Reverence

Chapter Three

I'd been staring at the white-tiled floor for so long, letting my mind go numb, that it took a while for it to register when a bandage was held out in front of my face. I blinked and looked up to see Dr. Martinez kneeling beside me. In the time my flock and I had been sitting in the waiting room, it was like she'd earned herself a couple hundred worry lines on her face that hadn't been there before.

I very nearly freaked out right then and there. But the kids were watching, so I couldn't break down. Besides, I don't break down. It's just not done.

"Thanks," I said, and reached out to take the bandage from her. When you run into so much trouble that you get used to having your face all scratched up and bruised, you kind of forget that it's not normal to have a big ol' claw-mark right under your eye.

"I'm sorry I couldn't give it to you earlier," Dr. Martinez said. I almost winced — even her voice sounded older.

"That's alright. We were busy. Besides, I think Iggy kind of gets priority in that situation. Since, you know…"

Her eyes dimmed and I heard one of the younger kids, maybe Gazzy or Angel, sniff forlornly from the other seats in the room.

It was driving me crazy to just sit there. It had been almost an hour since the hospital staff had taken Iggy out of surgery, but they weren't allowing us in yet. The only thing that kept me from busting through the door in the first place was Dr. Martinez – she'd convinced the doctors to let her oversee the procedure because, truth be told, it was obvious they didn't know what they were dealing with. I had to explain to them that Iggy's heart was always "fibrillating," and they didn't need to hover around him with those nasty paddles.

So my flock and I just parked ourselves right outside the Emergency Room until someone ordered us to move to the waiting room.

And the waiting…was…killing me.

As if it wasn't bad enough that Iggy was in surgery, the smell and look of the place was getting to me. More than once, I thought I saw the walls closing in around me. I wanted to get up, pace, maybe take off out the door and just fly a couple of laps around the hospital's roof to work off some steam…but there were three things wrong with those ideas.

One: I didn't feel much like doing anything since Iggy was hurt.

Two: Just because one of us was hurt, badly, didn't mean the Erasers were going to cut us loose. They were probably climbing down the ventilation shaft right at that minute. Somehow.

And three: I wanted to be there. Just in case Iggy…you know. Don't make me say it.

Oh, Maximum. Don't overdo it.

I ignored the Voice. Now just wasn't the time.

I swallowed to wet my throat and stared down at my dirty sneakers. "So…how's he…how's he doing?"

Dr. Martinez let out a long sigh and ran a hand over her face. "He's stable. He'd lost a lot of blood, but your donations saved him from any real danger."

I swallowed and reflexively rubbed the bandaged area where the doctors had inserted the needle. "Good to know."

"So he won't die?" Nudge asked warily. I turned at the sound of her voice. It sounded almost as awful as she looked.

Dr. Martinez shook her head. "He's safe. But those…Erasers? Yes. Well, they didn't hold back, from what I can see. They cut deep. And then Iggy didn't get his wings bound straight away…"

I looked away from Nudge's stricken face, silently fuming. "He wouldn't let us in. We tried, but he's still pretty strong, even hurt like that. He was holding the door closed and I didn't want to hurt him even more by just busting through. So I went for you."

"You did the right thing. He could have died, Max."

"I know."

A tense silence fell over us. Gazzy coughed and asked in a wavering voice, "Can we see him yet?"

Dr. Martinez looked conflicted. "I'm sorry, honey, but I'm not sure if that would be best right now. With injuries like his, he should be alone for a while. I don't think the doctors will even want him to leave the hospital for at least two weeks —"

"He'll be out in a couple of days."

We both swiveled to stare at Fang. He was sitting slouched in a chair next to Nudge, his arms folded tightly across his chest and his long legs stretched out in front of him. His face was pale and pinched, his jaw adopting that familiar stubborn, bull-dog sort of look, and I suddenly had to swallow a giant lump in my throat. Even Mr. Untouchable had been scared.


"I'm sorry?" Dr. Martinez blinked. "You think he'll be out so soon?"

"Yeah." He turned and speared her with his dark eyes. There was something scary in his gaze that made me shiver. It was almost like he was daring her to prove him wrong. To tell him that…Iggy was worse off than she'd said he was.

But she wouldn't lie. Dr. Martinez wouldn't…

"We all heal really fast," I interrupted, before either of them (or I) could say something wrong. "What would take two weeks for a normal person to recover from usually takes us only about two or so days."

"Oh." Dr. Martinez nodded again and looked awkwardly at her shoes. "Okay. Well, then…that will be a little easier on all of us."

"Not on Iggy," Gazzy muttered resentfully, glaring at the floor. "He still can't fly."

I made a strained face and explained. "Our wings are the only way we keep ahead of the Erasers. If we can't fly, we can't escape. If we can't escape, we're as good as dead."

"Our wings are like your legs," Angel said quietly. "You can't really run without them."

Dr. Martinez shifted on her knees and stood up. I heard her bones creak and felt sorry for her.

"Well," she said softly, "if Iggy really will heal that quickly, then I suppose he should be waking sometime soon. I don't think he would like to come to in a room with only a doctor, so…"

Crapola. I hadn't thought of that.

"We'll go." I got to my feet and my flock rose with me. I didn't need to look at them to know that their expressions mirrored mine: determined. Pained, but still determined.

"You remember which room it is?" Dr. Martinez asked. I nodded, and she stepped aside to let us go first.

Iggy's room big enough to keep me from feeling completely like a sardine in a can, but the distinctive antiseptic smell hit me like a sledgehammer the second I went in. I felt an instinctive rush of anger when I saw a doctor in a white coat bending over Iggy's unconscious form, staring at him like he was some kind of fascinating test subject. The image triggered a set of memories I'd tried to bury long ago.

A flash of white, glasses and a leery smile, metal glinting against fluorescent lights, pain, scream, blood, cage —

And Iggy was so pale…

A gloved finger, pointing at a red-haired boy cowering in his cage. "That one."

No, not Iggy —

It was too much.

"Get away from him," I hissed through clenched teeth. The startled doctor looked up with wide eyes and glanced at Dr. Martinez, who took one look at my face and asked him to leave. When he didn't and tried to protest, she reinforced her demand with a steely stare that was enough to break me out of whatever state I'd gone into.

The doctor left without another word. I breathed easier.

Angel took my hand in hers and looked up at me worriedly. "Max?"

I shook my head and refused to meet Dr. Martinez's eye. I didn't want to see what was in her eyes.

"I'll be outside," she murmured. "If anything changes, anything at all, just come and get me. Okay?"

I tried to answer and found, embarrassingly, that I couldn't talk past the pain in my throat. Fang turned instead and said, "We will."

I wait until I heard the click of the door closing shut before I let out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. Angel smiled up at me and tugged me towards the bed Iggy was lying on.

Iggy had always been pale, but this was something different than his natural skin color. He looked as colorless as the sheets covering him from his chest down. Shallow, fluttering breaths lifted his chest up and down, up and down, not as deep or slow as they should have been. His numerous bruises looked like black and purple paint against a white canvas, to be poetic. Even his closed eyelids looked bruised.

But it was his wings that really just made the breath rush out of my body. The effect they had on me was different now that the wounds were sewn shut and the bleeding had stopped, but what little relief I held was smothered by the absence of so many feathers. It was like the Erasers just reached in, grabbed a bunch, and cut.

Well, clawed the feathers off is more like it. But don't even make me think about that.

"Max?" Gazzy was staring at Iggy, his partner in crime, with a terrified look on his young face. It hurt me to see him so sad.

"Is he ever going to fly again?"
I swallowed to wet my throat and shook my head. "I…I don't know, Gazzy. I think you have to ask Dr. Martinez."

"She'd have told us if he was gonna be like this for…like, ever, though. Right?" Nudge asked in a quavering voice. She, too, was staring with wide eyes at Iggy's unresponsive form.

"Yeah," I said firmly. "Yeah, you're right. She would have."

Don't get your hopes up if you're not certain of the outcome, Maximum, the Voice said warningly. I ignored it. I had to.

"When's he going to wake up?" Gazzy asked. I shot him a Look, but realized that he wasn't complaining. He was just worried, like any little kid whose brother had been in danger of dying should be.

"I don't know. Another hour or so?"

Angel huffed a determined sigh and released my hand, pulling up a chair beside Iggy's bed and sitting down. She reached out and settled a tiny hand on his sweat-covered forehead. Iggy did not respond. Angel turned to us and examined us each with her serious blue gaze.

"Do you want to say something?" she whispered.

The way she said it struck a chord in me. It just sounded so much like…like something someone said at a funeral.

Not now, Max, I told myself sternly, pushing the thought away. Iggy's fine. He's just sleeping it off.

But was he really alright? Even if he fully recovered from this, without his wings, would he really be back to normal again?

Gazzy shifted from one foot to another, gaining his little sister's attention. "Umm…if you can tell him that I really miss him and I hope he wakes up soon, that'd be great. And I think he's the best partner in crime in the whole world." His voice was raspy with suppressed tears.

Angel nodded and turned to Iggy, her eyes narrowing as she concentrated. "Okay. I think he heard me. Nudge?"

She started and straightened her spine, looking she was about to run a marathon. "Just tell him I'd glad he's alright and…and he better get well soon, and even if he can't fly anymore I'll carry him or something because he's always been with us and he's always gonna be with us, and we won't let the Erasers near him anymore because they're jerks, they're worse than jerks and…ohhh…"

Nudge trailed off with a tearful gasp and Angel offered her a soothing smile. "I'll tell him you said to get better," she said.


Fang met Angel's gaze as she turned wordlessly to him and folded his arms again. "Just relay the message, Angel — Hey, Ig. Wake up, the waterworks are overflowing over here. And don't worry about the wings. We're here for you, big guy."

Mr. Untouchable was being sentimental. Remember what I said about not breaking down? Yeah, it was getting harder not to.

I came back to reality to find my Angel staring straight at me, her bright eyes asking a silent question.

"Oh," I said, and coughed into my hand. "Ahem. Okay. Iggy, you know as well as I do that we don't blame you for what happened. Yeah, Angel told me that you think it was your fault. If it's anyone's fault, it's the Erasers. Okay? So you let them get you riled. Happens to me all the time. And it didn't end differently for you just because you're blind. The Erasers, they uhh…they just needed someone to get to, and you were unlucky enough to be right there. So I'm sorry. I'm sorry we weren't fast enough, I'm sorry that we couldn't get to you before they…before they did this to you. I'm sorry that your wings got hurt. And most of all…I'm sorry that you blame yourself. Because no one deserves to blame themselves for getting hurt."

Angel didn't complain about sending such a long message. She took it in silence and that alone, besides my little speech, was enough to make me cry. So I was surprised when I didn't.

Angel sat back with a tired sigh and rubbed her eyes. "He should wake up soon," she muttered. "Cause he heard us and he's listening."

She lowered her hands and just sat for a moment, staring at Iggy with glazed eyes. Then her lower lip trembled and tears spilled down her dirty cheeks. Angel settled her knees on the chair and leaned over to wrap her small arms around Iggy's neck, being careful not to hurt him.

"We love you, Iggy," she whispered, and planted a kiss on his bruised cheek.

And that's when the dam broke. That's when I broke down.

I buried my face in my hands and just cried. Fang wrapped his arms around me and Gazzy and Nudge pressed their faces into my shirt. I could feel them trembling with left over emotion. Iggy wasn't in danger of dying anymore, but that didn't make all the fear and grief go away.

So there. I broke down and let loose the waterworks. I'm just glad Iggy wasn't awake to see it. He didn't need any more tears.

Please review?

Replies to people I could not contact -

Kendra Phoenix: I'm glad you liked the imagery. Sorry there wasn't much of it in this chapter, but Max isn't a very image-y person. Ironic, isn't it, how I write the blind guy with a better sense of imagery than Max?

Iggy's light: Well...he hasn't given up completely yet.

bookbum: Hope you liked Max. I tried to make her as in-character as possible. It's fun to write from her POV, I think. Excellent writing skills? Thanks! It's nice to know that I can capture the "whole depressing moment."

Tjaiden: Is this soon enough for you? -does dance- My story is addicting!

Annebelle: Haha, thanks!

randomperson: (2 replies) Oho...ahem. Well, if chapter one wanted to make you cry, I wonder what kind of an effect this one had...O.O Unless it really wasn't that depressing. Hmm. Yes, poor Iggy. Glad you liked my writing.

Okay, everyone else had some way for me to contact them. I'm glad you all liked the story and I hope I wrote up to your standards. I'd hate to disappoint. Until the next chapter!


4. Chapter 4

Thank you, those of you who reviewed. Each one means a lot to me.

We're back in the general Iggy-POV. Randomperson, your review reply is at the bottom.

Disclaimer: James Patterson's series Maximum Ride, in its entirety, has never and will never belong to me.

In Reverence

Chapter Four

We love you, Iggy.


Opening his eyes had never been so hard. Sleep was a drug clinging to his veins, weighing down his eyelids and pressing in against his exhausted body. His head was filled with rough cotton and his eyes were just on the point of burning. He wondered why Angel could not let him sleep. He definitely felt like he needed it.

Out of habit, as muddled awareness pushed through sleep's clutches, he didn't open his eyes at first. It was better to let your captors think you were asleep so they wouldn't expect retaliation. He kept his low breathing as slow as possible and restrained his weary muscles, though they begged him to get up and move. His sharp hearing took over, the sounds in the room suddenly amplifying. Somewhere near his head there was a high-pitched beeping. His own breathing, and…there. Five people were in the room with him, their breathing soft and measured with the comfort of health.

Five people…who…?

It came rushing back to him like a flood from a broken dam. The Erasers' ambush, agony and his wounded wings, the abandoned house and its clicking clock, Angel stepping down the stairs at his side, falling…waking up in a car somewhere, moving, hurting, bleeding…and then, nothing. Nothing but the familiar, silent oblivion of unconsciousness and a lurking wound that he knew would never fully heal. Now, his closed eyelids were the only things holding back a hideous reality that he wasn't sure he could face.

Opening his eyes had never been so hard, but he knew he couldn't hide forever.

"Max?" He asked, eyes probing the ebony abyss in front of him. "Guys? You there?"

There was a hasty shuffling noise and the sound of feet hitting the slick floor. Iggy smiled tentatively, immediately feeling it when his family's eyes settled on him. For some reason, he faintly remembered associating their gazes with needles. Now, he couldn't understand why he would think such a thing — he was filled with warmth just by knowing they were still with him.


Light footsteps rushed to his side and he felt the touch of small fingers on his face and arms. Gazzy, Angel, and Nudge had all gathered around him while Max and Fang hung in the background, coming towards him at a slower pace to let him adjust. The joyful energy in the room made his head whirl.

"Alright, let him breathe," Max said with a laugh. "Hey, Ig. How're you feeling?"

He licked his lips and moved his gaze to her direction. "Better. Not like I'm going to black out at any second anymore."

"That's a start," Fang said dryly.

"And...?" Max prompted. Iggy grimaced, catching the real meaning in her question. He turned his head away and felt Angel reach out to stroke his hair.

"They're not bleeding anymore," Nudge whispered. "I'm glad. There was so much blood before."

"Well, the doctors fixed you up pretty good," Gazzy said with a grin. Then he saw Iggy's expression. "I mean, we had to take you to the hospital. Like Nudge said, there was a lot of blood. It's okay, Iggy, you can trust these doctors. They're nice, even if they do look at us kind of weird."

Iggy relaxed into the hospital — hospital! — sheets and unintentionally noticed that no one said, "The Erasers can't get you here," or "You're safe here." Because, he reminded himself bitterly, no place was safe for him now.

Stop it, he chastised himself. Stop. You're alive, aren't you? Then stop moping.

But he couldn't. Not when he had no longer had wings. They made him what and who he was. Without them, what good was he? He could make bombs and keep his family company, but he was blind and crippled and he couldn't even fly to escape danger anymore, so what good was he?

He forced a faint smile onto his lips. "None of them look like twisted scientists?"

"Well, they all do, but that's just because they're cooped up in here all day," Angel giggled.

Angel's comment set off a flurry of remarks from each of the flock. Iggy felt his muscles relax and leaned back into the soft pillow behind his head. This was what he needed. He could feel their pain skulking behind the happy front his family put up, but they were here with him, and at the moment that was all he wanted. His wings still ached and he was painfully aware of how much smaller they were now, but he forced himself to push the thought away. He didn't want to think about it. He wouldn't think about it. If he did, he might go crazy.

Iggy let out a soft sigh and let his eyelids fall shut. Please…don't make me face it now. Not now.

His flock stopped chattering around him.

"Iggy?" Gazzy murmured worriedly. Iggy opened his eyes and offered the younger boy a small smile. He tried to keep the grief from his face but knew in the way that Gazzy clenched his hand that he hadn't been successful.

"I'm sorry," he breathed.

"For what, Iggy?" Max sat on the edge of his bed. He could feel her piercing gaze smoldering on his face and lowered his eyes.

"For…screwing up. For letting that Eraser get to me. I should've paid more attention. I shouldn't have wandered away from the group."

He knew they were sharing worried stares around him and clenched his fist into the bed sheets.

"Iggy, what happened wasn't anyone's fault," Max said firmly. "No, don't shake your head. I'm serious. It wasn't your fault."

No one deserves to blame themselves for getting hurt…not your fault…

Then whose?

Iggy clenched his teeth. "So why'd it happen, then?" he demanded. No one replied, and he lifted his gaze to stare accusingly around him. "Huh? Max? It has to be someone's fault. Whose fault is it, if it isn't mine?"
"What do you want me to say, Iggy?"

I don't know.

"That it's mine?" Max's voice was rising, making heat flush his face.

No, don't get angry. I'm sorry. It wasn't your fault.

"If it'll make you feel better, then fine, it was my fault."

Iggy shook his head furiously and flexed his hands in frustration. He needed to move. He needed to get up and pace, walk, fly —

His chest tightened and he bit the inside of his cheek, hard.

"Max," Angel said in a pleading voice. He felt her lean into him, petting his hair reassuringly, and fought the urge to break away.

What was he doing? He was Iggy. He didn't get upset like this. He was always smiling, always fighting to stay strong, always thinking why, why but never asking it. Because his flock needed him to be strong. They couldn't afford to have someone so weak in their midst. That was why when he started to break, Max got angry. He knew what she was thinking, because he was thinking it too. Why are you acting like this? Where's the laughing, untouchable Iggy that we all know and love? What's happened to you?

A sudden surge of anger filled him to the very tips of his body. Why can't you just be there for me? He wanted to shout. Why can't you just be there without asking why you need to? I know I'm not acting like myself! I know! But I don't need you to be angry at me, too — I'm already angry at me!

He felt himself shutting down and didn't try to stop it. His face smoothed out and he pushed the anger from his mind. Angel had stopped stroking his hair sometime during his internal rage and he could feel her staring at him. He did not even try to meet her gaze.

Max let out a long, tired sigh and he heard the shifting of thick locks as she ran a hand through her hair. "Alright. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled at you like that."
"It's fine," he said with an indifferent shrug of his shoulders. I'm fine.

"No, it's not fine," Max insisted. "I shouldn't have done that. You're the one that needs help not right now, not me. I —"

"Max." Iggy lifted his head and gave her what he hoped looked like a soothing smile. "Really. It's fine. Apology accepted."

She fell quiet for a moment and started to speak again, but the door to the room clicked and swung open before she could say anything. Iggy heard footsteps come through the doorway and was pushing himself up in an instant, alert and instinctively ready to bolt.

"Hello," a startled woman's voice said. "Max, there are some men who said — is something wrong?"

"No, nothing, Dr. Martinez," Max said stiffly. "We're fine."

"Oh. Well, okay. Iggy, I'm glad to see you're up and alert. My name is Valencia Martinez — Max came to get me when you refused to accept treatment. I hope you're feeling better?"

"Yeah," Iggy said. The feeling of lying through his teeth was a familiar one.

"That's good," Dr. Martinez said, and sounded like she meant it. "Max, there are some men waiting for you outside. They say they're from the Federal Bureau of Investigation."

Iggy frowned and felt Angel shiver next to him. Trouble?

"Do you believe them?" Max asked seriously.

"I don't think they want to hurt you, Max. I would believe them."

Yeah, Iggy added silently, but you don't know how to tell if people are crazy like we do.

"Okay." Max got up from the edge of Iggy's hospital bed. "Guys."

Iggy kept his gaze centered firmly on where he thought his lap was while his friends moved away from him. Angel though, to his surprise, didn't move from her spot by his side.

"I'm staying with Iggy," she said firmly. Her young voice sounded so certain that Iggy knew no one would challenge her. He was right.

"Alright," Max said. She turned to him, and he imagined her forehead would crease with regret and worry. "Iggy…"

"I'm not going anywhere," he said, with just a hint of unintentional irony. "I'll be right here."

"Right. We'll be back, then."

"Iggy," Dr. Martinez said just before they all filed out, "a doctor will be coming to check up on you in a minute. He's just going to make sure that everything is working right."

He nodded silently and waited for the door to close before slumping back into his pillow. "Alright, Angel," he said, turning his head towards her, "what's up?"

"I heard you, you know," she said solemnly. "When Max was getting mad. You shouldn't hold it inside, Iggy. It's bad."

He smirked wryly and raised his eyebrows. "You're a scary-smart little girl."

"Is that a good thing?" Angel asked.

"Maybe," he said, and laughed when she nuzzled his cheek. He sighed and lifted his eyes to the ceiling. "I don't know, Angel. Really. I know it wasn't my fault, but I can't help thinking it. I just…this seems like a really bad dream. And it won't end. I feel like I should wake up at any minute and then things will be back to normal. But they won't, will they? Things won't be the same again."

Angel didn't reply. Instead, she simply reached up and began to pat his head again. "It's okay, Iggy," she said. "I'm still here."

"Yeah. Thanks, Angel."

Beep-beep-beep, beep-beep-beep, went the EKG.

Iggy heard the clipped footsteps echoing through the hall long before they reached the door and stepped through. He lifted his head, clenching his hands out of reflex. Then he remembered what Dr. Martinez had said about a doctor coming to check up on him, and relaxed a little.

"Doctor?" he said, aiming his gaze where he thought the man should be. There was no reply, but the footsteps came forward. Iggy's frown deepened with every crisp footfall. A cold chill went down his back.

"Doctor," he said warningly. He felt Angel trembling beside him and struggled to sit up straight.

It happened too quickly for his bed-ridden body to react. The man strode forward and Angel cried out in pain and shock, falling away from him. He heard her hit the floor with a smack and he called her name, reaching out blindly. A rough hand wrapped tightly around his neck and slammed him into the bed sheets. Iggy gasped and his hands immediately went for the grip crushing the air out of his throat. His wings shrieked in agony as he struggled furiously to break away.

The smell of rot rolled over him in a hot wave as the man opened his mouth and laughed. Iggy's stomach flipped over. He knew that smell. He'd encountered it every time the Erasers decided to pay him a visit back when he was still locked up at the School...

Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep, screamed the EKG.

"Doctor?" The Eraser growled amusedly. "Guess again."

A/N: I know. Cliffhanger again. Sorry. Let me know what you think of the chapter, though!

randomperson: Yes, Iggy's awesome. Very. And that's alright, I get emotional over fictional characters too sometimes. Like Iggy - Patterson never includes him as much as I would like. :P Thanks, Fang's personality is oftentimes the hardest to work with. Obnoxious and quiet at the same time...hmm. I wasn't complaining about the two reviews, either. They were great. As for how long this should be...hmm. I'm not sure yet, but we definitely won't go past six or seven chapters. I think. It all depends on if I get hit with another bout of inspiration, like I did with this chapter.

Anyways, thanks for all the reviews!


5. Chapter 5

Thanks go to all of those who reviewed! This is definitely the most successful of my stories so far. Or the most well-liked. Same thing, I think. You guys are so awesome. Honestly. :D

Disclaimer: I own Maximum Ride about as much as I own a million dollars…which I'm nowhere near having. Believe me, if I had a million dollars, I'd be typing this up on a computer screen as big as my bedroom wall.

Quote isn't mine either. randomperson, your review reply is at the bottom. :)

In Reverence

Chapter Five

Devastation, obliteration

Are all in a part of exacerbation

There's no explaining my situation

Now why does this keep happening to me?

The Curse

Once, when he was very little, Iggy had insulted an Eraser. He had been angry and scared, and in his little-boy mind all he'd wanted was to show the wolf-monsters how horrid they were.

About three hours before, an older boy had been brought in and his cramped cage placed next to Iggy's own. The boy had been covered with some sort of putrid fur that he later found out was mold. His clumpy skin had literally been falling off his bones. But he could speak, and he was nice to Iggy in the three hours they were together, and so Iggy made his very first friend.

Maybe an hour after they'd met, the boy had started choking on the blood that welled up through his throat. Iggy had been too scared to help him and could only watch for the next two hours as his new friend struggled to stay awake. Then, the Erasers had come in. They saw the boy drowning in a puddle of his own blood and had laughed. And laughed. And laughed, all through Iggy's desperate, furious little-boy shouts, all the way up until the boy's gurgling died away and he lay still and decaying in the cage next to Iggy.

It took a moment for reality to sink in. And then he realized: his friend wasn't going to come back to him.

In a rage, he'd shouted. He'd called the Erasers names, using words he'd only heard them spit out when an experiment tried to retaliate. It didn't matter to him if his shouts did not make sense. He only wanted to let them know that they were awful.

The Erasers hadn't liked that one bit. If he tried to call back the memory, Iggy could still feel their grasping hands around his throat, their heavy boots leaving imprints on his stomach and chest. And all the while they would laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

He hated their laughter more than anything else in the world.

Now, pinned to a hospital bed and having the life squeezed out of him, Iggy couldn't help but get the feeling that he was about to relive one of his worst memories all over again.

"Hey, birdie," the Eraser hissed into Iggy's face. Iggy grimaced and tried to turn his head away. The monster's breath smelled of death.

"How're those wings doing?"

And the laughter would not stop.

Iggy lifted his leg. He lashed out with his foot where he thought the Eraser's chest was and was rewarded with a short oomph of pain. The grip around his throat tightened, making his head spin and his lungs scream for air.

"Not that easy to get rid of me, kiddo," admonished the Eraser. "You'll have to try harder than that."

"Let him go!"

The Eraser froze at the sound of Angel's voice. Her words were thick and mottled with what was probably blood, and Iggy felt a hot flash of anger.

"I said," Angel ground out, all six-year-old fury and menace, "you're gonna let him go."

The Eraser made a confused sound in the back of its throat and Iggy felt its thick, hairy fingers falling away from his neck. He immediately pushed the hand away and scrambled back onto the bed, gasping and coughing.

"Stay there," Angel said, still using her odd, low voice. "Don't move. Iggy."

"Wh-what?" he croaked, wincing at the pain.

"Let's go. We have to find — no, wait — Iggy, run!"

Iggy heard the Eraser roar and instinctively ducked. The air whistled above his head as the Eraser's fist swept over him and he rolled off the bed. Wires and suction cups tore away as he moved. The slick floor met his shoulder with enough force to make it feel like every inch of his tattered wings had been shattered. For one disorienting, agony-filled moment, all he could hear was the high-pitched ringing in his head.

He felt Angel's hands clutching his arm and heard her shrieking orders at the Eraser. Angel tugged at his arm, pulling him to his feet where he swayed, dizzy.

"Come on, Iggy, come on! Please!"

"Trying," he managed to growl, and stilled his head. The floor stopped rolling beneath his feet.

"I said don't move!" Angel said, and it took him a moment to realize that she wasn't talking to him. He could hear the Eraser's labored, angry breathing. Hot gusts of the monster's stench blasted him every time the Eraser exhaled, making Iggy's hair stand on end. The Eraser was so close, if he reached out and leaned forward a little, he'd be able to touch it.

"Come on, Iggy. We have to get back to the others."

Iggy nodded and shuffled forward. The floor stole the remaining warmth from his bare feet and the air that shifted through the thin hospital gown he wore lifted goose bumps on his skin. He kept all of his senses attuned directly on the Eraser. If it broke free of Angel's control and charged, he would have to grab her and run as fast as he could…he didn't know the layout of the hospital but he was sure if he kept running, he'd reach Max and the others eventually…

He was so focused on the Eraser that he didn't register the clipped footfalls heading towards them until they reached the door and their owner pushed through.

Iggy spun with Angel, instincts bred of a hundred nights of pain screaming at him to run. The person had stopped in his tracks and Iggy heard his mouth opening and closing wetly.

"Wh…what on Earth?"

Human. Not Eraser. The doctor Dr. Martinez had spoken about.

The Eraser's resulting roar nearly shattered his eardrums. Iggy grabbed Angel around the waist, hoisted her into the air, and pushed past the terrified doctor to stagger outside the room. He heard the doctor scream once back inside, sharp and high, but the shriek was cut off almost immediately. Something crashed to the floor and broke noisily. Iggy spun around, the blood throbbing in his ears, and darted to his right.

"Where are we?" he asked Angel frantically.

"Keep going," she replied, clutching onto his forearm. "It's a long hallway, and there's a left turn at the end —"

"Get back here, freak!" The Eraser bellowed. It was so close Iggy's pounding heart froze a split second in his chest.

"Keep running!" Angel cried. "We're almost there. Someone! Help us!"



Iggy's heart soared at the sound of Max's voice. He could hear the flock pounding down the hallway towards them, a rumbling swell of what could only be more Erasers hounding their every sprint. He swallowed the pain in his throat and forced his anesthetic-weakened, burning legs to go faster, faster, almost there —

The Eraser grabbed the base of his mutilated wing and pulled back so hard Iggy was jerked off his feet. He let go of Angel; he dimly heard her shriek in surprise and fear, but the white-hot pain that ripped through his shoulders and back quickly deadened him to the world. He barely even felt himself hit the floor.

Breathe, breathe! Iggy reminded himself, forcing his heaving lungs to take in more air. He lay sprawled on the floor, head rolling limply, feeling himself slipping off the sharp edge of consciousness.

No. Stay awake, he ordered himself. He heard someone, something, laughing maniacally above him. The grating sounds were familiar: an Eraser. The Eraser was laughing again, and it wasn't alone. Its brethren cackled and growled with glee, a rising cacophony of wolfish malevolence.

Iggy flinched. Phantom talons grasped at his bruised neck.

I hate it when they laugh, hate it, hate it, hate it…

"Don't move, freaks," the Eraser snarled. Iggy heard something click — gun — and Max let out a feral growl.

"Iggy?" Angel's voice came weakly through the fog surrounding him. "Iggy?"

"Shut up!"

The Eraser jerked on Iggy's wing again and he heard someone scream.

Oh…that was…was that me?

"Stop it!" He had never heard Fang sound so angry before. "If you're going to try and kill us, do it already! But leave him alone!"

"Why? Because he's the weakest one in your pathetic little group? I guess you're right. You've all been slated for termination, and the weakest are always the first to go…"

The laughter…it scalded his ears. Iggy tried to lift his hands to cover them, but his arms were so heavy…

"Iggy's not weak!" Nudge said furiously. "He's stronger than any of your thugs!"

"Really?" The Eraser's tone danced with the beginnings of an incredulous chuckle. Iggy tried to brace himself. He knew that tone and what it meant. It was the same tone this Eraser had taken when he'd told it he would kill it if it hurt his friends.

The Eraser had promptly dug its claws into his wings.

The grip on the base of his wing shifted and he was lifted to his unsteady feet. His head buzzed as if filled to the brim with furious bees.

"Should I show your friends just how strong you are?" The Eraser hissed into his ear. Gathering what little control over his limbs he had, Iggy lashed out with his elbow and struck the monster deep in its abdomen.

A gargantuan fist drove itself into his stomach in reply. Iggy gasped and doubled over, arms encircling his middle. The sharp movement pulled at the suspended muscles in his back and the base of his wings. Heat seared the back of his head. He knelt on the cold floor, shaking and gasping for breath.

"Don't look now," the Eraser said in a taunting whisper only he could hear, "but your so-called friends are just standing there with queasy expressions on their faces. You call them your family? They just stand by while I hit you over and over again!"

Twice the Eraser repeated the word, and twice its unforgiving fist came bearing down on Iggy's bowed back. He clumsily tried to move away and was rewarded with a vicious kick to the side of his head. His head snapped to the side. Blood dripped from his split bottom lip.

Someone let out an agonized sob.

"Please, stop it!" Angel pleaded. "Stop hurting him!"

Iggy swallowed a clump of blood and lifted his ringing head. His sightless eyes searched frantically for Max. Max would help him. She would make everything better. She always did.

"M-Max," he said, his leader's name garbled by the crimson fluid in his mouth. "Max, help…" something!

"Pathetic." The Eraser's hateful comment mirrored Iggy's own silent acknowledgment. He felt the light brush of air as something lifted past his face, and then there was a faint pressure on his most undamaged wing.

"No," he heard Nudge breathe.

His heart sped in his chest at the terror in her voice. "Nudge?" he questioned, forgetting to wince at the fear in his own tone. "What…?"

The object pressed harder into his wing. Ice burst in his chest as Iggy realized what it was. He'd felt the sharp, circular shape jammed against his flesh too many times not to recognize it.

The Eraser was holding a gun to his crippled wing.

No. No, please, don't!

He tried to form the plea on blood-drenched lips, but all his panic-stricken throat could muster was a weak, "No…"

"No!" The gun dug so hard into his wing that Iggy instinctively flinched, half expecting to feel a hole being torn in what was left of the limb. There was no sharp bang in his ears. The Eraser had only been so shaken with the force of its laughter that it had moved the gun deeper against his wing.

"No!" The Eraser repeated. It almost choked on its laughter. Iggy raised a shaking hand to his ears.

Make it stop, make the laughter stop…

"Well, aren't we the most pathetic freak the world's ever seen? You know, there's a reason I hate your kind so much. Other than instinct, of course. You think you're so special. You escaped the School and lived to tell the tale for years. No one's ever done that before. You're extraordinary! That's what you think! Except you're not."

The gun bit so hard into Iggy's maimed wing that he had to clench his jaw to keep a whimper from falling out. The Eraser's words were so filled with hate that Iggy was surprised the creature didn't burst with the force of its loathing.

"You're not, because you're a failure. All of you are failures, but you birdie, you're the most useless of them all. You're blind. You need someone to guide you every step of the way. Because you can't see, you're a liability in fights. You're always getting in the way. And now you can't even perform the most basic of requirements. You can't even fly. If any of your group deserves death, it's you."

It was like the Eraser had read his mind, reached deep beneath the surface and clutched at the black thoughts that circled in his thoughts like a persistent plague. To hear those thoughts spill from that putrid mouth, and said with such hatred…

Iggy gritted his teeth, anger brought on in the face of devastation. "Then why can't you just leave me alone? You yourself said that without my wings, I'm useless. I can't fight anymore. So why do you keep coming after me?"

The gun clicked ominously against his threadbare feathers. "I've been ordered to kill you," the Eraser replied coldly. "And if I want to do it slowly, then I will. So I'm going to. I'm going to kill you, bit by bit, and make your little family watch. And for starters…I'm going to destroy your wings."

Looking back on it later, Iggy couldn't be sure whether it had been him who shouted or someone else in the flock. All he knew was that at that moment, the Erasers had screamed in rage and surprise, and his family had finally begun to fight again.

Strong footsteps broke away from the mess of battle cries and hurtling fists and pounded towards him. He heard Max calling his name. Her beloved voice neared him at a demonic speed.

The Eraser howled its fury. Iggy lifted his hands in defense. Max crashed into him.

The gun fired.

A/N: Please leave a review on your way out. It would make this authoress very, very happy.

And yes, I realize that I am being unbelievably evil. Sorry, Iggy. Sorry, flock. Sorry, readers. (Or is the evil cliffhanger appealing to you? ;D)

randomperson: What's longish to you? Seven, eight chapters? Ten? I don't know if I'll be able to go that high with this story, but we'll see. Erasers follow the flock wherever they go. It's okay, though. Their annoying bloodlust makes them the perfect henchmen-like villains.

Thanks for reading!


6. Chapter 6

-Checks review number and reels- Wow! You guys really outdid yourselves this time. 36 reviews and five chapters? Your feedback never fails to make my day!

And I'm sorry, really sorry, for the delay. Life's been keeping me on my toes and, unfortunately, school comes before fanfic.

Disclaimer: I swear on a pack of Oreos that I don't own MR. Come on. You can't beat a pack of Oreos.

randomperson…I think you know what I'm going to say next, right? Review reply at end!

In Reverence

Chapter Six

The momentum of Max's impact crushed them against the floor in the space of seconds. Iggy fell hard on his side, the impact jarring his shoulder and sending cold fire lancing down the length of his arm. One of his wings was pressed painfully against the tiled floor.

His heart was pounding so hard in his ears, he barely detected the bullet hissing past just above his head. It was so close he felt it scrape his cheek, a sharp lancelet of pain that came and went faster than he could realize. Warm blood trickled down the side of his face into the crooks of his neck, and the scratch burned — but he was alive.

Max had landed half on top of him. She hurriedly disentangled herself from him at the sound of the Eraser's furious screams and leapt to her feet, charging the beast. Iggy scrambled clumsily to his knees and tried to focus past the roar of adrenaline in his head.

"Let go, you little —"

Max let out a low grunt of pain and Iggy felt her land in a heap next to him. Heavy footsteps lunged toward him and he instinctively ducked. Metal whistled above the back of his head, the sound of the Eraser swinging its gun at him and missing. Iggy moved frantically, knowing that he had scant seconds before the wolf-mutant recovered —

Clawed hands bit into his shoulders and he felt himself fall back towards the ground. The Eraser only had its grip on him for a moment. With a furious shout and the sound of flesh striking flesh, Max attacked the Eraser with driving fists.

"Don't you — dare — touch him — again!" Max yelled. The Eraser howled in anger and pain, and Iggy heard Max cry out again as the monster's fist found its mark.

Iggy clenched his teeth. That was it. He'd had enough. This Eraser had taunted him, humiliated him in front of his family, tried to kill him, and worst of all, crippled him beyond repair. He wouldn't let it get away with everything unscathed.

"Hey, dog-face!"

He could feel its smoldering gaze on him the moment it turned its wolfish head. Iggy didn't hesitate in acting. He lifted his foot, took brief aim, and kicked up as hard as he could.

It wasn't exactly the smartest thing he'd ever done. The doctors hadn't let him keep his shoes on while stitching his wings, and an Eraser's skull was much thicker than his bare foot. But Iggy's strike was fueled by desperation and a need for retribution that he'd never felt before, and he had rarely ever had trouble judging positions by sound.

The kick struck the Eraser full on its nose. Iggy felt something crunch beneath his foot and give way before hot blood spurted around his ankle. The Eraser's head snapped back, and he heard it stagger away from him with a yelp and a gurgle.

Max took full advantage of the Eraser's distraction, and Iggy heard the creature collapse on the floor a moment later. His foot was telling him in no uncertain terms that it didn't appreciate being launched into an Eraser's face, but he ignored the pain and got to his feet anyway. Max was at his side in an instant, clasping his wrist in her grip and dragging him after her as she hurtled down the hallway.

"Guys!" She called back to the rest of the flock. "Scatter, pronto!"

Iggy tried not to falter as they fled. He could hear the Erasers howling in fury as the rest of the flock tore after them. Bullets screamed through the air, one coming so close he felt it part the hair on his head.

Max skid to a stop at the end of the hallway and hammered the button of what Iggy guessed was an elevator. "Come on, come on!" She said through clenched teeth. A bullet clanged against the door to her right and she flinched against Iggy.

They turned in surprise at the sound of a woman's voice. Iggy recognized her tone — it was Dr. Martinez, heading towards them with the sound of at least five more people behind her. He heard a man splutter in surprise and horror as he rounded the corner and laid eyes on Erasers for the first time in his life. Iggy frowned in pity.

"Get back!" Max warned them.

The elevator dinged and the doors slid open with a quiet brush of air. A flurry of gunfire erupted in the hallway and Iggy was thrust inside the confines of the elevator. His flock pressed in around him, Max shouting at Dr. Martinez to get in. Someone pressed a button, and the doors slid shut. Iggy heard an Eraser roar in defeat before the elevator began to lift.

It was cramped, to say the least, in the lift. Iggy was forced into one of its corners in an effort not to be squished against one of his flock members, and even so it was a very tight fit. Near the front of the elevator, Max let out a frustrated growl in the back of her throat.

"She'll be alright, Max," Fang said reassuringly. "It's not Dr. Martinez the Erasers are after."

"Yeah," Max said wearily. "You're right."

Iggy grimaced and clenched his fingers in the thin fabric of his hospital gown. Not being able to see the narrow walls should have made the confines of the elevator easier to deal with, but shoved in the corner as he was, it was all he could do not to break out in a cold sweat of panic. Claustrophobia was something all of them shared, though for some it was worse. Usually it didn't bother him as much as it affected Max or Gazzy, the two most action-oriented of the group, but the throbbing in his back was making the panic harder for him to resist.

"Ig? You okay back there?"

He started at the sound of Max's voice and lifted a weak smile to his lips. "Fine," he said. "Just starting to feel a little claustrophobic."

A series of understanding groans moved through the flock.

"Totally," Gazzy agreed in a strained voice. "Why'd you have to set our floor so high, Max?"

"We can't go to the lower levels," Max replied. "If those so-called federal agents were really Erasers, who's to say they didn't have back up? The ground floor's probably swarming with them."

"So why don't we go to the roof of the hospital?" Nudge asked quizzically. "It'd be easier to make our escape from there."

"One, the Erasers will expect us to go there. There's probably a dozen helicopters waiting to cut us off already. Two, think about it, Nudge. This hospital's really tall. If we go all the way to the top, we'll have a harder time getting Iggy out of here."
Iggy automatically stiffened under the weight of his family's gaze. It wasn't like he'd forgotten he couldn't fly and needed vague hints from the flock to remind him. He'd simply been putting off the thought that he did not know how he would get out of this one if he was hundreds of feet off the ground and could not use his wings.

"You're going to try to carry me?" he asked skeptically.

"How else are we gonna do it? We're not leaving you here, Iggy."

He smirked wryly. "I didn't ask you to. I'm just saying, I don't think you'll be able to carry me all the way down."

It was funny how he could picture Max's stance just by the tone of her voice. Now he imagined her to be setting her jaw stubbornly, one hand placed on her hip and all her weight shifted to one foot. She would manage to do that in such a cramped place like this any day.

"Well, we're going to. What else are we going to do?"

"We could wait the Erasers out," he suggested. "It's a big hospital. How would they know where to look for us?"

"They wouldn't. But you know them. If they didn't see us leave, they'd assume we were still here and tear apart every single floor just to find us. Then what would happen to all the doctors and Dr. Martinez? They'd be in trouble too."

Iggy had never been afraid of heights before. But now, the thought of launching himself into empty air with only his flock between him and a swift and very messy end was making his heart pound.

Soft fingers touched his arm. He sent a grateful half-smile in Angel's direction, knowing that it was her by the feel of her skin.

"We can all carry you, Iggy," she said soothingly. "If we all work together, we can do it. We won't drop you."

He nodded and slid back into silence. For the rest of the trip up he focused on calming his heartbeat and his thoughts, forcing himself to relax.

Breathe, he told himself, in, and out. In, and out. Calm down.

Eventually, the throbbing in his foot faded away, and his heart had long settled into a comfortable routine of thump-thump-thump, thump-thump-thump when the elevator doors finally dinged again and opened. Iggy felt his carefully-measured heartbeat race back up again and sighed in exasperation.

Angel took his hand in hers and led him out of the elevator. He followed obediently for a few feet and stopped when she did, letting her be his eyes. Max's crisp footsteps strode away from the flock, trailed by Gazzy's rapid ones and Fang's near-silent steps. Iggy strained to hear someone speak, but the flock had fallen silent.

"Hey!" Gazzy suddenly cried out. "I think I can see our house from here."

Fang snorted. "Gasser, we don't have a house."

"No, see that one?" Iggy pictured Gazzy reaching forward with one grubby finger, pointing out of a window…how high up he didn't know, and he wasn't sure if he wanted to. The thought made him queasy.

"I think that's the one," the Gasman said confidently. "The one with the sloped gray roof, on the corner. The one we just came from."

"Err…I don't think we'll go back to that house, Gasser," Max said. Iggy pretended to not feel the awkward gaze he could feel her broadcasting at him.

"Oh. Where are we gonna go, then?"

"Do you think…Dr. Martinez would mind if we stayed at her house?" Nudge asked hopefully. "She'll come back later, right…?"

"Yeah," Max said firmly. "She'll be back really soon. I guess we could go there. If we touch down around there and walk the rest of the way to Dr. Martinez's, we won't draw the Erasers to her house. Even they won't be able to see us from all the way up here."

"Fine," Fang said. "How are we going to get Iggy out, though?"

Once again, Iggy was the flock's center of attention. He shifted from foot to foot, wriggling his toes against the chilly floor to keep them warm.

"We'll break the window," Max decided. "With these chairs. We'll fly out and Iggy, you'll step on these chairs right here, and we'll grab you and lift you out. It'll be easy."

"How're we gonna carry him?" Gazzy asked.

"Me and Fang will get his arms. Gazzy, Nudge, you two balance his legs out. And Angel…"

"I'll be right under him," Angel said. "For extra balance in case he gets a little wobbly."

Wobbly, over fifty feet in the air, and no wings to steady him. Oh, yeah. He was going to be sick.

"All right." Max pushed the air out between her teeth. Iggy heard a chair scrape against the floor. "Let's do it."

Max's first hit sounded like it cracked the glass, badly. It took only one more strike of the chair before the air was filled with the sound of cascading glass. Iggy felt several tiny shards patter around his feet.

"One at a time," Max called. Iggy waited, heart in his mouth and stomach lost somewhere by his feet, as one by one his flock launched themselves out of the window and into the air. Very soon, only he and Angel were left in the hallway.

"Come on!" Gazzy said. "What're you waiting for?"

Iggy knew he should trust his family, and he did. He trusted them more than anyone in the world. But as he worked his way gingerly over the glass-covered floor, getting thin slivers wedged in his feet for his trouble, a wave of doubts and fears swept over his head in a rush of panic.

What if the flock wasn't strong enough to carry him all the way down? What if Gazzy or Nudge lost their grip for one second? That would be all it took to let him fall. Or what if a sudden gust of wind rose up and tore him away from them…?

No. Iggy squared his shoulders and carefully lifted his feet, wincing a little as the chair's seats forced the glass slivers deeper into his skin. He couldn't afford to doubt his family now. They had been there for him through everything. Even when he himself was ready to give up and surrender to despair, they'd been there to keep him afloat, no matter how much he struggled.

They would not let him fall.

Iggy let his hands wander in the air as he straightened on the chairs, testing to see how big the hole Max had made was. It was big enough for him to fit through without having to curl himself up. Taking a shaky breath, he set his jaw, and reached his arms out for them.

Max and Fang gripped his arms just beneath his shoulders. He could feel the wind propelled by the beating of their wings and instinctively tilted his face up towards the caress of air on his face.

"We have you," Max told him. "Don't worry, Ig, we've got you."

He turned his head to regard her with sightless eyes and, for the first time since his freedom had been ripped away from him, gave her a wide, trusting smile.

"I know," he told her.

If she was surprised, she didn't let on. He tensed his legs and gave a little jump, pushing off the chairs — and then he was over the window ledge and out in the open air, dangling, his family keeping him aloft.

Gravity didn't seem to acknowledge the importance of the moment. Iggy felt it working on his limbs immediately after he cleared the window, clenching at his entire body and trying to drag him down. Max and Fang faltered and they began to drift lower.

"Gazzy, Nudge!" Max said, strain evident in her voice. "Grab his feet!"

Little fingers wrapped around his ankles and Iggy felt some of gravity's pull die away. He stopped floating down and stayed where he was. Max and the others shifted until they were above him and brought him up, stretching his body out until he was completely horizontal. The feeling of hovering high above the ground, splayed out on his stomach and facing straight down was disconcerting. Iggy reached his arms up around Max and Fang's sturdy holds on him and clasped their forearms. He fought against the urge to move his feet, knowing that it would dislodge Gazzy and Nudge's grips, and became utterly still with a massive effort.

"Alright!" Gazzy cheered enthusiastically. "We're doing it!"

"Angel, come out here so we can get out of this place," Max beckoned.

No matter how long he was forced to stay on the ground, Iggy would never forget the feeling of flying. Even if it wasn't him keeping him in the air. His flock moved around him as one, the sound of their flapping wings thrumming in his ears. A giddy feeling moved quickly through his stomach and chest, shooting up to his head and making him dizzy with delight. He loved to fly, and it was only when he was so in danger of losing that ability that he realized just how ecstatic it could make him. Moving through the air, his wings flat against his back and his arms and legs splayed out to let his flock guide him, he let the wind wash over him and sweep away all the fear and misery he'd been plagued with for the past hours.

Throughout the flight, not one helicopter or Eraser gave off in pursuit. He knew they were watching, but Fang reported that there were no helicopters on the hospital's roof, and the Erasers wouldn't make it out in time to catch them before they touched down. If luck was still on their side, the Erasers wouldn't catch them again. At least, not until he'd had a much-deserved rest.

"Why didn't we ever come here before?"

Iggy shrugged in reply to Gazzy's question and leaned back into the couch's cushions. Pain shot through his bleeding foot and he shot back up, flinching out of reflex.

"Sorry!" Ella Martinez patted him apologetically and went back to helping him get the glass splinters from his feet. "It's just…there are so many and they're so small…how did this happen, again?"

Iggy looked up plaintively at his flock. They had reached Dr. Martinez's house without any Eraser trouble, but the harsh ground hadn't been gentle on his bare feet, and the glass shards had been driven so deep it hurt him just to stand. Dr. Martinez had apparently instructed Ella to go to her aunt's house down the block while she was gone, but Ella's aunt hadn't been home and so she'd returned back to her own house.

"And it's a good thing I did," she'd said, "or I wouldn't have been here to help you."

Iggy had been bullied into letting the headstrong girl remove all the glass from his feet. So at the moment he was sitting awkwardly on a couch in the Martinez's living room, his flock alternatively prancing and lounging around him.

"We were in a tight place and the window was the only way out," Max explained from her spot on the other side of the couch.

"And Iggy wasn't wearing shoes," Nudge said from the floor.

"Poor Iggy," Angel sighed. Iggy felt her pat his hand and smiled.

"Really, though!" Iggy heard Gazzy bounce around the back of the couch, his endless energy spurred on by being in an actual, comfortable family house. "Why haven't we ever been here before? Look at that couch! It looks so comfortable."

Iggy shot him a look. "No, Gasser. I'm sitting here."

Gazzy giggled. "I wasn't gonna jump on it."

"I wish I'd met you guys earlier," Ella lamented. "You're even more fun than Max made you sound."

"Oh, yeah," Fang grumbled from somewhere behind them. "We're loads of fun."

"Especially him," Max commented.

Ella laughed and finished tugging the last of the glass shards from Iggy's feet. She wrapped them in clean bandages and touched his hand to get his attention.

"All done," she said proudly. "You can relax now. I'm sure you're pretty tired."

He nodded and straightened up against the couch's back. "Thanks," he said quietly.

"Don't mention it. My mom taught me a lot about how to take care of animals, and it's not that different from taking care of people when it comes to surface stuff like that."

Iggy may not have been able to see Ella's expression, but he heard the worry in her voice loud and clear. His battered heart went out to her.

"She'll be home soon, Ella," Max said reassuringly. "The Erasers wouldn't hurt her. As far as they're concerned, she's just a doctor."

"Yeah," Ella agreed. "I hope you're right, though."

A strained silence fell over the living room. Iggy picked at his hospital gown. Max sighed. Fang coughed.

Gazzy's stomach rumbled loudly.

Ella burst into peals of laughter by Iggy's feet. "Are you guys hungry?"



"What? I am."

"I guess we could use some food," Max admitted sheepishly. "It's been a while since we've had anything to eat…"

"I'll get you some food right away! I'm sure my mom won't mind. Got anything specific in mind?"

Iggy smirked at Gazzy's endless gush of requests and Max's embarrassed admonishments. When asked if he wanted anything, he only replied that something to drink would be nice. His family migrated from the living room to the kitchen in a bundle of excited noise and hunger.

His eyelids felt like they had pounds of marble strapped to them. He couldn't remember a time when he'd felt so exhausted, save for the night they'd escaped from the School. Iggy let his head drop back against the couch's back and gingerly lifted his wings, making sure he wasn't squishing them.

Thinking about his handicap was enough to send a cloud of hopelessness thundering over his head. He prayed that Dr. Martinez got home soon so he could ask her if his crippled state was permanent. If it wasn't, he'd spend every minute of every day in the air for the rest of his life. Forget the need to stop and rest every now and then.

And if it was permanent…

A sharp lump in his throat throttled his breath, and Iggy swallowed thickly to rid himself of it. If it was permanent…he'd always been strong. Not as strong as he knew his flock thought he was, and with this recent turn of events he knew they wouldn't look at him in the same light for a while…but he was still strong. He would pull through, he told himself, even if it took forever.

Besides, he had his family standing beside him the whole way. And nothing, he realized as he rested in the Martinez's living room, letting the happy sounds of his flock lull him into contentment, would ever change that.

By the time his flock came bustling back into the room with his drink, Iggy was fast asleep.

A/N: As always, I would love it you left a comment. There's only one more chapter to go, as closure. It will be, I think, rather light-hearted in general. With the exception of a mildly grave undertone, of course. And, my, did we actually have fluff in this chapter? Or what I call fluff...what can pass off as fluff...yes, the worst is definitely over.

randomperson: I think everyone hates cliffhangers. Except those who write them, of course. Patience isn't just a virtue. It's a rare and not-easily-obtained virtue that most aren't born with. Hope the delay didn't make you go too crazy. As for length…I'm pretty sure there should only be one more chapter left in this fic. I know just how I want to end it.

Until next time!


7. Chapter 7

So, this is it. The end.

The angst is back with a vengeance, but it's not alone. Heart-felt talks have joined it.

Anyone who is confused by the quotes and the morals this story portrays, simply PM me. I'd be more than happy to explain. I think they're pretty apparent, though.

As to what I'm going to write after this…I've put a poll up. You can vote if you like.

Disclaimer: In reverence and respect of Mr. Patterson's creative genius, I won't even pretend that I own Maximum Ride.

One last thing: Max POV. Surprise. ;)

In Reverence

Chapter Seven

"…and the world's misfortune we take, kneeling here, bowed beneath the weight of all that has come upon us, in reverence, in the end, of the power of family and the ties that bind us to one another, and make us rise and fall, in the end, as one…"


I don't think I've ever told anyone this, but Iggy's a totally different person when he's asleep.

No, I mean it. It's the eyes, I think. Never mind the fact that he's blind — if he's thinking hard about something, you'll see it in his eyes. It's like all of his emotions are broadcasted there for everyone to see. Like a reality show: Iggy's Life, every waking minute of every day. You can completely tell what he's going through if you just look at his eyes. I don't think he realizes he's doing it, either. He's usually in control of what he shows on his face, and I guess he's so focused on masking what he feels that he doesn't realize all those pent-up emotions are leaking out of his eyes like they're part of some great big gushing waterfall of moods.

So really, you can read Iggy like a book if you know where to look for it.

Except when he's asleep. When his eyes are closed and you can't see what's going on in that bomb-obsessed, fire-loving, chef-genius, joke-cracking, sexist-pig head of his, he might as well be a different person. It's like years of worry and struggle fall off of him the second his eyelids fall shut.

If I wasn't positive it happened to every one of us when we fell asleep, too, I'd feel sorry for the guy.

But I know he would hate that. Iggy is to pity as cat is to water. It's not something born of experience, though that definitely strengthened it. Iggy's just not a pity person.

So don't tell him I said that. Really, don't.

I don't know what it would take to make him snap right now.

The flock went quiet the instant they spotted Iggy, leaning back against the couch with his long arms resting in his lap and his head tilted back. He looked exhausted. I could see the dark rings beneath his closed eyes even in the dimmed light, and his skin was so pale it almost looked transparent.

And then, of course, there were the wings…

I tried not to look at them head on, but it was like some kind of sick, unstoppable pull kept drawing my gaze back to them. Iggy had swept them up and over his head so they wouldn't be squished against the couch cushions, and they stretched above his frail frame like the spindly branches of a torched tree. So many of the warm-colored feathers were gone, ripped away by cruel claws, that Iggy's wings looked like mere skeletons compared to what they had been.

The Erasers had cut past the primary feathers, and I knew they'd hit the tendons because, otherwise, there shouldn't have been so much blood, but I didn't know how bad it was. Would they grow back? If they did, would they be…deformed?

I heard Gazzy make a strained sound by my side. The poor kid looked splotchy and there was a distressed stare on his face as he took in the sight of Iggy's wings that I instantly recognized.

"Gasman?" My voice didn't sound half as encouraging or comforting as I wanted it to. "Do you think you need to…?"

His dirty hands curled around the cup of hot chocolate Ella had made for Iggy, and he swallowed thickly. It was several seconds before he could talk. "No," he said hoarsely. "No, I'm…I'm alright."

Nudge sniffed and tiptoed over to Iggy's side. She put a hand on his forehead and shook her head when he slumbered on. "He's out," she said, and buried her face in the couch's armrest.

We moved in a group to join her, trying to muffle our footsteps. The cheerful attitude that had taken over while Iggy was awake now diffused from the air like cheap perfume. Now that Iggy was finally getting some much-needed rest, the gravity of the situation settled on our shoulders with enough weight to topple us over. We folded down around Iggy, perching on the cushions beside him, or sitting against the couch.

Angel sat next to him and brushed her cheek against his arm, sighing sadly.

"What happened to him?"

I'd almost forgotten about Ella. She was standing there with a steaming mug in her hands and a pained expression in her dark eyes. The heartrending look she was giving Iggy was enough to make sumo-wrestlers cry.

I pushed the air out between my teeth and met Fang's eye. "We…we weren't there for him," I said quietly. "We got separated."

"Was it…the Erasers?"

Gazzy nodded and set the hot chocolate on the floor. He drew his knees up to his chest and stared at the cup as if it was the cause of all his troubles.

Ella bit her lip and lowered her eyes. "I'm so sorry," she said. "When you came and got my mom, I didn't think it could be this bad…"

"It's bad, alright," Fang muttered. "We don't even know if they'll grow back —"

Nudge's head snapped up, her eyes quickly filling with tears. "Don't say that! Fang, take it back —!"

"Shh!" Angel gave Iggy an anxious glance as he stirred. "You almost woke him up."

"Whether or not they fully grow back…" I paused to cough and clear my throat; I had something painful caught in it. Nudge whimpered. "We'll never abandon him like that again."

"But you didn't mean to," Ella said.

"No," Gazzy murmured to his feet, "but it still happened."

Angel leaned forward on the couch and pressed her forehead against Iggy's. She closed her big eyes. "We're sorry, Iggy."

We did not sleep.

Whether it was nerves, grief, or just the fact that we'd reached the point of exhaustion that makes you feel like you're not even tired anymore, we just couldn't settle down and close our eyes. We stayed where we were, listening to Iggy's steady, sleep-time breaths, occasionally reaching out a hand to make sure he was still there.

The food Ella had helped us prepare remained, for the most part, untouched. Gazzy kept picking the hot chocolate up and putting it down in the first half hour, looking like he thought he should take it while he had it, but eventually it went cold and he didn't touch it again.

Around midnight, a visitor came to the door. The handle rattled noisily and the door jerked on its hinges as someone pulled on it from the outside. I was on my feet in an instant with the rest of the flock, adrenaline pulsing through my tired body. Iggy didn't even stir.

I looked at Fang, who gave me a grim stare. We were both thinking it: the Erasers had seen us after all, even after we tried so hard to remain undetected.

Then I heard it — the sound of a key sliding into the lock. I gave Fang a baffled look. If it had been Erasers, they would have broken in by now…

The door swung open, and the sight of the person who stepped through was enough to make me nearly keel over with relief.

"Mom!" Ella cried.

Dr. Martinez looked up through several wayward tendrils of dark wavy hair and gave us a tired, startled smile.

"Ella," she said, lifting her arms to receive her daughter's excited hug. She examined us with awe. "Max, Fang…you guys made it here without getting caught?"

"If the Erasers had seen us, we'd be gone by now," Fang said darkly.

"We just need a place to rest," I explained. "We'll be out of here as soon as possible…"

Dr. Martinez pursed her lips and shook her head, disentangling herself from Ella. "No. You stay as long as you need to, Max."

What I wouldn't give for a mom like her.

"What took you so long, Mom?" Ella asked worriedly.

Her mom didn't reply right away. She moved towards Iggy with a caution that made me nervous. Raising her hands to his wings, she knelt by his side and proceeded to examine him. I fought hard not to look away.

"Those…Erasers left as soon as you got in the elevator," she said in a near-whisper. "They looked like they were about to attack us, but they didn't."

"Catch and kill the bird-kids," I muttered. "Their number one priority."

Gazzy breathed something under his breath that I didn't quite catch, but I got the gist of it. I decided it was better not to say anything.

"I was counted as a witness," Dr. Martinez continued, "so the authorities held me after until they were satisfied. Even now they're saying that they'll call me back tomorrow."

"What did you tell them?"

Dr. Martinez met my eye and sat back on her heels. "What I saw. A patient and his family were attacked by wolf-mutants, and they then ran into the elevator, and that's all I know. I'm just a civilian."

"And they believed you?" Fang asked skeptically.

"Well, no, not at first. But then the doctors with me testified, and they're going to check the security cameras, so…"

"As long as you're safe," Ella said, giving her mother a wide smile.

"And what," Gazzy asked softly, "about Iggy?"

The smile that had appeared on Dr. Martinez's face vanished. "Oh. Iggy. I…"

I forced her to catch my eye, staring at her with a ferocity that surprised even me. "He's not going to recover, is he?"

My flock acted like they'd just been run through with a cold wind. Angel flinched at the same time that Nudge gasped in horror, and Fang turned his head to look away from Iggy's sleeping form. Gazzy merely shivered. I think he was too run through with misery to really conjure up a big reaction.

Dr. Martinez sucked in a big breath and let it out slowly. "I don't know," she said. "I honestly don't know, Max. I'm sorry. With any other bird, I would say his chances of flying as well as he once did are slim, but his tendons weren't completely cut through, and your flock is special. You're not like ordinary birds. You heal unlike any other human or animal I've ever seen."

I bit down on the inside of my lip and folded my arms stiffly across my chest. Something trembled in my stomach. "So you don't know."

Dr. Martinez started to get up. "Max, I didn't —"

"Excuse me," I said, and bolted for the door.

It was cold outside. The air seemed to suck all the life from my body, making me feel vulnerable and weak and helpless. I paced a couple steps, staring searchingly into the black night, really not knowing what I was looking for. My chest heaved with panicky gasps. At my sides, my hands shook.

Iggy. My brother. Six months younger than me and already a better cook than I was, a better navigator, a better friend. He was always laughing, always cracking jokes, even in the worst situations. Other than depending on us because of his sight, it seemed like he didn't need us at all. Nothing could touch him. And then something like this had to happen, and all I could see was how broken, how young and fragile he looked lying unconscious in the Martinez's living room.

I gasped something unintelligible and covered my mouth with a hand, shuddering and shaking as hard as a leaf in a storm.

Come on, Max, I thought sternly. Get it together. Pull yourself together.

I couldn't. I was used to being injured. Physical pain I could deal with, easy. Mental and emotional pain, though, really aren't my strong points.

And this had hit me hardest in my weakest spot.

I heard the door click open but kept my back turned. The idea of moving, of making any kind of action, made my stomach churn.

"Max." Dr. Martinez's voice was soft and careful. I felt her hand descend gently on my shoulder. I didn't move.

"It's alright, Max," she said soothingly. "It's okay."

I shook my head furiously, not trusting myself to speak.

"I'm sorry I upset you. I really do think Iggy has a strong chance of recovering, it's just, I didn't want to tell you something if I wasn't sure it was the truth…"

My hand fell away from my mouth, and I blinked rapidly, willing the sting to go from my eyes. "I know," I said. "He's always been strong enough to resist what would have broken any of us. I mean, he's freaking blind! How do you live with the fact that once you could see things, and now you'll never see anything again? But this is…this is…"

"Different," Dr. Martinez supplied.

All the pent-up energy swirling inside me went out in a big whoosh of exhaustion. "Yeah," I said, letting my shoulders fall, "this is different."

Dr. Martinez didn't say anything. For a couple minutes, all I could hear was the rush of cars in the distance and the chirping of a cricket somewhere in the night. The next words that were spoken were quiet.

"No matter how old or wise I become, I don't think I will ever fully understand the fragility of human life."

I turned my head to stare at Ella's mother. She wasn't looking at me; her gaze was aimed somewhere far away, her attention likewise.

"What do you mean?" I asked tentatively.

"It's scary, sometimes," she said, wrapping her lower arms around each other, "how fragile human life is. Most of us go through life without really understanding that we're not immortal. We don't think about what would happen if we were crippled or if we got in an accident and were never the same again. And then, when it does happen…"

I felt my face turn grim. "It's unexpected."

"Yes." Dr. Martinez nodded, and finally turned to lock gazes with me. "Max, I'm telling you this because I want you to understand how dangerous Iggy's situation is. Some people, when they're crippled, grow stronger. And some don't. Some never recover, not only in body, but in mind and soul. Iggy is strong. But I don't think he can make it on his own."

Her hand reached out and grasped mine. She creased her eyes meaningfully and squeezed. "Do you understand, Max? What I'm trying to tell you?"

I did, and it made me hurt in a way that I'd rarely ever ached before. Not even Jeb's disappearance and betrayal had hurt me as badly as Iggy's injuries.

"Yeah," I said. I let out a sound that even I couldn't convince myself was a laugh and stared at the pavement beneath my feet. "You know, we've always called ourselves a 'flock.' It seemed to fit at the time, because we're part birds, and birds form flocks. But I guess we can't just be a flock anymore. We have to be more than that. We're friends, definitely, but I've never really called us family before. I guess I thought that's just what everyone believed we were."

Dr. Martinez nodded and released my hand. "Sometimes it's better to say it out loud. Then you start to actually believe it, and then you start to act like it. In a family, you don't let each other suffer without help. You're one body of people, not six. And if one of you is hurt, the others are too."

"Jeez. I feel like such a bad friend."

She smiled at me again. "Not a friend."

"Oh, right." I grinned awkwardly back at her. "A sister."

Dr. Martinez reached out and hugged me briefly, and then we headed back inside, away from the cold. I met my family's questioning, worried glances without a word and went immediately to Iggy's side.

He was still as asleep now as he was a minute ago, and just as bruised-looking. I didn't look at his wings, not out of pain, though that was definitely still there, but because I didn't need to. I knew what was there and I knew it was going to pose more trouble later on. Dr. Martinez hadn't fully answered the question: would Iggy get his wings back? Probably. Probably not. No one knew for certain.

But for now, we were a family, not a bunch of flying kids on the run, and there was time to heal.

When you wake up, Iggy, and you're in pain and confused, we'll be there for you. With or without the wings.

I turned my head to smile at my family, and just that simple gesture was enough to calm them down. They bunched in closer around Iggy's prone, sleeping form, sensing that I had something to say.

There was nothing verbal I could say. For now, all I could do was offer a brief reprieve from their suffering.

So with Dr. Martinez's words in mind, I reached my hand out over Iggy and made a fist.

It's funny how habits like our fist-touching never really fade from mind. My family knew exactly what I was doing the minute I did it, and a second later four more fists were propped up on mine.

I flashed Dr. Martinez a glance and saw her standing with her hands on Ella's shoulders, smiling approvingly at me.

My attention shifted back to my family. We met gazes, looked at Iggy as if to say, this is for you, and broke without a word.

I don't know why it stood out to me, but at that moment I heard in the house a clock, ticking away through the night.

"A wound gives strange dignity to him who bears it. Well men shy from this new and terrible majesty. It is as if the wounded man's hand is upon the curtain which hangs before the revelations of all existence — the meaning of ants, potentates, wars, cities, sunshine, snow, a feather dropped from a bird's wing…"

-Stephen Crane


A/N: This is the last chapter, and reviews would be very nice. Just something to remember this by.

I'm sorry to those of you who wanted Iggy to get his wings back. That's not my focus in this story. I view his wings like his sight; he either can or can't recover from it. Of course, adoring him as I do, I would love for him to fly again, but this story isn't about his recovery - it's about the friendship and bonds that will allow him to take the first step towards that mental and emotional recovery.

Thank you all for reading, and I hope to see you all again with the next story I write.