Ten Ways to Know You're Alive by Kimsa Ki-Lurria

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Romance, Tragedy
Characters:Iggy, Max
Published:2010-12-24 02:32:24
Updated:2010-12-24 02:32:24
Packaged:2021-04-22 02:17:52
Summary:One-shot. Miggy. He counts the ways he loves her to reassure himself that he's still here.

Ten Ways to Know You're Alive

I originally had the idea for the idea for this story half a year ago, but never got around to writing it until now. Hopefully, it is to your liking. Also, please keep in mind the pairing and the genre selections. Don't like, don't read.

Warning: character death, angst.

Posted as part of Bookaholic711's Project P.U.L.L. - for the 12/24/10 post.

Disclaimer: Maximum Ride doesn't belong to me. No copyright infringement intended. I'm only borrowing for this one-shot.

Ten Ways to Know You're Alive

He remembers colors. He remembers the brilliant blues and purples of painful bruises, the violent crimson of blood, the gleaming, glowing white of broken bone protruding through sickening skin. The white of the coats the evil men wear.

And he remembers deeply burnished gold, the color of Max's long hair, brown like good, fresh earth, brown like her eyes. Peach-pink like her fingernails. The cream-and-coffee of her endless wings.

Iggy remembers vibrancy, beauty, brilliance, and so the blackness that stretches before him day after day makes it hard to remember. Remember that this isn't the blackness of death. Remember that he's still alive.

So, clinging to the memory of color, and Max, Iggy starts to list off ways to remember he's alive.

-Her laugh electrifies the air you breathe. -

The first time he notices that the air hums with energy when Max laughs, he's not looking for it. It's a regular morning, the flock relaxed, everyone joking and chatting and lobbing well-mannered insults in each other's directions. Then Gazzy cracks a joke, a stupid joke that Iggy won't recall when he looks back on the moment, and Max laughs so hard he is sure tears are streaming down her cheeks.

Iggy's never noticed before, but her laughter is beautiful. Light-hearted and clear, but strong, like her. The moment the air seems to fill with electricity, electricity that arcs into his lungs and makes his very veins hum with energy, he knows he's in trouble. He knows he can never think of Max the same way.

It hurts, a little, to come to this conclusion because he doubts she'll ever feel the same way about him. But at least this electricity running through his bones has reminded him that he is, for now, still alive.

-You find yourself looking for an excuse to be near her.-

"Need some help with that, Max?"

Iggy can tell she's sending him an incredulous look and a half-smirk, though the scenery in front of him never changes.

"Ig, if I can beat up wolf-mutants twice my size, I think I can handle lifting a couple boxes." She huffs, and he hears something heavy clunk against the wall as she leans her weight to one side. "Oof. Okay, hold on. Maybe it is kind of heavy. Jeez, what do you keep in here, Ig? If you don't tell me eventually, I'm gonna start thinking you went and robbed a bank and took all its gold bars."

Iggy laughs—a poor imitation of hers—and steps up to help her. Her arm presses against his as stands next to her to support the box. His face suddenly feels hot, his head light, but he finds it in himself to joke for her.

"Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. But if I did I definitely wouldn't tell you," he smiles, and if his tone is more teasing or playful than usual, who does it hurt? He can feel her smile at him, can feel the warmth of it on his lips.

Warm like life. Not like death.

-She reminds you of golden sunlight and the world flying by beneath your wings.-

"Do you want me to describe it to you?"

Iggy rests his chin on a hand. He and Max are sitting on the flat roof of the E-shaped house, taking a break as the rest of the flock eats dinner inside. The wind whistles over the canyon and lifts a strand of her silky hair, brushing it against the crook between his neck and chin. He shivers, but not because of the cold.

"The sunset?" he asks, though he knows without a doubt that's what she's asking about. He can feel the dying warmth on his face. There is nothing like the warmth of sunset. Except, maybe, Max's smile.

"Yeah, the sunset." Max reaches out a hand and squeezes his wrist in a brief show of affection. "You didn't ever get to see one before, did you?"

Iggy shakes his head. When he and the flock were at the School, they were kept in a room without windows, a room in which the only light he could see (when he still could see, that was) came from the blaring fluorescent lights in the ceiling. The whitecoats stole his eyesight before he could ever get outside in time to see the sun pass over the horizon.

"All right," Max says. She shifts next to him, moving a little closer. Her thigh presses against his. He thinks, briefly, disappointedly, that she'll move away but she doesn't. His heavy heart lifts a little.

"You remember red? And orange? And pink, maybe? No? Uh, well…just think of it as a cross between red and white. It's kind of a soft, girly color. Like if Nudge had to be a color, she'd be pink."

Iggy knows what pink looks like; Max's lips are pink, soft-colored and gentle, but he doesn't dare say it. He can face an Eraser head-on and not flinch, can claim devotion to dozens of other girls, but declaring a crush to this one girl? To Maximum Ride? That would take more courage than he thinks he'll ever have.

"So the clouds have turned all orange and pink, and it's bright, like…you know the fluorescent lights back…back there?" Max says. "That's how bright the sunset is. Only, it's more like fire than electric light. The clouds are red, orange and pink at the same time, and right in the middle of all that color there's a half-circle of orange so bright you can't look at it straight-on."

Even though he's seen nothing but emptiness for years, even though the colors have faded in his memory from lack of use, in his mind's eye the sunset begins to form. His lips curve up in a smile.

"Thank you," he says quietly. In a moment of courage, he stretches out his searching fingers and clasps Max's hand tightly. She squeezes back.

"You're welcome, Ig."

There is more he wants to say. The sunset is great. It's the most beautiful thing I never got to see. But I got to see you.

The sunset reminds Iggy of red, orange, pink, of brilliance so alive he can't stand to look at it too long. But Max reminds him of golden sunshine, of the few rare moments he was allowed out of his cage and into the light, and she reminds him of flight, of watching the figures get smaller and smaller in the School's fenced courtyard until he was brought down with a tranquilizer dart.

She reminds him of freedom. In death, there must be none of this.

-Every little thing she does seems to hold a hidden meaning.-

Max's hand brushes against his at the breakfast table and lingers a little too long. Her knee knocks against his. She takes his hand to lead him on the flock's walks through the woods and holds on with a tenderness that can't be missed.

Maybe he imagines everything. Maybe it's all in his head and he's just grown so desperate over the months that he'll think up anything in her touch to satisfy himself.

I shouldn't do this to myself, he thinks, I shouldn't pretend that she's noticed. Shouldn't pretend that she likes me back.

It's getter harder, though. Max offers little gestures and all he can see behind them are feelings similar to his own.

If death is supposed to be an escape form the troubles of life, there's no way he's dead now.

-Her touch makes your heart fly.-


He's fallen out of a tree. The roots of this gargantuan plant dig into his spine as he lies on the ground, his head buzzing with the pain, his arm twisted and broken beneath him. He should have known better than to climb such a tall tree with his handicap, but Gazzy dared him, and Iggy could never refuse a challenge.

Before he knew what was happening, he'd lost his footing and toppled to the ground. He fell too quickly to think clearly, and before he could snap out his wings and catch himself, he'd caught himself on his right arm. Crack. Pain rocketed through his limb.

A broken arm is far from the worst of the injuries he's suffered in his short, difficult life, but his pride had been hurt in the fall as well. And that is what has him sprawled on the ground, the tree roots digging into his back as Max runs to his side.

"Iggy!" She lands hard on her knees next to him. The rest of the flock gathers around, asking if he's all right, if he's okay, but Max's voice is the only one he clearly hears.

"You idiot," she laughs. One of her hands pushes the bangs out of his eyes. "What'd you do that for?"

"I didn't really mean to fall out of the tree," he retorts through gritted teeth.

"Yeah, I kind of guessed that." Her fingers maneuver his broken arm out from under him. He hisses and arches his back, holding back a groan. This pain is hot, scalding, so much so that he thinks his brain might burst. But her hands are gentle on him, and his heart pounds not because he's recently had a scare, but because her touch is intoxicating.

-She realizes the truth…-

It was only matter of time before the truth slipped out. Iggy and Max sit alone in the living room when he confesses, looking through a pile of Jeb's old things.

"Might as well clean it all out," Max says. Her voice wavers on the first and last words, even as her hands move at an efficient pace to sift files into a box she plans to throw away. Iggy understands her pain; losing Jeb was harder in some ways than losing his eyesight had been. His eyesight hadn't taught him to spell though he was blind, hadn't tucked him in bed at night, hadn't reassured away the nightmares when they came to eat his mind away.

"Hey," Max breathes softly. Her hands still as she presses something dusty and laminated into his hands. "It's a picture of us and Jeb. You remember, the day after he rescued us from the School and brought us here, he said we should all take a picture together? He said it would be a picture of the start of our new life. A fresh start. A new future."

She drops the picture into Iggy's waiting hands with a quiet, mirthless laugh. "Don't tell the kids I said this, okay? But I loved Jeb. I don't think I'll ever love anyone as much as I loved him."

Iggy swallows tightly. There is something unguarded and vulnerable in Max's voice, something he knows was always there, but never appeared in front of anyone. Except him.

"Max," he says, because he can't hold it in, after months of waiting he can't wait any longer. "Maybe…maybe you will love someone like that again. And, uh…maybe that someone might be…"

He trails off and has to take a deep breath before he can continue. "Maybe that someone might be me?"

-And she reciprocates.-

For a long time, the living room is full of nothing but quiet and the dust left behind by a man who had disappeared. Iggy's heart thunders in his chest. As each silent second passes by, he tries to remind himself of good things.

Sunset. Flight. Sunshine, gold like Max's hair. Electricity in the air when she laughs with me.

"Iggy," Max says simply. Then her hands are gentle on his cheeks, guiding his searching lips to hers, and everything is heat and touch and dust.

-You die a little the more time you spend with her.-

Announcing it to the flock goes easier than Iggy expects. At first, everyone is overcome with shock and uncertainty. He can tell that some of them are uncomfortable with the idea at first, but they warm up to it, like embers growing into a comforting glow.

Iggy is happier than he has ever been. The electricity dances in the air whenever Max is near, her touch sends him flying though his feet never leave the ground, and her laughter is light in his ears.

They butt heads, of course, many times. She calls him stubborn, and he accuses her of being selfish, and they fall into another of their infamous arguments before realizing that it's getting them nowhere. Max isn't afraid to call Iggy's foul, just as he isn't wary of pointing out her faults.

"It's not a Maxocracy," he corrects her, "it's a flockocracy. So quit acting like it isn't one."

They balance. His fire, her solid, unmovable earth. His sarcasm, her straightforwardness. His impulsive actions and her thought-out schemes. Balance.

It's perfect in many, many ways, and also painful, because it's also imperfect in hundreds of other ways. Being with Max is thrilling and tiring at the same time.

But for every little piece of him that withers when he's with her, a dozen others spring up in its place.

-She leaves, and takes your world with her.-

The Erasers find them asleep at six o'clock in the morning. Iggy is burrowed deep under his blankets when the first of the shots rings out. Nudge's scream pierces the morning air like a siren hailing the end of his world.

The floor is freezing beneath Iggy's feet when he leaps out of bed, but he barely notices. Nudge is still screaming, screaming as if her wings are being torn apart, but he hears her as if from a great distance. With a snarl, one of the Erasers stumbles into his doorway. His fists snap back and knock it to the floor, where it sprawls, unconscious.

"Max!" Iggy calls out. He runs into the hallway and ducks when another gunshot echoes into the air. "Max!"


Living room. His feet pound beneath him as he skids around a corner and pounds down the staircase. Don't let me be too late. Don't let me be too late.

The first thing he hears, above Nudge's crying and Gazzy's angry shouts, is an Eraser's hateful voice.

"Don't make me shoot you, kid. Get back from the other freaks."

Max's voice, furious and defiant to the last, retaliates. "You stay away from my family, you dog-faced clowns!"

Guns don't go bang. Guns go BAM, and the sound ricochets off Iggy's ears until he thinks he's gone deaf as well as blind, and there is nothing he can do but scream and launch himself at the nearest Eraser, feet kicking and fists flying, chasing the demons from the E-shaped house alongside Fang and Gazzy.

The Erasers leave, maybe because they've had enough of a beating, but more likely because there is blood slick beneath Iggy's feet, the blood of his leader, his best friend, his love, and she was the only one they cared enough to kill.

Nudge and Angel move away for him as he kneels at Max's side. With the Erasers gone, it's quiet in the living room, almost silent save for the flock's tears. Iggy doesn't need to check. He doesn't need to press his ear to Max's chest to know that her heart stopped beating minutes ago, but he does anyway.

Beneath his ear, there is silence.

He knows for certain he's alive now, because if he were otherwise, he'd be with Max.

-You learn to live.-

Iggy mourns. The pain does not relent. Neither does the loss. For months he refuses to speak to anyone or accept his flock's help. Fang, Nudge, Gazzy, Angel. All four of them approach him, and one by one they are turned away.

It's unfair. He didn't even get to say goodbye. One moment she was there, strong and tall and defiant, and then she was quiet on the floor, forever silent.

Max is buried at the edge of the canyon, where the flock thinks she would have liked to be, because the view is endless. It's like flying without having to take the plunge.

Iggy visits her every day. Sometimes he hears her voice on the wind, scolding or comforting him, equal parts leader and lover. He can never determine the exact words, only the tone in which she utters them. And then, one year to the anniversary of her death, the words come to him.

It is almost sunset when he catches them, snatched off a wisp of wind floating over the canyon.

Iggy Ride, get off your butt and get back inside. Your flock needs you. I'm here. I can wait. But they can't.

I know you'll do the right thing. That's why I love you.

He waits, quiet and eternally patient, but no more words come to him. That is the last time he hears Maximum Ride's voice on the wind.

Funny, Iggy thinks to himself as he heads back inside, even in death she's lecturing me.

But she's right. There are other people in the world besides me. Other people who are in just as much pain as I am. If Max were alive, she would want me to take care of them. To show them sunsets and dusty pictures and heal their broken bones.

Iggy owes everything to her. She's taught him to live.

The End

A/N: Please review. This marks my 30th story since joining the site. -confetti-