The Shame in Your Defeat by jabbrjays

Category:Maximum Ride
Published:2015-01-23 13:47:51
Updated:2015-01-23 13:47:51
Packaged:2021-04-04 14:34:07
Summary:"She was my first kiss, you know, and even though my face was bleeding all over the place and I felt like a truck had hit me, when she kissed me it felt like I was going to live forever." Post-MAX AU, Fax.

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


To be honest, I'm not sure why I even bought this piece of shit journal. Cost me a buck and a half and the pages are practically glued together. Besides, they'll get a transcript when they arrest me. Get it all down on their fancy police paper.

Maybe, some part of my brain says, maybe you won't get caught if you write this, ya nitwit. But that don't make sense either, see. Because as soon as I finish this, if it don't get interrupted first, I'm going to take a walk down to the police office and hand myself in. Something tells me this ain't a lynching town; I ought to be fine. Something else tells me I'd be better off if it was a lynching town, because God would look at me better if I had some way of making up for what I did with my death.

But that ain't a good place to start this. I'll start it at the beginning, and maybe then you'll understand why there's a gun in my socks drawer, getting powder all over everything, and why I ain't eaten for a week. I couldn't, see. I couldn't bring myself to go out into the street and run into the others. I keep wondering if I'll run into the old guys, from back in Georgia. I keep wondering if I'll see Benny's face when I walk out. Her face, Benny's face… they're all I've been seeing when I close my eyes.

Georgia wasn't that bad a place to grow up. I lived in Atlanta, in the Bankhead area. I hear that they're trying to pretty it up some. I suppose they just might do a decent job of it. But when I was a little kid, you knew that going out gave you a chance of getting mugged or nabbed by a pedo or pulled into a gang. I got lucky, I guess—I dodged the pedos until I was 13 and had filled out enough for them to not be interested, I only got mugged once and it was by a guy who was just as scared as I was, and I started my own gang before a gang could start on me. I had to on account of my little brother wasn't getting any younger, and I didn't want any assholes going after him. 'Sides that we were broke as hell and gangs made money.

There were five of us, all whitetrash boys with too much time and too little money on our hands. We didn't go for that skinhead shit, and we didn't fuck with the big guys. We just wanted our own, and we were willing to fight to get it. It was me, Benny, Mike, Joe, and the other Johnny. We called him John, on account of I was the boss and I got to say who got called what. And I had spent most of my life being called Johnny—only people who get to call me "John" are my grandma and my pastor. And my pastor calls me Mr. Carsillo. 'Sides, the other guy was a Johnny-come-lately; he had only picked up the name in high school. I had had it since earlier than that.

Anyway, the five of us stuck together until Benny went and got his head shot off by some crackhead. Even though we had told him not to do the hard shit, because it was out of his league, even though we had warned him, it still shook us. Joe was the first to drop out after that, and the other Johnny followed a few months later. They had family in Texas, they said. Bullshit, Mike said, you're leaving because you're a pair of pussies. Better a live pussy than a dead dick, the other Johnny said. He thought that was clever. I suppose it might have been.

Mike and me stuck together after that. We both had family, and they needed to eat no matter how big a pussy anybody had decided to be. But the two of us weren't no gang, no way in hell was anybody taking us serious. So we teamed up with a few other guys, whose names I'm not going to write here. They might still be around, or they might have family, and when this gets splashed all over the night news as EXCLUSIVE CONFESSION OF A KILLER, I don't need 'em coming after me or mine. I heard that they can get a guy in prison to fuck you up the ass for a carton of cigarettes. I don't know about you, but I think I'm worth at least a blunt, not some lousy Malboros.

So me and Mike and the other guys, we ended up doing some heavy shit. With the first set of guys, we had passed weed along but who the hell didn't? It was Georgia. You could get weed easy as breathing, all we did was get a little money for helping a bigger system. But the shit the other guys did was out of this league. If I saw my little brother with it I'd beat the hell out of him, and if I saw either of my little sisters with it, I'd beat the hell out of the guy who gave it to them.

Shit went down, and a couple of people died, so we all had to get the hell out of town. I packed my bags, told my little sisters to be good, punched my brother on the arm, kissed my ma on the forehead, and headed out west. I knew a guy in Cali—an old family friend of Mike's, he'd put me up for a bed if I ran errands for him. Turned out that the errands involved casing joints. I wasn't about to complain because I was making good money—enough to send some back to my family and start saving toward a place with some girl I met. I ain't gonna write her name either. She knows who she is and she don't need the media dogs breathing down her back. But, baby, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't talk to you, but God knows I had a lot on my mind.

Anyway I was doing a good job, and I had gained enough cred for the Cali guys to trust me with the bigger shit. So the boss, Zeke, he set me up as one of the guys to go in. There was about five of us, and we'd take two or three in every time, rotating as we went. That way it wouldn't seem like the same guys were working together. I'm short and wiry, there was a guy built like a brick shithouse, an averageish guy, a guy who tended toward fat, and some asshole who did karate for a living. Not very scary, but we did have guns and we hit up places where the owners didn't speak English too good. So they wouldn't have called the cops on us anyway.

But that changed when Zeke died and his cousin took over. Don't get me wrong; his cousin was a nice enough dude. But he had us all set to move up to the major leagues, and we weren't ready for that. We'll start small, he said. We'll do a bank first, he said. Nevermind that we had never done banks before. He had it all picked out, plans all set up. All five of us would bust in, and he'd have a guy with a car show up half an hour later. He'd planned it so that there would be some guys downtown doing something to get the cops' attention. I didn't know what that was about, though. Don't suppose I ever will.

Anyway the five of us headed in on a Monday. It was a sunny day, and we were sweating like pigs under all the shit that we had to wear. We bust in, guns up, yelling, "Hands in the air!" The people there all looked as scared as I felt, like they were about to hurl or shit themselves. The other guys were on edge too—I could see karate master almost drop his gun like three times, and the fat guy was jiggling because he was shaking so hard. But even though they were nervous as hell, it started off smooth as water off a duck's back. We got the teller, a balding Indian guy, to start forking over the dough—there was a lot of it, more than we had expected.

We were in the middle of counting it when she stood up and started yelling at us. Looking at her, my first thought was: is she retarded? But she didn't look it—retards tend to fat, and she was thin enough. Tall, brown hair, kinda Mexican-looking—I suppose her picture's all over the news now. The first words out of her mouth were "Put that gun down," and I ain't gonna print the rest because my hand is starting to cramp. I told her to sit down and shut her whore mouth, and I regret that now but I was mad as hell then and scared too. Brick Shithouse yelled at her to sit down, lady, but she didn't listen.

She yelled a little more and then she charged me, and I shot her in the head three times. She was dead before she hit the ground, I seen it in her eyes. Well, her eye. The other got shot in.

The other guys freaked. We grabbed the cash and bailed, switched cars a few times and headed back to our own places. I shoved the gun in my socks drawer and threw up in the toilet. Flushed it. Rinsed. Went to bed, but not to sleep. I ain't gonna lie and say my hands are clean. I killed a guy before, when he was comin' at me with a gun in his hand. And I seen guys get killed like that, shot down like mad dogs. But it's different when you're doing it, and when they don't have a gun. I could have shot her somewhere else: in the shoulder, in the leg. But instead I shot her in the head.

So on account of I couldn't sleep, I turned on the news. They were reporting on her on almost every news station, playing that clip of me shooting her. That's when I found out she was some environmental advocate. That's when I found out that she had wings. I threw up again, but kept the TV on, and when I was done puking I just went back to watching. They had pictures of her, from those airshows she did. My littlest sister, she liked the airshows. I think she had a crush on the boy, the dead one, whatever his name was. That's what I thought of when I saw the pictures, 'cause they were the old ones. The new ones were just her. I suppose they wanted to show her with her family.

They were playing footage from the airshows a lot, and watching it I felt like I wanted to die. When she was up in the air she didn't look like anybody could kill her. I ain't a praying man but I go to church, and I know what angels look like. And now they're always going to have her face.

For a flat week I stayed inside, not doing nothing. My girl called. My family called. The guys called. I didn't answer. Whenever I looked at the phone or at the door, I'd remember the way her face looked when I shot her the second time. She already had a hole in her skull and she looked like she was screaming. There was a cloud of pink mist behind her head. But I still shot her. And then before she could hit the ground I shot her again. By the time she hit the ground a good chunk of her head was missing, and her brains were splattered all over the floor. There was blood, too—the averageish guy slipped in it. I suppose they'll show that on the news.

I just have to say the words now, and then this can be done and over with and I can send this to the news station. I killed Maximum Ride.

God have mercy on me.

2. Chapter 2


Welcome to Fang's Blog!
You are visitor number: stat counter is broken again.

This is my first post in a while. Jesus, it feels like just yesterday when I posted that anti-drilling thing, but the date is from three months ago, and the last time I wrote up a post like this was four years ago.

Anyway, I'm sure you've all seen this on the news—Max is dead. She got shot in the head by a bank robber out in Fresno. The funeral's in a week, in Arizona, and I'll be going to pay my respects. Most of you guys will be, too, which is a good thing. Easier to hide in a crowd—you keep your head down and eyes just skate over you.

But this isn't one of Fang's Many Survival Tips; this is an epitaph for Maximum Ride. Jesus. It's been two years since we've talked, and five years since we've even been in the same room together. She really went off the handle then, and we both said some pretty regrettable things. I think I smoothed it over when we last spoke, and we had set up plans to meet. Obviously they fell through. She was too busy performing for the media circus, and all the places that she suggested sounded like death traps.

…I didn't mean that to come out the way it did. But it's the truth, isn't it? If you walk open-eyed into danger, you have a better idea of what's gunning for you, but you're still in just as much danger as the idiots who stumbled in with their eyes shut. We used to be those idiots. We were always on the run, always hungry, always sore from sleeping on balled-up jackets. One winter Angel got hypothermia because Max misjudged how cold it was going to get. Angel lost a finger for that. Another fall Nudge and Gazzy got the worst cases of pneumonia I've seen in my life. Keep in mind that I spent ten years in a dog crate, watching other mutants get infected with random strains of whatever to test their immune systems. I've seen pneumonia, and Nudge and Gazzy had it bad. It was a miracle they survived.

And through all that, Max kept her head on her shoulders. She held Angel's good hand while they chopped off her pinky, helped carry Nudge through five miles of city streets when Nudge passed out on the outskirts of town. God knows how many hours she spent sitting beside Gazzy's hospital bed when he got cancer. The doctors, they said that it was from all the radiation he had been exposed to, from when we had gotten grabbed by that School out in Australia. They said he had about two weeks to live. He made three, probably because she was yelling at him to get better, damn it; she had been through too much to lose him like that. And when he died, she was the one who was screaming at the doctors for screwing up. Nudge was crying too much, and Iggy was busy watching her and Angel. Angel—well, it was scary. I've never seen somebody go so pale for so long. I saw her face on the news, then, and I wrote that post for Gazzy.

I wasn't there when he died. I don't think she ever really forgave me for that. Even when we talked, two years down the line, her voice was still dead. Sometimes when I pick up the phone, I hear her voice through it. "What is it, Fang?" In this robotic tone, like she's a bad actor and she's reading her script for the first time. My phone's ringing right now, actually. It's probably Nudge. She's one of the four living people who have that number, and the most likely to call. Hey Nudge, if you're reading this, sorry I didn't pick up. I was scared that I would hear Max's voice from beyond the grave. "What is it, Fang?" Sounding just as dead as she did the last time we talked.

Things weren't always that bad. She was my first kiss, you know, and even though my face was bleeding all over the place and I felt like a truck had hit me, when she kissed me it felt like I was going to live forever. Or maybe that's my memory playing tricks on me—it's been seven years since then. Nostalgia has one hell of a filter. But even if the memory is false, it's still there, and in that moment she was the most Max that she had ever been, bold and confident and unafraid to act but incredibly confused. Looking back, I can say that her confusion was the reason we even had a relationship in the first place, because once she unmuddled her head she decided to lead us on what amounted to suicide missions again and again. I tried to talk her out of it, but you know how she was.

Yes, I'm talking about the airshows. After we got her mom back from Mr. Chu, we were on the run for a while, but once Angel lost that finger, we headed back. I don't know what Dr. M said to get Max back in the air, but whatever it was, it was convincing. Max practically ordered us to flap our wings for her mom's group of scientist-advocates.

I couldn't handle it. Like, Jesus, I agreed to the air shows the first time and you guys know there's nothing that I care about more than saving the planet. But there's a time when "saving the planet" comes after "living long enough to see the saved planet." And when somebody shot at me one day, I wasn't stupid—I grabbed the dog. I didn't have time to dodge, and it was the dog or me who was gonna get shot. I picked the dog.

Well, Max flipped her shit. She went off on me, yelling about how it was my fault that the dog was dead. I'm not sure how much of that was her and how much of it was Angel, but either way I got fed up with it pretty fast. I told her that evidently Ari had taught her how to value a dog's life over a person's, and then I got out of there. I kept my head down; I did my own thing. I ran this blog and kept you guys informed on what was going on with the world. When Marian Janssen (Remember her? Tried to end the world? By-Half Plan?) died, I'd be willing to bet that I was one of the few people reporting on the real deal. And I wouldn't say that I was doing it for Max, but I did think about her whenever I posted something. I thought about the others, too, but not as much. After Gazzy died, the other three dropped off the map. Angel contacted me and let me know where they were staying, but for all intents they were invisible. Invisible and safe.

Max refused to stay safe. She was always shining the spotlight on herself, saving the world, letting people know that we were fighting the good fight, and getting them to fight it with us. I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out that she was trying to get the other people in that bank to zerg rush the robbers. God bless her, she died the same way she lived. Thinking about that makes my chest clench up in a mockery of the way I felt during our first kiss. And I can hear her voice through the pain. "What is it, Fang?" Like she hates me for caring about her.

No matter what some of you guys are thinking, I did care about her. Even when I left her I cared about her. Even now that she's dead, I care about her. I did my damndest to keep her alive, but she didn't want to live, she wanted to live like Maximum Ride would live. Evidently, that's not at all.

Again, it's cruel and cold and I can hear some of you guys cussing me from here to Antarctica. But no matter how horrible it is it's the truth. It's also the truth that none of us have parents, and that Jeb Batchelder was responsible for making a monster that nearly killed me. If there's one thing I've learned in my twenty-one years of life, it's that the world doesn't give a shit if you live or die. Oh yeah, some of the people on it care, but their caring won't stop your dying. And it's a goddamn shame. Max had always seemed invincible, unstoppable. She would always be the first to run off of a cliff and leap into the air. Whenever the sun glinted off her hair and feathers, she shone gold, and that's how I've always seen her. She was impetuous and headstrong and beautiful, and now she's dead.

Goodbye, Max.

3. Chapter 3


Dear Diary, Max is dead. I got the news a while ago, but I couldn't write it down. Writing it down makes it real, and I wasn't ready to deal with that until now. It's funny how writing five words can make you want to cry your eyes out.

Her funeral is in five days, AKA the middle of finals, and I really can't miss my Orgo final because my professor HATES me, and besides, if I told him that I was going to a family member's funeral he'd put it together and we'd have to run. I don't want to run, I like it here in Washington. It's nice, and quiet, and there are plenty of cliffs for us to jump off of. I have friends, too. You know, Shelley and Mike and Pierce and Zoe. Of course you do, I've written in you about them enough times. Besides, WSU isn't that far from SPU, and I like being able to visit Ella.

Oh god I can't believe I wrote all that and my big sister is dead. I'm a horrible person. It doesn't matter what she said to me four years ago, she's still my big sister and I love her, even though we didn't really talk much. I would write her letters sometimes, and give her a P.O. box number that I checked regularly, but she never wrote back. I guess I wrote her the letters because there was always a chance she didn't get them, seeing as if I sent her an email or called Dr. M I would KNOW that she meant it when she said that she never wanted to talk to me again. If she knew that's why I was sending her letters she'd get so mad and call me a coward. Or maybe she wouldn't, maybe I'm just exaggerating things. Dr. Samuels says that I have a tendency to exaggerate things when I'm nervous, just like everybody else. But the thing is that I'm pretty sure that "everybody else" doesn't have huge freaking feathery freakish WINGS on their back, wings that they can't even talk about because if they spill the beans then they have to move and basically ruin their lives!

If Max were here now she'd say that they aren't freakish, they're special. They make me unique and cool and better than the plebs. Max never actually said "better than the plebs," but it was kind of implied. She would look down during our air shows and it was like she was glad that she wasn't human because it meant that she got to be unique and cool. I never got that, because humans are unique and cool and, bonus, they don't have to worry about getting kidnapped and shoved in cages every time they try to do the right thing. Well, I mean, I guess they do, because political prisoners are a thing. And I mean since the Director's dead I don't have to worry about Itex getting me, but at the same time Iggy says that there are people who would want to put us in zoos, and then he starts talking about Area 51. I think Iggy watches too much television.

And now I'm beating up on Iggy. Nice job, Nudge, talk trash about the guy who didn't go to school so you and your sister had a roof over your heads. Go ahead and insult your older brother, who had mad scientist freaks cut his eyes open and has every right to be paranoid. Jesus. You can't just stop with MAX, can you? No, you have to be mean about everybody who cares about you! Why don't you just leave if you hate him so much?

… I read that last paragraph back to myself, like Dr. Samuels said, and I heard it in Max's voice. Max wouldn't say anything like that. She never did say anything like that. She CARED about us, and that meant a little tough love—okay, a lot of tough love—but she wouldn't say anything like THAT.

No. She would. She did four years ago.

Okay, Diary, it's time that I talked about four years ago. Ever since I got your great-grandma the day after it happened, I've kept my mouth shut about it. Well, not my mouth… I've kept my fingers tight about it. (?) But now it's time for me to talk about the night of Gazzy's funeral.

It was a cold winter day when we buried him, so cold that it took them longer to break through the ground. Max was crying. I was, too. Angel wasn't—she was just staring at his coffin like if she stared hard enough he would open the lid and be like, "Hey guys! Everything's fine! Wow, it's cold out here!" And then Iggy would laugh, and I would laugh, only I wouldn't laugh because when he died he was real messed up from the radiation poisoning and plus he'd been dead, so it would mean that a undead radiation-poisoned corpse was popping up out of a coffin. I was so scared that he wouldn't be dead, that we were burying him and he was just asleep. I almost puked, and God knows I'd thrown up enough times when he was sick. The day we buried him was the day that I knew that I was going to get cremated when I died. That's actually the first sentence in your great-grandma, Diary. "When I die, I want them to burn the body."

Anyway the funeral wasn't long. There was a pastor, even though none of us was particularly religious at the time. He said something about Jesus and suffering little children, and I almost said that Gazzy had done enough suffering; Jesus wouldn't make him do any more. He wasn't a very good pastor, or maybe it was just very cold—half of his speech was incomprehensible because his teeth were chattering too hard. After he was done I saw one of the gravediggers pass him a flask that he drank half of.

He wasn't the only one getting drunk that night. When we got back to Dr. M's house, Max drank her way through half the liquor cabinet and cried up a storm while doing it. Gazzy wasn't her favorite like Angel was, but he was still her little trooper, and now he was dead. She said that. She said "my little trooper is dead," over and over. She was really drunk, and I think that night is the reason that I've never seen Iggy drinking anything stronger than coffee, even though he's legal. I know it's the reason I'm not drinking, ever.

When she finished her liquor binge she went outside, puked all over the snow, and passed out. I was the one who volunteered to clean it up, because I didn't want Max to get angry at Iggy or Ella and Angel was just sitting there like she was dead, too. So I put my coat and gloves and boots on and went out. While I was cleaning up the puked-on snow, shoveling it into a garbage bag, she woke up. That's when I said to her, "You know this means that we can't do air shows anymore, right? Like, I don't want to die. None of us wants to die. And now the Schools have made it more than clear that they don't mind catching us and killing us."

Well, she got mad at me for that. She pulled herself up and started shouting at me, her puke-breath getting everywhere. Looking back now, I can see how ridiculous it must have been: a drunken seventeen=year-old yelling at her fifteen-year-old little sister about saving the world while both of them pretend to ignore the vomit on the snow and their silent family in their house. Honestly the scene could have been lifted from a B-movie or a soap opera, but at the time it felt like every word she was saying was a slap across the face.

She said that now that Gazzy was gone, the only thing left to do was to avenge his death, and if I couldn't see that, then I was just as weak as all those other vapid little airheads in my class. She said that Maximum Ride didn't raise cowards, and that she didn't tolerate them either, so if I wanted to give up on the mission now then I could fuck right off and—

I didn't hear the rest because I ran back inside, crying. Iggy was the first one to notice, and Ella was right behind him. They were hugging me while I sobbed, but Angel was just sitting at the kitchen table watching it snow. I told them that I couldn't do it anymore, and Iggy was like, "I know." And that's when Max came back inside. She had snow in her hair and her face was red from drunkenness and crying. And that's when it started. I guess it started when I talked to her, making it my fault, but that was just her and me; it wasn't the five of us. What she did started it all for all five of us.

She slapped Iggy across the face and called him a two-faced son of a whore. She said that if he really cared about Gazzy, he wouldn't be trying to help me, because I didn't give a shit about him being dead and was a dirty filthy coward to boot. She was up in Iggy's face, yelling, and Ella was trying to pull her off but Max just shoved her away and I had to grab her before she smashed her head into the table.

At least Iggy was calm. He was mad, yeah, but he wasn't crying like I was and he wasn't drunk like Max was. He put his hands on Max's shoulders, and she hit him again and told him to get his fucking paws off of her, and then he said that I was right. That doing the air shows was dangerous and that Gazzy dying was something that him and Max SHOULD take the blame for. That it would be best to stop it now before Angel or me got killed.

Max called him a son of a whore again and then asked him where he got off acting like he cared about Angel, where he got off acting like he was the leader. "Are you trying to kick me out?" she demanded. Looking back, I can see how screwed-up that was. I mean, she had just kicked ME out, and now she was getting mad at Iggy? But back then I didn't see that. I was yelling at them to stop, but they weren't listening, and then Iggy said: "I'm not kicking you out, I'm kicking myself out. Come on, Nudge."

We walked out the door, just like that, only I picked up Angel from her spot on the chair. At nine years old, she was getting too big to be carried, but I managed. She didn't even move in my arms, and I had to wrestle her into her jacket as we walked toward town. It was kind of weird putting her gloves on, because the right pinky just hung off, and I felt really awful because we were dragging her out into the cold again, just like the night when she lost that finger.

Getting out of town was easier than I had thought. Even though Angel couldn't fly, on account of she couldn't do practically ANYTHING, we took a bus. We took a lot of buses, actually, and we ended up in a Seattle train station, sleeping on flattened-out cardboard boxes. As I fell asleep, I noticed that Angel was crying, and I was glad in a sick kind of way, because at least she was doing something.

And that was the last time I saw Maximum Ride. Saying her name like that feels so formal, she was always just "Max." I wonder if they're going to put MAXIMUM RIDE on her gravestone, or MAX MARTINEZ even though Dr. M never really adopted her. Or they might put MAX BATCHELDER, even though she hated Jeb's guts. I guess I'll find out when I go visit her grave. Her grave, Jesus—I'm never going to be able to talk to her again, and maybe that's a good thing. If she knew I missed her funeral she'd never forgive me. "Coward," I can hear her saying, and her voice echoes in my head like she's standing just behind me.

I'm not a coward. I'm strong. I was strong enough to arrange for Dr. M to get us the fake IDs, even though she wanted us to come back. I was strong enough to make it through school and to work part-time and to let Iggy know that all of us needed to talk to people who could help us. I'm strong enough to get out of bed in the morning and not hate myself when I look in the mirror and see my brown skin and my nappy hair and my wings and I'm going to be strong enough to know that Max was wrong about what she said. And that's how I'm going to get through this. I'm going to keep strong and carry on, and even though that's cruddy British wartime propaganda it works. It's a hedge against the dark, like Iggy's praying and Angel's drawing. All of us have our hedges. My mantras and my therapist and you, Diary—these are my hedges against the dark. And they work, because I don't feel dirty and guilty. I feel clean, like the way the sky feels after a thunderstorm has washed away all the humidity.

Max was my older sister and I loved her, but she wasn't my mother and she wasn't a good leader, in the end. That's not her fault, because she was a kid. It's not my fault for leaving, because I'm in a better place now. And when I go visit her grave, I'll put wildflowers on it. Like her, they popped up and were as strong as they could be, and like her, people cut them down because they got in the way.

4. Chapter 4


Hey, you've reached Ella Martinez! I'm afraid I can't get back to you, it's finals week and I'm busy studying. Leave a message and I'll get back to you!


Hey, 'Ells bells, it's Iggy. You asked me to call you and tell you what the funeral was like because you couldn't make it. So, uh, this is me calling and reporting in. Sorry if it's not as descriptive as you had hoped. It was crowded as hell, and me and Angel were wigging out. It's funny—there were so many people there that we didn't even get close to her coffin. Angel was really torn up about that. Not saying that I wasn't upset about it, but she was crying over it.

Anyway, um, it was in the same cemetery that they buried Gazzy in. We brought two sets of flowers so we could put them on the graves. I carried Gazzy's; Angel carried Max's. We waited until after to put them down, because we knew that they would get trampled. By the time we put down Max's, about a billion other people had had the same idea. My nose is still burning from the stink of fifty thousand different kinds of flowers. They buried her next to Gazzy, so I couldn't be sure—but I think a few people put stuff on his grave too. That was nice of them.

Funeral started late because it took the pastor forever to show up. Same guy as last time, in case you were wondering. Is he a friend of your moms or are funerals just his thing?

Okay, that was bitter. Sorry.

Pastor guy didn't do that bad of a job. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust… he talked about how she made a great change in the world, and thank God he avoided saying anything like "she's flying with the angels now," because Angel was already sobbing and I didn't want that to set her off even further. Also, not trying to be an ass about it because I know you aren't into, quote, "my religious stuff," but I'm pretty sure it's sacrilege to say that a human can achieve the same things that the angels do. Max wasn't an angel, and neither am I. We're just… humans. We're just as good as you, if not a little worse. God knows I'm worse.

And this isn't the time for me to tell you about all my life's struggles either. Again, sorry. But I'm tired as shit from the flight down and back—it's over a thousand miles. We had to take three rest stops, and I'm still worn out. Excuse me if I ramble.

The funeral itself wasn't so bad, and it wasn't so great either. It was just kind of weird, being shoulder-to-shoulder with people who've seen us all perform, people who don't know anything about us other than the fact that we have wings. Like you're probably one of the few people who knows that Nudge once ate a jar of Nutella all by herself. Everybody else is just like, oh yeah look at the bird girl. That's how it felt. They weren't sorry for Max, they were sorry that the bird girl was dead. Then again, I guess I'm not any better. I didn't really speak to her after we left. I guess Angel and I were going because it was our sister there, not because it was Max there, do you know what I mean? Kind of like your mom, like you said.

But if you could have gone… you knew Max the least of us, but you knew her the best of us, especially in the last four years. So instead of recapping exactly how much people were crying, or the exact temperature of the Arizona desert, I'll tell you about the Max that I grew up with.

She was an asshole. I mean, we all were assholes, but she was the biggest asshole. She would always treat me like a burden without saying as much, and there were days when I wished to God that she would just call me a useless lump so we could have our cards on the table. She wasn't that great a mom, as I'm sure you know. The shit that Gazzy and I got away with was nothing short of legendary, and to this day I'm surprised that no, like, news helicopters saw our occasional rockslides. And when it came to chores, she would yell until she was blue in the face but we would just ignore her. Like I said, we were all assholes. She was just the biggest one. Maybe that's what made her an ineffective leader as we all grew up. We got used to it, but she did, too, and she didn't want to change.

Okay, now that the worst is out of the way, I'll tell you about the best. The best was that she tried so hard. She would wake up at some ridiculous hour to train us, and she let us know that she hated it as much as we did but she was doing it so that we could live. There's a lot of shit that she shoved under the rug, and I don't give her enough credit for that, probably because I was busy shoving my own shit under the rug. But, well, I'm better now. I learned. She's never going to be able to learn.

Ah, hell, I sound really cold about this right now. But the thing is, Nudge told me about the security tapes. She saw that guy's gun and she ran at him anyway. I'm sad she died, but Gazzy… he didn't have a choice, and, Jesus, Gazzy was ten years younger than her when he died. It's like when you drop something and superglue it together. It's tougher. That's me right now.

I think at the end, she was trying to do the right thing. I think throughout her life, she was trying to do the right thing, or what she thought or had been led to believe was the right thing. She had good intentions, but you know what they say about the road to hell. And again, I know you don't go for, quote, "that misogynist slavery-ridden claptrap," but I've been praying for her soul. After a life like hers she deserves to rest. We all deserve to rest, I guess. I try to make it so Nudge is safe, and Angel too… I'm getting off track.

It's so easy to say that you're doing the right thing when you're doing it, you know? But then a few hours later when you're sleeping on the ground and every bit of you is sore and it feels like you've been cut off and you're falling through the dark—it's hard to say that you're doing the right thing then. Max was the kind of person who could always think that she was doing the right thing, deep down inside. And if she couldn't think that, then she could lie up a storm and only crack sometimes. I don't suppose many people have that talent, if you could call it a talent.

That's what I was thinking when I was shoulder-to-shoulder with what felt like half of America and three-fourths of America's sweat. There were babies crying. People took their babies to this funeral. Why the hell didn't they get a babysitter? I thought that then and I think I know the answer now. They think that this was some monumental event. Some cornerstone in whatever movement Max was fighting for when she died. They think it was something political, instead of what it was—a mistake. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so was the gunman. You know he turned himself in? They say he isn't cooperating to help them find the others, but he turned himself in and, get this, requested the death sentence. It was all over the news. I know you're busy, but you might have seen that?

At the funeral Angel stuck with me, cried into my shoulder. She's gotten so tall. I keep expecting to feel her face against my hip or in my stomach when she hugs me. I keep trying to pick her up, and then I remember that if she stands on her toes she can just about rest her chin on my shoulder…

Oh, yeah… I didn't talk to Dr. M. She made a speech, though. Kind of the same as the pastor's. She's in a better place now, we have to continue the fight, she wouldn't want us to stagnate in grief.

Did you know that she didn't pay us for the air shows? That's, like, sending soldiers out to breathe in the smog of fucking Beijing, that city where the pollution is so thick that you gotta wear a mask, and not giving 'em any money. Having air sacs means that there's just that much more lung area to get scarred up. I still cough early during my runs, and I've never smoked a damn day in my life. And we didn't get paid. Max said that we were helping her, goddamnit. And then one day Gazzy just kind of… dropped out of the sky. He thought he was being tough, flying really fast and doing these huge circles around the rest of us. He was just using up his air. And then when we went down to get him, they grabbed all of us. And then…

Well, you know. As it went. Sorry.

But your mom didn't pay you either, did she? I remember Nudge sneaking downstairs because you were still on the phone at three in the morning with a sore throat. You really had me working the teakettle.

Huh. You know, maybe we should talk about something other than our shitty childhoods. Like our dead sister. We could talk about her and how she at least contributed to them. …Jesus, I'm a regular root of fucking horseradish here, aren't I? Sorry, Ella. You don't need to deal with my shit and Nudge's shit, too. I mean she deals with your shit, so it's only fair… I'll hang up now.

5. Chapter 5


From: agreene gmail

To: fnickbirdbrain hotmail

Subject: I HATE YOU!

Dear Fang or whatever you are calling yourself now:

I don't mean to be emotionally manipulative, which is according to Google a tendency I have due to my high intellect coupled with my dysfunctional childhood, but this is your fault. You were the one who was supposed to stop Max from doing stupid things. You had ONE job and you didn't do it and now my big sister is dead and gone and I never got to see her since I was NINE! We would talk on the phone and send emails but she was always busy and Iggy didn't want me to make the trip down by myself because he would have to keep an eye out for Nudge, and he said that there was "no way in hell" Max was coming up to visit us because it would wig Nudge out. He said that 'cause he liked Nudge more than me. I suppose that's fair though. They're friends before they're siblings, and I'm more of a kid than anybody else. He cares more about her emotions than mine, and he cares more about my physical safety than my emotions. Well, I care about my emotions.

You know my birthday is in August. Nudge was going to stay back at home with Ella while Iggy and I went down to visit Max, but now that's not going to happen, because she is DEAD and it is YOUR FAULT. I'm angry crying now, just so you know. I know that you're off in wherever being all "hell is other people" blah blah blah how freaking Sarte of you, you jerk. I gave you our address because I wanted you to come visit, was that not IMMEDIATELY OBVIOUS? Are you that stupid? Did you just leave us because you hated us? I hate you!

And before you think this is about Total… it isn't. I mean I cried at his funeral and so did Nudge and I miss him, but I wanted you to be alive more than I wanted him to be alive.

Wow, I used a semicolon. I'm so grown up. Now I'm crying again, just FYI. Did you know that I'm Max's age now? Like, okay, I'm a few months younger but I'll be fourteen in August. It's like a full-circle revolution. Except instead of a revolution, everybody I love is dead and I have to play stupid in school. Iggy says it's for my own good.

I mean, he has a point. Being smart, sticking out… it's something that I have to have very tight control over because if I don't, then bad things happen. I still have nightmares about that, you know? It wasn't my fault. It wasn't my fault.

You don't know what I'm talking about, of course, because you WEREN'T THERE. I hate you so much! You can't set yourself up as Max's second in command and be the one that she needs more than any of us and then leave her! That's not how it works when people depend upon you! Iggy doesn't up and leave Nudge and me behind just because things got rough, we sit down and we talk about it. What you did was so stupid, and I don't care that you were just 16 when you did it. You still did it!

And if you think I'm still mad about my pinky finger, I'm not. I've been through worse, like being experimented on by crazy mad scientists. A finger isn't anything compared to that, and that isn't anything compared to what Iggy went through. So don't say that I'm just yelling at you because of old grievances (that's a spelling word). And don't you dare be like all the other guys and say that I'm just doing it because it's "that time of the month"! Then again, the other guys who say that are my age. Iggy never uses it to win an argument with Nudge. Maybe you won't use it either, because you're grown up, but I wouldn't know, because the last time I saw you, you were sixteen.

But… I think I saw you at Max's funeral, talking to her. Or it was a dream I had. Or my eyes were fogged up with crying and you were talking to another five-eight half-Hispanic girl. You were wearing a black button-up shirt, and I'm willing to bet that your jeans were also black. If, you know, I'm not going crazy or getting a Voice. You know, if I got a Voice then it really would be a full-circle revolution. I'd just have to get a few younger kids to look after and also start up a romantic relationship with a complete dip that leaves me in the lurch every time the going gets tough!

Does that mean you're dead? But your blog updates regularly. I check it now and then, and Iggy doesn't know. Like he doesn't know about me calling you. You know that when you called us and gave the four of us your number, Iggy wrote his down on a piece of paper and set it on fire? And Nudge cried for like six straight hours. I cried too, I think. I don't remember it that well. Honestly there's a lot I don't remember from when I was a kid. I remember a little bit of the E-shaped house, and I have nightmares about the School, and I know how good I have it when I go to sleep on a mattress, and of course I remember Total, but everything else is just… flashes. Iggy says that he doesn't know what's going on. Dr. Samuels, who I see every other week on Saturday, says that I might have repressed memories of my childhood prior to Gazzy's death on account of the trauma.

I remember Gazzy dying, though. And I remember wanting to say so much but not being able to. And then I remember sleeping in a motel room, and thinking that it looked like a motel room I had been in before… And then I started school, and we managed to settle down. And that's when I started remembering stuff better.

Google says that repressed memories are a hotly debated topic in psychology, and that many psychologists think that they are bullshit. I think that they are bullshit, too. I think that because I read peoples' minds so much when I was a kid, their thoughts got muddled up with mine and I ended up losing them all. But that doesn't count because it's not even properly studied, like the only people who could confirm that are School scientists or Jeb, and I'm never ever getting near any of them ever again.

Is that why you left? Because of Jeb and Dr. M trusting him? You say a lot of stuff on your blog but that's just a blog. The truth is different.

Max told the truth most of the time. Even when she was lying, she was telling the truth, because it was the truth that she couldn't deal telling us and it was the truth that she cared about us. Maybe it's because I don't remember her so well that I cared so much about meeting her, and now I never will.

Fang, please. I don't want to lose half my family. Even though this was your fault, I don't hate you. Please visit.

Love Angel.

From: agreene gmail
To: fnickbirdbrain hotmail

Subect: Re: I HATE YOU!

It's been a WEEK and you still haven't replied! Screw you! I can understand a day or even five, because you had to get back to your hobbit-hole in the butt-end of nowhere, but a week? Now I know you're just ignoring me and I'm stuck waking up in the middle of the night crying because we're never going to go back to the way it was, not ever. I want to blame you for that, for leaving, but then I think that it wasn't your fault, it was the guy's fault for shooting, and it was my fault that Gazzy died…

It was, you know. When the Erasers caught him he was still conscious, if only barely just. I heard them say on the way over that it was a miracle his neck didn't snap on the way down. And then another one said yeah, it was a waste of a good dinner. And they all laughed.

When we got to Itex Melbourne, they split us up fast. Max was the first one to be taken out of the van, and they dragged her off deep in the bowels of the building. Nudge and Iggy got split up, too, I remember that much. Gazzy and me didn't. Maybe because they thought he was useless. Maybe because they just didn't have enough room. Maybe it was part of some evil mad science plan. But for whatever reason, they put us in the same room. At the time I was grateful, but now I'm not. I don't want to remember him in that room.

It was hell. It smelled like crap and rotting bodies. There were some kids with sores that were oozing pus, and one day a kid came back with his eye poked out and oozing down his face. He was screaming like an animal. No words, just noise. It made him easier to ignore, but harder to block out.

They came for me after a week, and I could hear their thoughts, all antisepticky and cold. It was like sticking a million little knives into your head and pouring salt water over them, a cold stabbing that heated up when you realized how much evil there was behind the disinterest. They wanted to cut up my brain and find out what made me tick. They wanted to breed me and see if my kids were going to have my powers. They wanted to extract my hypothalamus and prod it. They wanted to put a chip in my head to stop me from being able to use my powers. They wanted me to work for them. They wanted to feed me uranium and put me on a treadmill.

I didn't want it to be me. That was all I could think of, stupid selfish little Angel curled up in her dog crate. NOT ME, I thought at them. NOT ME NOT ME NOT ME.

So they took Gazzy instead. Maybe the push I gave them made them think he'd be worth a study. Maybe they had planned to take him anyway, later, and this just forced the inevitable.

Max managed to get us out after a week of testing. I wouldn't have known the time we spent in there if the CSM people didn't tell us, because time stretches in there. Like that hotel room in the movie, where it's the same hour over and over again. But I mean, you know about this, don't you? You've been in the Schools and you couldn't even call Max and say "Sorry about Gazzy dying, also I'm a piece of trash!"

I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you! Hate hate hate! Even though it's not your fault, it sooooo is your fault for not showing up! Do you know how messed-up Max was? Do you know how messed-up I was? Or do you just not care?

…You don't care, don't you. Oh my god I've been writing this email and puking my heart out and you don't even care enough to tell me that it's going to be okay!

Screw you!

6. Chapter 6



Jesus, that's an awful way to start a letter. In my defense, I don't have much practice. To quote that cartoon dinosaur, "All my friends are dead." Makes it kind of hard to write good letters when nobody's telling you how to not sound like a complete moron. To make things even harder, I didn't know which name to put on the paper. I know that you're "Nudge." But the computer system at your school registers you as "Steph Greene." And sometimes the name in the system fits, sometimes it doesn't.

I'll get to the point. You have my condolences upon the death of your adopted sister. Also, if you're looking for a high-stakes high-reward mediocre-pay job, I'm in need of a partner. To be more precise: remember two years ago when Marian Janssen's death was all over the news? That was me. Took me a while, and it was hard to make it look like a suicide, but it worked. Sorry that I couldn't do it before your adopted little brother died. Not sorry about the dog, though. Fuck that dog.

And that was one of the worst things to say in a business proposal. But I'll be honest with you: I'm not remotely interested in being your friend at the moment, nor do I have any burning desire to join the little family of misfits that you, the blind guy, and the psychic brat have formed. There's a job that needs to be done, and it's to everybody's advantage to have two reasonably competent individuals working on it, as opposed to one reasonably competent individual. Although the last time I saw you there was a complete lack of understanding for the severity of your situation, I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Seven years can change a lot. For instance, you can go from a perfectly normal baby to dead, or from an arrogant moron of a teenager to dead.

I went to the funeral to try to find you, which admittedly wasn't the best idea, but it ended up working out. It did mean that I had to endure conversation with quite possibly the most annoying man on the face of the planet. Tell me, does your adopted brother (the MRA one) actually plan to do anything with his life, or does he think that using a mediocre blog to lazily prod at fraudulent news articles is world-changing and important? Not that I don't appreciate having somebody to call up when I want to release information on various Itex heads, but does he believe that he's making a difference or is he just trying to relive the glory days of when his voice cracked every other sentence?

As far as the funeral went, it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. I've been to enough that I've stopped thinking of the people being buried and more of the show that's being put on. Max's biological mother makes a very good figurehead, doesn't she? All words and no action, and the action that she does take is vague enough to be completely ineffective. I love whales as much as the next bitch, but saving them kind of pales in comparison to stopping the corporation that had a plan for genocide up and running.

Did you see Max's pictures on the news? Her face was blown off. Completely blown off. I wonder what the corpse looked like when they buried it. As for her death, the death of The Real Maximum Ride, as she called herself…

I don't care. I flipped past it on the news a few times before it even registered.

It's weird, isn't it? You spend the first years of your life hating somebody and training, training, training to surpass them, to do a specific job, and then everything goes wrong. But you end up doing the job anyway, and it turns out that the person didn't matter at all. That's exactly what happened and I don't know why I used that long and drawn-out metaphor to describe it to you when I could have just said "I" and "The Real Maximum Ride."

Now that she's dead, I suppose that mantle falls to me. Being "the real one." Except, see, in terms of the whole "only one of you can do the thing," I've been "the real one" for years. Despite that, I'm not going to recruit you forcibly, or order you to fall in line, or whatever the old Max would have done. I don't want to drag you by your hair through missions, so if you want to sit back and cover your eyes and refuse to be an active part of the solution, then go ahead. The job I'm offering you isn't easy. You won't be able to see your family often. But it's an important thing that needs to be done.

The system is broken. Itex was supposed to kill every last living human on this planet, and the School that created you evidently forgot to remind the old Max that people are people, not mindless peons to be condescendingly entertained with frivolous air shows. It also evidently failed to teach her to learn from her mistakes, as proved by her death.

So if you're interested, feel free to let me know.


Max II.

7. Chapter 7


Dear Mom,

Screw you. I hate to write that but at the same time it feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, a weight of your expectations and disappointment and abandonment.

It's been nine months I've been away and you only call when you say that you didn't see me at Max's funeral? I know you like her more because of the wings and all, but Jesus H Christ on a cracker you could at least make an attempt to connect with me over something that isn't work-related. Not that I don't care about saving the planet, as I'm sure you're going to be quick to say, it's just that it feels like that's all you do. You just throw yourself into the CSM and you stop even trying to call people because of it. You know Grandma died last month? She was trying to call you but the lines were all jammed up because you were working on something. I can hear your defense now, and it makes me want to puke. "Look, Ella, I'm kind of busy. Can it wait for some other time?"

Like, I get that you have a hard job, and I get that you're trying to stop global warming and save the whales and I care about that. This is my planet and it's my responsibility to do what I can to help others. But that doesn't mean that I throw myself into my job and wrangle children into working without pay just to further my cause. That's what the bad guys do.

Over the past few months I've had time to think about that. And I would keep running in to the same mental roadblock. "My mom isn't a bad guy," I'd say to myself. "My mom is trying to save the world." Well, you might be trying to save the world, but that doesn't mean that you had to have me up all hours of the night answering phones, and have Max and her siblings flying through smog thick enough to choke them. I guess if I were to blame anybody for Gazzy dying, it would be you. But you wouldn't care; you'd just keep fighting like you want to. He was a soldier to you, and he was eleven when he died—just a little younger than me when I met Max.

And now Max is dead. Don't get me wrong; I cried my eyes out. She was my sister, and I loved her, but she made the choice to charge that guy, the same way I kept making the choice to tell off bullies. I can't count how many black eyes and split lips I've gotten, how many times all my work at the gym wasn't enough because the guys I was up against were big enough to bury me in muscle. After a while I stopped coming home beaten up because it was easier to just go to the nurse's office and patch myself up there. Max had her super-speed and super-strength, but that only gets you so far when there are guns involved.

Maybe as the years went by she just got used to dodging bullets, the same way I got used to getting hit and called a stuck-up prissy dyke bitch by strangers who called at midnight. When I was sixteen, there was a bomb threat at my school, remember that? I came home and threw up and then did my homework, and you didn't ask any questions after I told you it was no big deal. I guess it wasn't, but it still shook me. There were twenty of us, sitting in the corner furthest from the door, pulling our knees into our chests and keeping our heads down. And then somebody said: "You know, Martinez, this is your fault. They're looking for you." Said Martinez like it was a dirty word. I think that was the proverbial first stone, because the others joined in soon after.

"Just go out there and get it over with."

"Do it for all of us, Martinez."

"Selfish bitch."

One of the girls, one of the punk rock girls that kept her head down and did her work and didn't bother anybody, she was smoking a cigarette in class the day of the attack. Mr. Stephens was supposed to stop her, because it was a fire hazard, but he just didn't care. He kept a window open in the back for her, like the one he kept open in the front for him. Mr. Stephens really didn't care about much, or maybe he was scared of us. Either way, he didn't say a thing when the girl flicked open her lighter right next to my face.

She didn't do anything with it. I think in that moment, she was just as scared as I was. I mean, she could have melted my face or set my hair on fire. But she didn't, she just kept it open, flickering. The longer it was open, the more she had to think about what she was doing, and that's what made it harder for her to do. It's one thing to throw a stone when you're part of a crowd, it's a different thing entirely to do something and know that what you're doing is wrong, and to do it again and again. Your gut clenches up and your heart drops.

Did you get that clench in your gut whenever you lied to me? Did your heart drop every time you let Max say "Don't think about it, Ella, you wouldn't get it," and you didn't say anything?

Look, I know you liked her better. I don't blame you. I liked her better, too. She was cool and tough and strong and everything that I wasn't. And on top of that, she was a validation of years of work and I was an accident, a mistake. But you two didn't have to rub it in my face! Because that's what she did. Whenever she was talking to Fang or Iggy or Nudge about something and I asked if I could help, she'd brush me off with "it's a Flock thing," and implicit was the "you wouldn't understand, because you're just a human." And that's bullshit! And I know that's bullshit because I've talked with Iggy and Nudge and their problems aren't that different from mine!

Speaking of keeping things from me… when were you going to tell me that I had another sister? Did you ever plan on telling me? What about my sisters' half-brother? Their dead half-brother? Was that something that just wasn't relevant? Who decided that Ella Martinez should take all of the risks associated with being Maximum Ride's friend, but receive none of the knowledge? Was it Max who decided that my puny human brain wasn't going to take the stress? Or was it you who decided that I was too weak?

Either way, I'm an adult now. To put it bluntly, I'm a grown-ass woman who can make her own decisions and find out information for herself. And that's why I'm writing you. I went to visit Nudge and saw that my half-sister—you know, Max's clone, the one that she probably talked about to you?—had come to visit. She made an offer: see the world, help in a much less abstract way than the CSM. I accepted. By the time you're reading this letter, we'll be on a plane to who the hell knows where. By the time you care enough to write a reply, we'll probably be somewhere else.

Don't expect me to reply to any of your communications. I've put in enough effort by now. Iggy and Nudge, I'll keep talking to. Iggy's a good friend of mine, and I like Nudge. But you? You can go screw yourself.


Ella M


I apologize for this circlejerk navelgazing excuse for a fanfiction. It started off pretty simple: guy kills Max, and then evolved: guy kills Max, turns out that Max's life has been slowly going to shit, and then evolved some more: guy kills Max, turns out that Max's life has been slowly going to shit, and that other people are getting on with their own lives while leaving her alone. It's a reflection on Max's failures as a hero and as a leader and as a mother.

Every bit of characterization here has a base in canon. If you're up for discussing interpretations, leave a review.

Maximum Ride the series is less "action and mystery" than it is "Why don't you just shoot them?" This fanfiction is "I just shot them, what now?" It's very much about Max's downward spiral and the people who escaped it, and the repercussions of their time spent with her. Like I said, navelgazing.

Title is taken from the Mumford and Sons song "The Cave." This fanfiction is in no way inspired by the song, as the song is relatively upbeat and this is middling at best. I was just listening to the version that was remixed with Ke$ha's "Die Young," which is kind of a funny coincidence now that I think about it.

Character beta-readers by tumblr:

Fang: avariusamericae

Iggy: triumphdivision

Angel: withpurewhitewings

Thank you guys so much, it means a lot to me that you put your time and effort into helping make this fit in with canon characterization.