Conundrum by Phoenix Fanatic

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Humor, Romance
Published:2007-09-16 19:41:16
Updated:2009-01-11 14:20:02
Packaged:2021-04-04 12:52:21
Summary:After a small accident, Max and Fang can hear each other's thoughts! Oh, my, this presents a number of challenges... and what if a certain company is interested in this development? -Fax- -Complete-

Table of Contents

1. Impossible
2. Is
3. Simply
4. A
5. Word
6. That
7. Is Always
8. Used
9. By
10. People
11. With
12. No
13. Courage
14. Or
15. Even
16. Resolve
17. So
18. They
19. Can
20. Live
21. In
22. Their
23. Small
24. World
25. Without
26. Ever
27. Really
28. Standing
29. Up
30. And
31. Actually
32. Making
33. Any
34. Difference

1. Impossible

A/N- My first Maximum Ride fanfiction- here goes!

Thanks go to disneydork, my very awesome friend who is always there for me! (Check out her story, Beautiful. You know you want to. :D )

Disclaimer- The very basis idea for this isn't mine, and I'll tell at the very end of the story where it came from. –shocking music- The characters belong to JP. So what's mine? Well, I mention a rock in the fifth paragraph. That's about it. –holds spiffy rock up-

In the end, you could say the whole experience would change the Flock's lives forever.

Well, this isn't the end, now, is it? This is the beginning. And the beginning we will start at.

I love how people always start clichéd books with, "it was a normal day, until…" as it's overused and overrated. However, my own experience started like such. Normally. Somewhere, a book editor is rolling in their grave.

Now, after discovering Dr. Martinez was my own mother, needless to say there was some shock-evaluation going on. I have to admit, going to my room and reading a book –yes, Maximum Ride can read, don't start with all the jokes- became a common thing for me to do. I needed time to escape into someone else's problems.

It was at such a time when a slow knock came at my closed door, and I was bumped out of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. (Don't ask. Mom said it was good.) Anyways, I was tempted to throw a rock at whoever knocked. The book was actually decent!

"What?" I groaned, turning the open book onto the bed. "If Itex isn't back or someone isn't dying, I don't care."

The door opened, and a sullen-looking Fang walked in. Oh, never mind about the rock.


Fang's one word made my heart leap to my throat. I struggled to keep it in my body. "Hey."

Uh. How could I be attracted to Fang? He's my friend. Nothing more, nothing less. I don't want anything else to distract me.

He sat on the edge of the bed, the very edge, a good three feet away from my legs. He eyed the room, filled with posters of musicians that had previously been Ella's, and the various stuffed animals. He turned to me, dark eyes piercing and shattering my soul.

Aren't I the poetic one?

"Want to go flying? I feel cooped up here." He twisted his hands together. "Haven't been out in ages."

"Where' s the rest of the Flock? Do they want to come?" There was no way I was going to leave them- experience had taught me that.

"Iggy and Gazzy are using bismuth to blow stuff up for Nudge and Angel. Don't ask where they got it from- I don't know and I don't want to know. Either way, they've been off for an hour and don't show signs of returning."

"What's bismuth? Sounds illegal."

"It's some sort of metal you use to blow stuff up with. You can buy it on the Internet, apparently. I've decided not to ask if it's illegal or not. So you coming?"

I looked at The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with longing, but when my eyes met Fang's, I didn't care if Tom drowned in the Mississippi river.

"Course I'll go!" I told him, smiling. His eyes smiled, but his lips didn't. Close enough, I say.

We went into the cramped hall together, and made out way to the outside door. Curiously, Mom nor Ella were there.

"They're out shopping," Fang answered my unspoken question. "I said that you didn't want to go."

A short burst of anger flared up in me for him making my decisions, but it was quickly extinguished when I looked at him again. Uh. Stupid hormones.

"Mm'kay, let's just go," I replied, throwing open the door and revealing the crisp, cloudy sky. We walked the way to the forest, and found a small clearing that would do for takeoff.

My special-made T-shirt allowed my wings to fling open, as did Fang's. Wordlessly, we both jumped into the sky, the deafening sound of air rushing past us. We cleared the treetops, and soared into the sky.

We flew in and out of the clouds, raindrops sticking to my skin. I laughed in enjoyment, and I heard Fang do the same, a rare occurrence. From there on out we stuck to weaving in and out of the spaces between the clouds, not wanting to freeze.

After about twenty minutes, we stopped and hovered mid-air, wondering what to do.

"Want to go check in on the Flock?" I asked before an uncomfortable silence arose. "Bismuth is dangerous, right?"

"I don't know," Fang answered. "I failed my science test when we were in school for that small bit."

I laughed, the sound ringing in the air. It was weird, hearing it. "Where are they?"

"Not far," he replied, "A well-sized clearing does well for their explosions; they showed it to me once."

"And where was I?" I asked, putting my hands on my hips.

"Off with Ella, I think. Anyways, c'mon."

He took off at a fast pace, angling downwards. He flew back to the trees, and he started flying a foot above the highest reaches of the branches. I quickly followed, being left behind not high in my books.

It took about ten minutes to reach the "clearing", which turned out to be an abandoned field that used to belong to a farm. Landing with a thump, I realized that it indeed was a good place- the hard dirt would prevent fires from spreading, if they occurred.

Fang was already with the Flock, the three other figures waving. I jogged over.

"Hey Max!" Gazzy started. "This stuff is sweet. Hard to get, but awesomely cool."

"There was this big explosion!" Angel put in. "It was really neat. Can you do it again?"

Iggy answered, his clear-blue eyes looking in my general direction. "Do you want us to do it again, Max? It's perfectly safe. It's not nearly as big as Angel says. Just three feet tall, three feet wide. Bismuth is perfectly safe stuff, as long as you don't get in its way."

I shrugged, saying, "Sure, might as well."

Iggy and Gazzy put their heads together, putting boxes of sorts together in weird ways and wiring different things. After a minute, they stood proudly. "Got it!" Gazzy shouted.

"We have to back off," Nudge said. "Iggy said that you'd skin him alive if something happened to us."

"He's right," I answered, glad. "How far?"

"Ten feet," Iggy said for her. The Flock and I all moved back, crouching.

"It's timed to go off in twenty seconds," Gazzy whispered, the wind whistling around us. I was worried someone might see us all here, in the middle of a barren, dead field, but a quick glance said otherwise. We're in the smack-dab middle of nowhere.

Before I could reply, a bird suddenly flew down from the sky, scaring the wits out of me. It stood… right beside the contraption.

"Shoo!" all five of us yelled, not wanting bird smithereens splattered on us.

"Go! Fly away!" Nudge screamed, throwing her arms around.

"You'll be blown up!" Angel yelled.

"Ten seconds!" Gazzy said, panic etched on his face.

I stood quickly, and started sprinting to the bird. There was no way this bird would die. I crossed the ten feet rapidly, and when I neared the bird, it cocked it's head to the side and flew away. The contraption was four feet away.

"MOVE!" Fang yelled, but before I could even step, I remember a surprisingly big sound, and then, well, nothing.

Oh, goody.

A/N- Did you like it? Reviews are highly appreciated. Anyways, my brother uses bismuth to do experiments of sorts, but I don't know much about it. If I messed up on my elements, is there one that's better for the story? Either way, it won't really affect the story too much. I just needed an explosion, which are easy with Gazzy and Iggy around. :D

Thanks for reading, I hope you like future chapters! (Fun stuff next chapter- hehe.)

2. Is

A/N- Thanks to my reviewers- you guys make it all worthwhile!

You know how you feel like you're supposed to be dead, yet due to some weird coincidence fate decided to play you're alive?



Let me elaborate. Your skull feels like it is imploding and trying to break free. Your heart rate triples. Limbs feel no longer part of your body; they're another entity. No real, sentient, thoughts come to mind- language is too hard to grasp. Instead, you communicate to yourself with symbols and feelings. Pain, for instance. That's a big one. Another is confusion. There are lights and sounds and all pretty things dancing in front of your eyes.

"Max!" A voice screamed into my- ear, was it? Yes, oh yes, my ear. That's one part of my body that's been located, at least.

"Wake up!" Another voice yelled. It was feminine sounding and young- Nudge, or perhaps Angel?

I tried to respond; control of my body was gradually coming back. Never mind, I felt a familiar feeling rising in my stomach. Bracing myself, I vomited over to my side.

"Ewwww!" Gazzy said beside me. "Another few feet and she would have barfed on me!"

"Max!" The first voice called. I blinked, and blurry shapes appeared in front of me. Another blink, and the four figures grew distinct edges and lines. The Flock, concern written all over their faces, were next to me on my left side.

"What in the world was that stunt for?" Fang asked, eyes wide. "It was just a bird!"

"Funny to hear that coming from a half-bird kid…." I drawled, sitting up. I rubbed my eyes again, and Fang's face appeared directly in front of mine. If I wasn't feeling so awful, I would have thrown myself into his arms.

"You saved the bird!" Angel called, stuck between worry and joy. "That was so cool- but you nearly died!"

Nudge, Iggy and Gazzy all added their astonishments, but I was puzzled at the one person who'd hung back from me- Fang.

"Fang?" Nudge asked, widely excited at the events. "Aren't you happy she's alive?"

His eyes darkened, from what I could tell, and he suddenly jerked his head up. "Fool," he hissed, unfolded his wings, and escaped into the sky. The black speck of him disappeared into the horizon quickly.

"What was that about?" Iggy wondered. "He should be glad you're alive!"

"What do you mean?" I asked. "I thought it was perfectly safe. And I was farther than three feet away!"

"Yeah, well, that was out fault," Gazzy said, abashed. "We were going to go back to the house after this, so we decided to use up the rest of the bismuth. There was only a bit extra!"

"Enough to knock me out…" I grumbled. "How long was I unconscious?"

"About five seconds," Iggy replied. "Enough to give us a heart attack, though."

I was about to reply, but a wasp or bee came out of nowhere and started buzzing near my ear. I swatted at it, but the noise didn't go away. "Scat!" I said, waving my arms around. "Go away, stupid bee!"

The Flock exchanged glances during my frenzy; "What?" I asked. "There's a stupid bee around."

"Max?" Angel said slowly. "There's no bee."

"What was that, Angel? There's too much noise, it's practically in my ear!" It was highly annoying- it just kept buzzing and buzzing and wouldn't shut up!

Nudge kneeled into the dirt closer to me and took my shoulders. "There's no bee, Max." She turned to Iggy. "Can you carry her back to the house?"

"I'm fine!" I exclaimed, picking myself off of the dirt, brushing off the back of my jeans. "But you seriously can't hear that?"

"Hear what?" Gazzy asked. He looked worried, and stood next to me.

I bent over and hit my head a good few times, but the idiotic bee seemed addicted to me.

"Your hearing's all out of whack," Iggy said. "It'll probably come back."

I shrugged. "Whatever. Let's go back, okay? I want to see what's up with Fang."

The Flock once again exchanged looks –what, was I turning into the Incredible Hulk?- and Gazzy gathered up the leftover materials from the bomb. When he had finished, he nodded to me, and I went into a run, and then finally shot into the sky.

The buzzing was distinct, but was nearly drowned out by the rush of air blaring past me. From what I gathered, Iggy was probably right; the noise wasn't coming from outside by body, but inside. It was like my mind was working overtime.

A gasp of breath made me double-over mid-air; something was making me angry. I wanted to go and run away from everything, I wanted to run and punch something, I wanted to escape!

"What's up with my mind?" I shouted to the Flock, behind me. "It's like I'm feeling things… that I'm not! I can't describe it!"

Nudge increased her speed and hovered next to me. She had wide, panicked eyes. "What?"

"It's like, I'm angry, but I have no reason to be! I'm perfectly happy!"

I heard Iggy and Gazzy cough a bit, obviously worried that I was mad at them.

"Max? Are you alright?" Angel asked, coming up to me. "Are you going insane?"

I laughed out loud at her naïve thought. "No, don't worry Angel, I'm not going insane. I'm just a little shook up, that's all. And I'm probably just hungry; I'm always snarky then."

Angel gave a weak smile, and we continued to fly back to the house. Premonition at the anger attack followed me the entire way there.

When we arrived back, Mom and Ella were already there. Bags of clothes were strewn across the table, and I eyed them warily.

"Don't worry, you don't have to try them on," Ella laughed. "What's up? I haven't seen you all day."

"Yeah…" I said, scratching my ear in annoyance of the buzzing sound. "Where's Mom?"

"Out back. Why?"

"Nothing," I said offhandedly. I didn't want to worry Ella, or Mom, so I quickly decided to tell them about my hearing tomorrow if it was still there.

Which, of course, it wouldn't be.


Catch my drift?

Anyways, Ella was growing worried at my expression, so I changed the topic: "Fang around?"

"Yeah, actually, he was. He was all dark and sullen and emo-looking."

"Emo? What's that?" Emo? That sounded like an Elmo rip-off.

"Means dark and 'emo'tional. I have no idea where it came from; probably on the Web somewhere. Anyways, he's… in your room, I think. Said he left his sweater there. But he hasn't come out, yet." Ella suddenly perked up, throwing her hair backwards. She started in a slow whisper, "Max… is there something going on between you and Fang? As in love?"

"No!" I said, aghast and taken aback.

If there was something Ella could do, it was find your weakness.

"I think I smell lovveee…" she chanted. "L-O-V-E is in the aaairrrr!"

I practically jumped on and shoved by hand over her mouth. Did Fang hear? Oh, gods, if he did Ella was dead. Luckily, no sound came from my closed door.

Ella glared at me, took my hand away from her mouth and spat in the sink. "Your hand tastes terrible."

"Good. All the better for silencing you. But don't say anything about me and Fang, all right? I don't like him, he doesn't like me."

Slowly nodding, Ella started talking when a massive pang of sadness overwhelmed me. I gasped and fell to my knees, Ella following and shouting my name.

She asked me what was wrong: I told her I bit my tongue.

"You expect me to believe you?" she asked.

"You're going to have to. And I'm better now." I stood quickly.

"Oh, really?" came a voice from the hallway. It was Fang, and he looked… well, emo. Black hair, black clothes; the boy bands would jump all over him, need be.

I nodded. "Yeah, just me biting my tongue… why?"

"Never mind," he spat. He stalked across the kitchen, and threw open the screen door. He headed to the forest in a steadfast pace.

"What's up with him?" both Ella and I said at the same time. We smiled briefly at each other. "I'm going to the park with some friends," she said. "Want to come?"

I shook my head. "No, thanks, I'm going to try to finish my book. See you later."

She smiled and waved, leaving me to (finally!) finish my book. When I plopped myself on the bed, the buzzing started again; but this time, it was clear, precise, and it said:


Someone was in my head, talking to me.

A/N- Once again, merci beaucoup to those who reviewed! Also, is there anyone else having problems uploading chapters? I had to go into an already submitted document, erase it, and copy this into it to upload the chapter. Thank yez for reading!

3. Simply

A/N- Yayness- third chapter! This time, I promise I'll respond to every review. And if I don't, just whack me with some muffins. (Carrot, preferably, please.)

Ok, guys. I always have to do this with stories when I post in a new fandom- what do you guys think K+ is as a rating? How much swearing can I get away with? Is freakin' ok? And anything above that?

Italics are thoughts, by the way.

Max, the voice repeated. Max.

"What the he-" I started, jumped off the bed with my book, and started hitting my head as hard as I could. Was it another Voice? Gods, no! "Get out of my head! Get out of my head!"


"Get out get out! Out! Now! Go!"


I stopped my attack on myself, mainly because I was sure I was close to giving myself a concussion.


The word wasn't spoken aloud, that was for sure. It was like I was thinking to myself, but it was thinking for me in a different voice.


"Shut UP!"


"Ughhh!" I complained, and fell back on the bed, head throbbing. My eyes caught the eyes of Justin Timberlake's, the poster plastered on the ceiling from Ella. The voice had momentarily stopped; I took a deep breath.

"Am I going crazy?" I whispered to myself. "It can't be. I'm not crazy. Crazy people talk to themselves,"

Oh, darn, never mind.

Was it even a voice? Or my imagination? And it wasn't a voice. It was a thought. Yes, a thought. But yet it was clear, concise, and felt like it was the cold breeze during deep winter you despise. In short, it felt awful.

Even though 'it' wasn't 'speaking', I could still feel its presence. It was like someone was reading over your shoulder- highly annoying, but wouldn't go away.

A quick thought burst into my mind- what if I could talk back? So with all my might, I shoved my thoughts of anything to the side and thought, What?

There was no answer.

"Stupid, I should have known. They get to talk to me, and I don't get to talk to them."

I continued staring at the ceiling, trying to get my emotions in check. I made a mental list of everything:

Things Gone Weird

1. Creepy Voice-Thing

2. Emotions that aren't mine

3. I can't talk back

4. There's not even cookies in the house right now

I laughed at myself- I had a mental intruder, and I was worried about cookies. I turned back to Number One- was Jeb back as the Voice? No, he couldn't be. That Voice had been, well, a voice. But this was a feeling, a thought.

A knock came at the closed door, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. "What?" I barked.

"Umm, Max? Are you alright?" It was Nudge. "You were yelling and all."

"Yeah, I'm fine," I lied, "just a really freaky part in my book."

"But you're reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer!"

"It's emotional!" I retaliated. I really, really wanted to be alone right now. Nudge was absolutely terrific- but I couldn't deal with anything other than Creepy Voice-Thing.

"Err, okay," she responded, sounding downcast. "Later, then?"

"Yeah!" I said, trying to sound enthusiastic. I listened closely until I heard her footsteps fade away down the hall.


This time, more emotions flooded in me with the presence of Creepy Voice-Thing. It was a feeling of guilt, as if I had killed someone and ran away. Did I really feel that bad about sending Nudge away?


For the first time, more words came to me. However, many of them were blanked out; it was like static on the radio, when you could only hear three words of your favorite song.

Can you hear me? I thought, giving myself the beginnings of a headache.


I punched the air in glee- first contact had been made!

Yes! I, well, said. My jubilation died when I realized that the Creepy Voice-Thing hadn't responded. I collapsed back onto the pillow.

"What's going on?" I asked myself quietly. "Have I gotten a new power or something? The ability to go insane on demand with multiple personalities?"

I crossed my arms over my body, and a surge of doubt washed over me, and it wasn't the Creepy Voice-Thing, either. Who was I kidding? Just the absurdity of the situation nearly made me laugh. How could I save the world? I didn't even know myself! There was no way I could do anything even close to that, bah, what could I do?

Don't doubt yourself.

"Woah!" I yelled, and rolled off the bed onto the floor. A pen of Ella's jabbed into my stomach, and I grimaced.

"How did you do that?" I yelled into the room. I desperately hoped the rest of the Flock hadn't heard.

They had; I heard footsteps rushing to the door, and someone slammed the door open.

"Max!" Gazzy yelled, and ran to me. "What are you doing?"

"I…fell off the bed," I quickly said. "Too much excitement in the book."

"You don't fall off the bed from a book," Iggy commented dryly, leaning on the doorframe and staring in the general direction of me.

"Lunch!" I heard Mom call, saving me. Gazzy perked up and trotted off to the kitchen, but when I followed, Iggy put a cold hand on my shoulder.

"We'll talk later," he said, essentially telling me I wasn't off the hook. I sighed. Why was it that I couldn't keep anything from him?

Everyone else was gathered around the table, and all looked at me when I sat. "Exciting book, eh, Max?" said Ella. I nodded, hoping she'd drop it.

"First time we can actually have a sit-down lunch," Mom said, her hair messily pulled back. She looked stressed as she washed her hands, but nevertheless smiling. "Tacos!"

I smiled, remembering just how much the Flock liked them. I saw Angel, Nudge, Gazzy and Iggy's faces light up with delight- but Fang was still missing. Where in the world did he go?

Right when I was about to ask (and when the food had been laid out before us), he trod in the kitchen, wet. I glanced out past him; it was raining buckets, and I hadn't noticed.

"Sorry," he mumbled, and stripped off his boots and jacket. "Got caught in the storm."

He sat beside me, and yes, just like the hopeless girls in the romance novels, my heart quickened. I rubbed my hands on my thighs; I felt weak.

"Are you feeling alright?" Angel asked sweetly, trying to look unconcerned and failing.

He grunted; I smiled at his lack of an answer. Gods! I felt so…girly.

I dished some of the usual condiments into the taco shell, and stuffed it in my face. It was delicious, and I saw everyone else around the table claiming the same thing. The only exception was Fang, who wasn't even eating.

"Fang?" Mom asked. "Not hungry?"

He nodded, and suddenly turned to me. "Max?"

"Err, yeah?" I tried not to blush. Seriously, I've fought how many Erasers, faced death how many times, and I can't talk to my best friend?

"Can we talk?"

Tomatoes dropped out of the end of my taco; everyone else around the table was listening to Nudge recount a tale about her putting aluminum foil in the microwave.

"Sure. Let's go outside," I said. I turned to the rest of the table. "We'll be right back."

With their confused looks following us, we stepped out onto the cramped porch. The rain pounded over the awning, and fell over the sides into the garden. There was little room to maneuver without one of us stepping into the rain, and thus we were squeezed pretty close together. Oh, this is getting interesting.

"So what's up?" I asked, trying to look nonchalant. I twiddled my thumbs together.

"Are you feeling okay? I mean, like, your head?" He looked… perplexed, and his face was interested in my answer.


"Um… never mind. Forget I asked." He paused. I thought he'd continue, but didn't. There was a comfortable silence as we both leaned against the railings. He sighed, and then straightened. "Let's go back in."

I followed, taking a deep breath, and trying to ask what was really going on. But no, instead I sat down at the table as a burst of laughter erupted around the table as Nudge finished her story. They had hardly noticed we were gone. Geez, that feels nice. I could have been kidnapped and they wouldn't have noticed!

After shoving the rest of my taco down my throat, I stood. "I'm going back to my book," I announced. There were some murmurs, but everyone was interested in what Angel was saying.

My steps echoed around the hall as I stepped into my room. I tried to close the door, but a hand from outside pushed back. The hand belonged to Fang. When I opened the wooden door further, he gave me a weak smile.

"Max? Look, I was going to tell you before-"


"What?" I asked. The Creepy Voice-Thing was back!

"Hmm?" he said. I shook my head.

Can you hear me?

"Yes!" I said out loud. I shrunk under Fang's surprised look. "What?"


This time, I tried for the third time to say something back: Get out of my head!

Max? It's Fang.

I recoiled in shock, and I saw Fang back against the wall on the opposite side of the hallway with the same expression.

Fang and I could talk with each other without words. We could talk with our minds.

A/N- Reviews are awesome! First of all, thanks go to TheSmartypants for suggesting that Max first think it's another voice!

Tomorrow in Canada we honor Terry Fox with the Terry Fox Run. I understand if you're of any other nationality other than a few Americans you have no idea who is he. So go google him; he's the true spirit of a human. If you're Canadian, try and go running tomorrow with your school; if your school isn't doing it, just try going for a run. It's incredible how much he put up with, and I think it'd be nice if people honored him for everything he's done.

4. A

A/N- Wow, thanks for all of the reviews! Each one of them is all special and purty. (Purty is a word, even if Spell Check doesn't like it.) If you haven't noticed, I've moved the rating up to T for safety. There's nothing in this chapter, but for the later ones I don't want to get bashed for anything. If there's anything really bad (I have yet to figure it all out) there'll be a warning.

I hope that you enjoy the chapter!

Edit: Oops! Uber-thanks to XIII Dragon for informing me about my mistake with Total! I highly appreciate it and changed the scene.

The silence afterwards was the worst part of it all. Neither Fang nor I spoke, physically or mentally. Instead, we just let the past ten seconds sink in.

The shock of Fang intruding on my mind was like a wave; it came out of nowhere, and left me nearly drowning. I sank to the floor, a hand to my forehead. Fang slumped against the wall in the hallway, mouth agape.

I wanted to say something, but the power of language wasn't within my grasp, and apparently it wasn't either for Fang.

Seriously, what would you do if your best friend/crush could hear your thoughts? Drown yourself in ice cream and hope it goes away? Or wish that it would never end?

Everything was crashing on me… this wasn't possible… then again, I'm not supposed to be possible…

"Get in my room," I managed to say quietly, eyes closed. I ran my free hand through my hair. "So the Flock doesn't see."

That was the unspoken number one rule between Fang and me: Flock comes first. Don't let the Flock see you're hurting.

Fang gave a grunt of approval, and practically rolled into my room. When he passed over the threshold from hall to room, I moved away from the door, reached up, and closed it.

I sat cross-legged, and he was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling.

Awkward moment, much?

"Ugh," I said, noticing that the buzzing sound was coming back again. Or maybe I just hadn't been noticing it?

"You have that same feeling?" Fang asked, deadpan. I nodded, sighing.

I decided to experiment. Searching within my mind, I took a tendril of thought and sent it out. Fang didn't seem to notice. I grunted, and crossed my arms. I had yet to master the art of sending thoughts.

"How do you do that- thing?" I asked. "When you spoke to me."

Fang jerked up into a sitting position. "I think we should ignore this."

"What?" I said, far too loudly. He launched his hand over my mouth, and glared at me.

I nearly melted.

"We should just ignore this whole thing, okay?" he whispered into my ear. "It's just something that was programmed into our genes and will go away sooner or later. It's not safe for minds to be connected, all right? We have separate brains for a reason."

I grabbed his hand and yanked it away. " you've been talking to me the entire day, and now you want to stop? How do you do it?"

"It doesn't matter," he muttered, and hunched back to his original position. "Max, we don't know what we've gotten ourselves into, and why. Mental things are strange, Max. We can't control them. I... don't want to get lost."

It suddenly struck me why Fang was so obstinate on this matter- he was scared.

"Lost? What do you mean?"

He gave a small smile that didn't reach his eyes. "There's a fine line between reality and illusion, Max. Let's not cross it."

"But why not?" I whispered, looking at my hands. "This could strengthen the Flock."

"How?" he said, quickly. He looked honestly frightened, for Fang. "I didn't know that was you, Max."

I met his eyes, which pierced and broke my soul a thousand times over. I quickly cleared them away. "But you were saying my name to me. And other things, as well."

Fang's eyes glinted in interest, but he frowned. "No, I didn't. What did I... say?"

I took a breath. "You were all Max… Max…for a long time. Nearly drove me crazy, thank you very much. There was a time when you said Don't doubt yourself as well, which was the longest. Most of the time it was fractured words or emotions."

"What emotions?" Fang snapped. I nearly fell over at the tone of his voice. He took a quick look at me. "Sorry," he added quietly.

"Guilt," I said slowly, still shocked at him. "A lot of guilt. Anger, pain, those were there too."

Fang swore wildly and stood. "I'm going out. Again," he said.

I jumped to my feet. "Fang, no! It's storming out there."

He stalked over to the window and pulled back the curtains. The sky was dark, grey, and threatening to open up and gulp the world up it its massive jaws. The rain was steady and constant.

"I'll be fine," he said, and started for the door.

"No, you're not!" I said, and grabbed his shoulder. What was making Fang this insane? "That's stupid and dangerous! Fang, think of the updrafts! You'd die out there! You can't keep running away!"

"Watch me," he snapped again, and whipped my hand of his shoulder. He nearly broke down the door, and I ran after him.

I sprinted the hallway, and saw him run out of the door and into the storm. I stomped my foot and repeated Fang's swearing.

"Max, where's Fang going?" Nudge asked, leaning back in her chair.

"That's what I'm about to find out," I muttered. I tore off my sweater, and looked longingly at it as I threw it on my empty chair. I grabbed the handle when a hand grabbed the same one, preventing the opening of the door into the deluge. It was Mom.

"What?" I questioned. "Fang's out there! In the rain!"

"He knows what he's doing," she whispered. "What were you two talking about?"

"Nothing," I said, still trying in vain to open the door. "But I have to go!"

"No you don't," Iggy added, twirling his fork with an eerie sense of precision. "Why risk two when only one is needed?"

"What does that mean?" I asked, exasperated. Mom steered me to my chair and plopped me down. She set a piece of cake in front of me- dang, she knows me too well.

I glared at the cake before digging in, and I took the savoring moment to think over Fang. What had made his so spontaneous recently? Yeah, occasionally he went off flying by himself, but only once a week or so. And that was all for the 'strong and silent' show, I bet. Twice in one day? And in this hurricane-type storm? Fang wasn't that rash; he knew he had the Flock to take care of.

Angel sat petting Total absentmindedly across the table. "Will Fang be alright?" she asked, sad.

I nodded. "Yeah. He's off doing mighty Fang things."

Angel giggled, which was what I hoped for. Someone her age shouldn't have to worry about her life at every corner- instead she should worry about what color her Barbie's outfit was. Her laugh was like the breath of my life.

"So what were you guys talking about before, hmm?" Ella asked, putting spices back in the various shelves that lined the kitchen. "Anything I need to know about, sister dear Anything in the area of roma-"

I went into a fit of coughing before she could continue, hoping dearly that the Flock hadn't heard. Angel was still patting Total, Nudge was thoroughly entertained with her cake, and Gazzy was confused. Iggy, however, just look up with wonder and smiled knowingly at me and gave a low hum of amusement.

"What did I miss?" Gazzy asked Iggy. "What did Ella say?"

"Something I personally had never thought about," Iggy responded, voice full of wonder. I was glad he couldn't see me blush.

"There is nothing in that field of interest, Ella, absolutely nothing," I said, listening to the patter of rain against the windows. Iggy look down-put at my statement, but nonetheless looked happier than normal just right then.

I ran my hands over each other, trying not to feel restless. If Fang got himself hurt, I would never, ever forgive myself. Ever.

Nudge finished her cake and sat back farther in her chair, sighing in content before saying, "You know, I like this." At Gazzy's continued look, she continued, "Being normal. We never got cake on the run."

"Iggy can't cook gourmet in the middle of nowhere," Angel said.

"Yeah, I know. But still."

I really, really wanted to disappear right then and there, for a reason I don't exactly know of. I do know that normal is the last thing Nudge will ever have-it's impossible. She has wings, and that's kind of a siren for not normal. I wished things could be different, different for all of us.

"But Iggy's still a good cook for what he gets," Total yapped.

I shrugged. "Iggy's an amazing cook-"

"Thank you," he drawled.

"But when it comes to the cakes and such, he hasn't had much experience."

Nudge laughed. "Nothing could compare to this cake, though."

I smiled; it felt nice to make Nudge happy; to give her one step closer to normal.

To tell you the truth, Fang had been driven out of my thoughts for a while, and so had the buzzing. But it came back, fast, when I heard Fang's voice in my head:


I coughed and hacked, still not comfortable with someone's voice in my head.

"You okay?" Iggy asked.

"Yup," I said, then tried to think something to Fang: What?

For the first time, I knew that my thoughts hadn't reached him. It felt as if I had thrown a ball and it had rebounded off of a wall.

Luckily, he said again, Help me!

Fang was in trouble- and if he asked for help, which I didn't even fathom until now- then there was more than just trouble.

I was tempted to bring to the Flock with me, but this was something I knew that they'd be safer behind. I casually stood up.

"I think the rain's letting up," I said slowly, then bolted to the door before anyone could react.

Fang needed help.

I was going after him, and this time, no one could stop me.

A/N- I hope you liked it! Everything, or most of it, shall be explained in the next chappy-ter…please review! Anyone who can tell me what time of the year it was at the end of MR: 3 shall be given cookies and chocolate and candy.

5. Word

A/N- What are the chances that the first time you sign up for a debate a government official is called in to rebuke your points and the whole school is called down to watch?

Life is so ironic it's funny, really.

Long story.

The bitter song of rain lashed into me the very moment I stepped on the porch, and my first thought was, Lovely.

I had to admit that my stupidity was getting the better of me these days. My sweater lay on my chair in the cozy kitchen just a step behind me, but I knew I couldn't go back. The Flock would stop me, and that would me the end of it all.

It was early in the day, I knew, but it looked like midnight from the black sky and shadowed trees. There was no point in walking to the forest. I snapped my wings open, and realized that I was going to die. The wind felt like it would rip my wings clear off my back. Even standing was nearly impossible. How was Fang doing it?

A gust of wind shifted, and I heard the door slam behind me. Someone was trying to get out and catch me, but the wind was like an impassible barrier.

If I tried jumping, the wind would catch me and throw me back into the house. If I faced downwind, I wouldn't be able to stop. The only way would be diagonal. I pivoted my feet, and braced myself.


The wind threw me beside the porch, my arms, legs and wings tangled. I scowled. Flying would be impossible.

Meanwhile, the rain was still mimicking an army general or something: unbearable and unstoppable. I was soaked to my bones and probably straight-through to the other side of me. In the movies they always make it rain so the clothes can stick to the female actors' bodies; I laughed. The last things I felt like was a celebrity.

With an enormous effort, I folded my wings in as soon as the wind had shifted again. I set off at a sprint, which was more like a jog, facing the barricade of Mother Nature.

Zig-zagging to prevent a loss of ground when I fell to my knees, I made it to the forest as I was switching from anaerobic to aerobic energy. The extra burst of energy heartened me greatly.

When I took refuge behind a tree, I finally stopped to breathe deeply, doubling over. How would I find Fang? Nice one, Max.

I leaned my head back against the rough bark, when more emotions came. This time they were panic and a sense of failure.

"FANG!" I screamed, both mentally and physically. The rain drowned me out with ease, falling in between the leaves sporadically.

I smashed my hands backwards into the bark, leaving splinters on both hands. I hissed when I saw that I made the edges of my hands bleed.

Where are you, I thought to myself. I'm lost…I'm right beside the house nearly, and I'm lost…

Then came the information.

It plowed into my head at nearly an unbearable speed: they were directions. It was incredible. A map was placed in my mind, as if it were real, tangible…

The map told me where to fly to. I needed to fly north for about three miles, turn east for two, and that was where it ended. It was there: the trees I would see, the rock formations I would nearly hit, and everything in between. It was déjà vu, extreme style.

I lost my fear, my panic, and when a break in the wind came I launched my wings out and flew into the darkening sky.

It wasn't as hard as before, and I attributed that to my adrenaline rush. The crack of lightning struck nearby, scaring the wits end out of me. But I didn't stop. I wouldn't. I couldn't.

Finally, the map ended. Apparently Fang was nearby, I assumed.

"FANG!" I screamed, fighting the wind to hover in the same spot. I was above the forest, trees in every direction except for on the horizon.

Here, came the weak reply.

"WHAT?" I yelled again.


Fang was below me, in the forest!

I dived into the treetops, and nearly whacked myself unconscious on a stray branch. I roughly landed on the wet, dirt ground, the wind luckily not reaching me here.

And then I screamed.

Because there, on his stomach face-down, was Fang, bloody gashes on his wings and arms.

I wanted to die.

Not he's-so-hot-I-want-to-die, but instead this-can't-be-happening-I-want-to-die.

I ran over to him nearly tripped over the frail body. I ignored every rule of CPR Jeb had taught me and turned him over. His face had been cut in numerous places, but nothing too bad. It was the loss of blood on his arms that bothered me.

My shirt would do fine for bandages, I decided. I took the bottom hem and ripped it all around my waist, so my shirt was about three inches shorter. I tightly wrapped it around the largest gash in his left arm. Seeing as I didn't want to completely strip my clothes off (later I would laugh at myself) I decided to use my jeans. Grabbing the bottom of the left leg I ripped it up to my knee and around, so I had another long piece. I did the same with the other leg.

There was too much for the two bandages…which took preference?

Another cut on his right arm looked bothersome. It was thin, but stretched from his wrist to shoulder. The bandage went tightly there, as I was trying to cut off the blood circulation. The last piece of my jeans went to his left arm again.

"Oh, Fang, I hate you so much," I whispered, not meaning it. But yet I did. Why did he do this? He knew it wasn't safe to fly. I really, really wanted to bury my face in his hair then. 'Comfortable' was not in his vocabulary right just then.

How to get him back to the house? To my annoyance, the mysterious map in my head didn't know how to get back. Swell.

I gathered Fang in my arms, hoping nothing was broken. He didn't stir, causing my heart rate to again speed up. Or maybe it stopped. Who knows.

The forest was remarkably dry for the storm raging above. There was no way I could take Fang back now. I had barely made it here in the first place- to go back would be suicide.

Using sense of direction as my only guide, I began to lumber through the forest in the general direction of the house. In the air it would have been a snap; here, the world was different.

The roots protruding from the ground were obstacles that I constantly tripped over, once actually dropping Fang and falling to my knees. Overhead, the branches created a canopy that kept out nearly all of the rain. The wind was nonexistent, to my pleasure. But just the sound of its rage above nearly drove me insane.

"Everything will me fine," I chanted to myself. "Fine, fine, fine."

That was a lie, and I knew it.

Don't you hate it when you lie to yourself, but you know it's a lie?

Yeah, it sucks.

I collapsed backwards finally, breathing heavily. Fang was light, being half-bird and all, but give me credit! Flying through a semi-hurricane just to help a friend who's unconscious and you're wearing half the clothes you started with? Ella will have a field day with that fact.

Groaning, I picked Fang up again and hissed at the cuts on his wings. Hopefully Mom would be able to look at those. Picking him up, I continued on.

Seconds, minutes, hours may have passed, I don't know. But when I heard the shout of "MAX!" I nearly fainted in relief. Coming through the branches ahead was Mom.

She took one look at me (her mouth dropped) then looked at Fang (she leaned against a tree). "What happened?"

"I don't know."


I had started crying.

Stupid emotions! How I hate them.

"Oh, my…" she grabbed a talkie-walkie at her waist and said something into it, then ran the remaining distance to us.

"Give me Fang…you've bandaged the worst, good… he'll be okay Max, I promise."

"Where are we?" I asked, letting her guide the way. Up ahead I could see the breaking of the forest.

"Not far from home," she said, worried. "But you've been gone for hours. We've been searching for the past three."


"Don't be."

We walked to the edge of the forest, and I took another breath as the wind slammed into me. Mom broke most of it for me, however, by trudging the path ahead of me up to the porch. I smiled slightly, glad to be back.

She opened the door, the wind slamming it into the house wall. She shimmied herself to allow both Fang and her to enter, and I followed, closing the door.

Five shouts of "FANG!" erupted from the Flock and Ella who had been talkie-walkied back to the house, apparently. They sat at the kitchen table, but Iggy held them back from getting up. How Iggy knew Fang was hurt was beyond me. That kid had better eyesight then I do.

Mom rested Fang on the table. "Get some bandages," she told Ella, who hurried off to the bathroom.

"I used my clothes for the worst," I explained before Nudge could ask about my belly-top and shorts. "But it wasn't much. The wings..."

"Max," Angel said. "You're hurt too."

Was I? I hadn't noticed. I pivoted, and indeed there were cuts and wounds on my legs and arms. "Doesn't matter. Do Fang."

I plopped down in an open chair, and wiped away the dirt and tears around my eyes. I refused to get up, even at Mom's suggestion of taking a shower.

"Max, it's harder being here. I've seen plenty of wounded animals, and from what I can tell, Fang will be fine," Ella said calmly. She poured the bandages and salves on the table. "Come with me."

I followed, my brain momentarily shut off. She led me into her room, grabbed a shirt, skirt, and shepherded me into the bathroom. "Shower," she said. "It'll clean you off and make you feel better."

She shut the door, leaving me in solitude.

I glared at the skirt. Look, skirts are not practical, okay? Especially for flying. If someone's behind you, you're flashing them the whole time.

The water felt nice, I had to say, and I was amused for a while to watch the dirt fall off me and go down the drain. I hissed a few times when my cuts opened again if I moved in a strange way.

Turning off the tap and stepping out onto the mat, I put on the clothes and went out towards the kitchen.

Everyone was still huddled over Fang, excluding Iggy, who grumpily sat twiddling his thumbs nearby. "How is he?" I whispered.

Mom stepped back, sighing. Her hands were covered in blood. "He's good."

I jerked my head towards her hands. She laughed. "It's not as bad as it looks. The blood's just from bandaging and re-doing it better."

"It's just cuts, Max," Gazzy said, but nonetheless worried. It looked as if he said that to comfort himself more than me.

"I know," I said.

By now night was falling, and the lights created long shadows. Fang was still on the table, not speaking but breathing on his own.

"Why won't he move?" Angel asked solemnly.

"I think he's sleeping," Iggy said. Again, Iggy's perspective on everything was amazing.

"Could be," Mom put in. "How about we order in some pizza?"

The sheer absurdness of it all made me laugh- pizza, with Fang asleep and bandaged on the kitchen table.

Mom picked up the phone and began dialing when the lightning came.


The sound was like a whip, crackling with the might of Olympian gods they have sections about in the library. It was incredible, the loudness. My eardrums were ringing madly.

The drooping sounds of electronics came next; everything powered suddenly turned off.

"Crap," I heard Mom say. "Power's out."

Everything was black- was this how Iggy felt all the time? It was scary…an enemy could be right beside you, and you wouldn't know it.

Ella moved so silently I didn't hear her, but moments later her steps came from the hallway.

The sound of a match lighting was next; she struggled with it, then finally I saw I wasn't blind when I saw the tiny flame a few paces away. She lighted a candle, and with it moved to place it on the table next to Fang.

Everyone's faces were silhouetted, giving it a Halloween feel. "What now?" Ella asked as another whip went by outside.

"We unplug the electronics," Mom said. "And then we wait."

Great. There was nothing worse than having much to do, but not having the means of doing it.

So for once I took someone else's advice. I leaned back in my chair and waited.

A/N- A random question- how many people here like/watch Star Trek? It doesn't matter if you like/hate it/havenoideawhatI'mtalkingabout, I'm just curious. Sorry for the lateness of the chapter, but I've been busy between tests, assignments, and publicly challenging politicians that are jerks. (Which got me in the newspaper.)

The weatherman this Friday: This weekend we'll have heat records broken!

The weather this Saturday: Heavy lightning storms and more rain then seen in months.

The weather this Sunday: Foggy the whole day.

Happy Thanksgiving to Canadians, happy Columbus Day to Americans, and happy Monday for everyone who doesn't celebrate them!

Also, thanks to Beth.M.H., rouge4eva, brebreisme and Insane Winged Girl for suggesting their times-of-the-year. I guess I'll go with late summer. And to answer Krrimarte's question on how many chapters: no idea. :D I try to have my main stories that I have to think about done by January, because I rarely write from January-March due to school. However, I'm getting interested here in my evil plotline of doom. I have yet to figure out everything, but there are two things I want to incoporate. What are they? Pink fluffy rabbits and sparkly rainbows! BWUHAHAHAHAHA.

Uhh, no.


I SHALL respond to every review again, unlike the last chapter. -cough cough-

Please review! –hands out cupcakes to reviewers-

6. That

A/N- Just remember- there's a method to my madness.

To Anony: I live in the province that recently had an election. And to why I was in the newspaper: I stood up for my beliefs in and kindasorta yelled at a political figure.

My updates will most likely be getting longer and longer apart from now on, due to academics, clubs, dance, flute examinations and rabbits. Thanks to all of my reviewers who have helped me get to my 100th review and beyond!

Tick, Tick

Each time the second hand on Ella's watch moved, it felt like a jab to my skin. Time seemed to move a pace slower than ever thought possible.

Tick, Tick

How long had we been sitting around the table, playing the card game Go Fish by candlelight? (Fang had been moved to the couch, well within eyesight of Mom.) The game had been suggested by Angel, after finding some hidden in a drawer.

Tick, Tick

The bandages wrapped around my arms and wrists were itching. I wanted to tear them off, but somehow I don't think Mom would be altogether too pleased with that. Ella had done them quite professionally, really, but they felt as if they were cutting of my blood circulation.

"You know," Angel said, picking up a card. "I really wish I could talk to the fish on the cards in the game. It would make it so much easier."

I smiled slightly, relishing in the warmth it gave me. There were "cute" hand-drawn fish on all of the cards, an obvious ploy by marketers to put a play of words onto "Go Fish". Har har.

"Max, do you have any nines?" Gazzy sweetly asked, squirming in his seat.

Tick, Tick


Tick, Tick

"Ugh!" I shouted, throwing my cards down. Gazzy, at seeing my nine, grabbed it smugly and made a pair.

"What?" Iggy asked. He wasn't playing the game, just sitting at the table. "That's only one card."

"Isn't there anything we can do? For Fang?" I questioned, looking into each person's eyes around the table. At Ella's raised eyebrows –full of innuendo- I continued, "He's a member of the Flock. It's my job to look after the Flock, thus I look after Fang."

"Fang will be fine," Mom soothed. She put her cards in a pile and started playing absently with them. "His name's 'Fang' for a reason."

There was nothing odd about her sentence, but she immediately blushed slightly and hung her head. "Nevermind," she whispered. I dropped the topic.

"Have any sevens?" Gazzy continued, this time to Nudge. I leaned backwards, trying not to sigh audibly. How could we just sit here, with Fang on the couch? He had been bandaged and everything…but there was nothing we could do?

The game continued for a few more minutes, Gazzy winning by a long shot. The rain outside numbed down to a consistent patter on the windows like the beat of drums. The freak storms in Arizona were rare, Mom had said. But when they came, they were bad. My cards forced me to have little interest in the game, as I had one of each card and no pairs yet. My concentration had disappeared.

A great shudder from the door; I jumped a mile in my chair. Who in their right mind would be out on a night like this?

The knocking came again, and the person tried opening the door. The lock caught it and wouldn't allow entrance. Angel, Nudge, Gazzy and even sat straight in their chairs, waiting. They were worried; I could tell by the way their eyes kept darting around for vantage points and escape routes.

"Who's there?" Mom asked loudly, standing slowly and making little noise.

"Me!" Someone said. I recognized the voice, but couldn't place it at the moment. I stood as well, clutching the chair's back.

"Who?" Mom shouted again. She positioned herself against the door, back to the hinges so she could surprise the person if they forced their way in the house.

"Jeb!" he shouted, and my heart both slowed and started for different reasons.

Mom quickly unlocked the door and allowed Jeb in. He looked like something you'd find in a dark alley; wet, unrecognizable, and totally miserable.

"Nice to know you recognize me," he muttered, taking off his jacket and wringing it out through the open doorway. I could see that the clouds were beginning to lighten up some what. "Quite the storm there, huh?"

Awkward silence.

I mean, really awkward.

You don't just have the person who's made your lives miserable walk right in and make himself comfortable. The Flock just sat there.

"What's wrong with Fang?" Jeb asked, noticing him unconscious. As he passed me I couldn't help but recognize the urge to punch him. "What happened? And the power's out?"

"We don't know about Fang," I said, leaning against the table. "And the power out is slightly obvious."

"Max…"I heard Mom warn, but she didn't mean it.

Jeb threw his jacket to the side and kneeled beside Fang's still body. He picked up his hand. "You're just leaving him here?"

"There's nothing else we can do," Mom said. "He's probably just asleep. He lost a lot of blood that he has to recover."

Jeb dropped Fang's hand and stood. "You're right. I'm sorry I came in so unannounced."

"Oh really," I drawled, intent on annoying him. Something just rubbed me the wrong way about him. "I hadn't noticed."

This time, Mom took my side, crossed her arms and faced Jeb. "Max is right. We thought you were away on business."

Jeb slicked back his hair and took my seat, and turned to Mom and me, the only ones standing. "I was, but my flight landed early here because of the storm. I thought I'd come back to the house."

Mom had told me Jeb was cleaning up to the whole Itex business, and was forced to fly around the world via plane to see everyone affected.

"Is there an extra room?" he asked, a small hint of pleading in his voice. If I didn't know better, it sounded like the hotel rooms were booked tonight.

"Yes," Mom said slowly. I dearly wished for Angel's ability to read minds. Had she and Jeb… broken up, for lack of better term?

To Jeb's back I could see Angel and Gazzy trying to stare him down. Apparently they weren't too pleased with him. I wasn't sure why.

A sound of rushing energy came back; the lights flickered back on. The time on the microwave flashed at 12:00, and it would take me and Mom a year to figure out how to set it again, but at least it was on. "Oh, yay!" Angel said, picked up a candle, and blew it out.

Jeb turned to her. "Oh, Angel, you little rascal you, I haven't said hello yet!"

Angel had a look of revolution on her face- treating Angel like a kid wasn't too smart. She was a… rascal? Please, I would have though Jeb would have a larger vocabulary than that.

"Excuse me?" she said, sounding slightly surprised. Jeb had forgotten how to normally talk to her, when she wasn't all double-crossing him.

"It's nice to see you again!" Jeb exclaimed.

There was no way it could be even more of an awkward silence, but no, there goes Jeb and his "Let's make this as uncomfortable as much as we can" attitude.

I don't know why I'm harboring all of this resentment towards Jeb, actually. I was fine a month ago when I learned the truth about him, but recently it seemed as if he were… different. Or perhaps it was me?

"So," Jeb said.

"So," I responded on-time.

"There's something you should know-," Jeb started, but Nudge cut him off with, "How is the Itex-crushing going?"

Jeb looked put out, as if he wanted to continue his earlier sentence, but replied curtly. "It's difficult. Itex was massive. Its supporters are still alive and out there."

Was Jeb even part of Itex? I didn't know. I was still pretty fuzzy on the whole Jeb issue from the past while.

"Will they eventually be gone?" Gazzy asked, leaning forwards into the conversation.

"I don't know, and I'm sorry for that. It's like trying to pick weeds; there are a lot of them, and as soon as you get one, three more pop up."

"Why not use pesticides?" I asked. I pivoted to face the hallway so he couldn't read my emotions from my face. What were my emotions?

"Good in theory, not experimentally. We have to go to each place we suspect an Itex supporter, see if there're really there, and if they are, track them down."

"What do you do when you find them?" Iggy wondered.

"We capture or kill them. It depends on their level of resistance."

Angel and Gazzy shivered at the punishment. "Kill?" the latter asked.

Jeb nodded solemnly.

"These people believe what they're doing is right, Jeb. Remember that," I said deeply. "Right and wrong isn't just black and white. It's all colors of the rainbow."

Mom cocked her head to the side. "What do you mean?"

"If you believed with all your heart what you were doing was right, would you go to the ends of the world to protect it?"

I posed to question to everyone- they all gave their assent.

"Let's just say you were taught growing up that whatever you thought was everything important. Those people are the most dangerous. The ones who think they're right. So it's up to us to protect what we think is right."

Tick, Tick

Ella's watch was audible again. "Someone's deep," Iggy murmured. He was right; I didn't know where that speech came from.

"Max," Jeb started, "Itex was…is… evil."

"But not in their eyes. We're evil to them!"

He shook his head. "You don't understand."

Whoops. Mistake for Jeb- you don't just say I don't understand.

"What don't I understand?" My voice was deadly. I had goose bumps on my arms.

"The way the world works!" Jeb stood. "There is a line between good and evil!"

"No!" I said, starting to raise my voice. "How can you say that? I –we-" I waved my arm at the Flock, "-have been subjected to more evils than you could ever think of! Good and bad are two separate things!"

I stopped myself; what did I just say? That was the most hypocritical thing I've ever said! First I was for good and bad being the same thing with different perspectives, and now I'm saying that good and bad are totally different?

"You don't even have your thoughts sorted out!" Jeb said, voice also being raised. Angel, Gazzy and even Nudge shrunk back into their seats, but for no need. I didn't rebut him. I needed to sort myself out. Iggy still sat, frowning slightly.

"I-I-you see…" I stuttered, confused and throwing my hands around for no real point. I nearly whacked over a glass on the counter. "It's- it's hard to explain!"

Jeb sat down slowly. "I know it is. I'm sorry, Max. I'm just... stressed out lately. That's something you can understand," he weakly said with a small smile. I gave him my best feeble smile, not meaning it whatsoever.

I let out a small breath of air, streaming it through my mouth. I turned to look at Fang, who looked dead on the couch that seemed to consume him.

For a split second I thought he had said something and my heart leaped. But after that split second, there came the other half when I realized someone was banging on the door.

"Who's that?" Mom wondered, moving to door again. "Nobody should be here at this time and after that storm!"

"Right!" Jeb called out, jumping from his seat. "I nearly forgot! I'm so sorry, but I've been traveling with a friend, a colleague of sorts, and I gave them directions here if they couldn't find a hotel. I know we must have room!"

Mom's mouth dropped at the invitation Jeb had sent out without her consent. With five extra kids around, room was already getting kind of stuffy.

Jeb crossed the tiled floor with ease and opened the door, revealing the person.

I had to support myself on the back of my chair to keep from falling.

It wasn't possible.

It couldn't be.

But it was.

Καλά, εδώ είναι, το έκτο κεφάλαιο. Οι αναθεωρήσεις εκτιμώνται, ειδικά εάν είναι στα ελληνικά. Εάν αποκρίνεστε στα ελληνικά, παίρνετε μια αφιέρωση κεφαλαίου.

7. Is Always

A/N- Congratulations to I-LIVE-4-MAXIMUM-RIDE and to XxVampireluvaxX for whom this chapter is dedicated to! They were able to understand my Greek Author's Note in the last chapter and thus reviewed in the same language. My apologies for butchering the language, but at least I got my meaning across. Special shoutout to Anony and A little greek helper... who both went to the trouble of translating it.

Just a side note: My reviewers- ya'll are awesome. Each one is unique, special, and totally awesome.

You know, I break the laws of physics way too often.

They're more or less just guidelines now. There's got to be a law saying somewhere that if you're supposed to be dead, then you are not able to stand, soaking, on the doorstep. But was she dead? I had assumed that. But we all know what happens when you assume.

However, there's another rule Newton made up about how for ever action there's an equal and opposite reaction. I guess that one applies here. I had ruined her life, I bet; was she coming to ruin mine?

I didn't even know her name. Pathetic, yes, but I despised her all the same.

She was a Chinese woman; she was one of the ones who had tried to buy me back in Germany; she was a whitecoat.

She was one of the ones trying to sell me as a weapon. Her face had been burned in my memory.

Nudge and Angel were on their feet in the time I could blink, their eyes flashing at the sight of the woman. Iggy stood as well, hearing them stand, but had no idea as to what was going on.

"And who might you be?" Mom asked, not knowing her. It took every single restraint I had not to launch myself at the woman's throat. She had tried to buy me and the Flock. That's just one of the things you don't do to me if you want to be my friend.

"My name is translated into Stella," the woman said in surprisingly perfect English, with a slight accent. "May I come in?"

"No!" Nudge yelled, stepping in front of me. I held onto her shoulders protectively.

"Nudge!" Mom rounded on her. "Where are your manners?"

"Shoved up her a-"

"Nudge!" interrupted Ella as Jeb silently let the woman into the house, and shut the door behind her. "What's going on?"

"That woman!" screeched Angel. "She tried to buy us back in Germany!" She swerved to face Stella. "Why aren't you dead?"

Something flared across her face, but it eventually went back to the blank position it started in. "Jeb," she stated simply.

Well, then. Out of pure curiosity the Flock hadn't jumped and tackled the woman, but that didn't stop Nudge from taking out Jeb. She rammed into his stomach, sending them both flying into the wall, inches away from the lower pegs of the coat rack. "You helped her! How could you!" She punched him repetitively in the stomach, hard enough to hurt, but not hard enough for him not to answer. Nudge had…snapped. There's only so long you can have pounds of pressure mount up before that happens.

When a pause came in her assault, Jeb held up a hand. "Let me explain," he said.

I came to the side of Gazzy, who had stood to avoid being left out. "You've had your secrets, Jeb. You've had your lies. Will all of them ever come out? You've had time to explain."

He blinked, thinking over his answer, while Stella showed a scary lack of emotion to the side. She didn't have any bags, which was curious; never before have I seen a woman with no baggage.

Mom stepped into the middle of our group. "Halt!" she shouted, throwing her hands up in a defensive manner. "Can someone explain?"

I took up that job, not letting Jeb throw in biases anywhere. "When we –as in Nudge and Angel and I- were in Germany, a bunch of Chinese whitecoats came. They were trying to buy us for weapons. That's why I had the chip in my arm; it recorded my top speed and height and such. We had all thought they were killed when Itex fell, or at least we forgot about them. But I –but we- were wrong, I guess."

Mom raised her eyebrows to Stella. "Is this true?"

"No!" she rebutted, Mom being on the offensive by stepping forwards and forcing her back into the door. "Well, yes. I need to explain. Things aren't what they seem, Max."

She had switched mid-way to who she was talking to; I did a small double take. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, Max, that there's going to be trouble. And I need your help."

I stomped my foot, my stomach turning. "Can't the world survive without me for a while?"

Stella brushed by Mom and grabbed my hands. I recoiled slightly at the coldness, than found myself with the same coldness in her eyes. She had sharp features, reminding me of an eagle, and piercing blue eyes. Her hair looked like it had been in a tight, professional bun that morning, but the effect had diminished with the rain. She leaned close into my ear.

"Max, this may effect more than just the world," she whispered, so that only I could hear.

"Oh yeah?" I whispered, just as conspiratorial. "Well, if the galaxy is at stake, go get Luke Skywalker to help you out."

Her spine straightened at a warp-speed like pace, the air of secrets vanishing just as rapidly. "You don't understand."

"I think I do," I answered almost at the same time she finished her sentence, "You want me to do something for you that I don't want to do."

She shook her head. "No, but that's not the matter right now. I'll talk about it later, and why I've been with Jeb for the past while."

That struck me as interesting- Jeb had said he had been traveling by himself to avoid suspicion. Angel suddenly looked up at her. "So. How are the others you were with? The scientists?"

"Dead," she stated.

"Lovely," Nudge said, rolling off of Jeb. "How?"

"Killed during the Itex incident."

"Why weren't you?" Iggy asked. Even though he hadn't been with Nudge, Angel and I when they were trying to buy us he had caught on well.

"Jeb saved me." It seemed, all of a sudden, that brevity was her way of talking.

"Why?" This time it was Angel.

"An unpaid favor," was all she said in a low voice.

Swiftly she left go of my hands and casually sat in my chair. She brought her feet up and sat cross-legged, having a slight resemblance to Angel. This woman had some problems: first, she was all helpless, then serious, then like a child.

Mom seemed put-off by that. "And why should I let you sleep here?"

"Because I'm with Jeb. No, not with Jeb," she added at Mom's indignant huff. "It's just work business."

Stella seemed unable to sit still for more than a moment, this time resembling Nudge as she went over to Fang anxiously. The Chinese woman sat on her heels, and watched him for a minute or two, the rest of us waiting to see what she was doing. She traced the edge of his pale face with a long finger, making me twitch.

"So young," I think she said quietly. "So young."

She bounced on her heels up to a standing position. "I'm off to bed," she said, even though it was only around seven o'clock. "Where to?"

Mom pointed down the hall with a small frown. "Second on your left. Bathroom's next to it."

She nodded shortly, and almost before I could create a sentient thought, she escaped down the hall and into the room. It was as if the wind had picked her up and took her.

"What was that about?" Mom asked Jeb, who was still preoccupied with sitting on the floor. Nudge had certainly given him a good tackle- where had she learned that? I really should learn that move.

He blushed at his position, as he should. A man being whammed into the wall by an eleven-year-old girl? Please, that's just sad for him.

"So?" Mom prompted again at his lack of response. "Why did a woman just come into my house, get a room for the night, know who Fang is and reveal that my husband or ex-husband – I don't know what you are- has been traveling with her across the globe while trying to avoid me?"

She said that all in one sentence and in one breathe. Impressive, if you ask me.

Jeb groaned and pushed himself off of the wall. As he did, I couldn't help but feel a twang in my mind- there was no other way to describe it. It was like an elastic band that itched.

"I owed her a favor," he said. "She had helped me greatly, and I always had that debt with me. When the time came, I helped her escape from some nasty Flyboys who had short-circuited and didn't know the difference between ally and enemy. I've been flying with her because she knows a lot of these people personally and therefore their faults, and I didn't tell you all because I was afraid you'd be doing what you are now- panicking.

"Max, Nudge, Angel- she was on our side the whole time. You can trust her."

Angel went into deep-Angel mode that scared me. Her eyes went darker, I could see. Or perhaps it was the lighting?

You know that kid who was all "I see dead people"? Angel spoke in the same way, like she was scared, frightened, and had seen too much for her age. "No, Jeb, we can't. Nightmares don't go away, Jeb. I'm scared." She added softly.

"Angel!" I said, in a motherly voice. I picked her up and sat her on my lap. "It'll be all right! I know the woman scared you, but leopards do change their spots, you know."

She sniffed. "Okay, Max."

Iggy, trying to change the subject, moved on to a safer topic while I bounced Angel slowly in my lap. I wasn't paying attention to anything else; my mind had some things to work out. What was with Stella? She had been dictionary-definition perfect of whitecoat, and now she wanted my help? With what? It would have to be explained by tomorrow in the morning, I guessed, because her plane left then.

"You okay, Max?"

It was Ella. She hadn't said much in the past few minutes, mainly as she had no idea what was going on.

"Just thinking."

"You're thinking? Oh, gosh, no, we're all doomed!" she laughed as I gave her a lopsided smile. She continued, afterwards, with, "No, really, about what?"

Angel was starting to cut off the circulation in my legs. "How about sitting with Iggy?" I murmured to her ear. Her face split into a grin, and she jumped off my lap and into Iggy's as he went "Oof!"

I faced Ella again. "Just about Stella. You know, she was really into her part with the whitecoats. I don't trust many people, least of all Jeb, so she's guilty by association. She told me that she needed my help, and I want to know why."

Ella leaned on the back of my chair, everyone else listening to Mom retell a story of her childhood. She said something, but it was blocked out by that itch in my mind again. "What was that?" I said, flicking my ear.

"Trust your judgment, no one else's," she repeated. "If something's bothering you, then you should check it out."

I nodded. "I guess I'll check on Fang and change his bandages. Can you help?"

She nodded. "Yup! It's always nice getting practice, even if he's not an animal."

I was positive she was going to end up as a vet, even if she didn't know it, and watched silently as she went to the bathroom for more bandages. She brought back an armful of them, various bottles of salves, a garbage bags and two pairs of latex gloves. "Ready?"

I came over to the couch, where she had dumped the salves on the plush carpet. "Okay," I told myself. "You can do this."

"Don't like seeing blood and gore?" Ella asked as I undid the first bandage on his arm.

"Not really. It'd be weird if I did."

She held open the garbage bag, and I threw the bloody one in there while biting the inside of my cheek. Ella grabbed the salve and put it on the long cut which was still looking like it wanted to open again.

She re-applied the bandage, and we worked on the other ones. It all went well accordingly until the last one on his other arm. We didn't want to roll him over, so we had to work over him.

"This one's the worse," she commented while trying to keep her dinner down. I was fighting the same thing. The cut was deep, nasty, and looked painful.

"What's this?" I said, narrowing my eyes. At the top of the gash there was a black, dark hole. I had looked over it before as the most important thing was covering him up, but now I could see that something was out of place.

"That didn't come from a tree or stick," Ella added. "Mom? Can you look at this?"

Mom came over as she finished her story. "What are you doing?"

"Re-bandaging Fang. But look what Max found."

She pointed, and Mom paled. "Gods," she said in an undertone. "I hope that's not what I think it is."

Mom stood and disappeared around the corner. "Where's she going?"

Ella just shrugged and examined the wound again. When Mom came back she held up a pair of medical tongs. "I'm seriously hoping he can't feel anything right now."

"He can't," I said sharply.

"How do you know?" Mom asked. "If he can he's in for a ride."

"I just... know. He's not feeling a thing."

Mom seemed to be fighting two demons in her chest, but finally gave up. Ella and I moved over, and she squeezed in between us. Leaning over, she grimaced and began a mantra of, "I hope I'm wrong, I hope I'm wrong, I hope I'm wrong," under her breath.

She poked and prodded the wound- it looked like if a stick had been pointing straight up and he landed on it the wound could have resulted from it. But wouldn't the stick have still been in him? I shuddered.

Mom said an explicative violently. "What?" Ella and I nearly shouted. Mom took a massive, deep breathe of air.

There was a sick, sick sound of her inserting the tongs into the wound, moving it around, and eventually a pop sound.

"I shouldn't have done that," Mom said. "But I did. He doesn't look like that caused him too much pain. He's knocked out all right. Oh, I shouldn't have done that."

But I wasn't interested in her reasons. I wanted to know the cause. Because there, in the tongs, was a bullet.

"Fang was shot?" I asked.

Mom nodded.

A/N- It has come to my attention that a lot of people don't know what the word 'conundrum' means, so my apologies for not explaining. Webster's Online Dictionary states it as 'a difficult problem'.

-pokes purpley-blue button in lower left-hand corner-

Reviews are appreciated as the reviews are the food for the rabbits that are actually writing the story!

8. Used

A/N- Tralalala…Halloween candy….insanity…woo hoo…reviewers…awesome…candy for everyone…horrid grammar….apologies…chocolate…gone to head…

If I had been expecting something, that wasn't it.

The small bullet encased in Mom's tongs was the picture-perfect form of an illusion. This is, most definitely, because Fang being shot is impossible. Anyone in the Flock being shot is an illusion. To hit a moving target at, oh, a hundred feet up and in the pouring rain is simply not within the capabilities of a human's marksmanship.

And it had been shot at a distance, Mom informed us, as the bullet wasn't too difficult to extract once she had located it. If it had been at a point-blank range she wouldn't have even tried to pry it out.

There was a gaping hole in Fang's skin that personally made me want to throw up for the second time that day. It was dark, bloody, and looked painful. I imagined that Fang had been up in the storm, flying or whatnot, when someone –or something- had aimed and fired at him. It seemed unreal, but it had to have happened. Nothing else could be possible.

"Wow," Ella said.

I felt that prickling, tingling sensation in my head again, making me narrow my eyes at the feeling.

"What's going on?" Angel asked from the table, Fang being hidden by Mom's body.

"Nothing," I said far too quickly, for she got out of Iggy's lap and plodded over. She eyed Mom suspiciously, and her eyes dragged over to the tongs. Her eyes widened.

"Is that what I think it is?" she whispered as the rest of the Flock came to the same realization. They didn't need me to answer.

Angel broke into tears and practically tackled Fang. "Fang!" she called. "Wake up!"

Gazzy, who looked like he was close to tears as well, came and grabbed Angel's shoulder. "He'll be okay."

He didn't sound too sure of himself, so I threw in, "He's going to wake up soon, I promise."

"You do?" Angel put her arms around my neck. I mentally cursed myself for getting into this position. How could I make an empty promise like that?

I nodded again. "I know it."

Jeb frowned, still sitting at the table. "I think the real question is who shot him."

"Whoever did it is long gone by now," Mom groaned, standing up. She moved to the sink in the kitchen, and with one hand took out an inch-thick brownie pan. She gently placed the bullet in it, then dug deeply under the sink and took out a bottle of pink stuff that had poison warnings plastered all over it.

"I use this to get the blood off the bullet," Mom explained. "Sometimes I need to with animals to see what type of bullet it is."

She let it sit in the pink stuff for a minute, then took it out again with different prongs. "It's remarkably small, luckily, so I'm guessing it came from a handgun. The bullet itself is .40 S&W."

"That's strange," Iggy said, crouched on his heels. "That means it's most likely from any form of police gun."

"You lost me at the bullet type," I said, holding my hands up. I turned to Iggy. "How do you know that?"

He grinned wolfishly. "You can't be a pyro without knowing your guns."

Mom hid a small smile, still not overly thrilled with Iggy's liking of guns. "A .40 S&W is, in relativity to other cartridges, quite small. It has a rounded top and made by Smith and Wesson, two famous manufacturers of firearms. To date it is probably the most commonly-used bullet with police due to its accuracy and speed."

The information flew in one ear and out the other. "So what's that got to do with Fang?"

Mom shrugged. "I don't know, I just thought it'd be useful if we knew where this came from. Unfortunately, it could be many different types."

A tense silence fell over us all, no one wanting to elaborate on who they thought the shooter was. There were a few sounds coming from Stella's room and the remnants of the rain, but other than that it was only Fang's harsh breathing that kept us company.

"Is there anything we can do?" I eventually asked to Mom, who was leaning on the edge on the sink. She shook her head.

"No. I don't know if getting that bullet out was good or bad; it's like if you have a knife stuck in you sometimes it's better to leave the knife in. There could also be infection we need to worry about, but right now, there's nothing we can do until he wakes up. That could be in five minutes or in five days."

"I guess I'll go to bed," Nudge said with her head down. "I don't really want to be awake right now."

She trudged off, for the first time not complaining about going to bed early. I saw her turn the corner, and then suggested to Angel and Gazzy that they do the same. They silently went back to the kitchen, having one last look at Fang before turning in.

"How does he look?" Iggy asked softly.

"Like he's asleep," I said, half-truthfully. He did look asleep, but the bandages and cuts took away from the effect. Either way, it looked like Iggy didn't believe me.

"I guess I'll go to bed, too," I said, standing and making my way to my room in a slight daze.

I fell on the bed, and picked up The Adventures of Tom Sawyer from the ground where I had dropped it. I opened it, but the words swam before my eyes. I closed it with a sigh, and fell into a sleep that was haunted with dreams I would never remember.


That was the very first thought that entered my mind.


The smell was wafting through the closed door and into my nose: it smelled delicious. I could hear the sizzling as well, and a small yelp.

I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and forced myself up to a sitting position. The alarm clock said it was 6:30 a.m.

"Why am I up at this awful hour?" I asked Ella, who was nursing the bacon after I had put some mismatching clothes on. "It's so…early…"

"Jeb and Stella are leaving at eight, so Mom woke me up to help her," she explained, yelping again as the bacon's grease jumped up. It looked almost done.

"Bacon has no right to smell that good…" I murmured softly, watching Ella take a plate down and covering it with a paper towel. Ella took the bacon in her tongs and gently placed it on the plate. After she wrapped the paper towel around it all to get off the extra grease I dived in, grabbing five or six pieces.

"You're right," I heard a tired voice reply, "That smells brilliant."

It was Iggy, who, promptly sat at the kitchen table. I grabbed a small plate and gave him some of the bacon.

"Food of the gods," he said as he swallowed a piece whole. He gagged at the heat, then went back for more.

"Morning," Mom lazily said, coming in from outside. She banged the door behind her. "Just off checking the storm damage. Not too bad, considering. My garden's a wreck, though."

She grinned, then went in a beeline for the bacon. "Incredible."

Down the hall I heard indistinct noises of sentience coming from each room until eventually both Jeb and Stella came out of their respective rooms. They bumped into each other, smiled and did that awkward small laugh thing, and Jeb sidestepped her. I heard Mom grunt behind me.

"Good morning, Maximum," Stella said, sitting beside me.

I had to admit that Stella impressed me. She hadn't even looked at the bacon!

But she had called me Maximum. No one, I mean no one, calls me that. That's three syllables you have to say instead of the one in Max.

My response was through a mouthful of bacon, and she raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow. "How do you deal with your wings?" she asked, out of the blue.

This time I raised a perfectly un-manicured eyebrow at her. "Pardon?"

Her face was devoid of emotion. Again. "I mean, your wingspan is thirteen feet. Aren't they cumbersome and such?"

I took this time to stretch the objects in mention out to their full span, forcing Jeb out of the way. All of my clothes, thanks to Ella, had been cut to allow this. "I do believe they are thirteen and a half, thank you very much."

She flushed. "All the same."

"I just do. I don't know what life's like without them." To tell you the truth, I hadn't thought about it.

"But how do you hide them?"

I didn't answer and left the question in the air; she was digging too deep for me to answer. Why was she interested?

"Yesterday," I started, finishing my bacon, "You said you'd tell me why you needed me to save the world, remember?"

She looked as if she wanted to say something else, but instead she simply said, "I've changed my mind."

"You don't just change your mind on that in one night," I accused.

"Yes, you can," she quickly snapped, then looked ashamed. "My apologies. I did not me that."

"Mean what?" Gazzy was rubbing his bleary eyes, his wings half-unfolded behind him.

"Nothing," I said, leaning back in my chair. "You can go back to bed."

He continued into the kitchen and up to the stovetop where he took some bacon and scarfed it down. "Smells too good."

The seven of us –me, Ella, Mom, Jeb, Stella, Iggy and Gazzy- moved on to polite conversation of something or other, myself not paying attention. For some reason, my mind slid back to Fang's first kiss.

It was on that beach, just outside of New York. Ari had nearly killed him –what was up with Fang nearly getting killed?- and then I kissed him. Just like that. Wham.

Nudge and Gazzy had seen the kiss, I knew that. Had they forgotten? Did they know of that kiss in the cave? I doubted it.

God, Fang was hot.

Now where did that thought come from?

But he was.

I took a shuddering breath and glanced over the Gasman's head to look at Fang, just as silent as ever. Crap, I was going into girly mode.

"Is the bacon all eaten?" Angel asked, with Nudge close behind as they came out of their rooms. Total trotted sluggishly at their heels.

"Still quite a bit left," Ella said.

With all of us at the table there was no shortage of conversation. Mom had taken over the cooking and had proceeded to laden us down with eggs and toast.

Jeb pushed back his chair and stood. "I'm going to pack."

Stella, rising out of her seat far too quickly, went, "I should too."

When they both had closed their doors, Mom sighed with a growl of, "Idiot."

I watched her tuck a piece of her dark hair back out of her eyes. "Why?"

She wasn't listening. "Stella-woman thinks she can march right in here and shake her tiny little hips just to get closer to him…"

It was all said in an undertone, and I was pretty sure I was the only one who could hear it. But at Ella's deep frown, I knew I was wrong. She put a hand on Mom's shoulder, and Mom stopped her rant. She gave Ella a small, forced smile, and I was left to contemplate what had happened.

So Stella liked Jeb, apparently. And Mom had feelings for Jeb. But the thing is, did Jeb like Mom or Stella?

Are they in the second grade, or something? Quite the love triangle.

Ten minutes or so passed, and Jeb lugged out his bags and into his car. A short while afterwards Stella came out without anything. Then I remembered: Stella hadn't brought bags with her.

"Going to pack, eh?" Mom asked in a snarky tone, lashing out to Stella.

The Chinese whitecoat put on an expression that reminded me slightly of a bored cow. "I had forgotten. I cleaned up the room."

Mom made a strange sound that sounded like, "Pshh!"

Jeb came through the door, and paused slightly at the scene: Mom, looking furiously at Stella, and Stella, looking still like a bored cow. The Flock were all in states of eating with toast or eggs hanging out of their mouths.

"Did I miss something?" he asked.

"No," both woman said at the same time.

"Good," he replied, his voice raised somewhat higher. It made my head –itching all the more- hurt.

This time he reminded me of a good-looking guy in the ninth grade who knew it and had the girls wrapped around his little finger. He carried himself like he was It, the Big Shot.

"They were arguing about you," Total said, his face covered in the eggs Nudge had handed him. "You see, Stella here-"

The whitecoat in question had dropped her jaw to the floor, looking entirely unprofessional.

"Gazzy!" I barked, hoping dearly he'd catch on. "What did I say about throwing your voice like that?"

"Sorry, Max!" he said innocently, making me feel a surge of pride for him.

Total, meanwhile, was staring at his paws, realizing he had to act the part of the oh-so-cute puppy.

"You can throw your voice?" Stella asked Gazzy.

"Yup," the Gasman said, placing his fork down with a clatter.

"Do it again!"

"Throwing your voice is easy," Total, not Gazzy, said, "It's fun. Because we all know dogs are the superior species I use them most often, as it takes incredible intellectual power to match with my voice. This dog himself showed extraordinary smarts, so naturally, I adopted him."

Stella clapped, and Gazzy just smiled as if to say 'She believes that?'

"Bravo!" she called. "Excellent, excellent."

The rest of us kept our small bits of laughter to ourselves, even Jeb. How could Stella be that thick-headed?

"I guess we should go, then," Jeb said. "We need to sort out all of out flight information."

He had expected hugs or something as he threw his arms wide, but no one moved. Mom just smiled and said, "See you later, then."

Jeb weakly smiled to her, and gave a much bigger smile to Stella. "Ready?"

She nodded curtly, and Jeb opened the door for her. "And Max?" she called behind her, pausing.


"It's not over yet."

And with that, they were gone.

"I don't like her," every one of us said at the same time.

"I don't trust her," I continued. "She's like the poison ready to be eaten. I don't like this at all. I don't really know why."

"One day," Mom shook her head.


"Look at what's happened in one day," she continued. "Yesterday there was the massive storm, Stella, Fang getting shot, conspiracies abundant and all that jazz in just one day."

"So I wonder what will happen today," I wondered.

She had left out the explosion, too, which had left me with being able to sense Fang's thoughts or something. Yesterday had been most interesting.

My head was pounding in my skull, still. It felt as if a hammer was repeatedly being dropped on my brain, and I could practically feel my IQ points drip out of me.

"Somethin' wrong, Max?" Nudge asked, nearly chocking on her eggs.

"Nah, just a headache. Probably from Stella," I laughed. Nudge just nodded, my story passing.

I felt, at what seemed like the 'bottom' of my headache, a trickling sensation arise. It was like this…thing… was growing more and more…alive…

I couldn't hear anything except for my own, fast, rapid heartbeat until a large, audible groan. I jumped to my feet.

Because there, sitting on the couch with his head in his hands, was Fang.

He was awake.

A/N- Hope everyone had a fun Halloween!

Thanks to my always-incredible reviewers, who make it all worthwhile…please review!

9. By

A/N- Thank you again to everyone who helped me get to the 200 review mark! And, in reference: First the worst, second the best! (You'll see…)

This chapter is for disneydork, who is laughing her head off right now, I am guessing. Without her this chapter would not be in existence. (Or be entirely different.)

Also, my heart goes out to any affected in the recent Finland shootings.

I nearly tackled Fang; actually, I did.

"Fang!" everyone shouted, ecstatic, as I rolled off of him when I realized I was crushing him. "You're awake!"

If he wasn't moving around and groaning I would have argued that statement- he looked half dead. I take that back: three-quarters dead. His face was pale and drawn, as if he hadn't been out in the sun for a few months.

Mom rushed over to his side. "How do you feel?"

He didn't answer at first; he just sat with his head in his hands. The Flock gathered round, waiting for him to answer. We had all been harboring the fear that there was something more wrong with Fang than the bullet wound and the gashes that lined him. If he had fallen wrong there was a serious possibility of brain damage.

"Like daisies," he said, pulling down his hands. I could see the sweat that lined his brow glistening in the lighting, almost as if he had woken up from a nightmare. I gave a tentative laugh as my head lurched again. My cough that followed it hopefully covered my gasp of pain.

"My arm…" he said, as we all exchanged looks. Should we tell him? "It feels like it's been shot…"

"About that…" Iggy grinned, not being able to catch the looks being blasted into him.

"I was?" Fang prompted, lying back down on the couch and touching the dark spot where the bullet had entered. His shirt was still rolled back so it was visible, but he refused to look at it.

Mom breathed in an out of her nose heavily, wrestling with herself about something. She rolled back her sleeves nervously. "What do you remember?"

Fang's eyes pierced every single one or ours; how that was possible I didn't know, but somehow he made all of our blood freeze cold in our veins. "What if I don't want to remember?"

"How so?" I asked, still smiling like a fool at his awakening. Plots and deep menacing things could come later, but right now, Fang being alright is tops on my list.

He shifted uncomfortable as if he were sitting on a remote or something. "I was...angry…yeah…"

"And?" Angel said, leaning forwards so close she nearly banged foreheads with Fang. She seemed so much younger now that he was up. Or at least sentient.

"There was confusion, and arguing." He nodded to himself, his eyes reminiscing. "Arguing, definitely. And after that, I just woke up here."

"What do you mean by 'arguing'?" Ella asked, sitting on arm of the couch.

Again Fang shifted and moved. "I don't know, but voices were arguing…"

Another pang in my head. Great, just what I need; a killer migraine while I need 'to save more than just the world'.

"I don't think Fang needs to be interrogated right now," Mom said, taking his temperature with a cool-looking thing. Under her breath she added, "That comes later."

"You're okay?" the Gasman asked, still not convinced. He was hanging back, almost afraid to believe that Fang was alright. Fang twitched his mouth, and I took it for a smile.

For ten minutes or so the questions were kept shallow to not stress Fang out. Angel and Gazzy still thought they were dreaming; Nudge wouldn't stop talking about how evil Stella was (Fang agreed she was nasty business); Iggy kept prodding him about what happened; Ella put in occasional, basic comments; Total licked Fang's feet, which led to him being kicked across the room. I sat there, noticing slightly that Fang was more talkative than normal.

For the most part he seemed remarkably in one piece after surviving a bullet and a good hundred-foot fall. His arm was bothering him, I could tell, but he had enough willpower to not complain in front of the Flock. Then again, he never complained.

Another pang.

But not from my head.

This was one of those –oh-my-God-he-is-so-freakin'-hot pangs.

How could he sit there beaten up and have my heart racing?

The cuts, scrapes, gashes, bandages and all made him look sexy.

Did I just call Fang sexy?

But there was something else gnawing at my core…anger…yes, anger. Anger towards Fang, for being a first-rate idiot.

I ignored that last thought, which was disturbing, yes, and came back down to earth to listen as Fang finished his telling for the fiftieth time that he was alive.

Another half-hour of talking, and I admit I became bored. Ella had long left to go do homework or something, and I somewhat was tempted to join her. Right when I was about to say something so I could talk to Fang alone, Iggy stood up. "Anyone want to go out and just fly? I'm kind of cooped up."

This was met by cheers by Angel, Gazzy and Nudge. I felt a small temptation to go, the anger at Fang still building up, but I fought it. "I'll stay here with Fang," I bravely volunteered, trying to sound slightly down-put.

Iggy nodded. "'Kay, that sounds good."

He herded off the Flock to go get dressed, and the second they closed the door I rounded on Fang.

"You fool!" I half-yelled, half-hissed. He winced. "How could you do that to the Flock? You just left in the middle of a storm, Fang, a storm. What's the first thing we taught the kids? Don't fly in storms. And you know why? You'll get hurt. Where the hell was your common sense? Angel and Gazzy were beside themselves with worry. Fang, the Flock looks up to you. I don't care what you think, they do. Don't ever do that again."

He locked my eyes. I didn't back down. He blinked a few times. "Sir, yes, sir."

I immediately felt ashamed and guilty at my attack. I didn't know that much tension had been mounting inside me. "I'm sorry," I whispered.

"I am," he said in the same tone. "I know I shouldn't have. It felt like someone possessed me. I just...had to go out there. I snapped first. We're even now."

We didn't elaborate anymore on the subject, just sat in comfortable silence. "So how are you feeling?"

"Like I've been run over a truck, thrown to the bottom of a river and dragged back out only to have nails stuck an inch into my skin."

Fang would be a good writer. Such detail.

"What do you think of Stella?" he asked, rolling onto his good arm so he could face me better. He looked genuinely interested.

"My first impression is hat don't trust, like or respect her. But we shouldn't trust out first impressions, they say."

"I wonder who 'they' are…" Fang said, closing his eyes and trailing off. I smiled to myself. "Go to sleep," I said.

He yawned. "Nah. I'd just get my body time off. I'd wake up at noon and not sleep 'till the morning."

Slowly sitting upright again, this time he planted his feet firmly on the ground and stood. He wobbled uncertainly; I grabbed his shoulder to steady him.

"Thanks…" He walked zombie-like over to the kitchen counter where the leftover bacon still sat and gulped it down in one go. He leaned on the counter, but I could tell the position pained him by the way his face contorted slightly.

"How bad is my arm?"

It was his left arm, luckily, so it wouldn't affect his dominant hand. I told him as such.

"But is it disgusting to look at?"

I nodded, and he looked thoughtful. "One more scar to attract the ladies," he said ruefully.

An hour afterwards the Flock came back, all looking thoroughly awake. They stomped in and began cooking brunch to satisfy our constant hunger, which, at the smell of Iggy's omelettes, wasn't so bad. A short while later Mom came in from her small office in the basement.

"I'd like to take Fang into the office today for an X-ray," she said. "I don't have any clients until the afternoon, and no one should be there. If your wings are hidden by a sweatshirt no one will be the wiser."

Fan's arm hung limply at his side. "Yup," he mumbled.

"Can I come?" Nudge asked in about point .02 seconds. The rest of the Flock wanted to go as well.

"Sure," Mom said, taking control of the omelettes and flipping them professionally.

I elected to stay behind, as I'd have the house to myself. Thus the shower belonged to me, and with any luck they'd be gone a while.

Five seconds after the door banged shut behind them I couldn't help but let out a small whoop of glee: Fang was awake, my stomach was full, the Flock was safe, and the shower was mine.

I rapidly stripped off my clothes in the bedroom and ran stark naked into the bathroom, locking the door behind me, even though everyone wouldn't be back for an hour or two. (Hey, old habits are hard to break.)

I quickly stepped into the shower and set it to "Full-Blast". I jumped as the ice-cold water hit me before it warmed up, when I let out a contented sigh.

The water fell over me, massaging my sore muscles from the harsh flight yesterday. I pivoted to face the wall so I'd have more room, and spread my wings out, the tips being squashed by the wall. I noticed, wryly, that the drops fell right off of them.

I'm water proof, I laughed silently.

Time seemed to stop as I wasted tons of hot water, but believe me, I didn't care. It felt amazing.

Finally, after my skin was so wrinkled I was positive a were a prune, I turned off the water and faced a most pressing problem: I hadn't brought a towel or even clothes with me into the washroom. Nice move, Max.

My old clothes were sitting in my room, me stupidly leaving them there. I contemplated what to do: no clothes, no towels. I'd have to once again run freezing into my room, naked still.

I unlocked the door and braced myself for the oncoming blast of cold air; I yelped when I opened it and ran to my room.

But there was a problem.

When I arrived there, someone was sitting on my bed.

And that person would be Fang, who looked up to see who was at the doorway.

Who happened to see me. With no clothes on. Just me. Just Max.

"Holy sh-" he cut himself off and buried his face into the bed.

"What's the matter?" I heard Gazzy yell, and before I could react, the rest of the Flock came charging down the hallway to make sure he was okay.

"Max!" Nudge yelled.

"Wow,"Angel commented, "That's what they look like."

I had always heard of people being petrified they were so scared and couldn't move. But never of embarrassment.

"What's the matter?" Iggy asked, in a defensive position, ready to attack.

"Gazzy shut your eyes!" Fang bellowed from my room, but Gazzy came around Iggy to get a full view of me.

"Woah!" he yelled. "My eyes! They burn!"

I finally got enough sense to sprint back to the bathroom, where I collapsed against the doorway after locking it. I buried my face in my hands, trying to fight back the tears. But the tears of what? I had never been so horridly humiliated. Fang, of all people. I wanted to sink into the ground. I must have been in the shower for longer than I thought, and Fang obviously had to talk to me.

It's okay, Max.

I fell forwards onto my knees at Fang projecting his thoughts to me again. This time, I felt no wall between him and me, and for the first time I was able to send a though back: I am so sorry. I- I-

Don't worry about it. Yeah, sure, I'll have to bleach my eyes, and Gazzy is telling Angel to poke his out with a fork, but it'll blow over and you'll die of laughing about in a month.

I laughed, still sobbing.

Open the door. Ella has some clothes for you.

Almost the second he finished there was a tentative knock on the door, so I shoved a hand out. "Thanks," I said, trying to disguise my tear-ridden voice.

"Need to talk?" my marvelous sister said, reading my thoughts. (If I didn't have enough of that going on.)

"That was awful," I said, throwing the clothes on even though I was still soaked. "I thought you guys were still out."

"It was pretty fast. Fang's arm is fine, other than the bullet wound. With a few muscle exercises he should be back up to speed within two months, but knowing how fast you guys heal, I'd say three weeks."

"What's everyone saying of my streaking abilities?" I asked, dreading the answer.

"…Nevermind that. Just remember that they respect you, Max. It'll be passé sooner or later."

Her footsteps receded, and I was left aloe with my thoughts. Poor Gazzy…

I had to leave the bathroom, as much as I would have liked to have spent the day in there, pining away. Scared and freaking out, I opened the door to face…the wall.

Slightly anticlimactic.

I walked down the hall, the wooden floor beneath me reassuring. The Flock were gathered around the table, talking in low voices. I coughed quietly, and everyone turned to me.

Gazzy looked as if he were fighting to throw up, but didn't say anything. Fang gave an un-Fang-like smile, and Angel and Nudge just looked curiously at me.

"We were talking about Stella," Fang said calmly. I felt a rush of courage, and I sat down in my usual chair.

There was a short, awkward lull in conversation that Fang fixed for me. "We wondering if you knew anything about that whole thing with Doctor Martinez, Jeb and Stella."

I shook my head, my wet chair whipping my cheeks. "No. I think that Mom is still infatuated with Jeb. I don't even know if they were…involved or whatever, but there's obviously something going on with Stella and him."

"So why doesn't the Doc just tell Jeb how she feels?" Total asked, sitting in Angel's lap.

"Women aren't like that, Total. They have these things called hormones that make them do roundabout things that could be solved in a minute if they were to just straight-shoot," Iggy said.

"It would be embarrassing for Mom, too, if Jeb doesn't love her back," I said. At the word 'embarrassing' the Flock all blushed.

"Oh, come on," Fang said. "At least we'll never need a lesson on female anatomy."

I laughed, as did the rest of the Flock. "All too true…" Gazzy muttered.

Ella came trouping into the kitchen, then, so we had to change out topic of conversation. We were mid-way through a very interesting discussion on who was better, Picard or Kirk, when I had a sudden realization: I was happy. The Flock, bless them, hadn't chased the subject of my –ahem- situation and had left it. We were all, here, together, as one. For now were fine, with no immediate threats for us to handle.

For now.

A/N- Why Phoenix had such a good day:

So I'm sitting in this small room just off of the gym for Health, watching this violence video. The lights are out, so you can't tell the class is in there. And you know what I discovered? From where I was sitting you can see straight into the boys' change room.


That's right.

And they were taking showers.

First I saw them go in and I was all, "That's interesting". Then one had his shirt off, and I'm like "That's VERY interesting." Then they were walking around in towels. I was like, "Woah, now this is great!" and then the guy had his pants off and I was all, "Are you aware I'm watching you...?"

They guy with his pants off…yeah… I nearly looked away. But I didn't see anything. Much.


I love life.

10. People

A/N- On profiles now you can see where everyone lives. It's quite neat, seeing as Fanfiction can see your ISP code…I looked at some profiles, and I'm the only one living in Canada. Just a random note, yeah.

I made a poll on my profile, too, to try out the feature. (It's at the top of the page.) Votes are awesome!

Another note: I sat in the same spot for the next Health class. Yep. And they were changing again.

Perfection is an illusion, I learned that week. The grass really was always greener on the other side.

For the first time in my life I had a true home with a true family. I could go to the park, out flying without having to glance behind me every two minutes, or even just sit and lounge around and not worry about some life-or-death situation facing me. It was perfect.

Yet we all know nothing is perfect. It sounds dark, buts it's true.

There was this nagging feeling in the back of my subconscious- it wasn't like the nudge of Fang's thoughts (which, I noted, he hadn't done in a while) but instead those feelings like you know you're overlooking something critical.

Two days after my 'incident with the shower', as Gazzy came to call it, I sat out on the porch doing nothing, just staring into the depths of the forest. The sky overhead was turning pink in the west, bringing a slight breeze with it, making the feathers on my wings flutter slowly.

"Hey, Max."

I jumped a foot, my hands flying up to defend myself before Nudge slowly appeared behind the shrubbery. "Oh, hey, Nudge. What's up?"

She looked kind of glum, which was usually a pretty bad thing. If Nudge wasn't talking or badmouthing some evil guy we had just fought off then something was irking her.

Her feet shifted, and she looked uncomfortable. "Max, this is kind of…I dunno…embarrassing, but…"

"Nudge," I prompted, "embarrassment means nothing to me, remember?"

She flushed. "Yeah, I know…but…Max, will someone ever, you know, like me?"

I was taken aback at the question. Nudge had never appeared to be interested in those sorts of things…but then again, she was at that awkward stage where boys no longer had cooties anymore.

"What do you mean?" I asked, gently moving over and gesturing for her to sit down.

She didn't take the seat. "It's hard to explain…"

I took in a breath, and wondered why I never went through this phase.

Nudge was starting to come to terms with her being a girl, and her liking boys. She wasn't shouldered with command and could freely move about, weird as that sounds. I was guessing Ella had showed her Cinderella or something. Either way, a part of me twisted about at her question. Did I envy her? I never went through that part of childhood.

"Nudge," I started. "Listen. One day there'll be a really awesome guy who likes you for you."

"But I have wings, Max, wings."

It looked as if she had wanted to say this for a while by the way her shoulders sagged in relief after she said it.

"Oh, Nudge," I said, "That guy will be so nice he won't care. He'll think they're the coolest things in the world, but he won't care about them. He'll care about you."

Her eyes softened. "Really?"

I nodded. "Yeah. Trust me on that one."

She whispered a soft "Thanks," then quickly walked past me into the house, leaving me to contemplate that very, very strange discussion.

"That was a nice thing you did, telling her that."

This time I didn't jump; it was as if I knew Fang had been on the other side of the shrubbery, listening closely. He stood and brushed off the dirt and stray leaves, then took the spot I had vacated for Nudge.

"These kids shouldn't…" I began, not knowing where I was going. Fang picked up my sentence.

"Shouldn't have been through this. I agree. But we all have, and we all have to live with it."

I kicked off my shoe and emptied out a pebble that was lodged there. "Angel should have nothing to worry about except teddy bears. Gazzy should be out skateboarding. Nudge should be idolizing celebrities and only paying attention to fashion. Iggy should be some teen chef prodigy or something."

"Those are a lot of 'should be' statements," Fang said. "But they won't be."

"I know."

We watched the sunset for a few moments, then he said, "Do you want to go out for pizza tonight?"

I froze. "What?"

"With the Flock," he said, looking down. If I knew better I'd say he blushed.

"Sure," I said, trying to shake off the awkwardness. I stood, then paused.

"Can you control the mind-thingy? You know, talk to my head? I haven't been able to do it recently."


Wrong thing to say, Max.

I swore the temperature dropped ten degrees, and Fang looked as if he weren't breathing. "Don't bring that up," he said in a dark tone that raced down my spine, my nerves racing.

I wanted to say sorry or something, but I just couldn't. Instead I shook myself from his spell and went back inside and shouted "Pizza!"

I looked at my watch. Five…four…three…two…one…the Flock (minus Fang) were all assembled in front of me, faces alight with the prospect of pizza.

Mom and Ella had stayed behind, as they were both swamped with work at the vets' and Ella wanted the experience of seeing medical stuff, even if it was on animals. Mom had given us fifty bucks (that could cover a lot of pizza) and off we went.

Ella told me that downtown had the best pizza, but to be careful to not stay out too late. We flew over the forest, then veered right and landed on the outskirts of the downtown area, behind a grocery store that smelled strongly of garlic. We walked a block or two, and the downtown core was revealed to us.

It was mainly a long strip with bright stores with neon lights that had yet to light up, and litter covered the ground beside garbage pails. Either way, it was still cool, as we were facing west, and the setting sun gave it a neat lighting. There were some cheap-looking places and other high-end shops, each beside each other.

We found The Pizza Palace, the place Ella had recommended. We had never bothered coming into the city before, being perfectly fine on the outskirts. I had never guessed where the pizza had come from when we ordered in.

It was a shabby place that smelled delicious. A curvy waitress took our order at the counter at the back of the shot, and we sat in mismatched chairs across from each other at a table that leaned slightly to one side. The wallpaper, showing green flowers, was sagging in the corners, and faded pictures were hung around the room. There were three other patrons in the place, each looking equally bored as the rest.

"Not the hippest place to be," I whispered to Fang on my left.

When our five large pizzas arrived the waitress gave us all reproachful looks, as if daring us to eat it all. "Thanks for your visit," she said with a faked smile and went back to help the next customer.

The pizza made up for the lack of service and decorations. We had ordered a few more pizzas and chicken wings, then finally were content with our stomachs full and the surprised face of the waitress.

"That was great..." Gazzy said, licking his lips, while Iggy leaned back, a happy, faint smile playing on his lips.

"Total will be mad he missed that," Angel said, frowning. "Can we take some back for him?"

I nodded, and she piled the leftovers into a small box the waitress left. We paid our bill and left the place, letting the outside air refresh us.

It was a whole different world.

We had obviously been in The Pizza Palace for a long time; the sun was set, and instead of families laughing along the strip, drunk-looking teens wandered along smashing things with beer bottles. The neon signs were lit up, and for a split second I wondered if we were in Vegas or something.

"Woah, guys, lookit thaaa!" A drunken slur came from our left. Some teen, drool hanging out his mouth, was pointing at Gazzy. "He's gotta wing! Betcha they all do!"

I whipped around to Gazzy- one of his wings was poking out the back of his sweatshirt.

"Let's see what they look like up close!" A slightly-more sober friend of his joined, and seven more slobs of human beings came behind them, each looking like they'd had to much to drink.

"Woah," I said. "Really, we don't want trouble. We're just actors for…a new play."

"Wha'everr!" they started closing in on us. We backed away.

See, that's the problem. We're used to fighting Eraser-butt or evil Itex people who want to destroy half the population. Not a bunch of drunk teens on the street who have nothing better to do. There's the whole nobility complex thing going on, I think. It was as if we knew we could fight them, and beat them, but it wasn't a fair fight.

We went into our back-away position: I walked away from them, facing forwards. Fang still faced them, walking backwards, with the Flock between us, eyes to the side. We were covered from all angles.

"Walk away, freaks!" A girl shrieked.



The insults followed us down the strip, when Fang suddenly went, "Ouch!" and Angel cried, "Sorry!"

She had stopped suddenly, and Fang had walked right into her. Her eyes were glued to a bright blue-and-red glittery sign above us: St. Patrick's Bar and Club.

"That looks like fun!" she said, in a trance. I couldn't blame her. Dance music blared and the lights flashed, but it was also a one-way sign to trouble.

"Angel, no," I said. "We have to go home, okay?"

She pouted. "But it looks fun!"

There were two doors: one labeled In and another Out, both in bold lettering. No one was around the doors, just us.

"Come on Max, not for long!"

And before I knew it she squeezed between us all and ran through the In door. "Angel!" I yelled.

I didn't really think, just instead jerked open the door and ran inside with the Flock behind me. I knew immediately there was a problem going on: everything was blurry, flashing, and jammed with people to the brink.

"Got cash?" the bouncer yelled to us, and we shoved a ten into his hands. He added, "You're underage." Fang put in another ten, which got us through with a flourish. Angel must have snaked by him, I guessed.

It was pure chaos inside. Songs blasted while people danced on the floor, with bars lining the two walls with professional barkeepers that threw the bottles in the air and caught them while managing to look graceful. The place was obviously making good money, as it looked much bigger in it. There was a second floor, with two twisting staircases that led up there, several figures leaning over and moving back and forth with the beat.

"Angel!" I screamed, but no one answered. Heck, I could barely hear myself.

We made our way over to the bar on the left side of the room. Fang raised his hand for a barkeep's attention. The man answering us looked about twenty, in good shape, and looked at me a little too fondly. "Hey!" Fang yelled, while the barkeep nodded. "We lost a girl in here- blond, short, you seen her?"

"Nah, sorry!" the guy shouted back while my heart raced. Where was she? Perhaps she had found her way out?

Fang swore beside me. We all huddled together. "Iggy, stay here with Nudge and Gazzy. I'll go with Max. Do not move from here. I don't like this as it is, okay?"

We all agreed, Iggy looking utterly confused. Without his hearing, or at least, too much of it, he was lost.

Fang and I weeded our way through the crowd, always shouting Angel's name. "You guys must be really trippin'!" a guy shouted at us when we screamed a little too close to his ear.

We collapsed against the bar at the right side of the room, worried like mad for both Angel and the rest of the Flock. If we ever split up Fang and I would never be together, but this time we both had to be. We were the only two Flock members who wouldn't be trampled in all of the moving feet and arms. There was a moment when I swore I saw a flash of Angel's hair, but it had disappeared just as quickly. Fang jumped up on the bar, scanning the crowd.

"You! Get down from there!"

Another barkeep, this time a portly, short man with a stained shirt approached us, and Fang, not looking for trouble, jumped off. He glared at us for a good while, then left to go into a back room.

"Let's go back to Iggy and them," I said, Fang barely hearing me. Then an idea struck me.

Shoving all the energy I could into the thought, I said to Fang mentally, This better?

He looked surprised. Your voice is clear above the music.

So was his; it cut through the sound like a knife through butter. Together we once again made our way across the room, trying not to get smacked by exuberant dancers. We found a stressed-out Iggy, Nudge and Gazzy sitting together, eyes darting around.

"Anything?" I screamed.

"No!" they all said.

The first barkeep came over just as a slower song came on, which meant no more yelling. He looked almost as if he should be some brilliant scholar, not a barkeep. He was making good money, though: his clothes were all brand-name and top quality. "Hey, guys, I'm really sorry about that girl, you know."

He hopped up and over the bar, talking directly to me. "It was nice of you to look for her," he continued, "even in a dump like this."

"Well, er, she's my sister," I lied.

" takes guts to come in here. I'm John, by the way."

And then it came to me: he was hitting on me.

Completely oblivious to a seething Fang beside me, he said so lowly I could barely hear him, "How about going into a little back room and see what happens, dear?"

I couldn't contain myself. I slapped him.

"Max!" Nudge yelled, while Gazzy cheered.

"What was that for?" Fang asked, watching the guy rub his cheek, where a thin beard grew.

"He was interested in me," I said simply. John stood straight again, then looked at me in a whole new light.

"Like it hard, eh?" he said, and grabbed my chest.

Fang exploded so fast at first I didn't know what happened.

He tackled John, then proceeded into punching his guts out. John, unable to keep up with Fang, feebly defended the blows.

"Don't you ever do that again, jerk!" he yelled, while a crowd drew in to watch. What he said next shocked me; then again, I wasn't sure if he said it. I heard a soft, "She's mine."

"Get away!" yelled the second barkeep, the one who was from the other side of the room. He picked up Fang and threw him off John, who had blood over his expensive, blue-silk shirt from his bleeding nose.

"Fang!" a voice yelled, while the lights and music still blared. It was Angel, who wormed her way to us.

"Angel!" I shouted, picking her up. Before anything else could happen, I felt a gruff hand at the back of my neck. The bouncer had grabbed me, holding Angel, in one hand and Iggy with the other, then threw us out the door. We were followed by the rest of the Flock shortly after.

"And stay out!" The bouncer yelled, fitting into the cliché perfectly. He shut the door, the sound muffled instantly.

No one spoke.


"Max! I'm so sorry!" Angel wailed, stammering. "It just lo-oked like fun, I don't know wh-y I wanted it, but it looked cool! I got lost a-nd tried to look for you but-"

"It's okay, Angel," I said, not really meaning it. "Just don't ever do that again, okay?"

She sniffed and nodded.

Dodging the drunks on the streets we walked back into the surrounding area where we could take off with no risk of being seen, Angel's sniffs penetrating the cold night air.

"I didn't know all that happened in small Arizona towns," Iggy mumbled.

"Well, they do need their entertainment. I bet all the surrounding cities' kids come here," I said.

There was something else on my mind: under the lights at St. Patrick's Fang said "She's mine." What did that mean? Was it even him, or just my imagination, or lyrics to the song playing? I wasn't sure.

That was my first experience when I realized that life wasn't perfect, even living with Mom and Ella. I had been living in this little world, away from everything that my world once existed of. Itex was gone, sure, but someone, or something, would replace it. I could feel it somehow, and St. Patrick's was only the beginning of a very, very confusing period of time I wasn't sure would ever end.

My old life was back with a vengeance, and I didn't realize until later just how much that was true.

A/N- I officially love the new polls feature that you can put in your proile. They're seriously awesome. Anywho, thanks to everyone who reviews!

11. With

A/N- We've gotten the first winter blast here, which is nice, because already the buses were cancelled which means no one goes to school except for the insane people (that's me). Thus the halls are empty and the classes pointless, which is always fun.

And before you ask: Phoenix is the capital of Arizona. I didn't just name the largest city in Arizona after me. :D

Ever notice how you wish life was exciting when you're bored, and vice versa?

Those were exactly my thoughts. The first fourteen years of my life –fifteen, next week- were all about survival. Live through the tests at the School. Don't make the whitecoats mad. Learn to fight Erasers. Teach Flock to survive. Try not to blow too many things up.

I was actually starting to miss it all.

No, no, don't get me wrong. I don't miss the whole 'do it right or die' scenario or 'make one mistake and the world explodes' case. It was just the action of doing, knowing that you were making a difference. If you succeeded in your tasks, lives could be saved. But at Mom's house, the most important thing for me to do was to make sure we didn't run out of chocolate chips for the never-ending stream of cookies.

Camping out in the woods, macaroni in a can for breakfast- how could I miss those?

But a small part of me did, I hated to admit. It was cool. It was different. I had spent my whole life being a freak, and being shoved into a normal life started getting on my nerves.

My average day:

12 noon. Get up

12:30 p.m. Actually get up

1:00 p.m. Eat whatever's on the counter that smells good

1:30 p.m. Do something with Flock- eat more?

3:00 p.m. Sit around.

5:00 p.m. Watch that new TV show on Fox, the one about the birds

6:00 p.m. Eat

9:00 p.m. Laze more

1:00 a.m. Go to bed

So you're probably thinking, Hey, Max, that would be the best day ever! But notice how you said day, not days. There's only so long you can eat, laze and sleep. It started to get repetitive, redundant. The only two exciting things were the whole shower and St. Patrick's things, which was two days ago. The whole "She's mine" thing was still fresh in my mind, but Fang said nothing about it.

I wanted more excitement.

God, was I going to get it.

I could tell just by the way Ella ran into the house during my watching-TV section of the day. She was nearly bouncing to the roof with excitement. Her hair was poofed out and she was breathing heavily, as if she had sprinted a few miles.

"Guess what?" She yelled at the top of her lungs, which brought the rest of the Flock and Mom emerge from their respective rooms, slightly perturbed at being interrupted.

"What's so awesome?" I asked, powering off the TV.

"I just scored major tickets to the Justin Timberlake concert- tonight!"

I had always pictured her a Bon Jovi person, but hey, I wasn't too into the music scene.

"Woah, wait a minute," Mom said, holding her hands up. "There's a concert? Tonight? No way, Ella!"

"But Mom," she wined. I could tell already that Mom was weakening. "This is Justin we're talking about! Only the hottest guy on the planet!"

Not exactly, I thought, glancing at Fang.

I did not just think that. No, no, no.

"The concert's in Phoenix!" she continued, not stopping for air. "And I got eight tickets- enough for all of us!"

Mom saw straight through that. "And how might you have come across these tickets to a world-famous musician on the day of the concert, and eight of them at that?"

Ella paused, slightly put-off, then answered a bit more slowly. "About that."

Crossing her arms, Mom made a fierce person to cross. But Ella wouldn't back down. "Look, I was walking home from school today, right? And then this girl in my class caught up to me and told me that the Ticket Center had a surplus of tickets to the concert because Justin added Phoenix to his tour stop only yesterday and it hadn't been publicly announced, just quietly spread out. So I ran there and they had exactly eight tickets left!"

She left the sentence hanging, as if she wanted to add on, but didn't. Instead, Fang said, "No way."

"Why?" Angel asked, with a slightly hurt voice.

"Angel, first of all, you can't go to a Justin Timberlake concert! There's some…interesting things there. And it's so convenient that there were exactly eight tickets- am I the only one thinking this could be set up?"

Ella rounded on him. "How could it be set up? It's a concert. Itez or whatever that company was is gone! No way can something bad happen! We go to Phoenix, we see the concert and have a blast, then come home. We'll all be sitting next to each other, Mom." She had switched to whom she was talking to mid-way.

"No," Mom said in a final voice. Tears welled up in Ella eyes. "But…"

"No buts. Return the tickets and get a refund, and we can go to the movies or something, 'kay?"

"It's Max's birthday next week! This can be her present!"

That surprised me for a couple of reasons. First of all, she remembered my birthday, which was cool. Then she was sacrificing all of my presents for a concert that I didn't care about?

"Max doesn't want to go, honey," Mom said, saving me the guilt of telling Ella that. Her face fell, realizing she was right. Guilt started gnawing at me. I couldn't just let my sister not have a great evening just because of me!

"I want to go," I spat out. Everyone turned and said "Really?" at the same time.

"Really. It would be neat seeing the..." I searched for a good term, "different styles of music out there."

"Please, Mom?" Ella pleaded. "I promise on my heart and soul that I'll be good for the rest of my life."

"I want to go, too!" Angel called, with the rest of the Flock nodding, but backed down quickly when Mom went over to them.

"How could you go?" she asked in a weird tone of voice. It made you feel like she was being nice to you, but also trying to get you to admit you're wrong. "Angel, you're six. Gazzy, eight. Iggy, no offense, but you're blind. You're going to be short-circuited at the concert."

There was no way Nudge would go this long without talking, so sure enough, she piped up, "Oh, oh, I have an idea! Maybe just Dr. Martinez, Ella, me and Max and Fang could go! And Iggy and Angel and Gazzy could just hit the movies like you said!"

"But I want to go to the concert," Gazzy frowned, while Angel was dangerously close to a meltdown.

"It's okay, Gazzy, Angel," Iggy softly said, patting the Gasman's shoulder. "You can pick the movie."

That cheered the two of them up, who promptly forgot about the concert and started debating on which movie to see.

Mom wasn't all too happy with this turn of events, but realized she was losing an uphill battle. "Ella…"

The Flock and Ella all turned their Bambi eyes towards Mom. "Oh, fine."

Cheers erupted, and Ella rushed to hug Mom, who had her mouth quirked up. "But there's a few rules." Before anyone could interrupt, she went on, "First of all, Iggy, make sure that Gazzy and Angel are with you every minute you're at the movie theatre. Gazzy, Angel, don't let Iggy wander and play with explosives, all right?"

Iggy grinned, and the Gazzy and Angel nodded with smiles plastered on their faces. It was such a Kodak moment.

"And you four" –she pointed to me, Ella, Fang and Nudge- "are to be in my sight no matter where you go. No going for souvenirs or popcorn or whatever unless I'm with you. If you see anybody staring at you for too long, just tell me. There are too many bad people out there wanting the Flock for us to let our guard down for more than a second."

Something was wrong, I noticed. Mom had said, "There are too many bad people out there wanting the Flock." As far as I knew no one was after us at all.

There was most definitely something going on that I didn't know about.

Mom kept ranting about the rules – wings must be firmly hidden with no chance of being seen, no running up to Justin and telling him he was sexy, always must be within two inches of someone you knew- and by 5:30, we were all ready to go our separate ways. Mom handed Iggy a wad of cash, and with Gazzy and Angel skipping behind, they went to the bus station for downtown. (It was too light out to fly.)

Fang, Nudge, Ella, Mom and me all filed into Mom's minivan, and away we went to an event that would most certainly have outcomes I hadn't dared to dream of.

We stopped at a Wendy's along the way, where we all stuffed our faces so we wouldn't be tempted to buy the food at the Dodge Theatre, where we were seeing the concert. From there we drove an hour and a half, and eventually arrived in Phoenix. It wasn't much compared to New York, but Downtown was still impressive. We passed the Science Center, the Burton Barr Central Library, the Dodge Theatre...

"That's it!" Ella yelled, pointing to the funky-looking building with lights flashing around it and a billboard of Justin Timberlake outside. Mom drove into a parking lot and turned around, and we searched for a safe place to park. We eventually found our way into a parking garage. Every time we stepped or did something loud the sound bounced off the walls and echoed back to us.

Others were getting out of their cars, too, and most looked about Ella's age with 'We love you Justin!' T-shirts. I reminded myself that this was all for Ella and that this wasn't supposed to be torture. Supposed to be.

We got into the elevator, and we were dropped back down the ground level. By now the sun had almost set, twilight biting at the edges of the city. We ran across the street, and found our way into the Dodge Theatre's main entrance.

It was sweet. I mean, I'd never been inside a theatre like this before. We first had to fight our way through the ticket lines –where they just made sure you had one- before we actually got inside, where we faced a large bronze wall with famous quotes engraved on it.

We were then forced to walk through metal detectors, which made Mom more at ease. No weapons would be able to be sneaked in.

To our left was swanky-looking, with red carpeting and attendants swooning over whoever went over to them. It looked as if those were the thousand-dollar ticket holders who had the balcony to themselves. The Dodge Theatre held five thousand five hundred people, and all of them seemed to be here at once, milling around, wondering where to go.

Ella seemed to be at a loss for words. She was shaking and admiring the large crowd, eyeing the souvenirs. Nudge, too, had a look of astonishment on her. Mom just looked uncomfortable, and I realized why: it would be a cinch to get lost in here, or to have someone stab you in the back.

Nasty, but in my life, altogether too true.

"Watch it, girlie!" a man snarled as he bumped into me. He was headed to the balcony section.

"Excuse me?" I said, annoyed. He was short, slightly overweight, and had two bags of popcorn and a tub of cotton candy in his arms. "I didn't touch you."

"Shut it," he said and continued walking past, but Fang grabbed his shoulder and turned him back. The crowd gave him uneasy looks but continued onwards.

"Apologize," Fang growled. "Now."

The man tried to rip his arm out of Fang's grasp without luck. "Tell your girlfriend that if she watched where she was going then you wouldn't have to protect her. And if I were you, I'd get a prettier one."


That's about the equivalent of saying "I want you to kill me."

Fang was about to spontaneously combust, but I grabbed him back before he could resort to blows. "We'll be on our way," I said coldly, and pivoted away from him, the crowd growing larger.

"You didn't let me rip him from limb to limb," Fang said, faking sadness, but fists still clenched.

"No. Too much blood," I said, and we pushed out way through the crowd to the main vending area.

Popcorn, pops, candies, fries, hot dogs, souvenirs, everything was set under our noses, and it took serious willpower not to spend all my money. It looked as if the Dodge Theatre was meant for classical concerts, not a pop star, just from the way everything was carved and set up. However, with the amount of people, you could've fooled me.

There were these alarm thingies all around the walls, which looked like the sirens on top of police cars. When they started flashing and making this loud noise I nearly jumped into Fang's arms.

"What does that mean?" Mom asked quickly, grabbing us all close.

"Relax, Mom, it means the concert's starting in ten," Ella informed us all. She looked ready to die happy at that exact moment.

The crowd started surging towards the left, where there were several double doors with numbers on them. "Where are we?" Nudge asked as I looked at my ticket.

"Main floor…section 6…seat 244," I said. We managed to get to the doors with the '6' above it, where another ticket person checked to make sure we weren't sneaking in. When we got through I wasn't sure why anyone would.

The seats were okay, but could've been better. We were near the stage, but at an angle. The stage itself faced towards sections 2, 3, 4 and 5, with us on the outskirts. However, we were only in the third row up, so if we turned ourselves correctly we had a pretty decent view.

People were charging in the doors at record rate, trying not to spill their food and whatnot. I saw the Nudge and Ella had both acquired popcorn when I hadn't been paying attention. The lights dances around the building in different patterns and colors, which was almost asking to send some into a seizure. The ground was already littered with garbage and candies, which annoyed the heck out of me.

Security guards roamed around in dark clothing and sunglasses. They looked like they were straight out of Mission Impossible, with their walkie-talkie things in their ears.

Finally, with a grudging excitement growing in me, the lights dimmed, and the crowd screamed with all their might.

"I'm hungry," Fang said to my right.

"Me too," I said, watching a girl in front of take a massive bite of her hot dog.

Fang narrowed his eyes just as someone stepped onto the stage. "What are you talking about? I didn't say anything."

I thought he was just joking, but I could tell by his eyes that he was telling the truth. "You said you were hungry."

"No, I didn't," he responded automatically. Before I could say anything the crowd overtook my voice.

"Hey everybody!" yelled the guy onstage. "Is this what Phoenix is all about?"

The crowd exploded into noise, Ella included.

Then, the classic, "I can't hear you!" which provoked more sound. If I weren't deaf by the end of this thing it'd be a miracle.

It turned out that guy wasn't Justin Timberlake, just the leader of the band that played before him to get the audience even more hyped up. The songs were all loud with the same lyrics about sex, drugs and life on the streets. Not too impressive.

Finally, after three songs the band took their instruments offstage and the noise dimmed. Just seconds later the lights, sounds, beams and everything focused on one figure who seemed to come out of the floor: Justin.

Ella nearly jumped the rail, but Mom held onto her shirt tightly as the back-up scantily-clad singers came out onstage and they into their first number.

I've seen bikinis with more material then the stuff those girls had on, which made lingerie look like a winter coat. It was all supposed to be 'sexy', but to me it looked stupid. Justin, meanwhile, was just in jeans and a tight T-shirt.

I couldn't hear myself think with everything going on, even with Fang silent like a rock beside me. Ella's yelling from two seats away took out my eardrums alone.

Then I felt it.

I knew it was going to happen.

Weapons weren't able to get in because of the metal detectors, right?


The weapons were already inside the building.

It was the security guards. I saw the closest one, near the foot of the stage, take a handgun out from inside his coat pocket. My raptor vision saw that every other nearby guard was doing the same, and they were all drawing towards us. One met my eyes, smiled, and motioned to his gun.

Remembering St. Patrick's, I thought to Fang, Look at the security guards.

Fang, who looked half asleep, (how that was possible I would never know) jerked his head up and watched the guards. He immediately leaned over to Mom and Ella, while I told Nudge to my left.

"What are we going to do?" she asked, lights dancing off of her eyes. I could only understand her from reading her mouth, but I could also see that she was disappointed. Once again we were interuppted from having fun.

I plan started in my mind, and when I met eyes with Mom, she was thinking the same thing.

"Run," I yelled, then turned to Mom. "We'll meet back at the house!"

Mom and Ella stayed behind, knowing they only wanted us. At least, that's what we were gambling on.

Nudge, Fang and I wheedled through the third row, and then sprinted up the carpet back up to the main area. From the corner of my eye I could see the guards congregating to us.

We burst out of the door and into the now-empty vending area, scaring the door attendant out of his wits. The three of us ran straight down towards the ticket area to get outside, when three security guys jumped from the above balcony to right in front of us.

I took the biggest of them, and first kicked the gun out of his hands. He looked shocked at that, and I took his hesitation time to break his fingers as he howled in pain. Nudge and Fang ganged up on the last one, as Fang had finished his off his quickly, who was now whimpering in pain on the floor.

After the third was properly dealt with, we continued to the ticket area. Before we could jump the revolving things, at least ten of the guards jumped out from the other side.

"Woah," I backed up. "Why the tough love? What'd we do?"

"Just wanting a survey," one of them smiled. He was missing a front tooth.

"You know," I continued, my back hitting the bronze wall, "That's all fine and good, but your people skills need work."

The guards were closing in, so I played my last card.

"In five," I said, Nudge and Fang nodding, "four, three, two-"

We flew open our wings, and normally anyone would have been freaked out. But these guards looked as if this was normal itself.

"Fly!" I yelled, and I took off down towards the only door in sight that didn't lead to the washrooms or the concert hall. I paused long enough to throw open the door, and prayed there was an exit down the hall.

It was an empty, brightly-lit hallway of offices. People yelped and ran out of the way as the three of us flew down it, not stopping to turn.

There, at the end of the hall: an exit sign. I flew even faster and came to a screeching halt in front of the doors, Nudge and Fang seconds behind. I jimmied the door- it wouldn't budge.

"Let me try!" Fang yelled. He slammed his body against the door, making me wince, but it just wouldn't open.

I turned and faced the guards, whose ranks had grown to about twenty, sprinting towards us and cutting off all chances of escape.

For the first time in my life I was trapped, and there was absolutely no way out.

A/N- As you know I'm in Canada, not Arizona (but I have been there- it's awesome) so the description about the inside of the Dodge Theatre -which is real- is completely incorrect. The description is from the one concert I went to and the theatre I dance at. I did, however, research it and Phoenix (the city) as well as I could. I just don't want to be yelled at by people living in Arizona.


I chose Justin Timberlake because he's just about the only musician I know of because of Sexyback, the song people wouldn't stop singing last year, and because Ella had a poster of him in a previous chapter.

Reviews are wickedly sweet!

12. No

A/N- My updates will most likely be every two weeks now, due to, well, life. I have recently become slightly obsessed with the movie Transformers, on a side note. (Shia LaBeouf's hot. Josh Duhamel's hot. How could one not love it?)

Seeing as it's the 'month of holidays' I realize many people are going away on vacation, but watch for an…interesting…chapter on December 25th.

I really do bring a whole new complexity to the term winging it.

The guards –who, by the looks of it, hadn't taken a proper shower since fourth grade- grabbed us by the neck and marched us down the hall with guns pointed at various parts of my body. If I could just reach out and grab one of them-

"Don't even think of it, girlie," one said into my ear, and jabbed me with his gun. He carried it like a toy in his massive fist.

By now the various occupants of the offices were locked away, thinking that this was some sort of Code Red drill going on, seeing as there were twenty or so guards leading three, innocent kids away. Fang, Nudge and I were herded to the middle of the group so passer-bys could only glimpse at us, and if they tried to protest, the guards gave a très small flick of their hand to show the gun. They always backed away after that.

The Dodge Theater was much bigger than it looked outside, or at least we were walking in circles. For ten minutes straight we walked, past doors, light fixtures, and various paintings.

Then it hit me.

God. Fang had been right, again. It had all been a set-up to find us, to capture us. The tickets had specifically reserved for us; these guards wouldn't have converged on us for no good reason. I really have to get better at the whole common-sense thing.

Marching away (Nudge earning a few more jabs due to some pretty nasty comments) I noticed that the guards rarely spoke, and if they did, it was spoken in disconnected phrases as if they had never spoken it before. On the weird scale that just moved up another point.

"Surprise me, say something intelligent," I shot at one of them. Then, in punctuated words, I continued "Can-you-understand-me?"

"Shut it!" the one who had first yelled at me said, swinging my arm and ramming me into Fang. In a growled undertone he added, "Else one of your friends is meat."

Remember how I said I was lacking in common sense lately? This one takes the cake. I snapped, and drove a high-kick into his stomach. His reflexes were incredible, though; he caught my kick and promptly dumped me to the cement floor.

Fang and Nudge lurched towards me, but the guards immediately swarmed us all. Two grabbed me and hauled me to my feet. My elbows were throbbing, having to break the fall.

"You're gonna regret that move, love," he said, then we continued on.

I shot numerous glances to Fang and Nudge, but they both had glazed over eyes that looked if they were thinking over how they were going to spend their last minutes on Earth.

How optimistic.

I was jarred from my thoughts, when a rough hand of a female guard took hold of me and practically threw me into an office room to the right of the hallway. Everything started to become a blur of dark colors and lights and such. A blindfold was being placed over my eyes, and Nudge gasped.

In the past I've been in some situations I was sure I wasn't going to get out of alive, and this one goes right up top to the freakyness chart. There were a few thumps, and I was sure that Fang and Nudge were struggling to get away, but these guys were hyped up on steroids or something.

I started to feel closed in; did Iggy have to live with this feeling every day? The blackness was encroaching…coming closer…

Footsteps. Then, I could feel a commanding presence step into the room.

"Is that her?" a voice asked. The strange thing was, the voice wasn't distinctly male or female. It was like a computer's voice, but with emotion…

"Yes!" barked one of the guards.

"Hand me your gun," the voice said. A few movements, and footsteps again. I was figuring he/she had left, but scared me when a soft whisper sounded in my ear.

"What is your name?" the voice nearly glided.

Silence. I'm not broken that easily.

"Fine, then, Maximum Ride," they said.

Okay…weird scale up another point.

"How did the avian DNA become grafted into your own?"

I wasn't going to let an opportunity like that pass up. "You see, kind sir, my mother always told me that there's awful things in drugs these days, but I just didn't listen…"

An eruption of pain of my face; they had slapped me. Furious sounds came from the other side of the room, but no voice. I presumed Fang and Nudge were gagged, but not blindfolded.


It was Fang! But it was different. Normally (normally, hah) his voice was clear, but now it was sort of diluted and separated.

"You don't have any secrets from me, do you, Max?"

I didn't reply.

"What about Fang?" She was still facing me, I could sense.

No answer.

"All right, then," they said. A soft whoosh, then a click: the safety trigger was turned off on the gun. I felt a cold, metallic butt press into the side of my head.

"Tell me about Fang and yourself, Max."

"Is that extortion for information?" I breathed heavily. The gun was being pressed harder and harder into my head.

"You could say that."

"Why won't you ask Fang?" This guy –or girl- needed to sort out some mental issues.

"Oh, Fang's no fun! You are much more sportsmanlike."

"This isn't a game," I said, starting to sweat even more than before.

The gun was momentarily taken away, and I took a sigh of relief, only to have it being pressed to the other side.

"Oh, it is, Max, it is. Life is the game and you are the player."

Woah. That analogy confused the heck out of me.

"Are you sure you don't need to say anything? You will talk, Max. I have your address. 14 Mulberry Drive, Mesa, Arizona. Phone number 480-644-2211."

If that doesn't have traces of being a stalker in it, I don't know what does.

"I have nothing to say," I said, which was the truth. I had no idea why I was here.

The person fell silent, then sighed. "You leave me no choice, Max."

There's a way out of every situation, I thought to myself.

It's just well hidden, Fang wryly added.

Back up. Did Fang just say that? How was that possible? I didn't even try to contact him.

"Max, in thirty seconds, I promise on my life and soul that I will fire this gun, aiming at your head."

"Why don't you aim it at yours?" I asked. "Since there's nothing in it it'll go right through."

I was expecting another hit or slap, but it didn't come. The person shuffled from foot to foot. I tried unsuccessfully to flex my nose to move the blindfold, but it didn't budge. My hands were still being held by what dome people would call a giant, others, a massively big man.

"They're onto us," a female guard said, and the threatening person let out a huff of air.

"Are you sure?" they asked.


"Max, time's up."

No, I couldn't die…not with the Flock replying on me, not with so many things left unsaid between Fang and I.

The gun was pressed harder into my head, and they pulled the trigger.

When Fang was forced to watch Max being thrown into this hellish room, his life started to crumble away, piece by piece by piece. If there was something worse than going through the torture she was, it was watching it. Both he and Nudge tried regularly escaping, but the guards wouldn't budge an inch. Instead of knocking them out, the guards grabbed their heads and forced them to watch.

Even he didn't know if the person talking to Max was male or female. They were wearing baggy clothing that hid any defining features, their hair was pushed back into a ball cap, and the voice was monotone.

It wasn't 'torture', but it was just the way Max was worried. If the unshakable Max was worried, something was up.

A sudden sound jerked Fang out of his thoughts, and he realized that the person had slapped Max. He fought against the guards, as did Nudge: a fiery inferno seemed to rage through him at the sight of the blindfolded Max. He fought as if his life depended on it –which, in retrospect, in probably did- but was held steadfast.

I'm going to kill them! He thought to himself. Stupid, Fang, break free and get them away from her! How dare they touch her…kill them!

More questions from the person- the fact that they knew where they all lived irked him to the utmost degree.

That gun: A piece of metal, less than a foot long, and yet that was what his nightmares were made of.

There's a way out of every situation, Max though, but it was strange how she said it. Her voice was like it was underwater, and as if Fang shouldn't be hearing it.

It's just well hidden, Fang put it, trying to smile. It didn't work.

He was curious as to why the person said he was no fun…certainly it didn't have to do with the past incident….

"Max, in thirty seconds, I promise on my life and soul that I will fire this gun, aiming at your head."

Fang sensed Nudge nearly go limp in her captors' arms beside him. They met each others fevered eyes, and just from that brief exchange they both realized they had absolutely no Plan B.

One of Nudge's guards' walkie-talkie things beeped, and she looked at it. "They're onto us."

"Are you sure?"

The woman nodded. "Yes."

"Max's, time's up."

Fang's heart leapt to his throat. It couldn't be true. No. The fates wouldn't allow someone so pure, so true, to die so young-

The gun was fired.

They say mental pain can be worse than physical pain.

Whoever said that was right.

I've gone through broken ribs –Fang was a little overenthusiastic during a training session once- and various things that would make any decent doctor faint, but this was worse.

The gun fired a blank.

It was immediately withdrawn from my head, and the arms holding me let go. I fell to my knees, which felt as there would be a very colorful bruise there tomorrow.

If there was a tomorrow.

I temporarily scolded myself for thinking negatively, but I think the situation called for some leniency, thank you very much.

Footsteps ran out of the room in an organized fashion, but I could barely understand anything. I was that close to dying…what if it hadn't been a blank? How would the Flock get along? Fang would take over, he's second-in-command, but everything would be messed up. Oh, God…

"Max!" Nudge and Fang rushed over to my side and ripped off the blindfold. I was immersed into their massive hugs that warmed me slightly.

"Oh, Max, I was so scared…" Nudge sobbed horribly into my chest, and Fang sat on his haunches, his hand on my shoulder and eyes dark.

"I'll kill them," he whispered, to himself more than me.

My body started shaking without my consent. I would not cry. I would not cry. I would not cry.

Crap. Was I crying?

Look, some girls look beautiful when they cry. There's the whole wistful eyes thing and the sole tear that streaks down the cheek. Their makeup is never smudged (not that I wear any) and sympathy seems to be handed to them on a silver platter.

Uh, no.

When I cry I tend to look like the Loch Ness Monster unleashed. Deranged hair with its own mind, and eyes puffy and red.

Not that I cry much. I can't. Bad for moral. Somewhere in Max's Big Book of Rules it states: Thou shall not cry.

So I don't.

But sometimes in just kind of happens. I'm female, I have raging hormones. As much as I'd like to change the last part, I can't.

And it wasn't crying, per say. It was more of an eye leakage. Either way, I had my head down, so hopefully Nudge wouldn't see to much, and I kept her close to me. Fang remained like a rock.

We stayed there for what seemed like an eternity, but it was probably ten seconds. Amazing how time is relative, eh? People came running down the hall, and stopped. We couldn't see them with the lights blaring in the hallway behind them, but they could see us perfectly clearly. They flashed a badge, but my eyes were still watering so I couldn't make out the logo. There were two shapes, one male and one female, dressed in black suits out of a James Bond film.

"Are you Maximum Ride?" the former asked, taking a step closer.

There was no reason to lie, I decided. There wasn't any more trouble I could possibly get into. "Yes."

"Come with us," the female said, smiling softly. At least she wasn't all freaky like the other guards. They came in and helped us to a standing position, my legs threatening to buckle under me. It was like walking on Jello, which I don't recommend any time soon.

They escorted us down the hallway for a good ten minutes, no one else around. All of the shutters were closed in the offices. It was eerie, but not threatening like the march before.

I guess I zoned out, because I was jarred into reality when Nudge gently touched my elbow. We were in the main entrance to the Dodge Theatre. Ella and Mom stood talking anxiously nearby. When they saw the three of us they ran over.

"Max!" Mom yelled. "I-I-"

"I am so, so sorry, Max," Ella started. "The tickets were frauds, I know, I know, but it sounded alright at the time!"

"M'am," the male officer said with a Southern accent, turning to Mom. "These three were in direct contact with Them."

He made the word 'them' sound like a name or place by emphasizing it.

"But that's not fathomable…" Mom went on. "They shouldn't exist!"

"They do, M'am," the female said. She had bright blond hair that hurt my eyes. It looked like it had been bleached a few times.

Mom gathered an air of seriousness around her like an aurora. "They don't need to know, yet."

"The longer you wait the more chance that they'll die."

"I'll risk it!" she rounded on them. She lowered her voice and spoke to them. I leaned in, but to no avail.

The two paled slightly. "It's your choice, M'am. But you know where we stand in this issue. Please remember that."

And they were gone through the exit, just like that.

"Oh, Max!" Mom said after a moments pause, and hugged me like Nudge and Fang did. Ella was sobbing continually.

"It's okay, Ella," I said. "It's not your fault. Who would've passed up an opportunity like that?"

She shook her head and was about to respond, but I held up a hand. "It's not your fault. And where's the crowd?"

"The concert was cancelled after the guards –the ones of our side- got wind of what happened. They opened up the back exits so everyone could get out easily without too much confusion. They promised everyone free tickets to his next show!" Ella looked especially happy at that.

There was a moment where no one said anything, but Nudge softly asked, "Can we go home, now?"

Mom's face had a trace of a smile on it. "Sure, honey."

"And then I have questions," I said in a voice not to be reckoned with. A little strong, yeah, but I wasn't feeling like myself at all.

Mom still nodded, and we left for the car.

It was strange, after what had happened to just leave the Dodge Theatre like that. But Mom seemed to know a lot more than I did, so I let it pass. The car ride home passed in relative silence. I watched the lights of Phoenix be replaced with less bright ones, and the traffic slowly disappear into an erratic trickle. My reflection made me feel worse: I looked half-dead.

We arrived back home in one piece (I was expecting something big to happen, or something) and as we opened the door, Gazzy glanced up at us from the sofa.

"Why're you guys back so early? Oh…" he saw me, and knew something had gone wrong. Not before long Angel and Iggy were both at his side.

"I have some questions," I said, and Gazzy added, "So do we!"

Mom took it all in stride. "Let's sit down. Max, do you need anything? Fang? Nudge? Ella?"

We all declined, though Ella poured herself some water from the tap. When the eight of us were assembled at the table, I started everything off with, "Who were the guards that took me?"

Mom took a deep breath and took a sip of the coffee she had made. "I can't tell you that."

To be truthful I wanted to yell how my brains could've been smashed out, but I kept it all inside. "Who're the guards that helped us?"

"That's a bit easier," Mom said, still looking uncomfortable. "They're on our side. Think of them as the good guys."

"We know that for sure?" Fang –I had almost dismissed him for a shadow at his chair- had too much experience for that question to go unnoticed.


"Another question, then. Why didn't 'they' kill me when they realized they had to leave?"

Mom didn't have to answer. I knew it the second I asked it.

They hadn't killed me because I hadn't given them the right answer. They wanted me back.

A/N- James Patterson switches POVs occasionally, and seeing as I'm trying my best to mimic his writing -in a way- I don't think the switch was overly jarring or OOC. I also researched torture methods, and the blank was one of the ways.

The phone number goes to the police in Mesa, Arizona, as a fair warning to anyone who prank calls it (don't, please). I just thought it was…witty…that my research actually paid off. :D

Here's my haiku of reviews:

A wicked review

Is always good for Phoenix

Thank you for your time!

13. Courage

A/N- Holiday break, yeah!

Thanks to the reviewers! To JennyPenny1014- firing a blank means that in the space where a bullet is held, there's nothing there. Thus when you fire, nothing happens, so Max suffered no physical pain.

Thanks to PrepGonePunk95 for correcting my Coke mistake!

Woah, long chapter. Consider it a pre-Christmas present. :D

Note to self: don't drink Diet Coke with Mentos.

Mom and Ella had grabbed all of the junk food, pop, sugary stuff and chocolate from the various cupboards lining the walls of the kitchen and dumped them on the table. It was guaranteed to put Nudge on a high that would last all night. It was there to probably distract me slightly from the load of questions I was about to ask, but hey, that's the best distraction I've ever come across.

Opening some chocolate bar I'd never heard of, Mom leaned back in her chair and chomped down hard on it. "So what else do you need to know?"

That's when I made the mistake of the Diet Coke and Mentos. My stomach started lurching around, and it felt as if it were eating itself. "Ugh…How do you know the good guards? It was like you'd met before."

Mom kicked her feet up to the table- that was another thing I liked about her. I was nearly interrogating her, and she was perfectly at home. "We have. I'm in charge of six kids who can fly and have powers that Superman would be jealous of. In a way, I've never been alone."

My eyes focused on her more sharply, just as my stomach lurched again. "What do you mean?"

She licked her fingers, finishing off the chocolate. "Those…good guys, as you called them. Jeb works for the same company."

"What's the name of it?" Gazzy asked through a mouthful of chips and candy. "The company?"

"That's the thing," Ella said. "It doesn't have a name."

"How do you know?" Fang asked, looking up. His voice was deep, dark, secluded, lonely…

Ella blushed a lovely shade of red that matched her sweater. "Mom can't do it all by herself."

"What is up with my stomach?…" I asked to no one in particular. It was like a stomach ache gone wild.

"What'd you eat?" Mom asked, concerned. She came out of leaning back on the chair.

"Some Diet Coke, Mentos…"

"You idiot!" Fang said, and everyone looked to him. "Don't you know what that does to you?"

I shook my head. It looked as if Fang had had some experiences with the two.

"I thought coke was bad for you," Angel said quietly. "And that it made you do weird things."

It took me a moment to figure out what she was saying, and it looked as if the rest of the Flock were having that problem too.

"Oh," Fang figured out, smiling. "Angel, there's a difference between Coke, the drink, and coke, which is short for cocaine…it's a drug."

Angel just sat there, bewildered, until Iggy said, "I tried sniffing Coke once."

"What?" Mom, Ella, myself, and Fang yelled.

"Yeah," he continued, "but the ice cubes got stuck in my nose."

For about 2.3457 seconds I was ready to kill Iggy then and there, but laughter broke over me before I could. "Jerk!"

Iggy put his hands up. "It's true!"

It took a few more seconds to realize that Iggy had originally distracted me from my original question. "Ella- how much do you know?"

The mood around the table subdued immediately, and her eyes lost all of its playful matter. "As much as I have to."

I felt one of those all-too-familiar pangs of guilt. Ella was young, and hadn't experienced the torture the Flock had been put up against at the School. She should have lived a happy, normal life. But I had ruined that, the day I met her. I had shoved her into a new world that was familiar with fear and terror.

"Ella…" I said, treading on ice, "Can you tell me anything about what I'm going to face in the future?"

And then it happened.


Right when I'm about to delve into the answers of all my questions, the worst thing possible happened:

The doorbell rang.

I let out an audible, annoyed sigh that caused Fang to hush me, while Mom got up and answered the door. "Coming!" she called.

When the door opened, I leaned far back in the chair to see around Mom to get a good view of whoever was at the door. It was better for me to see them first, rather than the other way around.

"Yes-" Mom started, but when she saw the look on the man's face, she leaned out to grab him before he fell.

He was old –perhaps late seventies, early eighties- and had one long, ugly bloody cut down the side of his face. He was clad in a sweater and jeans, both covered with blood. He was a bit overweight, but otherwise looked like he was in pretty good condition.

"Steve!" Mom said, supporting the man and dragging him a bit into the house. "What's going on? What happened?"

The stricken-faced man looked like he was about to vomit, and, true enough, he did. "Hospital…" he croaked. "But…"

"My God, Steve, are you alright?" Mom looked pretty worried. She turned back to us. "You guys, I'm taking him to the hospital, don't do anything stupid, if it's flammable, it's off-limits…"

She hoisted Steve onto one arm, and grabbed a jacket with one hand. "But…" Steve protested.

"What's wrong?" Ella asked, rushing over to him. Slowly, reaching up, he pointed down the road. I presumed that's where his house was.

"Guys, all of you, go down to his house and find out what's there, 'kay? Then come back, and be careful." Mom stressed every word, and was trying to get into her jacket with some degree of gracefulness. "I'll call the house as soon as I get the chance!"

Then, without another word, and with Steve barely hanging onto her, they rushed out of the house.

A pause. No one moved as the car's engine started, and the lights receded into the distance. Things happened so darn fast around here.

"I wonder if he'll be okay," Angel said quietly.

I knelt down. "Of course he will, sweet."

"We're not going to just wait around here, are we?" Fang said, taking control of the situation. I looked up at him, and I saw a flash of him being a commander, not a teenager.

"Let's roll out," I said, without too much enthusiasm. Once again, Max's efforts at learning the truth was demolished.

As usual.

We chucked on some shoes and jackets, then went out into the crisp night air that would soon bring what Arizona would call "winter", which wasn't all too cold. The stars were out in abundance, and just looking at them made me kind of long for their freedom. (Woah, was I getting poetic or something? Not cool.)

The seven us filed down the road, no one else being out at this hour. The houses here were sparse and spread out, as if in the future urban sprawl could be shoved in between each house. We passed by three dimly-lit houses, and finally Ella pointed at the one that was already decked out in Halloween decorations.

"That's where he lives," Ella said, jumping the curb up to the driveway. "His wife recently died, and he's been pretty reclusive ever since."

"That sucks," Fang said under his breath, and I thought to him, No kidding.

I was starting to freak out a bit more over this whole mind-issue. There were a few loose ends: were we able to do it because an outside influence affected us, or was it a new power? Perhaps we could only send and receive thoughts under certain rules? I didn't know anything about it, other than it was pretty neat.

"What do we do know?" Nudge asked as we came up to the door. I shrugged and pressed the doorbell that played a dark, foreboding melody that was slightly iron, considering the situation.

Nothing happened. No one came to the door, and nothing inside moved. "We checked on the house, let's go," Iggy said. "There are more important things to do – for example, eat pie."

I rolled my eyes. "There's got to be another reason for him to ask us to come here. He wouldn't have come all the way to our house otherwise. And why didn't he just got to a closer house?"

The air grew steadily wary as no one answered my question, and I rang the doorbell again. "I think we should just go in."

"Woah, Max," Fang protested, the lights from the porch illuminating one side of his face. "That's breaking, like, fifty laws of breaking-and-entering."

I eyed a fake, plastic skeleton over Angel's shoulder while a fuzzy bat fluttered on a string overhead. "And do you have a better idea, wise one?"

He shuffled his feet. "Fine. But I'm not hauling your butts out of jail tomorrow, okay?"

I pursed my lips. Usually I liked having Fang on my side before I did something stupid, which was at least once a day. I turned to Iggy. "Hey, Iggy, can you pick the lock?"

"Sure thing." He moved past Gazzy and placed his hands on the doorknob, and as soon as he did, the door opened.

"How did you do that?" I exclaimed. That was talent, man, talent.

"It wasn't locked," he drawled, and I blushed inwardly at my ignorance. On the outside, though, I just went, "Okay, I'm going in."

"We figured," Ella said to herself, but loud enough for us all to hear. Ignoring the jibe, I gingerly set a foot inside, then another, and raised my eyes.

It was your average, normal middle-class home from what I could tell. A staircase was a few yards away, to my left a dining room, and down a wide holiday I could see a kitchen that connected to family room. Like the outside, Halloween decorations filled the place. Streamers, bats, ghosts, cats, zombies and whatnot jumped out at us.

The main area was well-lit, but beyond the edges of the light the dark was really full of foreboding. Like, it was be-careful-or-a-mass-murderer-will-find-you dark.

"Hellllooooo?" Nudge called out before Iggy slapped a hand over her mouth. "What?" she whispered when he brought it down.

"You don't know what could be in here," he said, extremely jumpy.

Then, before I could even move:

"Get outta the house!"

It was child's voice, right from above. I looked up to see a young girl, terrified, pointing something at us. Years of Gazzy shooting at me told me what it was: a streamer can that shot out a foam-like substance that was wicked for New Year's parties.

"Get out!" Another voice shouted, and two young boys appeared beside the girl, each with two cans. Oh, this would be interesting.

"Who are you?" I called up. The girl cocked her head and held up the can. "Go away!"

"Why?" Fang yelled.

"You're going to hurt us!"

The girl suddenly pressed down the lever thing, and the foam started spraying down on us as the two boys quickly joined her. In the blurred colors of the foam and trying to see what was happening, I ran for the stairs, trying to solve the problem at the source.

I jumped the landing and ran up the last few stairs, where I dived around the two boys who were trying to nail me. I could see by now that the girl was the leader of their posse, and without a leader, the troops are worthless. (Okay, weird analogy, I know, but it works.)

Grabbing the can in one hand and forcing the screaming girl to the ground with another, the boys stopped and stared at me as if I had committed a foul. "Don't touch her!"

"Time out!" I shouted, throwing the can to Fang, who was standing on the landing. The girl stopped her screaming and the boys stopped yelling, so finally I could think. "What's wrong with you guys?"

Whoops, not smart, Max.

The girl started the screaming again, writhing against my hand. I put the other one down on her too after a minute she calmed.

"Can I speak?" I asked. She nodded slowly.

"My name is Max. What's your name?"

The girl didn't speak; she just looked at me with bloodshot eyes that looked like they wanted to murder me. I turned to the boys. "What about you two?" No response.

"Fine," Fang said. He pointed to the girl. "You're name is Girl." He pointed to the closest boy. "You're Boy1-" he moved his pointed finger over, "And you're Boy2. Any questions?"

Boy1 looked like he wanted to protest, but Girl caught his eye and he quickly backed down. I personally found Fang's naming skills less than desirable, but it works.

"So," I said. "Why are we here?"

Boy2 talked before Girl could cut him off. "He was our Grandpa and then this man in black came in and was all official and he had a gun and he talked all funny and then my Grandpa talked to him all nice but the man was mean and he hit grandpa and he fell and he hurt himself real bad!"

My mind still reeling from the grammar (what were they teaching kids these days?) I deducted that the man hadn't gotten whatever he had wanted from Steve and had left.

"Oh," Ella said quietly, passing Fang on the landing and proceeding up to where the Boys were. "So this man came in and hurt your Grandpa, and you wanted to make sure that he didn't come back?"

Tears welling in her eyes, Girl nodded. Suddenly, she broke down. "We was so scared, so I told 'em to grab the streamers and fight 'till we die to protect the house and then you came and we weren't sure is you were good or bad!"

Seeing that Ella certainly had more experience with children then I had (children that didn't have wings, let me put in) I backed away and let her approach. She bent down so her face was inches away. "We're here to help you, okay? We just have a few questions."

Girl nodded, and Boy1 put down his cans. Point for our team.

"How old are you guys?"

"I'm nine," Girl said proudly, poking herself. "He's 8-," that was Boy1, "And he's 7," which was Boy2.

"You're getting quite old," Ella cooed. God, these kids were putty in her hands. "So, why did your grandpa leave, and not call the police or 911?"

Boy2 answered. "He said he had to reach Doctor…Mar-Martini…Martine…"

"Martinez?" Ella asked knowingly.

His face lit up. "Yeah! That's the one!"

Ella muttered under her breath. Looking in between the railings, I could see the rest of the Flock checking out the house, each one listening to the conversation.

"Is Grandpa going to me okay?" Boy2 asked, tears steadily falling.

"Of course," Ella said, untangling herself from Girl and picking him up. Fang came off of the landing up to where we were, and he leaned against a doorway. "What did this man look like?"

"It wasn't a man," Girl corrected, "But it was a…thing. A he-she or something. Like, we couldn't tell."

"How tall were they?" he asked, crossing his arms.

Girl stood up and brushed her blond hair back away from her eyes, which were a dark green. She went up to Fang and, on her toes, put a hand about a foot above Fang's head. "About there. I remember 'cause he was on the doorway like that too."

The tears started welling up again, but Ella was there to save the day. "He's gone, sweet, it's just us. We're your friends, right?"

She smiled. "Yup," she said weakly.

The phone rang, and with reflexes so fast it kind of scared me, Fang darted into the room where he quickly withdrew a ringing phone. "Caller ID says Mesa Hospital."

"Toss it to me," I said, and I caught it with ease. I pressed the 'Talk' button. "Hello?"

"Max," Mom said with relief. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah, we're fine. How's Steve?"

She sighed. "He's okay, more shaken up than anything, but the circumstances bother me more than anything. Did the kids tell you?"

I nodded, before realizing that she couldn't see me. (Smooth, Max.) "Yeah."

"We'll be back in an hour or two. Just make sure that the kids feel safe, 'kay?"


"Love you, be careful, watch your back," Mom said, and clicked off the phone.

The last part of her phrase bothered me, though.

'Watch your back'?

With minor protest the kids were shuttled off to bed. Girl wanted to stay up because 'she was the oldest', but Ella worked her magic, and Bam, off they were.

"Where'd you learn that?" I asked wearily as we descended the stairs, Boy2 finally giving in to sleep. "Working with kids?"

"Babysitting," she shrugged, "But that was a little more extreme than I usually put up with."

We both crashed on the couch in the family room, with the Flock already assembled there."What have we learned, then?" Fang asked the second we were settled. "About the intruder?"

"Taller than you," Ella said.

"No gender-specific features," Nudge put in.

"Had a gun." That was Gazzy.



"Let's put together a plotline," I said, copying what I'd seen them do on CSI once. "Like, we'll re-enact tonight."

"So," Fang said. "Grandpa has grandkids over, we don't know why."

"Then, a man –or whatever- comes in, demanding information that the kids don't remember," Iggy added.

"Grandpa doesn't know either," Angel said, and Nudge went on, "So the man got mad and pushed the Grandpa into the wall or something, and was thus hurt."

"The man ran, and Grandpa went all the way down to our house? That doesn't make sense," I said. Everyone shrugged.

We talked around for a bit, watched a bit of TV, not knowing what to do as no one wanted to elaborate on what had happened anymore. It was as if we all wanted to refuse reality. But really, who wouldn't?

A clicking of keys being placed into the lock; the door opened, and Mom and Steve came in.

"Hey!" Mom called, sounding tired.

"Hey!" We all jumped up and ran towards them. Steve looked pale, but was overall in pretty good shape. "Kids in bed?"

"Yup," I said, and Steve heaved a sigh of relief.

"We should get going," Mom said abruptly. I tried to catch her eye –I had questions for Steve!- but she either didn't see or ignored me.

"Thank you for everything," Steve said gratefully, inclining his head. "I won't forget."

Mom had taken the liberty of stuffing a squeaking Angel into her jacket and was rushing the rest of us. "Oh, no problem, no problem at all…hope to see you at Bingo on Wednesday…"

We were pushed out onto the porch, Steve waving, when the door shut. I rounded on Mom. "But I have questions!"

"Max, your questions will never be answered, most likely," she said. "Mainly because they're the same as mine."

"What do you mean?" Fang asked.

"Well," Mom faced the opposite way of the strong wind, "Steve doesn't know what the person asked him, and he barely remembers what happened."

"What?" all seven of us cried.

"When he was hit, he fell on the floor in the basement on his head…and suffered short-term memory loss."

"Oh, Gods!" I shouted and banged my head against a column that supported the roof.

"I know," Mom said. "It's frustrating. I know."

Will the truth ever come out? I asked Fang.

Will humanity ever be able to face it? He replied, not meeting my eyes. I don't think we can handle the truth.

He was right.

We walked back to the house, and I sat happily on my bed, the warmth greeting me. If only I could feel this comforting every minute of every day. But alas, I'm Maximum Ride. I wasn't born to be comfortable. I was born to be an experiment.

I still had nightmares about that.

Slowly falling asleep, I gratefully snuggled closer to Total as he jumped onto the bed.

A/N- Diet Coke and Mentos together are not a good mix. Try Googleing it. :D This chapter was meant for future reference, as a side note. (As another side note, I loved the names of Girl, Boy1 and Boy2. No idea why.)

Reviews/feedback are the only reason I write this story, so it would be more than marvelous if you could spend a minute by clicking the pretty button that says 'Submit Review'. If you think the chapter rocked, I'd love to know why. If you'd like to burn the chapter and throw the ashes over the rim of the Grand Canyon, I'd love to know why.


(Oh, and check for a new chapter on Christmas as your present. :D )

14. Or

A/N- Special Christmas chapter! Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night!

Here the tragically beautiful

And the beautifully tragic

Drift through this night

In a last quest for magic

Every extraordinary, wonderful, amazing day begins by waking up.

Rosa Parks refusing to stand; Terry Fox deciding to do the impossible; Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin defying gravity; all of these people started their days by waking up.

I did the same.

Needless to say, it wasn't the best sort of way to begin the day: Mom's blaring alarm clock from the other side of the hall, and then Total barking away as if the world were ending. It was surprisingly cold; I snuggled up closer into my blankets, for nothing, absolutely nothing in this whole world could tear me away from them-

"Max! Max! Oh my God, Max! You would not believe what has just happened! Max!"

Nudge came blaring into the room at full speed, resembling a semi truck that couldn't use its breaks. She was still wearing pajamas, and Medusa would have envied her hair. She looked out of breath, but absolutely ecstatic.

"My God, Max, can you sleep through everything? Wake up!"

She pulled the last straw by jumping on top of my bed –no, not the bed!- and tearing off the sheets, grinning evilly as she did so.

I meant to ask what was up, but the only thing I manage was, "Ughhhhhh."


Oh, not Gazzy, too. Nudge and Gazzy excited together was like an Energizer Bunny on crack. He, too, was clad in pajamas and jumped on the bed – and thus on me.

That time I managed a sentient, "Erggpleaselemmesleepmorearggg…"

"Get your butt out of bed, Max!"

Hmm. That was Fang, and he'd never done a wake-up call on me before. I woke up a bit more when he yelled. I blearily wiped away my eyes, cursing mentally. "Really, guys, please tell me that this is a dream and I'm currently tucked away in bed."

"It's not a dream!" Nudge screamed into my ear. "Look out the window!"

I decided to humor her, and went against my common sense of staying in bed. I turned over with a groan and sat up on my knees, seeing as the window was right above the headboard. At first I thought I was hallucinating or had knocked my head on something, but everything suddenly came into focus.


Fine, I could see why they were all excited.

It was snowing.

In Arizona.

The place famous for donkeys and the Grand Canyon. Where you could cook eggs on the sidewalk at noon.


"Oh my freakin' God!"

My vocabulary could use some updating, yes, but the occasion called for it. There was already an inch or two on the ground.

Mom was pacing up and down the hall, muttering "What in the world…" She poked her head inside my room, noticing that we were starting to gather here. "Take pictures, this won't happen again," she told us, and went down the hall again.

"Is this, like, global warming, extreme version?" Angel asked, coming into the room fully awake. I fell back onto my back. Lord. I really, really, wanted to go back to bed. But no, a freaky weather pattern that should have never happened occurred happened to coincide with me being exhausted. For some reason, I wasn't too excited, even though the weather scientists were probably beside themselves.

"Global warming wouldn't do this," Fang explained, sitting next to my feet. He looked down at me. "This will probably never, ever happen again, and you want to sleep? Someone needs an earlier bedtime."

It didn't really occur to me later that he was half-reprimanding me, but I was still semi-unconscious.

"What's up guys?" Iggy asked, coming into the room. He was fully dressed, which sort of surprised me. "Usually you're not alive until one-ish in the afternoon."

It suddenly came to me that Iggy couldn't see the snow.

As one, I could see the Flocks' faces fall.


"Oh, Iggy, come with me!"

Angel grabbed Iggy's hand, and tugged him down the hall. The rest of us followed suit quickly –Fang had pushed me out of the bed- to see what she was doing. "Come on!" Angel called.

She opened the door and took Iggy outside. She rammed the hand that enclosed Iggy's into the snow that had gathered at the base of a tree nearby.

Iggy's face nearly exploded. "It's snowing?"

Angel started nodding rapidly. "Yeah, isn't it great?"

The blind pyro we've all grown to love's face broke into a huge, massive grin that warmed my heart to the core. "Yeah!"

A cold wind washed over us, some blowing snow stinging my face. Seeing as I was clad in only a tee-shirt and track pants, it wasn't the nicest feeling ever. "All right, let's get back inside, guys, before my eyelashes fall off from the cold."

My feet feeling as if they were blocks of ice on the slippery porch steps, we ran back inside and buried into some of the blankets Mom had laid out on the couch for us. "This is so cool," Gazzy said.

"Are you kidding me?" Total came trouping down the hallway, disgruntled. "Bathroom breaks will be awful now!" We all smiled as Total plopped down on the end of Angel's blankets and fell into a light doze.

Fang came and –oh my God- sat next to me, picked up the blanket and pulled it over himself at the same time, so we were sharing one. His feet touched mine, and okay, I feel like a preppy high school cheerleader, but I actually liked it.

"You know," Mom said, leaning on the table with a cup of steaming hot chocolate in her hand, "It feels like Christmas, if you get what I'm saying."

Angel moved her head up and down rapidly. "The snow is so pretty!"

"But if this is really Christmas," Nudge reasoned, "We'd have to make a gingerbread house."

Ella's eyes brightened. She ducked under the blankets, jumped the couch into the kitchen and started rummaging through the cupboards. "Molasses, check, cinnamon, check…" she muttered. "Candy? Loads…"

She popped her head out of the cupboard. "We have everything you'd need to make one!"

I exchanged a hopeful glance with Mom. "All of us have been on the lam for years, and we've never made a gingerbread house…"

"Okay," she said, throwing her hair back into a ponytail, "but you clean up. Deal?"

"Deal!" I said, and hugged her.

It turns out making gingerbread houses is a lot more complicated than you'd think. We didn't have one of those fantastic pre-made sets, so everything was by hand.

"If I remember this right," said Ella as we laid out the ingredients, "We have to whisk together the 'dry' ingredients. Nudge, can you pass me the flour?"

"Yeah!" she said, and I could see the problem immediately. Before I could stop her, she grabbed the flour bag- from the wrong end.

Fwoosh! All of the flour, which was an entire bag, to boot, went sliding out of the opposite end of the bag. I was caught between moaning and laughing at her, remembering the pact with Mom I made.

"Woah!" she yelled, "Sorry, Ella, do we have any more?"

Ella started to look as if this wasn't going to be as easy as she had thought. "Yeah, can you go get the extra bag in the pantry?"

Nudge ran off, and when she came back she nearly did a faceplant in the flour Fang and I had yet to clean up.

How much do you want to bet Mom's insurance doesn't cover a Nudge tornado? I asked Fang.

For the first time, I heard Fang laugh via the link, but his lips didn't move at all. Something tells me we're in for a shock.

"So, whisking the ingredients together," Ella started.

"Can I do it?" Angel asked, jumping up and down, giggling.

"Sure," Ella handed off the bowl, and Angel went away whisking the stuff together.

It took a grand total of four hours, but in the end our breakfast was a bad-looking but great-tasting gingerbread house. The icing had been watered down –how water got in the icing I'll never find out- so the house was barely standing, and the roof had caved in on one side due to the enormous pressure from the candies Gazzy had poured on.

"That was an experience," I said, wiping my hand across my face, a streak of icing going with it. "I'll go get Ella's camera."

I dug around in Ella's room for a minute, and came back with a digital camera. I snapped a few pictures, put it down, and we all dug in.

All in all, I still remember –through everything- that that day was one of the happiest of my life.

And it would get better.

When the house had been demolished to being left as a few crumbs –this is the gingerbread house we're talking about- we sat in the living room, bored. It was as if there were so many things that you could do today, and you had to pick-and-choose the top ones.

"What are you all waiting for?" Mom asked, coming into the house and throwing her keys on the counter. She stamped her boots, the snow falling off. "Moe Hill is dead today. No one thought of going there."

"That's a great idea, Mom!" Ella yelled. "Come on guys, get your boots and coats on!"

We all clamored to the door, and when we were all dressed like Abominable Snowmen we turned to Ella for orders. (What in the world was Moe Hill?)

"Outside," Ella gestured. I nearly slipped on the icy steps, but managed to land alright. The Flocks' wings were all tucked away, save me, Fang and Iggy. Having out wings squashed behind is is uncomfortable for the three of us especially.

We followed her to the garage, where Mom had already dug out…


We were going sledding.

Have I told you that Maximum Ride is not compatible with sledding? The one time I tried it I ended up in a creek with a fish stuck in my hair.

I didn't want to spoil the kids' fun though, and I roughed through the five-minute journey to Moe Hill. There were actually enough sleds for us, as Ella had cousins in Canada who had left their sleds here.

"Wait," Fang said, stopping, the snow swirling around him. "Your cousins brought the sleds to use here?"

"Yeah, I know."

We continued walking around the forest until the ground started to climb significantly. "How did Moe Hill get its name?" Iggy asked.

Ella snorted. "Moe Hill? Pronounce the letters," she said.

"M, O, E," I said.

"No, loser" Ella said, grabbing snow and throwing it at me. "As in, when you say the word Moe, what letters do you say?"

"M…O!" I said.

"Houston, we have liftoff!" she called into the frozen expanse before us. "The real name is Make Out Hill, shortened to MO hill, which is pronounced Moe to keep the teachers and parents from checking the kids out here."

Make Out Hill? I sneaked a look at Fang.

Oh, Lords, I did not just imply that I wanted to…to…you know.

By the time my brain had nearly fallen off, we arrived at the top of the hill. It was massive. It should have been called Suicide Hill, if you catch what I'm saying.

Behind us was the forest, and ahead of us was an empty, frozen soccer field. Beyond that there was a rec center and some sort of factory.

"I guess no one else thought of coming here," I said, propping the sled up on my foot.

"And even if they did, they wouldn't have sleds," Fang said. Before he said anything else he ran to the edge of the hill at top speed, his wings whipping behind him. At the last moment he grabbed his sled, and with a whoop of joy went speeding down the icy hill.

"I'm going to die," I whispered at the steep drop.

"Go with me!" Ella said, sitting on her sled. I sat beside her, Fang already at the bottom and laughing. "Ready?"





Angel had come up from behind and pushed me.

"Wooooaahhhh-" I started, then went into a girly scream. Sure, hitting incredible speeds in the air is a rush, but I'm not used to it on the ground.

About halfway down the hill, Ella already ahead despite my head start, I hit a rock that veered me off course. "Geez!" I yelled, and when I thought it was safe, the sled capsized, leaving me sliding upside-down in the snow.

"Max!" I heard people yelling, and someone grabbed my shoulders. "That was frickin' awesome!"

Nudge, no wonder.

"You…are…such…a…loser…" Fang could barely talk he was in so much laughter. He wiped snow away from my wings.

"Fine, then, Mister Hotshot," I said. "Show me how it's done."

It was like I had issued some sort of challenge. "Come with me."

I hauled the sled up the first half of the hill, Ella reaching the bottom and finding that her companion had somehow disappeared.

When Fang and I had lined up sleds, he grabbed one hand on mine. "Cross your hand under mine, onto the sled, so we'll be together."

I blushed as he said that, hoping the harsh wind would cover for me. After I did, he continued, "You have to balance out. If you're tipping one way, lean the other. Doing it tandem, like this, is hard, but with combined weights it could be the time of your life."

"And what if I'm already having the time of my life?" I asked.

He smiled and shook his head. Then, "We go in five, four, three-"

"Fang, if I die, I'm killing you."

"Two, one!"

We launched off and went sliding down the hill, faster then anything I could ever hit in the air. At least, it felt like it.

The snow and ice went flying past us, and for a brief moment I exchanged looks with Fang, who was caught up in a moment of ecstasy. I laughed, hard.

It took a solid minute to get to the bottom, and by that time my jeans were soaked through and my wings were stiff. If Erasers suddenly popped out, I'd be more likely to give them hot chocolate than to attack them.

"That was great!" Fang said. "I've never had that speed before. We must be around the same weight so that one of us didn't go ahead of the other."

I shrugged, grinning.

We went back up to the hill, and we spent the next two hours sledding, building snowmen and whatnot. "Guys, we need carrots for the snowman!" Gazzy said. "Can we go back to the house?"

"Sure!" Ella said. "I'll go with. Anyone else?"

In the end, Fang I elected to stay behind to 'guard' the snowman while the rest left. When they were gone, I turned to him. "This day has been great."

He nodded, and leaned against the snowman. As he did, the head rolled off. "Fang!" I yelled.

He laughed. "Come on, help me before Ella decapitates me for it!"

Together we picked up the head and attached it more securely. My hands started to numb, and I stuck them in my coat pocket. "Hands cold?" he asked.

I nodded.

"Here," he said, holding his hands out. "Mine are warm. I had a change of gloves."

Count on Fang to have two of everything. I held his hands, and sure they were warm, but something else shot through me at the same time. We stood there for a minute, the heat seeping into my hands.

"Max?" Fang whispered, snow resting on his unmoving shoulders.


"Don't you think we should learn to live life without regrets?"

I nodded. "I think that's one of the most important things humans have to learn to do. Live without looking back."

He took a deep breath. "Then, if I don't do this, I will regret it until the day that I die."

And there, in the whirling abyss of the snow cascading around us, during a storm that should never have existed, my hands still locked in his, Fang kissed me.

Oh. My. God.

We didn't go farther than a normal kiss –there was nothing French going on, pardon-moi- but it was still magical. I started to think that Fang's lips could be an addiction or something. We broke apart, and hugged. I closed my eyes, leaning into his shoulder.

"This is perfect," I whispered.

"Merry Christmas, Max."

"But it's not Christmas," I said.

"It doesn't have to be."

I stood there, eyes closed, hugging him, for what seemed like an eternity. Then, the worst physical possible thing in the history of mankind happened.

Mom's alarm clock went off.

I jerked up, and I noticed I was in bed. My pajamas had been sweated through, and hopping on my knees and looking out the window, there was no snow outside.

I had dreamed the whole day.

"No, no, no!" I punched the pillow. "Gods!"

"Max!" Fang, the real Fang, ran into the room. "What's wrong?"

"Nightmare," I said, wishing I hadn't. That was the best dream I had ever had.

He jumped up on the bed. "Are you okay?"

I nodded, leaning back into the headrest. Fang crawled over next to me.

The best day of my life turned out to be the best dream I'd ever had.

But right then and there, when Fang clutched his hand in mine, I didn't care. Reality was always better, anyhow. "Merry Christmas," I whispered.

"It's not Christmas," Fang said. But I knew he was wrong.

"It doesn't have to be," I said, and settled into bed with him there.

Maybe this could still be the best day ever.

I had plenty of time to find out.

A/N- Woah, this was supposed to be six pages, but I'm on the tenth now. So much for a short break chapter. I hoped everyone liked it, and to everyone who doesn't celebrate Christmas, have an awesome weekend!

Lyrics at the start of the chapter copyright Trans Siberian Orchestra.

I would very much appreciate reviews as my present. –he he- Thanks for your time!

15. Even

A/N- Sorry for the slow update, but I'm midway through exams/provincial testings and other fun stuff (such as flute exams, out of school.) Either way, thanks to everyone who's continuing to read and review!

The response for the last chapter was incredible- I hope this chapter is as well-written!

Part 1/2

If I had the power to stop time forever, I would have frozen that moment in a flash.

Just sitting there –with Fang by my side- on the bed made me feel more comfortable than I would have thought possible before. It seemed like we were on each other's wavelengths or something; if he moved, I moved as well.

"If someone makes me move, I will promptly shoot them," I said softly, resting my head deeper into the pillow and sending me into a semi-trance.

"I'll make sure to tell them," Fang said. He sat up fully; I groaned, but he just laid a hand on my shoulder. "You have to get up sooner or later, preferably sooner, unless you want the Flock to think you're good for nothing but sleeping." He grinned. "Which is true."

I sighed, and chucked a stuffed toy of Ella's off the ground and towards his head. His reflexes were sharp; he caught it easily. Before he could respond, Mom stuck her head in the door.

"Morning, Max," she said blearily. "Don't forget to – Fang?"

She had seen Fang, standing next to the bed. He nodded curtly. "Good morning, Doctor."


He called her Doctor. He hadn't done that in a while.

I twitched.

Mom put her face into palm. "Fang, it's too early, but never, ever, call me Doctor, mm'kay? Makes me feel old."

Then she glared at me, and I read her expression perfectly as if it were a conversation- "If you and Fang step over the limits, you're in deep trouble."

I wanted to say that Fang and I hadn't even progressed to anything even close to the limits, alas, but seeing as the subject of the conversation was standing there, I kept quiet. Mom rubbed her eyes rapidly, sighed, and shuffled down the hall.

"Anything special you want to do today?" Fang shrugged, leaning against the wall.

"Other than finding out more about the large amount of inconsistencies piling up and trying to stay alive, I'm good, thanks. Today I'd just like to relax and vegetate around."

"Sounds good to me," he smiled.

I was starting to think that it wasn't a freak of nature when Fang smiled. When we were in times when we were relatively safe and could relax, he seemed more personable…more human.

"I'm pretty sure Nudge wants to hit the mall eventually, though, seeing as Iggy recently set fire to one of her last shirts as an experiment."

I blinked. If we had ever gone to school, Iggy would have either been heralded as the next great scientist or been shipped away to an asylum for crazed pyrotechnics.

"That sounds like a story," I murmured. "But what are you getting at?"

"Perhaps you could take Angel and have a Girls' Day or something. I know your type likes those kind of things."

"Only in the movies," I said I rolled out of bed. I made for my clothes that I had set out on the dresser the night before. "But sure. I guess I might as well give them the…experiences."

If I hadn't been with Fang for most of my life, I wouldn't have noticed the way he snapped up straighter, understanding me. More and more recently we'd been getting into get-out-or-die situations, and we wanted the Flock to have as many good, relaxing experiences if…if things were to change.

"Can you turn around?" I asked. "Need to get changed."

He did so, and trusting him more than I should, I shrugged off my clothes and whipped on more decent things- namely another T-shirt and jeans. Where did that bravery come from? But my trust came with reason; Fang firmly had his eyes faced out into the hallway. Point for chivalry.

"So do you think you would?" Fang asked again after I told him he could turn around. "I can take Gazzy and Iggy to wherever they want. As long as it's legal…somewhat." He grinned (woah- twice in five minutes!) at the last word.

"I guess," I said. "But what about money? Last time I heard, the stores weren't handing out free stuff, but you never know."

"Talk to your Mom," he said, avoiding the subject delicately. Fang I and I had discussed the idea of taking jobs to help Mom out with raising one kid herself and housing six others on a veterinarian's salary. Jeb, I knew, pitched in, but how much? We decided to wait on it, as we always ran the risk of having to leave every day, and didn't want to abandon a company with no notice. But if it came down to it…

"I'll ask her now."

Finding Mom in the kitchen, I sat down in my usual chair with Fang across from me. "Have any plans today?" she asked, setting a plate of something that smelled wondrous in front of me. Bless her.

"Well," I started, not knowing how to continue. "Well, you see, I was thinking…"

Apparently I was taking too long, as Fang cut in, "-Would it be okay if Max, Angel and Nudge went to the mall today? And would it be alright if they got money to spend?"

My eyes widened at his bluntness. Geez.

For a split second I was afraid Mom might spazz on him for even thinking of spending the money, but she surprised me by brightening up immediately. "That's great, Max! You guys need some girl time. Here." She grabbed her purse and pulled out a wad of bills. "Take them."

I recoiled. "All that?"

She nodded. "Look, Max, you need time off, okay? Take it and shut up."

I smiled at her. "Thanks."

"Any time. No, I take that back- only on paydays, alright?"

I do admit Nudge's clothes looked shaggy as she and Angel came into the kitchen at the same time. It was a cowboy-ish shirt with jeans covered in grass stains- I could practically hear the fashion stylists in New York cringing.

"Morning, y'all," Nudge said drawling, Angel not taking her eyes off the plates of steaming food on the counter.

Before I could put in a word –one, small, measly, word- Fang said, "Hey, you guys up for some shopping with Max today?"

Nudge's hand paused, outstretched, midway to the toast on the counter. "Max? And shopping? In the same sentence? Shocking."

I would have rebuked the statement, other than the fact that she was dead-on right.

"So how about it?" Mom asked.

"Sure!" Angel called, jumping onto my lap, plate in hand.

"I'm totally in," Nudge said, and gleefully stuffed her face. Under her breath she muttered with a vengeful tone, "But don't let Iggy come."

Half an hour later, Nudge, Angel and I were on the city bus headed for downtown. Mom had given us six bus tickets –three there, three back- as she had work today and couldn't drive us. Seeing as we were going downtown, in the middle of the day, flying wasn't an option.

Apparently we hit the rush to the downtown schools; the bus was stuffed full of sweaty teenagers with backpacks and textbooks. We looked remarkably out of place.

"Max," Angel turned to me, a kid's backpack jammed near her arm, "will we ever go back to school?"

"I'm not sure," I admitted. "Do you want to?"

"Do you?" she asked with a sly glance that looked far out of place on her face.

"What do you mean…?"

She didn't say anything, which freaked me out more than anything, but I dropped the topic.

Occasionally, the bus would stop and one or two people would get off. I didn't really notice anything until the bus driver suddenly shouted, at the top of her lungs, "That's it!"

The crowed bus, with many still standing, all turned to him. The bus, previously filled with chattering, dropped into a dead silence.

"How keeps pressing the button to stop?" he yelled. "No one gets off! We're staying here until someone gets off!"

The kids roared. "We need to get to school!" A man in the back yelled, "Not all of us are kids!" My favorite line was from a teenager beside me- he put on a high-pitched voice and yelled, "But my water's breaking!" while his friends laughed.

I rolled my eyes. Just because the driver was having a bad day didn't mean we had to freak out. I grabbed Nudge and Angel's hands. "Come on," I said. While we stepped off the bus, the crowd yelled out in appreciation.

As the bus rolled off into the dust, Nudge groaned, "Why'd we get off? Max, we shouldn't have gotten off. How far is it to the mall? I don't want to fly, my wings are so perfectly put into place, Max-"

I grabbed her shoulders and looked around. We were already at the outskirts of downtown, with a few shops here and there. In the distance, I saw the large building of the mall rear up.

"Come on, it's not far, it's good exercise," I countered. The sidewalk, cracked in many spots, was white and glared in the morning sun. "And we got off because we're probably the only ones on that bus who aren't following a schedule.

Angel skipped ahead, while Nudge trudged behind. I stayed in the middle, shepherding them in a way. "Why can't we fly?" Nudge asked, dodging a woman carrying numerous bags. Overhearing, the woman gave us an are-you-high? look, but passed on.

"Nudge, keep your voice down," I said. "And second, we can't, not this close downtown, even though it's morning. I'm sure that- holy crap!"

I hadn't noticed we had paused in front of a dark alleyway.

Cliché. Classic. Whatever- a hand had grabbed me from behind and dragged me into the alley, Nudge and Angel screaming bloody murder behind me.

I saw a flick of light; my attacker held a knife. I felt the coolness spread over my neck, then a dark voice whisper, "Hand over the money."

I almost laughed. How much more stupid of a line could you say? I was being mugged. Me, Maximum Ride.

Wow. This guy picked the wrong girl.

He was much taller than me, but I guessed I had him in strength. He had unruly hair and hadn't shaved in a while- I wondered what had brought him to such a state. Either way, I could take him in a minute. But still, if Nudge was doing what we had practiced years ago…

"Huh" I whispered softly. "I guess you're proof that humans can live without brains. I know of a few universities that would kill for you."

Before he could even move the knife, his eyes widened, the tension behind the knife fell, and he dropped.

"Good job," I said the Nudge, who stood over the man. She had performed a basic move Jeb had taught us- how to take someone out, just by putting pressure in a few key spots in the neck and shoulders.

What the hell was that? I heard Fang say in my thoughts. It sort of surprised me- he hadn't done it often enough to make me used to him barging into my thoughts. And why could we do it, anyways? It made no sense whatsoever. If I knew how, I would have responded. I made a mental note to learn more- today.

"What should we do until he wakes up?" Angel asks, picking up the knife and examining it. "He had every plan to kill you if things didn't work in his favor."

"Can I see the knife?" I asked, and she held it out to me, hilt first. I grabbed it and tested the weight. It wasn't a normal kitchen knife- it was actually pretty nice. This guy had money, or had stolen it from someone who did. "I'll take the knife and dump it later. Grab any money and throw it on the street for someone really lucky to find. Take his ID and any jewelry and throw it down the sewer."

"Max," Angel said. "For someone so nice, you sure can hurt a guy."

I glanced at the unconscious man at me feet. "Angel, Nudge, if you really ever want to hurt a guy, just kick him here." I kicked him –hard- in the crotch, just for good measure.

They stared at me. "What?" They shook their heads. "Nevermind."

"Do you guys want to take the bus back home, after that?" I asked them, knowing the answer.

"No way!" They both shouted.

It felt really, really strange- we just took down a man, stripped him of any money he had, and we were off merrily down the street.

Someone should really write a book about me, you know.

We arrived at the mall after a fifteen-minute walk. The mall itself wasn't too big, but it fit the city's needs. I guessed this was a hotspot for the teens, but during school hours it was dead. After going through the main entrance, Nudge pointed to a hip-looking store called 'Mexican Hawk' where a few kids hung out. I guessed they were skipping or something. "Can we go there?" she asked.

I blinked; Nudge had caught one of my hot spots. I couldn't stand kids who automatically were drawn to the 'cool' places and tried to fit it. God. Just stand out- it's not hard.

"Nudge, you can go if you want, but it's probably too expensive. Mom only gave us so much."

"How much exactly?" Angel asked, poking at the wallet in my pocket. I took it out. "I have no idea."

When I did, I gasped. Ten twenty dollar bills… two hundred dollars.

"I wasn't expecting that…" Nudge said, awed. "I thought we'd get forty."

"No kidding…" Angel murmured. We sat on a bench opposite Mexican Hawk. Stereos in the walls blasted the latest pop song. "So what are we going to do here?"

"Shopping for clothes, obviously," Nudge said, "due to an unnamed, anonymous pyrotechnic with some serious mental problems."

"I think I need shoes," Angel said. "Unless having holes in them is common."

I looked down, and, indeed, there were holes. "I don't really need anything…"

Come on, Max, do something for yourself.

Fang, again. I thought for a second he sighed, but I realized it was Angel beside me.

"What's wrong, Angel?" I asked, concerned. If an Eraser were to pop out, I wanted to know. "Is something wrong?"

"Yeah," she whispered, and looked meaningfully at Nudge, who smiled from ear to ear.

"What?" I leaned forward, placing my hands on her knees, preparing myself for an attack.

"Why don't you and Fang just get together?" she asked, crossing her arms. I fell backwards, shocked. Not expecting that.

"What?" I whispered, dazed.

"Come on, Max," Angel said. "He so digs you."


"And Max?" Nudge said, standing up.


"You have crazy dreams."

A/N- Points to whoever caught the company I mocked there. :D

Normally I'd make the next chapter and put it into this one, but with exams I have to seriously cut back. (But my French interview went well, so that's good.)

Reviews are loved, copied, pasted, printed out and put on my refrigerator!

16. Resolve

A/N- I drew a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle on my math exam. Why? Good question.

This chapter has been asked for about twenty times, now, so I hope this clears things up/ adds more Faxness if you can read between the lines. This is an incredibly important chapter. Some of it may not make sense, but it will tie together near the end.

Anyways, today I finished off my hardest exam and have a half-day off, so I decided to update early today. Thanks for all of the reviews for the last chapter… we hit 500!

Part 2/2

There comes a time when there's nothing to do but stare and look like an idiot.

Such times usually come when talking will make you look even worse, and not saying anything gives imaginations a free reign as to what happened. So stare I did, looking deep into Nudge's too-innocent expression. Her eyes were alight, playful, and ready to pounce.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I finally managed, Angel still sitting grumpily. "I rarely have dreams."

"But when you do, they're gooood!" Nudge drew out and emphasized the last word, filling it with innuendo. She sat up onto her knees, leaning forwards, and had a striking resemblance to a dog waiting for its treat after figuring out a trick. Her smile made me shiver.

"Nudge!" I said, exasperated. They could not know about my…dream. It wasn't possible! You couldn't just, subconsciously take dreams out of a person's head…but I was missing something key, something that should have been stark obvious. What was it?

"It's true!" she countered. "You can't tell me that your oh-so-perfect dream wasn't somewhat pleasing? I mean, the gingerbread house, and the sledding…"

I small twinge of hope started to rise. Maybe they didn't know about the ending?

"-And the fact that you totally kissed Fang, full on!"

Or not. Perhaps denial was best in this situation?

"Nudge, I have no idea what you're talking about. I have not kissed Fang, ever."

"Of course not, it was a dream!" she said, before I realized I had left that opening for her. She put her hands on her knees, annoyance starting to flit across her face. "And we all know that what we do in dreams is what we want to do in real life!"

I moved her over a bit, and sat between Angel and Nudge. To the latter I directed, "Nudge, seriously, no idea what you're saying."

Angel heaved a great, dramatic sigh and leaned back. "Max, you are the worst liar ever!"

"But I'm not lying!"

Angel twisted her head and gave me a steely glare, and I remembered what had escaped my thoughts before.

Angel could read minds.

I had forgotten. Between this new conspiracy-something going on, I had forgotten all about what Angel could do.

Crap. Not good, not good at all. If I had the ability to skip the next ten minutes of my life, I would have.


Before I could stop her, she stood up on the bench and looked down at me. "Max, look. You like Fang, a lot. And Fang likes you, a lot. Okay? Get it? Iggy, Gazzy Nudge and I won't look down at you for it if you two decide to…what's the word?… I don't know, like, get together? All right? We're all tired of you two dancing around each other!"

Too much information at once, thank you very much, and Angel was saying this all very loudly. A few passersby were staring at us, as well as the kids over near Mexican Hawk, who starting smoking in the mall. Of course, they thought they were cool.

I turned away from the kids, laughing away at something. What to do now?

Tell the truth, face eternal embarrassment by the closest thing to family, or lie and preserve some dignity?

I took a deep breath, preparing myself for the first choice. I could do this. The Flock trusted me, they knew me, they were me. We'd been through things worse than death, worse than hell… and before I knew it, I started saying, "You see, guys, I don't even like Fang!"

Hmm. That didn't work. Not only was I lying to myself, but my two closest female friends. Nudge look aghast, but as if he wanted to laugh, although Angel simply looked livid.

"Max!" she yelled, even more people staring. Then, sitting down, Angel said, I know what you're thinking right now, remember? though a mental link.

I groaned. Another thing forgotten. Privacy be damned, I guess. She hadn't done it in a few months to me, so it had slipped my mind.

"Fine," I said, crossing my arms. "You know what I'm thinking. Tell me if I like Fang."

This was an experiment of sorts, as well. Angel furrowed her eyebrows in concentration, and as she did, I went through the Spanish alphabet Ella had taught me. If I could concentrate on just one thing hard enough…

"You're deeply in love with Fang, but you don't know it yet so I shouldn't tell you, but I am so you can be with him longer. And Fang thinks you're the reason he exists, Max. It's the reason he hasn't given up yet."

Eternal embarrassment? Check. Worse than torture? Check.

"Wait," I said, "what do you mean, 'he hasn't given up yet'?"

Her expression darkened. "Ask him." Then, she brightened visibly. "But, you do admit you like Fang?"

"No," I said the word carefully and slowly, then added, "I'm not saying no to anything, though," and smiled. If there was a chance to change the topic, it was now. "Anyways, Angel, can you please tell me that you can't spy on people's dreams? That's a talent I'd prefer you to live without. My dreams are…mine, if you know what I mean." I would never try and stop one of the Flock members from using a talent, but it sort of scared me.

Nudge nodded. "My dreams are representing my soul, if you kinda know what I'm saying…"

Angel bit her lip. "I can't really help it. I try to tune them out, I mean most people dream a lot, but they just don't remember each one. Sorry about that, Max. Your dream was like a rose in a thorn field, you know? You're just attracted to it. Everyone else has nasty dreams about the School. But not you and Fang. You dream of each other."

That would have been sort of sweet, other than the fact that I was humiliated and knowing Fang dreamt of me made me sort of freaked out. I paused and re-adjusted my wings behind me.

"They're good dreams," she added. "Nothing bad. You two are usually just-"

"Okay, then," Nudge cut in, thank the Lord. She held up her hands. "I don't want to go that far. But Max, Angel told me everything she heard, and I think you've given me hope."

"Hope for what?" I asked, interested. Did this have anything to do with her asking me if she would ever find 'someone' for her?

She blushed, looked down, mumbled something incoherently, and turned away slightly. I caught the hint to not continue with the subject. If it caused Nudge to shut up, it would obviously be mortifying for her.

"What's up with you and Fang being able to talk to each other over a mental link?" she suddenly asked, all traces of let's-embarrass-Max out of the conversation.

"I really don't know. We should experiment with that," I said. "I didn't really want to tell you guys, but if you already know that we can do it, there's no reason to hide it anymore. I just didn't want you worried or anything."

Angel shook her head, blonde curls cascading downwards. "It's fine. Iggy and Gazzy already know, I told them. I could hear whenever you two talked to each other, which was sort of weird. We'd hoped you'd would've come to your senses and told us, but we can't have everything."

I bit my tongue. Just how much did they know?

"That's all we told them," Nudge said, reading my expression. "When you two first started talking to each other with your heads, Angel talked to me about it and told me everything, but not to everyone else."

"Thanks," I said quietly, the conversation starting to turn on me again.

We sat silently, watching the mall security guards kick out the kids by Mexican Hawk. They protested and yelled a lot, but were eventually shepherded out.

We then decided to actually shop, and spent the rest of the afternoon spending a good portion of the 200 dollars Mom had bestowed upon us with her almighty Mom-ness. Nudge got her clothes (sadly, none were fire-proof) and Angel bought some shoes. For me, I wasn't going to get anything until a mental voice prodded me.

Max, get something, Fang said, while Angel gave me a sly look. He was probably suggesting clothes or jewelry or something, so just to be stubborn I bought popcorn.

We took the now-empty bus back home, and as soon as we barged through the door we crashed our bags on the table and nearly fell on the chairs, feet throbbing.

"How was it?" Iggy called from down the hall. I decided not to comment on the strange, acidic tinge in the air. Some things are better off now known, especially with the male members of the Flock together for a few hours. That was nearly asking for an international incident.

"Pretty good," Nudge said, kicking off her shoes and throwing them into a pile near the door. "And I think Max has an announcement."

"I do?" I asked, knowing this was leading into our previous conversation somehow.

"She does?" A voice asked, a deeper, darker voice that held many more tones. Fang.

Angel prodded me. "Keep your thoughts PG, Max."

I blushed, Nudge stifling her laughs beside me. Tell them that you know, Angel sent to me. Her voice felt as if it were almost tickling my brain- a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Fang, Gazzy and Iggy all came down the hall, emerging from Fang's room. They were covered in what looked remarkably like soot, and there were a few black, burnt marks on their clothes. "Can men ever not get dirty, blow something up or do something illegal while women are out?" Nudge asked.

"Do it today, for tomorrow it might be illegal!" Iggy responded, pulling the chair towards him and sitting down with a scary amount of precision- he was more graceful than me. "We rigged up the coolest stuff you'll ever see."

"Let's hear it," I said. What now?

Gazzy produced a small-innocent looking package from behind his back. For all I knew, cookies could be in there. It was a light brown package covering, with pink lacy ribbon on top. "Adding insult to injury," Fang said. "These things are quick and easy to make. We can place them around the forest and the house, and we can set them off with this."

Now that looked liked it belonged to a James Bond villain of sorts. It was dark-grey and was covered in warning signs. It was about the size of a laptop keyboard, and had labeled switches on it: 1-20.

"What happens if I press a switch?" I asked slowly.

Gazzy grinned evilly. "Boom."

The six of us tramped out to the forest and put the bombs in convenient, hard-to-spot locations. Fang had reasoned that if we were ever in serious danger, setting off the bombs would be good distractions for us to escape or to find a better tactical position to fight from.

I noticed that on the horizon, the sun was starting to set, the light starting to come though the trees. One beam glared at me through the treetops, and I was forced to step over a bit.

"So what was this you had to tell us?" Gazzy called, climbing up to the top of a tree and shoving one of the bombs in a niche between two branches. He let go with his hands and swung upside down. Before I could tell him that if he fell he'd bash his skull in he continued, "Something important?"

I paused, rubbing the dirt off of my hands from digging a hole underneath a different tree. Around us, I could hear the Flock pause in their work. I finished covering it up and made it as natural-looking as possible, thinking.

"Er, yeah," I said. Within seconds, there was a scurry of leaves and wings. The Flock was before me, proving me right in the fact that they were eavesdropping. "So?" he asked again, pulling a twig from his wings.

"Well." I clapped my hands together, dirt fluttering off. Nudge and Angel nodded me on encouragingly. "Um, so I guess you all know about the whole mind thing…right?"

The Flock looked non-surprised, save Fang. "They do?" he asked, genuinely shocked.

"Yes, they do. I didn't know until today, too," I said. "Anyways. That was my announcement, I think. Just to say that I know that you know, if that makes any sense."

Nudge and Angel looked slightly disappointed, as if they wanted me to announce my unrequited love for Fang then and there. As if. "So what can you guys exactly do?" Iggy asked, leaning against a tree. "Angel left it vague."

I caught eyes with Fang, and I kept in a small gasp. His eyes were closed, blocked-off, and withdrawn. I recalled that the last time we started really experimenting, he flew off, got shot, and had to recuperate. What about this was so hard for him? Recently it had become easier for him to use the 'link', or whatever we had.

"Fang?" I asked. He didn't answer, so I turned to the Flock. "Fang can send me mental messages, technically, although I have trouble doing it back. For now, that's all we've figured out."

"That's it?" Angel asked after a brief moment of silence. "But you can't just have that. I mean, the mind works pretty strangely, if I'm one to know. Certain things come grouped together. I mean, I can read minds and pick up on dreams. If you two can read each other's minds, then there's got to be something else."

"But we don't," Fang countered, shoving his hands roughly into his pockets. "Just messages. No thought-reading."

Angel nodded slowly. "That doesn't make sense…" Again, a short pause. Then, my heart rate doubled as she gave me her maniacal smile that would send nightmares into caves.

"I have an idea. It might hurt, but it's an idea."

Company Log, as according to Section 22 of the General Commandment

Written in code to prevent outside access

San Diego, California

September 27th, 2007

5:42 p.m.

We have yet again moved Headquarters, due to an incident involving one of our members disbanding and causing trouble within the city. All citizens involved terminated. Total casualty count: 4

All employees who had daily contact with the aforementioned member were fired and placed in top-security to prevent any leakages. We will try to prevent any more interruptions in our work. All casualties are victims of the future, not us.

This is for the citizens.

A/N- One exam down, two more to go…I feel bad for everyone who has 'midterms'. Here, we have four periods every day, then final exams in January, then we switch for the next semester. My friend who moved from California (that's a pretty harsh move- about thirty degrees colder) said you have eight subjects. That would explain why everyone wished me luck on my midterms, when I have none. :D

And yes, there are reviews on my refrigerator. I'd love to put even more up! –cough-

Thanks for your time!

17. So

A/N- Sorry I was unable to reply to reviews/ some PMs, my email had issues and I lost my keyboard for a bit, alas. Yes, I have not updated in a while, I'm sorry. This semester is twice as hard as last (geography is made to kill me) so I'm doubling up on my work efforts.

Thanks to all of the reviews, they made this chapter a heckofalot easier to write :D

If any Flock member has an idea and says so with a glint in their eye, I would advise to run away very, very quickly.

I had yet to learn that, though, and was willing to get to the bottom of this whole problem. Angel pointed at Fang. "Come here," she said, creeping me out. He raised an eyebrow, but still came over. I met eyes with him, and coughed to cover a blush. I couldn't help but remember what Angel has told me earlier that day:

"Max, look. You like Fang, a lot. And Fang likes you, a lot. Okay?"

Glancing back at Fang, his eyes were popped out of their sockets. Oh, crap, had he heard that? I shifted on my feet, trying to keep my mind blank. Of course, knowing me, I couldn't.

Wait…could Fang hear these words as well, like, even if they weren't directed at him? What could he, and what could he not hear? Did proximity have anything to do with it? I drowned out the whispers behind me as I continued to stare at Fang. Did he know I was staring? Of course he does, Max, he can see that.

Was Fang always going to be in my head? Or could we block each other? What if-


Angel said it would hurt.

She was right.

It would have been nice if she had prepared me, you know, and said, "Okay, Max, this might sting a little."

But noooo……

I wasn't sure where I was or what I was doing, other than the fact that my body was on fire. It felt as if I had been stabbed in a quick, clean motion everywhere, the knife going in and out, in and out. Compared to the School's torture, however, it was a piece of cake.

Someone slapped me on the face. "Max. Max. No time to sleep."

Whoever just slapped me was so dead. "No."

This time they shook me violently. "How do you feel?"

"Lemmealoneee." I couldn't help but slur my words together; my tongue was stuck on the roof of my mouth.

"Max!" a voice shouted –no, screamed- into my ear. I was extremely, extremely tempted to roll over and whack them, but the energy was zapped from me. Opening my eyes, I was nearly blinded by a stream of light- I hadn't been out for long, obviously, if there was still light.

"What?" My voice was more of a croak, but I think I got the meaning across.

Hands pushed on my back, nausea nearly overtaking me. I let the lights swirl in my head before saying, "Angel, please tell me what happened before I regain total consciousness and try and kill you."

I could feel her kneel before me, and through the haze of my eyes, I noticed she was frowning considerably. "How do you feel?"

"How do you think I feel?" I groaned, gingerly starting to stand. I wobbled, but caught myself. "I feel- holy crap."

Angel jumped up and let her wings fly free in total ecstasy. She floated a foot or two of the ground while cheering wildly. "It worked! It worked!"

If this…feeling was what I supposed to feel, then yeah, it worked. You know the little voice in your head, your consciousness? Imagine it squashed over to one side, and another took its place. There were, essentially, two me's. The other me was quite hungry, actually, and desperately had to use the washroom. There were two separate streams of thoughts going through my head, al at once, and all in a jumble.

What in the world, I'm going to kill Angel-

Can someone explain?

This is weird…

Oh, Lord, is this happening?

The thoughts flashed in an out, like subliminal messaging. They were so loud, too, and which were mine? Whose were the others?

"Angel!" I shouted over the mess, leaning against a tree. "What-?" I couldn't add more than just that before collapsing onto the ground. I rubbed my back where the bark had scraped through my shirt. "Shut up!" I shouted to the voices in my head, barreling like a ram to get through, to break free, they-would-not- "STOP!"

Just like that, they did.

I took a deep breath, feeling the tears on my cheeks. Angel had her hands on my hand, her touch cooling. "Max," she said. "Listen."

My breath caught in my throat, my back throbbing in rhythm with my heart. Angel continued, "Max, don't try and block the thoughts. It's too hard, you'll go insane. Let the thoughts go through you; don't try and pick any up."

"I went insane a while back."

"No, seriously insane, Max. As in, you'll lock yourself up and will become the Crazy Cat Lady at fourteen."

I coughed, my voice aching with effort. "But why are the voices gone now?"

Angel shifted her fingers and took them away. "I'm holding them back. But when I let go it's going to happen all over again, and you'll be alone. Okay?"

Nudge was in front of me, eyes flickering to my left, although Angel blocked my view from what had divided her attention. "But what happened?" I asked.

"Get control of the thoughts, then we'll tell you," Nudge said, voice bland, but underneath was well-hidden fear.


"No. But go ahead."

She lifted her mental barrier.

I can't deal with this-

What's up with Max, I should be helping her-

Ugh, the voices, get OUT!

The flow of the thoughts was like a dam breaking free. For a while I was drowning in them, but remembered what Angel had said: Let them wash over you. I grabbed my head, wrestled myself to the ground, and blanked my mind.

I have to-

No, this doesn't-

The voices were still there, but it was like someone had taken a TV dial and turned it down. Now, if I focused, the voices were hardly there at all.

I breathed deeply, brushing off the dirt. "Okay. I'm good."

For a moment I thought someone had tackled me; a moment later was when I realized it Nudge hugging the guts out of me. "Max!" she said. "I was so worried!"

I hugged her back, her hair stabbing at my eyelids. I pulled back. "What just happened?"

"Angel will explain," she said, voice low. "I don't know too much myself. But she's over there-" she pointed to my left, where if I squinted I could make out figures, "-helping Fang."

My senses went on overdrive: my spine snapped up straight, my vision sharpened, and my hearing could make out the conversation far to my left. Before I could listen in, though, Nudge gasped. "Woah, Max, what was that? You totally freaked at Fang's name."

This time, shivers were sent up my spine. What the hell? This day was getting weirder by the minute. Forget writing a book on me, I should star in a movie autobiography. It would be a shoe-in for the Oscars.

"I- I don't know. Hey, they're coming over here."

The four figures morphed into Angel, Iggy, Gazzy and Fang, the latter who looked extremely tired. They came to the small clearing, and arranged themselves comfortably: Gazzy into the trees, Angel on my lap, Iggy and Fang leaning on rocks.

"Will someone explain?" I croaked, running my fingers through Angel's curls. She nodded and dislodged herself from me, standing to face us all. She looked as if she'd been caught robbing a bank or something, but to help the poor.

"Um, yeah, I guess I will." She started pacing. "You guys are so going to kill me, I know, I can read your minds. Anyways, an explanation? Where to start, where to start…"

At that moment it occurred to me just how much Angel had changed over the years: she no longer looked six: she could probably pass for ten. Sure, she was on the short side, but her eyes and voice betrayed her. They held too much knowledge, too much pain. Just the way she talked like an adult was strange.

"Well, we learned the whole mind thing between the two of you a few days ago. I told Nudge, who told Iggy, who told Gazzy before you two knew of it yourselves. We decided it would be best if you two came to us to talk about it, but seeing as you're more stubborn than Total if he doesn't get enough food, we sort of forced it upon you."

"What do you mean, 'forced it upon us'?" Fang asked, sighing. I realized he must have gone though the same torture I had before Angel had gotten to him.

Angel bit her tongue and pulled down her shirt. "I think I'm going to have to backtrack and start at day one, not long ago. Remember the bismuth thing? When Max saved the bird, but the explosion knocked her out?"

Fang nodded once in a clean, swift motion. I could practically hear the climaxing music in my head, knowing I would finally find out what was going on today.

Angel lowered her voice. "Max's afferent nerves were totally fried. So when-"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. How do you know what an 'afferent nerve' is?" Iggy exclaimed.

Angel clasped her hands together. "Love thy Wikipedia."

I laughed. "So what is it, for us who aren't neurosurgeons?"

"They carry nerve impulses towards the central nervous system. They carry pain, you could say. So anyways, Max's afferent nerves shorted out. So here's the whacked-up part." She breathed. "I don't think you guys realize just how powerful our bodies are. We are meant to survive. Max was supposed to die. But she didn't, because of Fang."

If I was standing, I would have fallen over.

"Max, I was reading your mind at the time of the explosion. But the thing is, I didn't realize that milliseconds beforehand, you reversed the connection. That's how desperate your body was for survival- it's just something the School programmed into us. Live at all costs.

"But, I was also tuning into Fang's thoughts as he started running towards you. I was trying to convince him to back away, but he didn't. So when you reversed the connection, technically, you sent your afferent nerves with it, through me, and into Fang. So Fang and you both had two sets of nerves running to your brain. With the nerves connected, you can hear each other's brain activity."

No one spoke.

"Holy crap."

That was Nudge. And the thing was, I agreed with her. "How long have you known?" she asked. "You didn't tell us that!"

The not-so-innocent Angel shrugged. "I really pieced it together now, but I've known for a while. And I didn't even answer Fang's question, how I forced you guys to come together. You see, I've been keeping each other's thoughts and emotions from the two of you for a while now. Because Max's nerves used me as a platform of sorts, I can hold the thoughts back. Occasionally I would let some slip through, though, and try and get you guys to come to terms with it."

"But why can Fang send me thoughts easier then I can to him?" That had always bothered me. Was I that weak?

"No, you're not that weak, Max. Guys' brains really are freakishly simple. But girls are harder, more areas in use. Fang, using a much smaller portion of his brain, could direct the thoughts easier."

We all laughed, the sound ringing in our ears. When was the next time we would laugh together again?

"So anyways, I finally let go of all of the thoughts, all at once. It would have sounded like a explosion, I bet. You two went flying backwards. Iggy dragged Fang away, so you two didn't have to look at each other. That's another thing: because the nerves are linked, when you realize your 'other half' is in danger, your senses will perk up, probably."

Gazzy flipped down from the trees. "But why can they hear each other? There's gotta be science to explain it."

"I think I understand," I said. "I accidentally created a link to Fang. My nerves are connected to him, through me, to my brain, and the same way back, with Angel in the middle."

"Yup!" Angel smiled as she realized she was understood. Oh, believe me, I understood her only too well.

"Is there a way to reverse it?"

I'd be lying if I didn't say I was disappointed as Fang asked that. My stomach dropped. He didn't want to hear my thoughts?

"I don't know," Angel admitted. "I Googled it as well. Nothing interesting. Well, somehow I got a picture of two people in bed, that classified as interesting."

Fang smirked. "Are you holding back the thoughts now?"

She nodded- I hadn't noticed the absence of the thoughts.

"Let go."

I managed a piercing glare at Fang before the thoughts came.

Why didn't Angel tell us before?

So confused-

When's dinner?

I stifled a bark of laughter, fighting a smile. Mens' heads really were simple. "Why more than one thought?"

Without missing a beat, Angel replied, "You're always thinking of more than one thing, if you realize it or not. Your subconscious goes through hundreds, if not thousands, in a minute. Think about it- without realizing it, when you look at something, your subconscious says, 'that tree is green' or 'the ground is soft' while you could be trying to figure out what to wear tomorrow."

"Did you figure this out all by yourself?" Iggy asked. She nodded.

"It's not too bad. You get used to it. Actually, it's sort of fun. You know everything, even if the person doesn't." She stared at Nudge, who blushed the color of the setting sun.

"We should really be going back now, guys," Fang said, who noted the comparison as well. "Dr. Martinez will be worried. Have we planted all the bombs, yet?" And I need to talk to Max as soon as possible.

We had, so we all went back to the house, confused on several levels.

"So how was everyone's day?"

We were gathered around the kitchen table, watching one of three chickens being carved. Dr. Martinez luckily hadn't been home when we arrived back, so no worries there. Total, however, was mortified that he missed going out to the woods. "The squirrels taste delicious!" he had exclaimed before he received numerous withering glares.

"Shopping was fun," Nudge said. We had gone shopping? I remembered the morning- that's right, we had. It had slipped my mind.

Max has a weird look on her face. I wonder what's up. I'll try and get us away from the table soon.

I sipped my water. Fang's thoughts, without Angel holding them back, came thick and fast. They were controlled, but I could still hear every single one with clarity. Did Fang have better control?

No, came the reply. I met his eyes, and we both tried not to laugh.

We both missed Mom staring at us.

Dinner consisted of delicious chicken, peas, rice and awkward silences filled with occasional small talk. "What's up guys?" Mom finally asked. "This dinner was weird."

"Nothing," the Flock replied as one, all too quickly. Now that wasn't suspicious at all.

Mom put her hands up, as if surrendering to the police. "Okay, whatever. Max, Fang you're on dishes tonight!"

We nodded- the group of us had settled into a pattern that allowed Mom to get work done while raising seven kids. Tonight, as the whiteboard declared on the side of the cupboard, was our day.

As everyone else drifted to their rooms to lounge, Mom stayed behind. Uh-oh…this could be trouble. Most times she jumped to get work done.

She cleared her throat. "I'm not sure where to begin. I do know that something big happened today. As the oldest, you two should tell me if it endangers anyone, right?"

We both nodded, clearing the table. "It's really nothing," Fang said. "The Flock just went out and put bombs in the forest that can detonated with that-," he pointed to Gazzy's contraption on the counter, "to give us time to escape if we're attacked. They won't go off without it, so you can still walk in there."

"You sure?"

"Very. We experimented."

Mom sighed, and with the pause I admired Fang's half-lie. Mom continued, "Idiots. Anyways, that's not what I really wanted to talk to you guys about."

Fang and I exchanged mental looks. I hoped this wasn't what I thought it was.

It was.

Mom was blushing now, but was expertly holding it back. "You two are young, but are teenagers, and I know birds age faster than humans. Because of that I think you two need to hear this. Sit down."

Fang and I did so.

"Um…you see, I worry about you two. Because, well, you're both mature…but heck, I've lost control in my youth…and I wanted to make sure that you two knew this."

She passed us a piece of paper. I read the title.

15 Steps to Condom Use

Well, then. Nice to know she trusted us.

"What the-" I would have sworn violently, but I let the word fade.

Fang, however, muttered, "I didn't know there was that many."

Mom leaned back in her chair. "Um, I want to ask that when you two are in the same room you leave the door open, 'kay?"

"But Fang and I aren't even 'together'!" I exclaimed. "We aren't about to…you know, do it!"

Mom shrugged. "I know, I know, but recently…" she never finished the sentence. "So can you promise me you'll read it, and always have the door open?"

I nodded meekly.

"Good," she said. "Now finish the dishes."

I got up from the table as quickly as possible, and refused to meet Fang's eyes for the rest of the evening.

A/N- There's nothing like eternally embarrassing your characters.

Yes, there are 15 steps. I have them memorized- I had to, for Health. My brother thought the steps were so hilarious he took them back to university with him and put them up in the dorm hallway.

Reviews are awesome- actually, I've run out of words to describe them. Spifftastic. Wicked. Tubular. Anyways, I'd appreciate them!

Anyone else excited for MR4?

18. They

A/N- 640 reviews! Thanks to everyone!

We had to clean out the biology room in science during a snow day, and of course our teacher showed us what we'll be dissecting if we take the course. Just so you know, seeing sheep eyes in a bucket (as well as dead rats) is not nearly as cool as it sounds.

This story takes place September 2007, which in future chapters is something to take note of. (Otherwise, the story would make little sense in some parts.)

15 Steps to Condom Use

1. Discuss condom use is a public place where there is no pressure.

2. Arousal and erection.

3. Check expiration date. Also, check where condom was stored- condom should not be stored in pocket, wallet or car as heat and friction can damage it.

4. Open package carefully. Do not use your teeth.

5. Squeeze air from tip of condom so it doesn't rip for ejaculate.

6. Unroll condom- be careful, it only unrolls one way.

7. Lubricate condom: water-based only, oil eats through latex

8. Intercourse

9. Ejaculation

10. Hold rim of condom. This is the most important step that many people miss.

11. Withdraw penis while still holding on

12. Slide condom off.

13. Loss of erection.

14. Check for tears so you will know if a morning after pill is needed

15. Dispose of condom, not down garbage can

"What's 'ejaculation'?"

"I don't know. What about 'intercourse'?"

Hearing those voices from my room, I banged my head on the table. Hard. How was I going to explain this? I ran from the kitchen to my room and grabbed the piece of paper out of Angel's hands.

"Hey, Max, what's ejaculat-"

"I don't know," I lied quickly, trying to keep my voice straight. I glared at both her and Gazzy. "What are you guys doing?"

The Gasman just smiled. "We're bored Max! Nothing to do. But what's with this piece of paper on your desk? Half of it's, like, written in code. Do you have any idea what intercourse is?"

I put my palm to my forehead. Sure, the Flock knew how babies were made –Jeb had seen to that during one horrible day a few years ago- although he never really got specific. He had done the typical male thing and danced around the subject with the whole lines about, "When two people really love each other…" Of course, Angel and Gazzy hadn't really understood, but over the years the Internet had shown them a somewhat correct terminology guide.

Of course, it was nothing this direct.

I took a deep breath. Here I was, trying to get over Fang's thoughts running through my head at that very moment, and also being attacked by Gazzy and Angel. The previous night Fang and I had looked at the steps, although due to mortal embarrassment, we didn't get past step three. I had –stupidly, yes- thrown the paper on my desk, to be found by the two this morning.

"Look, guys, just…go outside… do something…"

"But what's this paper for, Max?"

I had a choice: tell the truth and open up to them, or lie.

I went with the second choice. Come on, what would you have done?

"It's just instructions for a new game Ella bought, that's all," I said, trying to keep my voice even. "They might sound a little weird, but the game had to be translated from German, so the wording is a little off…"

"Can we play?" Gazzy nearly yelled. As he did, I could feel Fang's attention shift from talking with Iggy over the best, lethal chemicals to use over to my conversation. It felt as if someone took a brush, and swept it across my mind. We were still experimenting what we could do with this mind-link, and eavesdropping on conversations was one of the many benefits.

Yeah, right.

"It'll give us something to do!" Angel added, perching herself on my desk.

In more than one way, Fang added.

Lord. I nearly screamed. Turns out Fang always had a witty comment on hand, but he never said it out loud.

"No, you can't play. It's a…grown up game. Look, if you guys go outside, I'll bribe Ella into making cookies, okay?"

Cookies: the last weapon in my arsenal of Maxness.

The two grinned like hyenas and ran off quickly, while I collapsed against the desk. That had been close- hopefully they wouldn't remember the words and Google them. I could only imagine the discussions that would follow…

Shouldn't you have put that away? Fang asked. I could tell he was walking down the hall, and true enough, he entered my room a few seconds later. Naturally, we both turned away.

You see, you pick up everything about a person when you can read their mind. Everything. Did you know Fang has a thing for Jessica Simpson? He also likes Abba music, and prides himself in knowing just about every single possible fact about Monty Python. Whenever he has the TV to himself he watches pilates and yoga shows that everyone else despises.

Enter the secret world of Fang.

In just one night, I got a boatload of information about him. I only focused on the trivial stuff I could blackmail him with; knowing the deeper stuff wasn't something I wanted to do. Of course, that meant he knew the same about me.

We also knew how we felt about each other.

Awkward, much?

It was strange. Everything else with Fang's mind was clear-cut see-though, but whenever I searched his mind for something about myself it was like looking through a foggy piece of glass: you can get the basic shapes and outlines, but not the details. From what I could tell, though, he liked me. As Angel said, a lot.

"So what's up?" To myself I added, Geez, Max, can you think of something worse to say?


Bah, he had heard that last thought. Even still I had to remind myself not to think, which is, well, harder than you think. How could I not voice my opinions? I mean, a lot of the stuff that flies through my head is rude and stupid and would get me acquitted to an asylum faster than McDonalds whips out burgers. Our mind is like a barrier that stops the annoying stuff. But with Fang, he was the barrier.

Sure, sharing my head with a super-hot avian hybrid is sort of cool. But it really breaks Max's Scale of Freakiness.

"Yeah, Fang?"

"We need to talk."

I bit my tongue, trying not to sweat too much. I had expected this…we couldn't go and comment on every little thing the other person though, consciously or not. "You're right."

Moving like a black panther on steroids he sat on my bed, revealing his discomfort with a small, weak smile.

"We should keep talking normally, as much as possible," I said. "It wouldn't be good for the Flock otherwise."

He nodded, locks of hair falling in his face. Why, all of a sudden, were Fang's physical features so prominent? I hummed softly to myself, trying to fill the silence. Of course, his thoughts revealed what he was really thinking.

Oh, crap, this is weird…I need to get out of here…

Am I making Max uncomfortable?

Wow, Max looks really hot right now.

"You think I'm hot?"


That did not mean to come out!

"Oh, Fang, you don't have to answer that, I'm sorry, that was…"

"It's fine."

I had to admit, I was taken aback. What did he mean?

"I mean, Max, that you're hot. Okay? I'm not going to lie. I'm a teenage guy, what else am I supposed to think?"


In any other circumstances I would either have been to the ceiling in ecstasy or in Tennessee by now out of sheer mortification.

But I did neither. Instead, I simply said a quick "Thank you," turned around and walked into the kitchen. From there I left the house, jumped off the steps, and walked to the forest.

I was tired of always flying away from problems. In combat, sure, I could kick bad-guy butt, but out of those situations the School had taught us nothing. I kicked off from the ground lightly and landed a good ten feet up on branch thick enough to support my weight. What should I do? I tried my best to ignore Fang in the background of my head, but was failing miserably.

Then there was the first explosion.

It happened so quickly, so suddenly, at first I had trouble realizing what happened. The massive sound and consequentially massive burst of light was enough to send my senses reeling out of control. It had come from above, a branch nearly decapitating me. I jumped from my own perch, landing just as the second explosion to my left occurred. This was different than anything else I had experienced- no other explosions had this effect on me.

It was like any coherent actions were gone. Getting up and flying away was impossible. I could hardly stand, let alone open my wings.

"Max! Get up! What the hell are you doing, get over here!"

It was Fang. He was yelling from the house, beyond the treeline. Beside him I could make out five other distinct shapes, just as another explosion sent debris flying over me.

I could here other shouts from the house, most of them containing swear words and Fang's name.

But the shouts came from behind me, too. But if the Flock, were at the house, Ella at school and Mom at work…

Intruders were in the forest.

"Max!" Nudge screamed from the house. "Move!"

I couldn't speak, so I opted for talking to Fang.

I can't move.

From my position I could see Fang groaning as he said, Of course you can't, that's my fault. Just…close your eyes on my mark…now!

I shut my eyes, and there was a loud sound behind me. During this, the vertigo decreased substantially and I was able to use a tree to help me stand. When I did, I gasped.

There were figures –I'd say ten- all behind me, in a formation like a flock of birds. They were all dressed camouflage-style. Each held a gun.

Eyes again, Fang said. Now!

I did as told. They were shouts, and when I opened my eyes, there were about eight left. Two bodies lay face-down, leaving gaps in the formation.

Are they bad? I asked, assessing the situation. I realized quickly what had happened: intruders, in the forest. And Fang was setting off the bombs we had planted earlier, to deter and perhaps even kill them. It was just my luck to be caught in the middle. I knew I had to try to get back to the rest of the Flock, but my inbred sense of fighting was starting to kick in.

Yes, very, he said. And we've only got two bombs left. Make sure eyes are closed…now!

More screams resulted in seven people. Then another explosion, and five were left.

I'm fighting them, I said. To put it frankly, I was pissed. Could a teenager girl pine over her life in private anymore?

Wait for us! Fang said, starting into a sprint from the house. I could hear him yelling back to Iggy to stay put.

They're mine! I yelled, and snapped open my wings. I could hear gasps from all of the figures, who paused their job towards the house.

"Hello, there," I said, in my best sweet-girl voice. "Care to have tea?"

The man in front who I had been staring at pointed a gun straight at me. "Sorry," he said. "But I'll pass."

He meant business. I could tell from his eyes. He would fire anytime…

With a blinding flash of light and sound he did, but I was too quick for him. I had ducked a second earlier, sending the bullet into a tree behind me. He continued to fire, but I had the advantage of experience. I weaved and turned until I was to his side, when a quick blow to his hand sent the gun flying away. Another kick and I snapped his kneecap backwards. After that blow, he would never walk normally again. Another blow to the head, and he was either unconscious or dead.

The four others started firing too, but I could tell they were getting nervous. They started yelling orders to each other, trying to figure out who was in charge, while firing at me. Seeing the man's discarded gun lying amidst the leaves, a wild, crazy idea formed.

"Stay back!" I yelled to the Flock, behind me. I could tell they were there. We were good fighting in hand-to-hand combat, not ranged. They would get killed before they could lay a hand on the people.

"Max, what are you doing?" Gazzy screamed.

"Good question!" I said back. Then, I glanced at the gun in my hands. The safety trigger was obviously off, but how did I fire? It had to be more than to just pull the trigger.

I pulled it, and a bullet ricocheted a meter from my feet. I yelped. Okay, maybe it was.

Swinging the gun up, I took aim carefully. I shot at a shape nearly hidden by the trees. I missed, although the second bullet didn't.

Nine shots later –I wasn't the best shooter ever-, the forest was silent, but not for long.

"What just happened?" Angel cried. As I turned to her, I saw that she was crying.

"Fang," I said, trying to keep my voice calm. "Explain."

He looked as shocked as I did. "You left during our conversation. Seconds later, Angel said that there were people in the forest that wanted to hurt us badly. I yelled for the rest of the Flock to come in. We got out the bomb controller, and it didn't take long to realize that you were out there as well."

I ran a hand through my hair. "Angel, do you know anything else about these people?"

"Just ask them," she said darkly. "That one there is still alive."

She pointed to the man I had first attacked. Leaves crunched under my feet as I crouched next to him. I shook him by the shoulders, even though his eyes were open.

"Who are you?" My voice was blank, carrying no emotion.

"I'm…not authorized to give you that information."

"What are you doing here?"

This time, there was no answer. "Tell me!" I shouted into his ear.

I stared into his eyes, but they started to glaze over.

He died in my arms.

"Crap. Crap. Crap." I wiped my hands on my jeans. Not cool.

Angel was crying openly now, Nudge and Gazzy at a loss on how to comfort her. "Angel, what's wrong?"

I went over to her side, but she made no move to do anything. She just stood there, hugging herself, teardrops staining her dress.

"They had lives," she whispered.

"What do you mean, love?" I asked gently, as the Flock –minus Iggy, who anxiously waiting back on the porch- knelt down around her.

"They thought they were doing what was right. They had wives, and children, and wanted to make sure that they were safe at night. They thought killing us would make them safe. That's all I got out of them before they died, Max. None of the others we've killed had lives Max!"

I felt a little stunned. She was right. Our lives had taken on a new dimension. "But…" I had trouble saying the word 'kill'. Had we killed scientists? I didn't know, my mind was on vacation. But even so, their jobs practically demanded them to be killed after torturing us. But these men thought they were doing the right thing by hurting us. Somehow, that was different than killing a mad scientist. Somehow.

"Come on guys, we've been through worse."

I stacked my hand in the middle of all of us. "Right?"

Hands stacked on mine, and we threw them into the air.


As we started walking back to the house, it didn't even occur to me that we had left ten bodies in the forest behind.



"We need to talk."

I threw down my book, déjà vu prodding me. Fang was standing in the doorway, looking nervous. His mind was full of innocent thoughts, nothing else.

"About what?" I was genuinely curious.

"You seemed pretty shaken up today. I should explain about the bombs and whatnot."

I sat up, and stared into his eyes. Putting my feet under the covers for warmth, I nodded. "Yeah. Why did I have to keep shutting my eyes?"

He sat next to my feet, still looking uncomfortable. "It was part of the making of the bomb. We –Iggy, Gazzy and I- mixed with different chemicals. We made the lights and sounds bigger than usual, to disorient anyone. And it worked. Anyone near those bombs would have a hard time moving if they hadn't been hit. The brain would have overloaded, that's why it was so hard to move. By closing your eyes you could sort more things out. I'm sorry, Max. It was my plan, and it backfired."

"No, it didn't," I said softly, leaning towards him more. "You saved my life. I would have been sitting up there, and they would have shot me down before I would have seen them. And I wasn't listening to whatever you were saying. I tried blocking you out. It's my fault."

He started to protest, but I interrupted. "Do we know who they are, or what they wanted yet?"

Fang shook his head. "No. That's tomorrow's task."

I sighed. "You know, I haven't even had lunch yet."

"Then let's see what happens before dinner…" he mumbled. He stood abruptly. "Did you hear that?"

The way he stood alert, ready, and anxious prompted me to search his thoughts for whatever I had missed.

Scream…woman's…Dr. Martinez…

"You heard Mom scream?" I nearly yelled, scrambling to my feet and through the doorway after him. We stopped in the kitchen just as the door slammed open, revealing Mom, with blood on her hands. Her hair was wild, and she looked terrified.

"You have five seconds," she said, breathing heavily, "to explain why the hell there are bodies in the forest."


This would be an interesting five seconds.

A/N- Wow. Midnight plot bunnies are insane. Well, now it's 2 a.m, but I started this chapter earlier.

Hmm. Talk about an idiot. I had a bunch of questions for disneydork, so I sent her a lengthy email containing the first parts of this chapter and other questions. Of course, I clicked on the wrong email. I clicked right above it, and this sent the email to someone else I know. Scroll up to the opening of the chapter. He got it.

So go ahead. Laugh at me. Believe me, I will eventually laugh at myself too, after I talk face-to-face with this guy and tell him why I sent him 15 Steps to Condom Use.

Also, MR4 is coming out next Monday. Chances are there won't be a chapter until afterwards, and Conundrum will be completely AU from the fourth book, and will be spoiler-free.

Reviews and con-crit would make my day!

19. Can

A/N- I never realized how much I say 'eh' until recently. It's slightly pathetic, really.

Thank you for all of the reviews!

If you had five seconds to prevent, oh, say, the Apocalypse, how would you use them?

Mom was about to spontaneously combust. If we could have harnessed all of the energy she was giving off, we could have powered America for the next three years. I could understand her worries, at least. I mean, people like me are the reason people like her need medication for stress.

"Umm," I began. How was I going to get out of this one with my head intact? "I had to resort to last-minute techniques to stay alive."

Nice one, Max. Smooth as ice.

Mom's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. She looked furious, dumbfounded, scared, and deep in her eyes she looked…disappointed. "You killed them?"

I nodded, and behind me I heard the Flock assemble. I put my hands behind my back, put them into fists, and tapped them together. It was the symbol for 'relax', seeing as I could feel the tension in the room boiling around us all.

"I'm...I'm sorry. I really don't know what to say..." Which, actually, was the truth. "Something in me made me, made me..."

"Max." Mom took a breath and leaned against the door. "Let me get this straight. For some reason, people came to hurt you. So killed them."

"Yes." I could feel pressure mounting in my stomach, and I had a strong desire to vomit. Mom looked as if she was caught between wanting to punch the wall and wanting to break down crying.

"Max," she began. "I am so, so...nevermind. I know you understand. Both of them had lives, and perhaps had families and were probably just nice people doing the wrong thing."

I was about to say yes, caught in shame, when something caught my attention. "What do you mean, 'both'?"

Mom closed her eyes, trying not to go into shock. "Yes, Max, both. As in, the two bodies in the forest."

My blood frosted over.

No freakin' way.

"Two?" Fang repeated.

"Two!" Mom yelled, nearly at the end of her wits. "One of them was lying in the ground. The other…oh God…"

I turned around quickly to the Flock, trying not to let the panic show in my eyes.

I hadn't killed all of them.

"How…" I heard Fang mutter under his breath.

"I have to see this," I said, my voice commanding. I shimmied past Mom, opened the door, and sprinted to the forest. The footsteps behind me told that I wasn't alone.

"Holy crap," I said, getting to the place where I had 'killed' these men.

But there was a problem.

There weren't ten bodies.

There weren't even two.

I remembered to breath.

There wasn't even one.

And, on the tree next to where I had held the dying man, was a message.

You can't kill us.

Okay. You go hold a man who's dying. You'll never forget the feeling when the breath leaves his chest, his eyes fade out, and his heart stops beating.

"This is really, really…" Nudge started. "I can't even find a word to describe this. I need to find a synonym for 'strange', just multiplied by like, a hundred."

"There's nothing here," Fang said, under his breath. "No guns, no bodies. But we're not imagining this." He gestured to a tree, which had a bullet buried into it. Then, he pointed to the ground, where there was a small pool of blood.

"Do you think someone could just come out here and take the bodies to a truck or something?" Iggy asked, crossing his arms. "It's a possibility."

"Perhaps," Fang answered without missing a beat. "But would they really have someone waiting to bring back bodies? There wasn't much time between when Dr. Martinez came through the door and when we got here."

"Maybe," Angel whispered, "People are near us, right now, listening and hiding the bodies."

Instinctively, we all scanned the area. Even with our raptor senses we would pick up nothing other than Mom slowly coming out of the house.

When she got close enough, her eyes widened further. "Lord," she breathed. "But I saw them…they were dead! Their blood is on my fingers! I had to check if they were alive…they weren't."

Indeed, her fingers were stained a dark red. "But why were you in the forest?" I asked.

Mom laughed darkly. "I was in the car driving home. I felt guilty about always leaving you guys alone in the house, so I took the afternoon off work. I heard the gunshots from the car. I parked down the road, and went walking through the forest, petrified at what I would find."

Something slowly unraveled in a deep part of my chest, as if a snake were uncoiling itself. It took me a moment before I realized it was relief. I had kept up my morals. I hadn't killed. Yet.

You hadn't meant to kill them. I looked over to see Fang looking at me peculiarly.

Something in me snapped, Fang, I said, keeping my eyes away from his. I really didn't mean to.

I could hear him sigh, but outwardly he didn't. I thought he would comment, but he stayed silent.

"What does this mean?" Nudge groaned. "I don't really think we all had one mass dream."

"It means that someone, or something, knows where we are and wants to hurt us," Fang said, deadpan.

There wasn't the expected outburst of groans and protests. Instead, it was replaced by a hardened, determined look on everyone's face. Nudge spoke up first with the question no one wanted to answer: "Do we have to move again?"

She had been facing me, but I just turned to Fang, who turned to Mom. This was the question that may decide our future, and we needed more that just my opinion. Mom was crying by now, not speaking. Add to that the bloody fingers, messed up hair and the way she slumped made for one guilty Max. I really didn't want to worry her, but when dealing with me, 'worry' is right up there with 'hunger' on how much we deal with it every day.

"What do you guys think?" I threw in, trying to break the ice.

"How much danger are we in here?" Iggy asked. "Will this become a regular occurrence, or just a fluke?"

"Nothing's a fluke, Ig," Fang said. "If it happened once, it'll happen again. But maybe next time we can be prepared."

"We were prepared this time!" Nudge added, exasperated. "And look what happened?"

"So," I said, trying to come to a conclusion. "Who says that we go…somewhere else?"

No one moved.

"And who thinks we should stay?"

Four hands shot up, and Fang just nodded his head in agreement. "It's always annoying to move," he said. "We should hang out here, but if something else happens, we're out. Sound good?"

I also nodded, glad for the Flock's choice. Personally, I didn't want to eat/sleep/live in a cave/forest/park. Glancing over at Mom, it was easy to see she was still in shock. She was shaking, reminding me more and more of Jello, and her eyes were dilated.

We have to do something, I said to Fang, and not just go back to the house. We have would-be murderers of the Flock on our hands. We have to chase them down.

You can't chase shadows, he said, being poetic. We can't sense them. I think it's best for your Mom to just chill at this point, and it would only worry her more if we were out for them. Just trust me on this.

"We should go back to the house…" I muttered to the ground, giving in to Fang's case. "There's nothing else out here. We can't sense anything, and it would be a waste of energy to go flying around. Let's just…calm down," I added in Mom's direction.

"Calm," she repeated. "Of course. Because two freakin' bodies just disappeared. I'm perfectly calm."

"Come on, Dr. M," Fang said, placing her hand so that their arms linked. "After a warm bath and chocolate, everything will be fine."

You certainly know women well, I said to him, smiling slightly.

Years of living with a hormonal teenager have taught me well, he replied.

I growled lightly under my breath in mock anger, and his response was a soft laugh that echoed in my ears.

Company Log, as according to Section 22 of the General Commandment

Security Clear

San Diego, California

September 28th, 2007


An incident has once again occurred, but at a much greater cost than last time. Several of our members broke ranks and went after the Group, which was strictly against orders. They were armed, but they were also apprehended.

Unfortunately, several of our abilities have been revealed to the Group. If luck is with us, they will not realize that the things they seek are right before them.

Severe punishment will follow.

"You know what you need?"

I sighed in frustration. Lord. Sure, Fang could read my thoughts, but he still couldn't leave me alone for a gosh darned minute in peace to finish my book. Mom was in bed, sleeping, even though it was still early in the afternoon. I had shut myself in my room, trying to read and forget what had happened, when Fang had so politely intruded.

"No, Fang, I don't know what I need."

I discarded my book to the floor, knowing that Fang on a mission couldn't be stopped.

"You need to relax."

I coughed, covering my surprise. "I am relaxed. I was, at least."

Fang sat on the desk at the far side of the room, and something struck me about him. I narrowed my eyes. Something wasn't right, not right at all. I gasped.

His eyes shot up, and he looked around, obviously for Flyboys or Erasers or mad scientists. "What's wrong?"

"Your shirt. It's…blue. But it's…light blue. With white stripes. Did the world just end?"

He stared at me, then blinked, and broke out into full laughter. It actually sort of scared me: I couldn't remember the last time he had laughed. I would have preferred some sort of mutant creature to burst through the window; it would have been more expected.

But Fang…wearing something other than black?

No, impossible.

It couldn't be.

"Where did you get it?" My voice was dumbstruck.

He picked at the shirt self-consciously. "I got it from Iggy. Does it make me look fat?"

Then I, Maximum Ride, snorted like a pig at his sarcastic tone. "No. But why the sudden change?"

Fang was still smiling, but something shifted in the air. I could tell just from the way he was holding himself, and how his face flashed with something I wasn't sure of. "You have no idea why I wore black, right?"

I shook my head. "Goes with your eyes?"

"No. It hides blood well."

He punched me as I rolled my eyes. Sure, it was true, but what other reaction could I present? He continued talking, not necessarily to me. "But I figure, hey, dark times are ahead. We don't need to add to the depressing stuff."

"How do you know tough times are ahead?" I was sort of wondering if –other than his fashion skills- Fang was developing another ability.

"No, I'm not," he answered to my thought. "It's just a feeling, and I'm going with my gut instinct. Anyways, that's not why I came here."

I shifted positions, my circulation getting cut off from where I was. "Right-o. You were saying I should relax. Now, Fang, other than reading, how might I go about doing so?"

My voice was patronizing, sure. He replied in the same tone, "Well, Max, I suggest we go out and fly."

The bed sunk down as I leaned into the pillows. "And where would we go, exactly? The last time we went flying I nearly got myself killed with Iggy and Gazzy's bomb. Where are they now, by the way?"

Fang shrugged. "Good question. But nothing's exploded in the past half an hour, so we're still okay."

"And you won't let me rest until I go out and fly, right?"

"That's right."

I credit Fang for being as stubborn as a donkey.

"Fine. But I don't know why, but I will."

He smiled again –what was with him?- and he dragged me down the hall. The Flock was nowhere in sight, and I couldn't help but start to get suspicious.

"No, I'm not a copy of Fang, and no, I'm not kidnapping you," he said, knowing my thoughts. "Besides," he continued, "It's not kidnapping if you're willing."

Oh, yeah. That made me feel a whole lot better.

We stepped out from the porch, and walked to the forest. After once again checking for any signs of our would-be killers, we took off.

Maybe, just maybe, Fang had been right and I did need to relax, even if I didn't know why. Otherwise, I wouldn't have felt my muscles simply loosen up and have my wings stretch to their maximum wingspan as if they hadn't in years. He headed due south, towards the least-populated area of the town. Fang and I were at a steady rate, breathing simultaneously, weaving in and out of the clouds as if we were an extension of them. The sun would occasionally come out, blinding us, and we would take refuge in the freezing clouds, then pop out and warm ourselves. At twenty-one thousand feet, we weren't too concerned with being seen, other than by airplanes.

"I have an experiment," I said after my pants had dried off from the clouds. "If it works, it'll be great. Otherwise, well, let's not think about that."

"Hmm?" Fang wheeled down to face me, and we hovered a few feet away from each other. I couldn't help but notice how the wind toyed with his hair.

"I can fly faster than everyone else, right?"

"Yeah, but where're you going with this?" He looked skeptical, crossing his arms over his chest.

"What if I take you with me, by grabbing your hand? Do you think I could go just as fast? Could your body withstand the air pressure?"

Fang just grinned, rubbing his hands together. "Questions, questions. We might as well try."

He reach out, and grabbed my hand. I started the countdown. "Flying in three, two, one, now!"

By now I had gotten used to going from zero to sixty miles per hour (don't I sound like a car commercial?) in a second, then increasing my speed from there. Apparently, Fang wasn't. He yelled as we hit the two-hundred mile per hour mark. I decided not to push it any farther; I could feel the terror in his head rolling off him while I was like a kid in a candy store. I would've tried telling him we were slowing down, but it was useless with the air resistance.

As we dropped our mileage, I heard Fang panting behind me. I dropped his hand a little too casually. "What did it feel like?"

"Your body-" he gasped "-is better suited for high speeds. I can do it, but it felt like my skin was going to peel right back."

I paused, waiting for him to catch his breath. Something in my expression caught his gaze. "What?" I asked after a few minutes of his unrelenting stare.

"Nothing," he said.

My blood started rushing…I couldn't read his thoughts! Was this really Fang?

I put my hands on my hips.


"It's nothing, Max."

He leaned in closer, so we were only inches apart.

"You're amazing, Max," he whispered. "Don't forget that."

Then he pulled away.

He smirked, knowing fully what I'd expected him to do. "You're a jerk," I breathed.

He tossed his head like in those shampoo commercials, knowing full well what it did to my stupid hormones. I turned away. "We should get back. We've been gone for over an hour."

Fang did another head-toss. "I doubt the world will end in the hour that you take a break."

"You never know," was my response.

We flew home at a quick pace, starting at a higher altitude and tilting downwards for a faster speed. We scanned the area, determined no one was around, and landed in the forest clearing with a whump. After the feeling came back into our legs, we started towards the house.

"What's going on?" I asked Fang as we walked up the porch steps.

"I don't know," he said, mystified. It sounded as if there was a fierce argument going on inside, but not between the Flock members. They were adult voices.

"Moving them now would kill them!" snapped a voice that was female, but didn't belong to Mom.

"They were almost killed just a few hours ago!"

"Please, let's work this out without throwing punches," came the soothing voice I knew oh-so-well.

I opened the door.

Mom, Jeb, and Stella stared right at me.

But that wasn't the surprising thing.

Ter Borcht, tied and handcuffed to a chair, glared into my eyes.

A/N- Finally, I can move the plot. -evil laugh-

So far, one reviewer has picked out the one line from a previous chapter that's quite important, but most people missed. The reviewer will get due credit later on. :D

Feedback for my writing is greatly appreciated, from flames to critiques to the fluffy reviews everyone loves!

-hands out muffins to reviewers-

20. Live

A/N- I know, I haven't updated in a while or responded to reviews. I suffered a back injury, and literally couldn't sit down. I'm on painkillers now, and decided to sneak in an update. :D Hopefully I'll be able to update on a regular schedule from now on.

Also, for my lack of updates, I give you the chapter everyone's been asking me for. I have no shame. –heh heh-

Okay. Let's get this straight. If a mad, insane crazy scientist who had previously tried to kill you showed up in your kitchen, what would you do?

Me? Well, I summed it up using the glory of the English language. "What the hell is he doing in here?"

Ter Borcht continued to glare. Man, could that guy do anything else? Unfortunately, even though he was tied up and all, no one had bothered to muffle his mouth up. "Vill you evah learn manners?" he spat at me, complete with the heavy German accent.

"You know what?" I said, voice barely controlled. I stepped into the house, Fang behind me. "I'll never forget the day we first met- but I keep trying. And one more wrinkle and you'll pass for a prune."

For the first time, one of my insults was right. Ter Borcht looked like he'd had a rough time since the fall of Itex, even though it wasn't long ago at all. He had lost weight; his face sagged in places, and deep circles lined his eyes.

"How deed you get here?" Ter Borcht yelled. "Deed someone leave yeer cage open?"

I'm going to kill him! Fang screamed in my mind, but made no move to do so. The Flock was assembled around the kitchen, taking steps forward and fire in their eyes. I motioned them to stop, and they held back from knocking Ter Borcht's brains out…for now.

Jeb, the brilliant man, noticed the animosity between us. He put himself in the line of fire and put his hands up quickly. "Stop it, you two. There's enough issues here without the two of you behaving like children."

"She ees a child!" Ter Borcht said, eyes wide. Before I could yell out a witty response, Stella came over and slapped him as if she had wanted to do so for years. A wide, red print remained on his face, and he looked scandalized.

"Stella!" Jeb snapped with venom.

A variety of yelling broke out; the Flock at Ter Borcht (with much swearing on Iggy's part), Jeb at Stella, Stella at Ter Borcht, and Ter Borcht at me.

"Shut UP!"

That was Fang. Good ole' Fang, he always has the right words for the situation.

"Okay," he breathed calmly. "Jeb. Answer Max's question. What the hell is he doing here?"

Mom made a move to answer, but Fang stopped her. Jeb took a deep breath and moved behind Ter Borcht. "During the fall of Itex, our friend here managed to sneak away and let others die for him. Since we're hunting down Itex's remains, it was only natural for him to be Number 1 on our list of people to get. We found him just off the coast of Romania not long ago. We –Stella and I- brought him back here. We couldn't just dump him in prison like we did with the rest of Itex supporters. He's too smart. He can help us."

"I vill nevah!"

Jeb continued as if he weren't interrupted. "Sure, he's still a little upset about Itex's fall." He shrugged. "He'll get over it. But, when we got here, your Mom told us about your little experience with the people who tried to kill you. Stella thinks you should be relocated, your Mom doesn't."

"So you're just dragging Borchty here across the globe? Weren't you worried he could've escaped?" Fang asked, stepping forwards.

I don't like this, he said. Something's wrong.

Jeb paused, then nodded. "Yes. So now is the question of what we're going to do."

Stella, who hadn't said much, turned towards me. I remembered the last thing she had said to me: "It's not over yet." She had said it all deep and philosophy-ish. But, in a perfectly normal voice, she said, "Can you guys leave? All of you? Go do something. Your Mother and the rest of us need to talk."

"Excuse me?" That was Iggy. "It's our future you're talking about."

Mom shook her head. "Leave."

Her voice was empty, and I knew we had to leave. She wouldn't act so serious if something wasn't really wrong. Besides, I didn't want to stick around with Ter Borcht.

"Fine. We'll be back two hours," I said. I opened the door, jumped off the porch, went into a run and launched myself into the sky.

After flying, amusement rides just don't seem to cut it.

The Flock and I were wheeling around, bored. Glancing at my watch, I saw that we had wasted a half hour just goofing off in the forest. But I could tell everyone else was getting pretty bored, and were desperate to talk about Ter Borcht. We were pretty high up in the air, so no one could see us.

"What do you think of Borcht coming back?" Fang asked the Flock, taking the thought out of my head, literally.

"For a second I thought someone had slipped me drugs," Iggy said, only half-kidding. "I thought he was a hallucination at first. But his German accent is so hideous it had to be him."

Gazzy did a flip in the air. "And what's with Stella and slapping him? I thought people only got slapped in the movies."

Fang snorted. "Women like slapping men. It makes them feel all important."

"Oh!" I said challengingly, rising up to full height. He maneuvered himself to get eye-to-eye with me. "Is that so?"

He nodded rapidly, something rising in his eyes. "Oh yes. Women think they're better than men."

Gazzy's eyes popped out. "Really?"

Fang smiled. "Yeah. They have this superiority complex, thinking they can do everything better than we can."

Reading his thoughts, I could tell he was just kidding around. I matched up to his efforts. "That's because we can."

"Ouch," Nudge said. "That was a burn."

Fang crossed his arms, barely suppressing his grin. "Fine," he said. "We'll pair up. You and me, Iggy and Nudge, Gazzy and Angel. We'll have a series of contests. Whoever gets two out of three wins, and gets bragging rights."

Are you sure this is a good idea? I asked him. Pairing the Flock against each other?

It's called having fun, Max. Learn how to do it. Even in the middle of this mess. We need to get their attention away from Ter Borcht, even if only for a while.

"Sounds good," I said, smiling. "Angel, Nudge, we hardly have to try. This is in the bag for us girls."

"Absolutely not," Stella said. "The Flock must be relocated."

"Of course," Valencia Martinez said sarcastically. "That would work so well. The Flock would definitely listen to you."

"Ladies, please." Jeb held up his hands. "Let's solve this like adults. Let's think of the pros and cons of each side."

"Just keel them," Ter Borcht offered helpfully.

"Shut it," Stella snapped. She gave a pleading look to Jeb. "Can I do it now?"

He sighed, and put his head on his hand. He leaned into his chair. "Fine."

Gleefully, Stella stood and ripped off a long piece off the German's shirt, then promptly tied it around his mouth. He protested a lot, but she managed to do it quite well.

"Now that he's shut up, we can talk," she said as if she'd come back from a nice walk. "Where should we start?"

Well, maybe it wasn't an automatic win for the girls. Gazzy and Angel pitted against each other in a battle of strength, and Angel actually won. Well, Gazzy had sneezed, and had dropped the stones they were carrying that Fang had picked out, so they were the same size. A re-do was called, but we decided to leave it as it was. Apparently "we girls didn't have a chance," and that was a freebie.

Nudge and Iggy had paired off…in a staring contest. (Nudge's idea.) Unfortunately, she lost, as Iggy clapped his hands in her face. We argued that was cheating, but Iggy got away with it since we hadn't "specifically said" the rules. Pshh. Boys.

So that left me and Fang.

"Well, it's obvious what you two are going to do," Angel said. "Speed!"

"No way!" Fang shouted. "Max will go all Super-Max on me and beat me by a few miles."

"Have it in the forest, then," Gazzy recommended. "That way Max loses her advantage, and you can also test reflexes."

I narrowed my eyes. "Isn't it a bit dangerous?"

Fang laughed. "So, Max Ride will be beaten by a couple of overgrown twigs. Figures."

I raised my eyebrows. "You're a dead man, Fang."

The rules were set as such: Fang and I would start in a clearing about halfway through the forest. First one outside of it won. We faced the direction away from the house, trying even more to ignore Ter Borcht.

With a crash of twigs and leaves, Fang and I landed in the forest, a poof of dust rising.

"Ready?" I asked.

"I was born ready."

I grimaced. "In your dreams."

The rest of the Flock hovered overhead. "Ready?" Gazzy yelled with all him might. "Three…Two…One…Go!"

We flew off at breakneck speed. Great, I thought to myself. What have you done, Max?

The trees were extremely close together. Fang and I were technically flying on our sides, our wings perpendicular to the ground. Branches ripped through my clothes, and I could feel my arms being scratched to death.

From what I could tell, Fang and I were neck-to-neck. Whenever there was a gap in the trees, there he was, a dark shape in the trees. Then, all of a sudden, he disappeared.

"Woah!" I yelled. I was trying to slow down to see what was up, but before I could, something heavy landed on my back. Fang manically laughed right next to my ear, scaring ten years of growth out of me, and I realized what he had done: he had flown above me and was now on my back, holding on to my shoulders. I hadn't been able to read his thoughts; he had done it too fast. He kept on pumping his wings, which meant if I didn't steer, we'd be roadkill.

"I'm gonna kill you!" I yelled as we continued crashing our way through the forest. He kept laughing, and I had to admit, if I didn't fear for our lives, I would have, too.

Gradually, we slowed down, even though the end of the forest was still about a mile away. Fang slowed us down, and landed in an extremely small clearing, about ten by ten paces. It was mainly dirt, with a few rocks. Lovely.

"What was that?" I said, catching my breath.

His windblown smile made him hard to hate. "That was called fun, Max. We should end the race together, as one, so the Flock doesn't pit against each other or anything in a battle of the sexes."

"Yeah, that's a good idea. We should get going though, or they'll wonder where we are."

And then it happened, for the second time that day: I couldn't read Fang's thoughts. A second ago I was able to, and like a switch was turned off, I couldn't.

"Fang?" I asked hesitantly, the sun starting to vanish below the treetops. I shivered.

"Let's go," he said. He grabbed my shoulders. I thought he was going to jump on my back again, riding double, but he didn't.

He turned me around and kissed me.

Holy crap.

Kissing Fang was like eating a Snickers bar: guaranteed to satisfy.

Let me tell you, his dream self had nothing on him. This Fang was real; tangible, and utterly substantial.

You could have told me Australia had exploded; I wouldn't have cared. All of Europe in chaos? Fine with me. As long as I was kissing Fang, the world was perfect.

I wanted to giggle like a schoolgirl on their first date. I wanted to laugh, cry, die all in Fang's arms.

Wow. Talk about a Hallmark card.



We were talking in whispers. Who knows why.

"I lied. You're not hot. You're beautiful."

I hugged him, and that was better than any dream.

My heaven came to an end; we both straightened, looked at each other in the eyes, and broke into laughter.

"Ready?" he asked.

"I was born ready," I grinned, and we raced through the forest.

A/N- I know, it's short, but I decided I might as well update so you know I'm not dead. Hopefully everyone liked it!

-hands out cookies to reviewers-

21. In

A/N- I know, I know. I'm terrible. I won't bore you with excuses and such and will just skip to the chapter. Sorry for the wait!

A quick catch-up: Jeb, Stella and Valencia Martinez (Max's mom) are waging battle over whether or not to relocate the Flock, and Max and Fang just had their "kissing moment", and Ter Borcht is stuck in the middle of it.


The three adults all glared at each other, none of them wanting to back down from their position. The kitchen table had turned into a battleground.

"We can't relocate the Flock!" Valencia Martinez said, starting to get seriously exasperated. "The kids have been through so much already. Can't they just live normally, even if it's just for a little while?"

"Absolutely not," Jeb spat back, finding it increasingly difficult to remain calm. "Look. Someone's after the Flock. We…we don't know much about it. Some of Itex's followers remain, and they want to kill those responsible for their downfall. You already have people coming after you! One false step and they're dead."

"No!" Valencia yelled. "That would never happen!"

Jeb came over to her and grabbed her shoulders. "Val," he said. "You know what Itex is capable of. They won't stop. Ever."

"Don't call me that," she snapped. "And besides. The Flock and I are perfectly capable of handling anything Itex throws at us." She received a withering glower from Ter Borcht, but ignored it.

"Give the flock what they deserve- a good, long life," Jeb said. "Not one where they constantly have to battle for their own house."

Valencia fell silent.

"You know I'm right," Jeb said.

"Would you rather have them happy, or alive?" Stella asked, leaning casually in her chair. She paused for a moment and tightened the bandaging around Ter Borcht's mouth, so he was unable to talk.

"Can't they be both…?" Valencia whispered, more to herself than anyone else. She realized, horribly, that they were right, no matter how much she hated it. Jeb shook his head in response to her question.

"I'm not the one telling them," she said softly.

Today, by far, was the worst day of her life.

It was the best day of my life.

I mean, my hormones were on some sort of high or something. Here I was, flying along with Fang, weaving in and out of the trees at a crazy speed. I mean, after kissing Fang, you can't help but think you're invincible. We were flying along back to the Flock, seeing as they were still under the assumption that Fang and I were competing in a race of speed.

Fang had this unbelievable smirk on his face, as if he was trying his hardest not to smile like a fool.

I am not! he said.

I laughed, and as I did, an unfortunate bug happened to fly into my mouth. I hacked uncontrollably, nearly running into a tree while doing so. Fang let out a massive laugh.

You're the real fool, he smirked.

Checking on my internal GPS, I calculated that we were still about two mile away from where we had originally left the Flock. We should hurry back, I said. They said to be back in two hours.

He nodded, and we sped up considerably. After a few more near-misses with trees and overhanging outcrops of rocks we shot upwards, knowing that the Flock was above. When we broke through the tops of the highest branches, we saw them not too far away.

"Hurry up, Max!" Nudge yelled, wings beating steadily behind her. "Beat Fang!"

It took a full two seconds for me to comprehend what she was saying- I was supposed to be racing Fang, which I had completely forgot about. Fang understood at the exact moment I did.

We blasted forward, but I kept from going all Super-Max on Fang for fairness' sake. (Yes, that's right. Maximum Ride can be fair, thank you very much.)

"So who won?" shouted Iggy, after we had passed them. Fang I screeched to a halt and turned back to the Flock.

"That's a really good question," Gazzy said. "Why weren't you guys racing when you first broke out of the trees?"

What's our excuse? Fang asked. We weren't exactly going to admit we had totally forgotten about it.

"We…we decided to call it a truce, to set a good example" I said. Haha, point for Max being able to think on the spot!

Or not.

You know what's really annoying?

Having a six-year-old omnipotent mind-reader always having the ability to pry into your head.

Angel forgot the past promise of not going into my head, and shouted, with all her might:


Damn, was all Fang got to say before there was a sudden onslaught of yelling, (from Iggy) screaming, (from Gazzy) gushing, (from Nudge) and hugging (from Angel). They were all flying around, faces like light bulbs.

Nudge was on full-power talking mode. She was practically hysterical, and jumped on my back.

"Woah, Nudge, lay off the sugar," Iggy said. With freaky precision he plucked Angel from me and took her by his side. "Let Max and Fang talk."

The Flock all backed away from us, leaving Fang and I floating mid-air with at least a bit of space to breathe. "So?" Nudge asked, leaning forwards. She looked happier than I had ever seen her, even happier than the time we had won All-You-Can-Eat Buffet tickets. "You…you…"

Without hesitation, so I couldn't read his thoughts, in one swift movement Fang swung me to face him and kissed me.

I could get used to this, I couldn't help but say. I could feel the excitement practically oozing from his body.

We have plenty of time, was all he said. I involuntarily shivered.

Meanwhile, the Flock was cheering on rapidly and cat-calling us. "It's getting hot up here!" Gazzy yelled, his eyes glued to us.

Gradually, Fang's lips were withdrawn from my own. We floated there, with our wings colliding against each other's, and our hands interlocked. There were a moments of silence, and Angel yelled, "So are you going to get married now?"

Fang and I both guffawed, as a serious awkwardness descended upon us. Angel, obviously, had yet to learn the art of what questions you were supposed to ask people.

Iggy, luckily, came to our rescue. "They can't exactly predict the future, Angel."

Nudge sighed wistfully. "But...but…it's just so romantic."

Calling two fourteen-year-olds romantic?


"We should go back now, guys," I said, catching a glance at my watch. "The two hours are up."

Nudge did a twirl. "Today has been, like, the best day of my life. Totally."

Fang grinned. "Let's go."

We sped along; Fang and I had a significant lead on the rest of the Flock. "What are they doing?" I shouted back to him.

Seeing as he was downwind from me, he had to do the mind-speak thing with me so I could hear him. He blushed, which was a very unlike-Fang thing to do. If…if I'm right, he said, I think that they're giving us our "space".

I groaned. "Hurry up!" I yelled to them.

As they caught up, Iggy said, "But don't you guys need room to like, grow your emotions?"

"What are we now, plants?" I asked. Iggy just laughed.

The rest of the trip was spent in a comfortable silence, Fang and I trying hard not to read each other's thoughts, no matter how hard that may be. When the house came into view we all slowed down to a stop and landed with a poof of dust.

Nudge took another moment to tackle me. "Oh, Max, I am so jealous of you!"

I couldn't hold back my surprise. "Jealous?"

Her eyes widened. "No! Not over Fang, but just over what you've achieved! I mean, you've finally gotten together with the one you really like! I...I really want that." The last sentence was directed to just me.

"Oh, Nudge," I whispered, and I got down on my knees. I could sense that Fang was trying to distract the rest of the Flock from this heart-to-heart moment. "You'll find your Prince Charming. Just believe in yourself, okay?"

She sniffed. "Yup. Sure thing, Max."

I wasn't sure if she believed me, but I had to accept it, for the door to the house opened. Mom came out first, crestfallen. My heart sank down.

What was going to happen now?

She slowly walked down the steps. I stood up fully and prepared to take whatever blow was next. Were we really going to move? Again?

Mom was crying by now. The Flock all assembled behind me in a pyramid-shape, with me at the point. She read the look on my face, and nodded.

"Yes," she whispered. "We have to leave."

I was surprised by the lack of emotion I had at her answer; deep within myself I knew that this was eventually going to happen. All good things really do come to an end. I had absolutely loved this place. For the first time, I had had a permanent place to stay. I could do as I please, and not have to worry. But then again, it had all been a delusion, really. When you're a genetic hybrid, some things just don't seem to come easily.

You're self-pitying, Fang said.

I know, I said. Please, leave me to my pessimistic thoughts for a moment.

He sent me a grim smile, knowing that I was only half-kidding.

"Where are we going?" was all Gazzy asked.

Mom took a deep breath. "My sister's. It's in Nevada. We're leaving immediately."

"What?" we all said. This was new. No time to at least hit downtown again?

"We can't even say goodbye to Ella?" Iggy asked.

Mom shook her head. "You won't have to. Ella and I are going with you."

"You're leaving the house? Your job? Your friends?" Fang asked. I could sense his confusion over the link we had.

More tears came. "Yes. Jeb…Stella and I decided that Ella and I would be at risk if we stayed here, because this is the first play They would attack."

"And who is this 'They'?" Nudge asked. "Itex people?"

"Yes, that's exactly right," Jeb said, stepping onto the porch. "Itex's supporters want you all dead. We phoned up Val's sister, she said it was all right wither her."

"She can handle eight people staying with her?" Angel asked.

Mom nodded. "My sister…is different than you'd expect. You guys can pack whatever you need right now. I have to go pick Ella up from school."

My heart lurched for Ella. She was a normal pre-teen who was about to lose all of her friends, just so that I could live.

What a guilt trip.

I stared Jeb down. No way was he going to sleep easily tonight.

The six of us all went to our respective rooms and started to shove things into suitcases that had been pulled out for us. Each of us only had one, and I voiced this question to Fang.

"There isn't enough to take our whole lives with us," he said. "Think about it. Normally we would only have our backpacks."

I saw his logic. We could only take the barest of necessities, and even that was a bonus compared to what we used to have.

I grabbed the nearest pieces of clothing and shoved them inside the suitcase.

Fang sat on his bed, essentially doing nothing. To be truthful, he hadn't even unpacked since they had gotten to Max's Mom's house. He had known from the very beginning that they would have to eventually leave on short notice.

He was keeping an extremely, extremely close reign on his thoughts. He knew that he needed to tell Max…someday.


Just as I finished making sure the rest of the Flock had packed appropriate stuff to take, (Angel, for example, had only put in stuffed animals) Mom came back with Ella. Both were crying.

"Start packing up the car," Stella said nonchalantly, as if we were going to a daytrip at the beach.

"What are we doing with him?" I motioned to Ter Borcht, who had been knocked out with a dose of some of Mom's drugs.

"He'll be in the car with Jeb and me," she answered, flicking her nails together. "Ready yet?" It took massive amounts of restraint to keep myself from taking a punch at her.

Ten minutes later, the two cars were packed up to the brim. All of us assembled beside them, waiting for what we need to do. The Flock was eerily silent, with blank faces.

"There are eleven of us," Mom said. "Five in one car, six in the other."

Well. I could see the problem with that. Who would want to spend a drive to another state with Ter Borcht? I could only imagine the torture.

"He's already knocked out, so you don't have to worry about it," Mom said, reading my face.

"So who's going with who?" Fang asked, shielding his eyes against the setting sun.

"We're thinking that Max and Angel should go with Jeb and Stella for more…bonding time."

Oh, come on. They were only putting us with them because Angel and I were easily the ones who hated Jeb the most. That and the fact that everyone else would have complained probably played a key part as well.

"Are you okay with that?" Mom asked.

No, I said to myself. I want to stay here. I want to relax. I want chocolate when I want, as well as hot showers. I want to be safe, and not on the run. I've had years of that.

"Yeah, that's cool," I said.

Behind me, I could hear Fang grinding his teeth in anger towards Jeb and Stella. Calm down, I said. He didn't respond.

"How long is the drive?" I heard Gazzy ask as he got into Mom's minivan.

"A good twelve hours," Stella answered, slamming her side door. We were in Jeb's sleek, professional-looking dark hybrid. "Sleep through it."

Even though the sun was still up, I could already feel sleep drift towards me. Jeb was driving, with the unconscious Ter Borcht in the passenger seat. Angel was in between Stella and me in the back seat.

Jeb revved up the engine, leaving the house behind. We went in front of Mom and started leading the way.

I tried to keep my eyes open, but everything started to drift together as we got onto the highway. Signs, advertisements, billboards all started to become one. Only ten minutes into the drive, Angel fell asleep with her head leaning on my shoulder. I tilted my head onto the window, and joined her in sleep.

Fifteen minutes later I would wake up under very, very different circumstances.

A/N- I'm sorry for the terrible lack of updates. Normally I don't even write from January to June due to everything culminating in those months, but really didn't want to stop writing. I promise on Fang's hotness that I'll update by next Friday.

Reviews would be wicked. :D

22. Their

A/N- Wow, I actually kept my promise. :D Sorry I couldn't respond to reviews, though.

Slightly serious chapter. :P Every story needs this chapter to move the story along.

How do normal people wake up?

Judging by Ella, I'd say normal people moan and groan right when their alarm goes off. Then they whack the 'sleep' button and snooze for another few minutes. Then, after someone yells at them, they woefully drag themselves from bed and get ready to face to day.

You know how much I want to wake up like that one day?

A lot.

When I woke up, there was a lot of screaming.

Blood, too.

The screams were mainly coming from Angel and Stella. It took a moment to realize that:

a) I was covered in blood

b) But I wasn't bleeding

c) Ter Borcht was awake, holding a knife

d) The knife was deep within Jeb's arm

e) Seeing as I was behind Jeb, his blood had gotten all over me as he had held the bleeding arm right over my lap

It took me another second to detangle myself from Angel; with my right arm I leaned across her and thoroughly punched Borchty in the face.

"Pull over!" Stella yelled, over Angel's continuous scream. That was partly my fault- I had dripped blood all over her. "Pull over!"

My first driving lesson: you can't pull over a car when one arm is massively bleeding. Jeb was grimacing like mad, and you could tell he was having serious trouble not yelling out. He kept jerking his left arm, trying to get over to the side of the highway without smashing the car.

He failed miserably.

The car veered out of control, and we went careening into the median that separated the one direction of the highway from the other. There was a gut-wrenching crunching noise- more yells, maybe, maybe even one from me- and then we were still.

I heard Jeb repeatedly swear under his breath. The car hadn't hit the median head-on, which was lucky. We just kind of scraped alongside it. Not too bad, but combined with a bleeding Jeb and a supposed-to-be-unconscious German madman the situation gets out of control pretty quickly.

So, in about thirty seconds, I had gone from sleeping to absolute confusion.

That was just dandy.

Fang leaned against the seat with a smug smirk plastered on his face. Sure, he felt bad about leaving, but he knew it was coming. Anyways, he and Max had just kissed. Sure, it sounded…feminine…but he was happy. Pure happiness, for one of the few moments in his life. He would have liked to have shared the feeling with Max, but she was already asleep.

The car was packed with everyone's bags. Valencia and Ella were in the front seats, and in the two seats behind them were himself and Iggy. In the three seats behind them were Nudge and Gazzy. Total had a seat to himself, which he enjoyed far too much.

For a few minutes –ten, perhaps even fifteen- Fang wallowed in pure joy. It was only Valencia's "What the hell?" that roused him from his utopia.

His eyes sharpened immediately on the weaving car in front of them; it looked as if Jeb had lost control. Adrenaline rushed through him, and he could hear Max's thoughts come racing through his head.

"What's he doing- oh my God!"

The car lost total control and scraped into the median beside them. They were lucky they hadn't been in a middle lane; otherwise, someone might have been a car-sandwich.

"Pull over!" Fang yelled, while Iggy was trying to figure out what was happening. Valencia quickly stepped on the breaks as the car in front of them slowed to a complete stop.

Please be okay, Fang sent to Max. A sudden rush of fear overcame him. What is she wasn't? She would never know…he hadn't told her yet….

I'm fine… she said. An avalanche of relief swept over him. But…

He would have to tell her…soon...

What happened? he asked, still trying to shake off the feeling of terror within himself.

Borcht, she said.

Fang sighed. At least he had had a few minutes of happiness.

"Jeb- Jeb- are you okay?" Stella had already ripped off the bottom of her shirt and tied it above where the knife was inserted into his arm.

"I'm fine," he grunted. "Get out of the car. Tell Val what happened."

Stella looked to me as if she wanted to worry a bit more over him, but eventually got out of the car. Looking back out of the window, I could see Mom stop the car, hurry out, and start asking thousands of questions at Stella.

I could see people staring at us from their cars- if someone pulled over and asked us what we were doing, we would be royally screwed. I could imagine the conversation: "Yeah, we're fine. Really. We just have a tied-up German madman and a knife sticking out of my Dad's arm. We're good."

…See my point?

Making sure Ter Borcht was still suffering from the punch I had given him, I gave him another blow to the back of the neck. He fell unconscious immediately. Point for Max.

"You okay, Angel?" I asked, checking her over. She was shaking, but fine.

"Yeah. I've been through a lot worse," she said, smiling. It crushed my heart to admit that she was right.

I didn't even bother checking Jeb over. He would live, which, I had to admit, slightly disappointed me. I was surprised where this sudden hatred was coming from. Fang was asking me a bunch of questions over the link, but I didn't know the answers to most of them. I got out and met him halfway between the two cars.

"Uh, Max?" He was worried, but also…disgusted? His thoughts were going too fast to catch them.

"Fang? What's wrong?" He had an incredibly strange look on his face.

I thought he was going to tell me that he was so unbelievably worried for me that he wouldn't have known what to do if I had been hurt. Or maybe he would tell me that he madly loved me, and this experience only brought us closer.

Well, only in my dreams. He asked:

"Max, it isn't your… 'time of the month'…is it?"

I closed my eyes. He thought that Jeb's blood…was my own. That's just plain gross, seeing as the blood was even on my arms.

"Fang..." I said, trying not to tackle him for his stupidity. "Hell, no."

He still looked revolted. "You sure?"

I rolled my eyes. "YES. It's Jeb's blood. Borchty stabbed him."

Fang took me by the shoulder –delicately dodging any blood stains- and led me between the minivan and the median so I would be more hidden from the passing cars. "With what?" he asked.

I shrugged. "Knife. No idea where he got it."

Stella had overheard us, and walked over. "We're thinking he swiped it from the kitchen table. Even though we gave him those drugs, he probably managed to keep himself awake. It's extremely hard, but he fought it enough. Val and I looked at the ropes- he had cut himself out of them, and we hadn't even noticed. He probably was going to try and take the car over."

"So what now?" I asked. We were lucky no one had pulled over to check on us yet.

"Jeb and Ter Borcht are staying here," Stella said. "We've called an ambulance. With any luck they'll take Jeb and Ter Borcht, then once they realize their injuries aren't too serious they'll let them out. From there Jeb will call us and we'll pick them up. It's risky- especially with Borcht- but we have to get you all to Val's sister's house as soon as possible. We'll also all have to fit into the minivan."

"Are you serious?" Fang asked, clearly shocked. He was referring to the first part of her statement. "That's ten people in one car."

Total stuck his head out of the window. "And one dog!" he said, completely casual about what had happened.

"And one dog," echoed Fang, staring down Stella.

She just shrugged. "Max, you and Fang should get in the trunk. You guys will complain the least."

"The trunk?" Fang and I said at the same time. It was an open trunk –one that was still open to the car- but it was still a strange thought.

She nodded.

"And how exactly will you explain the blood to the police?" I asked. Stella actually looked like she hadn't thought of this.

Jeb, who was still in the front seat of the minivan, had already taken the knife out of his arm. Stella leaned in the window. "Can I see that, Jeb?" she asked. He handed it over.

She tucked it in her belt loop, then gave a forced, grim smile. "You guys should get in the car."

Fang and I exchanged looks. "Whatever," he mumbled, and got in.

Saying it was cramped in the car didn't even cut it. Fang and I jumped over the three back seats into the open trunk.

Nudge, who hadn't said anything yet, was still perplexed. "So wait. Let me get this straight. Ter Borcht kept himself awake through the drugs, stabbed Jeb, who nearly crashed into the median. Now he and Borcht are staying with the car and are part of Stella's elaborate plan to get them back?"

Mom nodded. "Yeah. So," she took a deep breath. "We need to get going. Everyone ready?"

No one said anything. And within a car with ten people, that was rare.

"Fine," Mom said. "Let's go."

The ride was officially the trip from hell.

Every hour we would rotate seating positions, with either Fang or me in the trunk. We couldn't fall asleep, for fear of what would happen if we did. Occasionally we'd stop at McDonalds or whatever, putting Gazzy on a permanent junk-food high.

Every hour or so Ella would suddenly burst out crying, which sucked majorly. There was also the incident when Total simply "couldn't hold it in," and was thus the reason why I had to change my clothes for the second time that day.

The scenery wasn't much better. Oh, look… another desert, Fang thought. What shall we call this one? The Endless Plains of Eternal Suffering?

I smiled slightly, and settled down for a few more hours.


Ella's watch wouldn't shut up.


I twitched. Time had no meaning anymore. How long had I been awake? How many hours grouped together? The trunk was jammed full with suitcases already. Putting in three other people hardly helped the situation.


I could feel Fang's patience dwindling as well.


I couldn't do this anymore…

Then, suddenly, I had the impression we were going slower. We pulled into a freakin' huge hotel parking lot, with the lights surrounding it drowning out the stars above.

"Woah," Nudge said. "Sweet hotel."

"Yeah," Gazzy said, eyes wide. "They must have sweet buffets."

The hotel didn't have any signs or logos anywhere. Instead, it was a three-level building that looked liked it had come out of the Victorian era. There was a large, overhanging balcony in the center, with two smaller ones on the far sides. Pillars supported the balconies. Gardens wrapped around it, and looked perfectly tended to. There was a large fountain in the center of the parking lot, right in front of what was obviously the drop-off zone. Ivy crawled along the walls, creating a neat effect.

Overall, it looked like a Disney castle.

As Gazzy was telling Iggy what it looked liked, I helped Fang unload our stuff. "So what is this place?" I asked Jeb as he got out of the car. He didn't answer.

Fang and I dumped all of the suitcases and packages on the pavement. We each grabbed our own things, and stood waiting for what to do.

"Come on," Mom said. "Lucia's waiting for us."

I cocked an eyebrow up. Mom knows the manager of this place?

"Oh my God," Fang said suddenly. "This isn't a hotel."

It dawned on the Flock at exactly the same time.

This wasn't a hotel- this was Mom's sister's house!

My jaw dropped. I couldn't help it. I mean, Mom was well-off with her job and everything, but she had nothing compared to this. It was like comparing a cave to a castle, which this place practically was.

"Come on!" Mom called from the doorway. When I saw doorway, I mean entrance, seeing as the double-doors were exquisitely carved and crafted.

Mom rang the doorbell. Within ten seconds, a butler –yeah, a real butler!-opened the door. He was gaunt-faced and serious-looking, just like in the movies. He looked surprised at the amount of people at the doorstep, but took it in stride.

"The Mistress of the House has been expecting you," he said solemnly, as if someone had died. "Please, come in."

So we did.

And ohmyfreakinGod.

It was like Martha Stewart had tackled the place. Everything matched everything. Think of the most wonderful mansion you could possibly imagine, and it's nothing compared to what I was looking at. In front of me was some sort of Grand Staircase that demanded to be reckoned with. At the platform of the Staircase it branched into two other staircases that led to upper levels. To my right and left were two wide hallways that led to areas I didn't even want to think about.

Everything was white. White staircase, white tiled floors, white candles on windowsills, white curtains. I felt that just by standing there I was making it dirty.

Wow, was all Fang said. Who knew the Martinez's had so much money?

I was too stunned to speak. After being on the run for most of my life, to see such... perfection was incredible.

Before I could blink again, the clip-clock of high heels came down one of the hallway to the right. "Val!" the figure said enthusiastically.

"Lucia," Mom said, not nearly as excited. The figure stepped into the harsh overhead lights.

The woman was…hard to describe. Picture a mix of Barbara Walters and Professor Umbridge. She was wearing bright-pink slacks and a yellow top that blinded me. She was stocky, blonde, and was wearing glasses.

"Welcome to my home," she said, spreading her arms wide, making eye contact with each and every one of us.

I dropped my bags to the ground. "Thanks…" I said. My wings were tightly pressed against my back. How much did this woman know? Just because she was Mom's sister didn't mean I needed to trust her.

"It's two o'clock in the morning," she said brightly, as if we weren't already aware of that fact. "You should all get to bed. Girls, go up the staircase and turn right; for the boys, turn left. Your room is marked with your name."

Slightly creepy.

Lucia turned to me and the Flock. "Ah, the Flock. I've heard about you." I would've interrupted, but she didn't give me the chance. "Welcome to Nevada. More specifically, welcome to the area of Clark County."

"Clark County?" I said, something ringing in my head. "I've heard of this area before…"

Lucia was confused for a moment until her eyes lit up. "Oh! That's because we're only a few miles away from Las Vegas."

"WHAT?" the Flock all yelled.

Lucia tilted her head to one side. "Is there something wrong with that? Nice place, really. Maybe you could go there sometime."

"No," Mom emphasized. "And that doesn't matter. For now, we need to go to bed and tackle these things in the morning."

I picked up my stuff and headed for upstairs- but not before Fang sent another thought into my head:

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

A/N- Google Barbara Walters. I don't know why, she just makes me laugh.

Before I get this comment: there's a difference between a trunk and an open trunk. A regular trunk is the one where it's closed off. You see these in smaller cars. Open trunks are open onto the main car, which is what I used here. I was worried that people would think I shoved three people into a regular trunk throughout the chapter. :P

Going back and editing this, I saw that I used the word 'slacks' instead of 'pants' without thinking about it. For some reason that's another thing that makes me laugh. :D

Reviews are loved!

23. Small

A/N- Congratulations to The Shadow's Murderer, who has officially gotten a spot in my top-three stalker list for being dedicated. Thanks to my reviewers! Y'all are my life. Sorry for the wait- I'm in the middle of exams.

A quick recap: Max and Co have arrived at Lucia's -Max's Mom's sister's- "house", which is more like a mansion. If need be, just re-read the last bit of the previous chapter.

Sometimes it's just not fair how much money some people have.

I was in freakin' Cinderella's castle. I was practically expecting everyone to break out into song.

Upon arriving in my "room" -which was more like a downtown New York penthouse than anything- I was practically expecting to be occupied by some princess or something. The word freakinghugelymassivedidn't even begin to cover the coolness factor.

All ready, I was starting to like Las Vegas, even if I technically wasn't even there. Just the outskirts, which probably cost more than I could imagine. Lucia, Mom's sister, was obviously raking in the dough.

The room was about the size of the entire first floor of Mom's house. Just from the doorway I could see that to my left was an archway over a door, presumably leading to a bathroom, and to my right was a walk-in closet. Everything was Victorian-styled, with a slight hint of the Elizabethan era. The ceiling was a huge canopy that had a mural depicting a sky, ironically. In front of me literally made me gasp, no matter how girly it sounded.

The bed.

I giggled. I couldn't help it.

Picture a swimming pool; next, cut it in half. That was the size of the bed. Most of it was covered in lush, burgundy pillows that called out to be slept on. Four windows lined the walls at regular intervals. Useful for last-second escapes.

The rest of the room was covered with vanity mirrors, drawers and the like. All in all, the room must have cost an easy million. Normally I wouldn't pay half as much attention to a room, but seeing as this was my new home for a while, I might as well get used to it.

I dumped my bags in the corner, smiling. Tonight would be a very nice night to sleep.

But, as usual, I was wrong. I just can't seem to win, now, can I?

I couldn't sleep for the life of me. I was sweating, so I turned on a fan I found in the closet and rolled up my sleeves. Next, I was cold, so the sleeves went down. Then it was too loud; the fan got turned off. By then, I was hot again.

Groaning, I rolled onto my back. There wasn't a clock in the room, so I couldn't tell the time, but I guessed it to be around four o'clock in the morning. Giving up, I tried to read, but naturally I had forgotten The Adventures of Tom Sawyer back at the house.

Right when I was about to throw my hands up in frustration, a knock came at the door. Feeling something in the back of my head, I could tell it was Fang there.

I got up, sighing, and unlocked the door. Opening it, Fang was revealed to be looking just as sleep-deprived as I was.

"I can't sleep," he croaked. "I heard you in my head, not being able to sleep as well."

"Come in," I said, stepping aside. I laughed quietly to myself. If Mom knew that Fang had just entered my room in the dead of night with no adult supervision, she would've had a heart attack.

Fang cocked an eyebrow at the bed. "Yours is bigger than mine. Not fair."

I laughed. "So what are you here for?"

He crossed his arms, and for a moment he reminded me of some Greek god that was posing for a portrait. "Nice image you had of me there, Max," he said, smiling like the devil.

I threw my hands up in despair. "Look. We can't control what we're thinking. If either of us has an…awkward…thought, we can't just jump on it."

He nodded, still smiling. "I personally like having my looks compared to a Greek god. Does wonders for my ego."

I made a pshh sound at him. "Come on. As if your ego could expand anymore. If it did, you'd explode." Before he had a chance to retaliate, I went back to my original question. "So why are you here?"

Fang walked over and opened one of the windows, letting the breeze come on. After a moment he sat on the windowsill.

"Do you trust me?"

God. Could Fang ever just answer a question with a good old-fashioned "yes" or "no"? "Of course I trust you, Fang. If I didn't…well, something would have to be seriously wrong."

"So you do trust me?"

I sighed. "Yes, Fang, I sometimes trust you more than I trust myself. Why?"

Remember that devilish smile he had? Well, it was starting to take over his eyes as well. He looked…wild. Which I guessed was a good thing, seeing as Fang usually registered at 0 on an emotional scale most days.

"Grab my hand."

Mmkay, then, Fang was getting all lovey-dovey on me. This, I admitted, was perfectly fine, but creepy as well. I went over to the open windowsill and sat beside him.

I went over and grabbed his hand. "Tighter," he said, and I complied. He was gazing out the window.

"Still trust me?"

"Of course."


And then he dropped backwards out of the window, dragging me with him.

There's one thing about flying off a forty-story building that's useful: you have time to collect your thoughts, get out your wings, and laugh madly in the face of whoever is chasing you. But dropping out of a two-story building, backwards, is total madness.

After a few seconds –more like milliseconds- I noticed something weird: the sky was above me, and something powerful was moving beneath me. Another moment and I sorted it out: Fang was flying upside down, and he had me on his torso, which also effectively trapped my wings.

"Can I ask what the hell you're doing?"

"Trust me."

God. Stupid trust thing again.

We didn't speak for a while. I could tell flying upside-down was hard from his breathing, which got progressively heavier, but he never turned over.

Out by Lucia's house I could still see the stars, but the farther away we went, the stars dimmed and eventually were replaced by the glow that was obviously coming from buildings below us. After a while, I could even hear music, shouting, and honking cars. It didn't take a genius to figure out where we were.

We're in Vegas, I said, and I could mentally see Fang smile. He flipped over, and I gasped.

The lights were blinding, and after a blinked a few times, things cleared out. We had a literal bird's-eye view of downtown Las Vegas. I could see the strip laid out before me: Caesar's Palace; the New York Casino; the Luxor. The streets were packed to the brim with honking cars and jaywalking pedestrians.

I mean, I felt like I was in CSI or something. Maximum Ride doesn't go to Vegas. Those flashy lights and colors and sounds belong to a very, very different world.

Who knows we're out here? I asked mentally, knowing my voice would have been stripped away from the air speeding past us. Fang was leading right the very centre of the strip.

You and me, Fang said. How can we not see the heart of Vegas? Your mom never would have allowed us, so this is a little…unplanned trip.

And how did you keep me from not reading your thoughts? I asked, genuinely interested. He didn't answer.

We should go back, he eventually said after a few more minutes of soaking up the sight. You've been eating lead again. My arms are about to drop off.

How about letting me fly myself?

No way.

There was Fang, always being the chivalrous one.

This time, though, he kept me in a position so I could see the ground. It was extremely nauseating, seeing the landscape pour past, but was also pretty neat.

Only a few minutes later, I could sense that we were slowing down. Before I could comment, Fang had flown through the previously-opened window and set me down gently on the bed.

"So how was your first date?" he asked, grinning wolfishly. He had me pinned to the bed.

"That was a date?" I asked, a blush creeping onto my cheeks.

Wait a minute.


Maximum Ride does not blush at Fang. That was the second rule in Max's Big Book of Rules: Thou shalt not blush. Ever. Especially at a Flock member.

"Yes, a date," he said, getting off of me. I let out a breath of air I wasn't aware I was holding. Then, before I realized it, he walked out of room.

Most girls dream of having a guy come in and whisk them away to a dream vacation place or whatever in the dead of night, though it never comes true.

But they never had Fang.

I woke to someone ripping back the blinds. Sunlight poured directly onto my eyelids, and I felt as if I'd been slapped. At this early in the morning, it was easily a sin to wake up.

"Go awayyyyy…." I moaned, turning over and shoving my pillow over my head. "I'm asleep."

"Wake up, your aunt is calling you!" It was a light, cheery voice- one that I'd never heard of before. I shot up, ready to take out my latest enemy, but paused.

There was a petit black-haired woman standing next to the windows in a maid's outfit. I blinked. Mom's sister had… servants?

"It's already seven o'clock," she continued, pulling back the blinds on another window. "The day is half gone!"

Her cheeriness should be illegal. She was like Malibu Barbie on ecstasy.

"Whoareyou?" I slurred, my mouth not really working yet. Seeing as I was up half the night –literally-, going back to sleep was an easy number one on my list of things to do.

"My name is Bonnie!" she said, her black skirt twirling around her legs. Another blind went up, with more of the sun coming through. I shielded my eyes. "I'll be working with you for the remainder of your time here!"

Oh God. Anything but that. This woman friggin ended every one of her sentences with an exclamation mark tacked on the end.

"I've already gotten out your clothes –I've tried to do the best with what you've got- but you need to go shopping! I've got your bath ready and as soon as you finish you can see Lucia!"

My brain. My poor, poor brain was being overloaded. So…much…perkiness…


"Nope! Quick, get on with the day! Up and at 'em!"

Bonnie came around to the bed and hoisted me to my feet. She gave me an appraising look. "You look like you've been up awake all night! Oh, well, we're going to have such a great time together!"

She dragged me off to the bathroom. "I'll be waiting out here for you…Lucia's waiting, so hurry!"

She closed the door, and I was left to take a breath. The bathroom was huge, obviously, and in one corner a bath had steam rising from it. Baths never did anything for me. Soaking in your grime? Hardly appealing. Showering, however, was meant for the gods.

I stripped off my clothes and hissed at the heat from the tub. How could anyone get in this? I would be fried after a few seconds. I really wanted to go downstairs and talk with Mom –see if anything had changed or whatever- but I would have to get into this Bathtub of Death first. Bonnie would see that my hair wasn't wet, and she was most likely waiting just outside the door.

Getting an idea, I quickly jabbed one of my feet in and out of the tub to create the illusion that I was getting in. I waded the foot around, paused, and every few seconds did so again. A few minutes later I took a cupful of water and poured it over my head, holding back a yelp from the extreme heat. A few more times, and my hair was soaked.

I let out the water from the tub, eventually, and wrapped a towel around me. Grimacing, I saw that Bonnie had my clothes outside. I opened the door slowly. There was Bonnie, grinning. "Can you pass me my clothes?" I asked.

She passed me the bundle. I could tell that she wanted to come in, but there was no way in hell she was dressing me. I shoved on the clothes and stood outside the door. Bonnie squealed. "You are so adorable! Can I do your hair?"

It wasn't a question.

She blow-dried and played with my hair, which took a good twenty minutes. When she showed me the mirror, I couldn't really tell any difference from when I had started.

"Marvelous!" she said.

"Uh, thanks," I said. I said a quick good-bye and left the room as fast as I could, fearing for my sanity.

I knew the second I stepped out of my room that I was lost.

It had been late at night when we had gotten here; I couldn't remember where the main lobby of the house –sorry, mansion- was. I looked up and down the hall. There were several doors lining it, as well as plush leather chairs, paintings, and tables with vases of flowers on them. I spotted a tall man wearing butler-ish clothes coming out of one of the rooms.

"Excuse me," I said. "Can you tell me how I get to…the front door?"

He laughed, which was a deep baritone laugh. "New here?"

I nodded. "You'll get used to it," he said. He pointed down the hall. "Go down the hallway there. Turn at the third right, go down until the end of the hall. Turn left. Go right at the painting of a knight. Continue straight until the landing. Go down the staircase, and you're there."

"You're joking, right? Just to get to the lobby?"

He gravelly nodded. "Good luck."

I went on my mission, replaying the instructions over and over in my head.

Have any idea where you are? Fang asked, obviously awake and realizing my slight predicament.

Nope, I said. Seeing the painting of the knight, I hoped dearly that it was the same one the man had been referring to. I kept going, and found myself at the top-left corner of a staircase.

Walking down, I took in the vastness of this place. Somehow, I felt that Mom had gotten ripped off. If Lucia had all this money, why didn't Mom? Her sister wouldn't help out or anything? And why hadn't I heard of her before?

So many questions… Fang said. Where are you?

Where we first came in. Where's the kitchen?

Fang gave me detailed instructions to the kitchen which I followed exactly, not wanting to get lost in a house again. There were a lot of people in servant clothes walking around. But the thing was, they were all smiling. Freakishly. As if they knew some really funny joke that I didn't know.

They all stopped and did a mini-bow when I passed them, and they all went, "Morning, Miss," and smiled even more.


I finally found the kitchen, which was more like a restaurant, but I was prepared for anything now. The one wall I was facing was pure glass and opened up to a swimming pool. All around me various appliances of the best quality lined the walls, and in the center was a large table filled to the brim was food. The Flock was gathered there, digging in.

"Good morning, Max!" Lucia, filled to the brim with liveliness, was once again dressed in clothes that were so bright they made me squint. How could Mom's sister be so…different from her?

"Morning." I went to the only empty seat beside Nudge and Iggy. "What's going on?"

"We can deal with any questions or concerns you have afterwards. For now, eat!" Lucia was officially the Hostess from Hell, and she lived in her Palace of Perkiness. No one can be that nice without being a demon or something in disguise.

I exchanged a What the hell look with Fang, and looked at the food. There was everything you could possibly imagine, from average American food to things that looked as if they had flown in from other continents.

"How do you like Bonnie?" Lucia asked. "All of my…guests…have a personal maid for the duration of your stay. I chose Bonnie because she matched your attitude!"

I disguised my snort as a cough. "She's... lovely."

Lucia clapped her hands together. "There's so much going on today!"

That woman sure could change topics quickly. My mouth full of eggs, I mumbled, "Like what?"

She smiled. "Well, after you know what's going on, we're going out."

I looked at Mom. She was staring at her lap, and was playing with her napkin absently.

More eggs were crammed into my mouth. "Like what?"

Lucia sat up straighter and flipped her hair over her shoulders. "Well, Max…it's a secret." She made a face as if I was two years old. "And we all know we can't tell secrets."

In retrospect, if I had known what Lucia was planning, I would have sprinted out of that house as fast as I could. Perhaps I would have put Fang in my position.

The Hostess of Hell was about to strike.

A/N- The amount of description in this chapter nearly killed me. I hate taking away from the plot by suddenly interjecting about what color the curtains are, so I apologize if it was tedious at some parts.

I should be able to update twice as fast now that school is done, which is fantabulous.

Please review!

24. World

A/N- Thanks for all of the reviews! Each one of them is amazing.

This is purely a filler chapter, as I'm still sorting out what happens in the climax.

I always thought I made the best bacon in the world.

Turns out I was wrong.

The food spread out on the table before all of us was heaped in piles, buffet style. I was positive that it could feed a small country for a year, and believe me, it smelled absolutely heavenly. Ironic, since we were in the Hostess from Hell's domain.

Anyways, after I tried the bacon, I would have sold her my soul if she told me how to make it. It was perfect.

"So," I said, trying to fill in the awkward pause. "Do we know what's happened to Jeb?"

A few moments passed. Stella spoke up. "I called him on his cell after we got here, but he didn't answer. I left a message, but he hasn't called back since."

Gazzy shoved a piece of toast into his mouth. "And do we have any clue who –or what- is after us? Or if anyone is after us at all?"

Mom shook her head. "Someone's after you, Max. We know that much- you were attacked right on our doorstep practically! And we can only assume it to be one group of people."

I shrugged. "Who are…?"

Mom didn't answer. Instead, Lucia did. "Think of Itex as a weed. You can pull it out, but it's no use if you don't get the roots. It keeps coming back. So the key is to get rid of the roots, which is harder than it sounds."

"Why not use pesticides?" Iggy muttered.

"So you're saying Itex's remnants are coming for us," Fang said, staring right at Lucia. "It's obvious why. They created us, and we destroyed them. Those are good revenge points right there."

"Not necessarily…" Mom said. My head snapped up, but she was looking at her plate. Had I imagined it?

There was a lull in the conversation filled with sounds of eating. Fang's thoughts were racing, and most of them wondered how Lucia knew about Itex. Not many people knew so much about the company that weren't somehow involved with it. Unknowingly, I glared at her.

"Where am I going today, again?" I asked. "Something about a secret?"

Lucia's eyes twinkled. Not a Santa Claus twinkle, but a madman twinkle. I cringed.

"Oh yes, it's a secret." She noticed my worried face. "Max, relax! It will be so much fun!"

Somehow, I doubted the day would be fun at all.

"So you and Ella are coming with me," Lucia continued. "Does anyone else have plans?"

Okay. Weird. We just arrived at two in the morning last night, and we had time to make plans? Fang asked. It's strange enough she's taking you and Ella alone. Max, be careful. Watch your back.

I will. Believe it. I hoped dearly I wouldn't have to follow Fang's advice. Catching Ella's eye, she shrugged, obviously having no idea what we were doing either.

Lucia stood up from the table suddenly. "I'll go freshen up. Ella, Max, be ready in ten minutes before we go!"

I cocked an eyebrow at Fang. This is getting crazier by the second, I said.

And it's going to get worse, he replied, grinning.

Turns out Lucia had something normal: a yellow Camaro with black stripes that wasn't over-the-top expensive. She motioned for Ella and me to get in the back.

"Well!" she said. "It's just us girls!"

I didn't point out the fact that she left Angel, Nudge, Mom and Stella behind. Just Ella and me.

"My butler wanted to drive us," Lucia said, pulling out of the driveway. "But I said I wanted this to be private!" she giggled.

She just giggled, I said to Fang. There's no way I'm coming out of this alive.

I didn't receive a reply for a while. Actually, Max, he said. Maybe Lucia's not trying to kill you.

Are you serious? I said. She would make a great serial killer. Death by perkiness. Dear God. What a way to die.

Fang laughed. She's innocent until proven guilty.

Lucia drove for about ten minutes through the suburban neighborhood. Most of these houses looked like they were meant for Hollywood stars, and the security systems surrounding them were elaborate.

I couldn't hold back my question long enough. "Why just Ella and me?"

In the rearview mirror I caught Lucia's eyes. "Wait and see Max! Patience is a virtue! And besides, we're here already."

I looked out the window. We had pulled into a paved parking lot in front of a blindingly hot-pink building. I squinted just looking at it. The sign, in front, read: Madam Zieske's House of Beauty.

Dear God.

I was in Hell.

It was…a spa.

And miles away, I could sense Fang laughing his ass off.

Everything was pink. Extremely pink.

From the sofas that lined the walls to the occasional painting, everything was pink. It matched perfectly with Lucia's outfit.

"Welcome to Madam Zieske's House of Beauty!" chirped a secretary as we walked in. "How may I be of assistance?"

Lucia leaned on the desk. "Martinez, reservation for three."

"Right away, m'am follow me," the girl said, and we walked down a hallway to the right.

As we walked down a brightly-lit hallway, I shared a look of pure, absolute terror with Ella. The secretary led us into a small room off of the hallway.

"Your personal esthetician will be with you soon. …Can I take your jacket?"

She was looking right at me. I smiled guiltily. The windbreaker was covering my wings, and if I took it off, it would be quite obvious that there was something a little different about me.

"No, I'm rather cold. Thanks anyways."

She nodded. "Of course. Have a nice day, and please enjoy your stay!"

The second she was gone, I rounded on Lucia. "What the hell is this? We arrived at your house last night, and you managed to make reservations for us? A freaking spa? You must be on something."

Lucia didn't look affronted or upset. The opposite, in fact.

"When you have connections, Max, anything is possible. I decided that you and Ella, being the oldest girls in the house, needed some pampering. Angel and Nudge aren't really old enough, while the opposite with your mother and that Chinese girl, Stella. And it's cheaper in packages of three!"

I threw my hands up. "This is so stupid."

"And besides, you can get rid of that unibrow."


No. Way.

"I do not have a unibrow."

"You won't anymore."

I turned to the source of the new voice as the door opened. A woman, about forty years old, walked into the room. She shook all of her hands as she said, "Hi, my name is Julia. I'll be with you for today. Any questions before we begin?"

Hell yeah, I had questions.

But naturally, they went unanswered, as Julia kept on talking.

"How about you hop up onto the chair here." She was looking right at me. "Your name is Max, right?"

I nodded, wondering how she knew my name. "Last time I checked it was. But who knows?"

Jumping onto the chair, I was surprised when it tipped back and I was left in a lying position. Julia dipped a…stick…into a vat of green stuff.

"What are you doing?" I asked, panic starting to creep into my voice.

Julia smiled. "It's fine. It will feel nice. Just relax."

My always-ready-for-action self cringed, but I did my best to sit still. When Julia spread the gooey green stuff over the space between my eyebrows (I assure you, there was no unibrow) it felt incredibly nice and warm. Against my better judgment, my muscles released some tension.

"That feels good…" I said.

"Of course," Julia said, soothingly. She laid a strip of cotton-y stuff over the goo.

"What's that do?" I asked.

"This," she said, and pulled on the cloth.

I will remember that moment for as long as I live.

I will remember Fang, in the back of my head, double over in laughter.

I will remember Ella gasping and chuckling.

I will remember Lucia smile knowingly.

And I will remember myself shouting, with all of the power left in me, "HOLY CRAP WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT!"

Rubbing my forehead, I scowled. That had hurt. I had been through worse pain, of course, but not pain caused by freaking beauty.

"Pain and beauty walk hand in hand," Julia chimed, unaware of the fact that I was inch from punching her in the face. She put the stick in the vat again, and brought it back out again. "Lay down. I'm not finished."

I heard Fang's voice in my head. This is…by far…the FUNNIEST…day of my life…

Seeing as I was concentrated on not breaking Julia's nose as the pain slapped me again, I didn't respond. The pain itself was bearable, but I was doing this willingly?

The second Julia said, "Done," I leaped off the table and made for the door. I would fly back to the house.

"Don't leave me, Max," Ella hissed. "If I die here, you die here as well."

I sighed. Talk about a sacrifice.

Lucia handed me a mirror. Honestly, I couldn't tell that there was any difference. When Ella underwent the same procedure, no screeches were uttered, even though her face was twisted.

"So," I said, rubbing my hands together. "You didn't tell me what I was doing because…?"

Lucia shrugged. "It's easier that way. Anyways, Julia, we are scheduled for a massage now, aren't we?"

Fear raced through my heart. A massage? But my wings!

There was only one word to sum up everything.

Damn, I thought.

Fang took his sleeve and wiped it across his eyes. He had literally cried from laughter at Max's "pain", and he was glad more than ever that he was male.

He couldn't remember ever laughing that hard. It was so unlike him, but it felt fantastic.

Fang was sick of being himself.

The second he stopped laughing, his pain came back.

It was incredible. The knowledge of what he did weighed on him like a ton of bricks, and it was a miracle he had kept it from Max for as long as he had. But he had to tell her. If he didn't…


Fang shook his head. He really wanted to go back to laughing at Max, but the knowledge kept that from happening. He growled at himself.


The second-in-command of the Flock turned to the voice. It was Iggy, who was frowning. He stood in the doorway to Fang's room. "Hey. What's up?"

"Can I talk to you for a second?" Iggy shifted his feet back and forth.

"Sure," Fang said, a little unsure of himself. It sounded as if Iggy needed…help?

"I need advice," Iggy said nervously.

Damn, Fang thought to himself. Max would have heard it if she hadn't said the exact same word at the exact same moment.

Fang threw his feet off of the couch in his room. Iggy heard the motion and sat next to him.

After years of Max ranting to him about various things, Fang knew it was best if you let the person who was coming to you talk first.

"Uh…" Iggy said. He leaned back and put his head in his hands. "This is going to sound so weird."

Fang shifted his position so he sat cross-legged. Max was the person the Flock came to for help, not him!

Iggy took a deep breath. "Fang…how do you know if you're in love?"

As Julia led us to the adjacent room, my heart wouldn't stop jumping around. How could I get a massage? But when I sat the three chairs with tubs underneath, I let out my deep breath.

The "massage" was a pedicure. Lucia smiled at me, as if she knew she had just spiked my blood pressure. What was with her?

The three of us settled into the chairs, sighing. This I could enjoy. As Julia filled up the three tubs with steaming water, I turned to Lucia with one of the unasked question on my lips.

"Are you really related to Mom?" I asked bluntly.

Lucia narrowed her eyes at the wall. "Yes…and no. Half sisters, actually. But…there's bad blood between us…"

Ella's head perked up. "I've never even heard much about you before. Why?"

Lucia's response was to point her head in the direction of Julia, meaning it was confidential. "Later," she said, with a hint of something in her voice. Anger?

But it was all forgotten when two more women walked into the room, who were clearly the estheticians helping Julia with our feet. They quickly introduced themselves, and they got started on the pedicure.

…I thought it would be relaxing.

And that was the day I learned I was ticklish.

The second the woman, Laura, touched my foot my reflexes forced my foot to kick, knocking over a bottle of some gel.

"Woah!" I said. "Sorry."

"It's no problem…" she said, and quickly wiped up the mess. But every time she tried touching one of my feet, I would snort and kick.

"This isn't going to work," I said. "Can't I just soak my feet?"

Laura nodded, relieved.

And little did I know, but Fang was very interested in this new tidbit of information he had learned about me. Very, very interested.

It was late by the time Lucia's car pulled into the driveway again. The spa's employees were being paid well, evidently, as they had worshiped us.

And I had hated every minute. After I learned about the "bad blood" between Lucia and Mom, nothing else really happened of interest. A manicure, a little hairstyling, and I was Lucia's "little princess."

Haha. Right.

The car came to a halt in the massive garage. "Thanks for taking us," Ella said, prodding me.

"Yeah," I said. "Thanks."

But I didn't mean it. What was the point of getting me out of the house? What was she hiding?

"No problem, girls!" Lucia said. "Maybe we can do it again."

"Over my dead body," I muttered. It was apparent that Ella heard me from her snigger.

When we entered the mansion/house/castle, no one was around. There were various footsteps above us, but it was mainly silent. "I guess we can call it a night. Goodnight, girls," Lucia said, going towards the kitchen.

"Night," we both said, and headed up the old stairs.

My steps echoed and creaked, which was eerie. My thoughts were drawn to my life in the past week as I walked down the empty hallways, the paintings staring at me. In one week my life had completely changed. From a semi-normal state to complete chaos. I had liked being with Mom and Ella and the Flock at her house. But one week really changed things.

And who knew what would happen next week?

A/N- This chapter is dedicated to whoever has had their eyebrows waxed.

Sure, this chapter was pure filler. But I'm shifting to a darker mood of the story now, and I decided to have one more chapter before I actually have to truly develop the characters and plot fully.

Reviewers get chocolate!

25. Without

A/N- I got dozens of comments about eyebrow waxing, with the same consensus: it hurts like mad.

Thanks for the reviews!

Someone was screaming bloody murder into my ear.

"Wake up!" the voice said. "Up and at 'em!"

No, not a scream. More of an extremely high-pitched shriek directed to my general direction.


What a perfect way to wake up.

"And it's your birthday today as well, I've heard!"

Hmmm. I needed to pay more attention to these things. In the back of my mind, I remembered Ella buying those concert tickets for my birthday a few days ago, but all in all, I had forgotten about what today was.

"Really?" I mumbled, somewhat interested. I rolled over and sat up tiredly. Our "fashion makeover" yesterday left me exhausted.

"Of course! So anyways, Lucia wants you downstairs pronto…don't worry about a shower or bath, you can do that later! Put these on-" she handed me a package of neatly-folded clothes, "-and hey, your eyebrows look good!"

I rolled my eyes. People actually paid attention to eyebrows?


Bonnie smiled again (as if she ever stopped) and left me to a wonderful, perfect, state of peace and quiet. I threw the clothes on and paused. I mentally racked through the dates…September the twenty-eighth. My birthday.

Another year alive.

Fifteen years. Well, approximately, since the Flock had chosen all their birthdays, but close enough.

I straightened my shirt and looked in the mirror. Would I make it to sixteen?

Oh God, I heard Fang say in my head. One more year before the government trusts you behind a car. How deeply terrifying.

I laughed. Where's the rest of the Flock?

Down here. Turns out you're the heaviest sleeper out of all of us.

I guffawed. It's just the bed.

I made my way down the kitchen, remembering the instructions from yesterday. Go down the hallway, third right, continue onwards. Turn left, then right at the painting. Continue to the landing, down the staircase, and you were in the lobby.

I never knew you could need a map inside a house.

"Look who's up!" Lucia crooned as I walked into the high-tech kitchen. "The birthday girl!"

I literally cringed. Apparently I was five again.

It was the same as before: everyone, sans moi, was gathered around the massive Victorian -style table. Lucia and Mom were at the opposite heads, the Flock on the sides, and Stella leaning against the counter with a bowl of cereal. Total, too, had a plate to himself on the floor. I didn't know if Lucia knew about Total's... abilities... or not.

"So I was thinking we could go out today and have fun, but with all of us!" Lucia cocked her head to the side. "You know, in order to celebrate. What do you think?"

I honestly wasn't listening. Her outfit -lime green pants with a contrasting yellow blouse- was captivating me. It was so ugly I would have bet my life that she was color-blind.

"Sorry, what?" I asked, realizing she had posed a question.

"I was thinking that I would treat us all. There's an updated exhibit at the museum on Lourdes Street. I thought we could go see it."

Oh, exactly what a fifteen-year-old wants for a birthday present. A trip to the museum.

I looked around at the Flock's faces (with the majority of them being crammed with food). All of their eyes were just as confused as mine. Catching Fang's eye, he just shrugged.

Can we trust her? Fang asked.

Innocent until proven guilty, I said.

"So what's at this museum that's so…exciting?" Stella asked. When she was just leaning there, it was hard to remember that I hated her for what she did to me in Germany with Ter Borcht.


Lucia sat back down. "Some friends say it was worth the trip. The Medieval section is supposed to be really neat. And besides, there's not much else around here that would interest you all, it's meant for retired millionaires."

Suddenly the tension in the air shot up exponentially. Mom snapped up straight, and Lucia jerked rigidly as if she had said some terribly taboo thing. What was going on between them? Did it have to do with the "bad blood"?

It was as if my life was turning int oa soap opera before my very eyes. I tried to relieve the horrible tension with a change of topic. "Hey, what ever happened with Jeb? And Ter Borcht?"

Stella shifted positions. "Jeb hasn't called me back yet. He won't answer his cell…or he can't."

I didn't miss the glare Mom gave her.

She saw me looking, and gave an apologetic smile. "Sorry for not having any presents Max. There are some at the house…but…you know…"

I went over to her and hugged her, even though she had totally dodged the Stella thing. "It's fine. Just being here is great."

Other than the fact that that was probably the cheesiest line I've ever said in my life, it was true. No matter how creepy Lucia and her Houseful of Merry Servants were, she had supplied us with food and shelter. Other fifteen-year-olds probably wanted ponies…or whatever normal fifteen-year-olds wanted…not good old fashioned food.

Although a pony would be nice.

Haha, right.

After everyone had "washed up", as Lucia called it, we all assembled in the front lobby of the house for the museum trip. Mom and Stella looked particularly out of place.

Fang came up beside me. "Your hair is different," he said, fingering it.

"Yeah. They styled it yesterday at the spa," I said, getting slightly self-conscious.

"It's nice…" he said, trailing off. He twisted so he wasn't facing me. "So I guess your birthday means that I'm technically dating an older woman."

I grinned. "Oh, of course."

I would have liked to have finished the conversation, but Lucia came striding down the stairs at full speed, clapping her hands. "Good! Good! I see you're all here. There's a limo waiting outside for us."

Is it just me, or is Lucia getting weirder by the minute? I said to Fang. We shouldn't be doing this. Something feels wrong.

Fang huffed a bit behind me. I feel it too. But we can't afford to say no…we have to find out as much as possible.

I shoved my hands into my sweater pocket. I was about to say something else when a new voice yelled, "What about me?"

It was Total. He scurried along the floor and landed at Lucia's feet. "Can't I come?" he whined.

I was mortified for a minute…did Lucia know about him?...but she obviously did.

"Shh, you don't want any of the servants overhearing you!" she whispered to the dog, holding him up. "Why do you want to come?"

"I'm so lonely!" He said, quite melodramatically. "This big, massive house…and me…alone. You couldn't do that to a dog like me now, could you?"

Lucia sighed and put him down. She disappeared down one of the many halls, and a moment later came back with a backpack.

"Get in this," she said, unzipping it and bringing it to the floor. "I'll throw some things on top. Security guards there are pretty lax, since there's nothing of spectacular importance there."

I rolled my eyes. "Total, whatever you do, don't talk to anybody."

Total hopped in the bag happily, not replying to my question, and Angel grinned. "Can I carry him?" she asked.

Lucia shook her head. "I'd better, actually. Maybe later, though."

The morning air was crisp when we went outside for the brief amount of time before we got into the limo. Inside, it was incredible. The elongated interior was well-lit, and even had a small TV in a corner and a refrigerator. Next to my ear, I barely heard Mom growl softly.

The driver obviously knew where we were going, as he took off as soon as Gazzy, the last person in, closed the door.

"So how does it feel being fifteen, Max?" Nudge asked, breaking the silence as we drove along. She sat opposite me, in between Fang and Iggy.

I took a moment before answering her question. "Honestly, no different. And for all we know, I'm sixteen."

Nudge sighed. "I'd love to be fifteen. That's when all of the good stuff happens."

"Oh, really?" I said, and my (very stylish) eyebrows rose.

She didn't answer, which surprised me. I narrowed my eyes. Was it just me, or was everybody different lately?

Max didn't realize how difficult the limo ride was for Fang. He sat there, with the encounter with Iggy still running through his mind…

"Fang…how do you know if you're in love?"

That sentence had really stricken him. They were teenagers. Hell, Max was the oldest at fifteen now.

And teenagers didn't fall in "true" love.

He sat there, watching Max talk with Nudge. He loved the way she moved her hands as she talked; the way she blinked rapidly when she was confused; the way she laughed when she was truly happy.

But was it love?

There was nothing to compare the feeling in his stomach to. And when Iggy had come to him, Fang honestly hadn't known what to say.

"Iggy, what do you mean?"

"It means I'm confused. Very confused. I don't think I'm supposed to feel this way."

As if their being two-percent bird hadn't been enough of an issue, some bloody stupid thing called "hormones" had interfered.

Fang took a breath. He really, really, really loved being with Max, but he also just loved being himself. At fourteen you didn't make any long-term commitments.

Throughout the course of the ride, Fang wrestled with his thoughts, and didn't come to any conclusions.

And he knew the time was coming, when he would have to tell her…

We drove for about ten minutes, with small talk filling the awkward pauses. Nudge's question was still bothering me. Did fifteen make me any different? Hardly. In a few months, Fang would be fifteen as well, followed by Iggy. That is, if they lived that long.

I plan on making fifteen, thank you very much, Fang said. I met his eyes, which were filled with determination.

Naturally, I said.

We eventually came to a stop. "Here we are!" Lucia said, looking through the tinted windows. We got out of the limo one-by-one, and we ended up in front of the museum.

The style was definitely Greek-based, as it was all white, and pillars supported the overhang that was overtop of a wrap-around porch. Tall, thin trees lined a pathway up to the main doors. It was rather medium-sized, and didn't strike me as anything of interest, as the surrounding buildings were of the same style. It was exactly the place I would expect to see celebrities donating to.

"Woah," Gazzy said, staring at the building before us. "Look at the prices."

I followed his gaze to a sign posted. It read that anyone over the age of two cost fifteen freakin' dollars to get in.

"Why's it so much?" Angel asked to no one in particular.

"It's the only way they make money," Ella answered. "But that's a little much. Seriously. There are ten of us…that's one hundred and fifty dollars!"

"Welcome to Nevada," Lucia said, taking off her sunglasses. "Land of Overcharging. But I'll pay, naturally. And my friends said that the exhibit was amazing."

Fang stood next to me. Are you feeling as bad about this as I am?

I shivered despite the heat of mid-morning sun. Yes, I am. I would boot it out of here, but we might be needed to fight.

We went inside the building. Inside, it was your typical museum lobby: large, impressive roof with a skylight; walls lined with old artifacts no one really cared about. Several people milled about, glancing at the odd object. A desk with two secretaries was at the far corner.

The two secretaries were very clearly not being paid enough. After saying we needed ten tickets, they plopped them down quickly. "The right hall leads to the Cavemen exhibit. From there, follow the signs. They'll lead you around the building in chronological order. You got that?"

Lucia nodded. "Thanks."

We headed over to the hallway on our right. There were two guards standing there, next to a metal-detector and a table. To them we must have looked suspicious: six kids with weird windbreakers, three adults (one with a severe color-matching disorder) and one average girl.

"Please place any metal objects on the table and pass through the gate," one of them said.

We all did, and nothing caught. "Please remove the jackets," the other guard said.

Frenzied looks were rapidly exchanged. Was this Lucia's plan? To expose all of us here?

"Here," Fang said. He opened his windbreaker and spread it open, so that it was clear he wasn't hiding anything, but his wings were covered. Everyone else did the same, secretly praising Fang's brilliance.

So caught up in the windbreakers, they didn't even bother to check Lucia's backpack with Total. Score one for stupid guards!

"You're clear," the guard said, and we went through the archway to the Cavemen exhibit.

The exhibit itself was interesting, but remarkably boring. It was mainly a bunch of tools and posters describing life back then. Everything was behind a glass pane, and glancing up, I saw that they were hooked up to various alarm systems. Video cameras watched our every move as well.

Poor Iggy was just standing there, with Nudge and Ella describing everything to him

After that exhibit came the Egyptian one. It was much more interesting, with more artifacts and information. But it was obvious we were rushing it: we all wanted to get to the Medieval exhibit, no matter how nerdy it sounded.

"Here it is," Lucia said, turning down a conjoining hallway. "Let's see what the hype is about. Apparently it was here before, but it's the first remodeling that all of the exhibits will undergo eventually."

Turning the corner, I couldn't help but be really surprised. It was sick.

The walls, instead of being painted one solid color, were murals depicting the Medieval period. Instead of everything being behind panes of glass of the walls, now things were in the middle of the room.

In the back of the room were several hooks with renaissance clothes hanging off of them: you could play dress up. The ceiling was painted black with sparkles, as if it was a night sky. As well, it was twice as big as the other exhibits. There was a twisting iron staircase leading to an upper level.

There were a few Medieval video games lining the walls periodically. In each one you learned something different about the period.

"Cool," Ella said, eyeing a sword that was on the wall. She read the piece of paper tacked beside it. "According to this, whoever cuts their thumb on the blade of this sword means that they have to name it."

Total stuck his head out of Lucia's backpack and looked around. "Did they have dogs back then?" he asked.

I leaned my head towards a statue of a dog. "According to this thing they were quite honored as loyal pets for knights."

Total beamed, or beamed as well as he could for being a dog. "Naturally."

We wandered around, discovering more and more things. A series of books lined the upstairs walls, each one on a different topic. There were plush leather chairs as well: you could sit and read for as long as you wanted, apparently. I was leaning over the upastairs railing, watching everyone on the lower levels look through the mass amount of information compiled here.

There were several other people in the exhibit, I noticed. If I had been on top of my game, if I had been the old Max, I would have seen what was wrong. But being perfectly content in my little world, I didn't see what was wrong until too late.

Way, way too late.

A/N- I love how I don't even start writing these chapters until after midnight.

Pressing the purply-grey-blue button in the lower left-hand corner would be most greatly, greatly appreciated! I honestly can't tell you how much they help.

26. Ever

A/N- Wow.

Seriously. You guys blew me away with the reviews. I can't believe I actually hit the one thousand mark!

There's a bit of a language warning for this chapter that will extend to the end of the story, but nothing that you wouldn't hear in the halls during school.

It's been over a month since my last update, and I hate it when authors go on and on about why they couldn't update because no one really cares and they just want to read the story, so I'll just recap the last chapter: Max and Co. are at the museum for her birthday when she realizes that she's made a horrible mistake by not paying attention.

To quote the Joker: "And here...we...go!"

You know how whenever you're looking for something in the fridge, you can never find it? And then someone else comes along and pulls it out right in front of your nose?

The experience at the museum was exactly like that.

Standing on the second floor and leaning on the railing, I could see everyone else on the lower level looking at some of the exhibits. Sure, a museum wasn't the coolest place to be on your birthday, but it was still nice. At least Lucia had put some effort into trying to entertain me.

There were quite a few others in the exhibit, probably because it had just been renovated, like Lucia had said. I saw Nudge dragging Fang over to various exhibits and asking more and more about them; Angel was describing to Iggy everything; Gazzy and Ella were randomly walking around, and Mom, Stella and Lucia were reading the books in the library behind me.

I yawned, even though it was still morning. The spa had certainly tired me out, even if that was the exact opposite of what they were meant for. I glanced at my watch: 10: 24.

And that was when the first inkling of doubt started to crawl up my spine.

If it was only ten in the morning, why were there so many people in the exhibit, when it opened only twenty-four minutes ago?

Why were they all alone?

Why were they all wearing backpacks?

Why were they all big, massive, and wearing bulging clothing? How could that have gotten past security?

Damnit, Fang, we're in trouble! I called.

His eyes shot to mine. When I motioned, he followed my gaze to the other occupants of the exhibit.

Damn, he said. There's only two words to define this: royally screwed. I'll tell the rest of the Flock. You get everyone else. How did we not notice?

I turned to Mom, Lucia and Stella. Slowly, trying not to attract attention –one of those big-and-massive-guys was standing nearby- I walked over to them. After seeing my expression, they came over.

"Look around," I hissed. "Something unusual about the people in this place?"

They did so, and after a moment Stella turned back. "There's at least thirty of them in here."

Total stuck his head out of Lucia's backpack. "That's just fantastic."

I went back over to the railing, and I saw the rest of the Flock look back at me from various positions around the room. We couldn't all gather together, unfortunately, seeing that would be a tad bit suspicious. Then again, for all we knew, these men weren't going to hurt us at all.

Right. Whatever you say, Max, Fang said sarcastically. So, how are we going to get out of here? There's no emergency exit –this place is such a fire hazard- and no windows.

We have the element of surprise, so that's a bonus, I said.

There's only ten of us, against what, thirty? And we don't know how good they are at fighting, either.

Fang was right, no matter how much I didn't want to admit it. I sighed, looking for a plan. Do you have any ideas?


I rubbed my hands. How long had it been since I had a true hand-to-hand combat fight?

Too long.

And that's it? I asked. No other ideas?

No. This place is the perfect set-up for an ambush. Do you have any alternatives?

I looked around, eyeing anything that could be useful. There's got to be a serious security system in here. If we break into one of the exhibits and set off the alarms, guards will come.

Even from my position far above him, I could see Fang's eyebrows rise appreciatively. Wow. That's actually a good plan. But we don't want to get the guards in here before they attack, because then they could say they weren't going to do anything and get away. Signal me as soon as you want the alarms activated.

I nodded. Tell everyone else.

After watching Fang drift from person to person, whispering in their ear and pretending to look at the exhibit, I turned and told Mom, Lucia and Stella.

"So for now we just wait?" Stella asked, obviously uncomfortable with not doing anything.

"Not for long," came a deep, forbidding voice behind me. Classic.

I whirled to face the man: he was six-foot-two, at least, and weighing in around two hundred pounds. I smiled sweetly. "Woah, man, you've got to lay off the steroids."

He grimaced. "Oooh, feisty. I like that in a woman."

Creeptasic. Pedophile, much?

He smoothed out his large jacket, and fingered the straps of his backpack. "We wouldn't want anything bad to happen, would we?"

I rolled my eyes. "God, what is it with villains trying to build up the climax? So freaking cliché. If you're going to attack me, get on with it."

So he did.

It came as a punch to the face; I nimbly dodged it and came around with a roundhouse kick to the chest. It hurt me more than it hurt him: the guy was wearing a bullet-proof vest, and my leg wasn't strong enough to even make him wince.

Now! I said to Fang. I heard a crash; immediately the room exploded with a wailing siren.

My attention was snapped back to Mr. Jackass when he rammed me into the wall. I grabbed his head with my free hand and slammed it into the bookcase beside me.

"Damn," he said. "Bad move."

He brought his knee up to my stomach. My breath came out of me, but a moment later I regained enough strength to knee him in the crotch.

You know how to hurt a man, was Fang's fleeting thought.

Help would be great, I said, just as I received a lovely blow to my head.

Slightly busy at the moment.

Through our link, I could see what was going on below, even though my vision was entirely taken up by the massive specimen of man attacking me. Everyone was fighting three-or-four of them, excepting me. Mr. Jackass was definitely the leader of the group.

"You waiting for your precious guards?" the man asked. He still had me pinned fiercely to the wall by my arms. Using an incredible amount of abdominal work I brought up both my legs at the same time to kick him in the face. He dropped my arms; I went crashing to the floor. "They're not coming."

Rolling up to my knees, I saw Mom, Stella and Lucia doing hand-to-hand fighting with more of bad guys. Fang and Iggy had taken out two apiece, and a combined team effort of Gazzy, Nudge and Angel had taken out one. Ella was in the middle of it all, confused.

Why was I having so much trouble with this one guy?

Was I that weak?

We both got to our feet. At this point I would normally take out my wings, do some funky maneuver and save the day, but my wings were trapped in the windbreaker. Taking the time to unzip it would give my attacker valuable seconds.

I was honestly expecting him to pull out a gun when he put his hand in one of his many pockets, but it was only a knife. It was a kick-ass knife, not some wussy kitchen knife crap, but still only a knife.

"I'm not supposed to kill you," he panted. "We won't hurt you."

I laughed in his face. "Righty-o. Tell me that after I kick your ass."

He grinned, and in a move I didn't foresee, he lunged and tackled me to the floor. He whammed his fist into the back of my neck. My vision wavered for a minute, and I felt sick. For a moment, I was completely helpless. To hit in such a vital area, this man was pro.

I kicked him in the chest, but it was deflected off the vest again. Another blow to the neck, and he maneuvered me so that I was on me knees, and he behind me, with the knife to my neck. One hand was on the knife at the back of my neck, and the other hand had my hair yanking backwards in a ponytail. The cold metal bit into my neck, making me gasp.

He whistled loudly, like he was catching taxi's attention. The room immediately fell silent- everyone stopped fighting, seeing me in such stupid, stupid position.

Smooth move, Max, I said to myself.

Fang overheard. We'll get out of this.

"Listen up!" my attacker yelled. This was a bit redundant- as if we had anything else to do. "We won't kill her. We want you to all back away, and let us, the girl and the dark-haired teen go."

Everyone's eyes snapped to Fang as he said, "Me? Oh, goody. I must have won a contest."

Fang's sarcasm was lost. The man continued, "Any problems?"

"Do questions count?" Nudge asked. She was being held by one of the men.

I could sense Mr. Jackass's discomfort, but he still said, "Sure."

Nudge was obviously pissed. I could tell from the maniacal look in her eyes, even though I was above her, still on the second level.

"Where are the security guards? Fang breaking the case should have sent guards running in here as if their pants were on fire. Let me guess- you guys are security."

He nodded. "You're a smart one, girlie, but your wrong."

Nudge continued. "So, if we give you Fang and Max and we let you guys leave, you won't hurt us? Ever again?"

Again, the nod. "Yes."

"Well, screw that."

That wasn't Nudge, actually: it was Fang. Her distraction had worked perfectly. Everything happened in a blur: Fang had his wings out, and he flew towards me, hand outstretched. There was an object in it; I reached out, grabbed it, and discovered I was holding the hilt of a medieval dagger.

After transferring the knife to me, Fang quickly banked and pulled upwards, away from the man's reach. I was still in the same position, but this time with the dagger in my left hand, pressed against my thigh.

I got that from the case I smashed, he said.

"What was the point of that?" Mr. Jackass asked Fang, who was still mid-air, flapping his wings rapidly.

Fang ignored him. He purposely projected his voice around the room as he said, "Hey, Max, don't you love it when you pull a totally unexpected move? You get to watch the faces of people go crazy."

The knife at the back of my neck prevented me from nodding. "Totally."

My capturer laughed. "I know of the dagger in your left hand. God, I'm not that oblivious. There's no way you can attack me with it, not without breaking your arm."

I tsked. "Of course, of course." He was right, though. I was on my knees, sitting on my calves. It was physically impossible to swing my arm in any direction to hit him.

So I did the next best thing.

Deftly maneuvering the knife, I placed the tip next to my leg.

"You haven't seen anything yet," I said lowly, so only he could hear.

I stabbed myself. The dagger went half-an-inch into my leg.

Pain shot through me, and for a moment I black spots swam in front of my vision.

"What the hell?" the man yelled. He dropped the hand holding my hair out of pure surprise. With the dagger firmly in my left hand, I stabbed him in the hand holding his own knife. He screamed and dropped it. Fang swooped down and grabbed it, then came up and landed neatly on his feet beside me.

"What the hell was that for?" he asked. "I thought you would've had a better idea than to stab your-freaking-self!"

"He let go of me, didn't he?" I said through gritted teeth. I opened my windbreaker and ripped off the bottom hem of my shirt. I tied it around the wound, trying to put pressure on it.

Faster than I thought was possible, the man was back on his feet. He eyed Fang's knife, which had been his own only seconds earlier. "Kid, you just brought a knife to a gun fight."

He reached into his jacket and, no surprise, took out a gun.

Why didn't he do that before?


This guy was trying to one-up me, but not go too far.

The man clicked off the safety trigger, and pointed it between Fang and me. "I don't want to hurt you," he said through gritted teeth.

"I don't mind hurting you, though," Fang said. "We appear to have you at an advantage in that respect."

All of the other bad guys in the exhibit pulled out their own guns from their bags. The Flock eyed them carefully, not sure what to do next.

Then, suddenly, the gun was lowered.

"I've gotten what I need," the man said. He leaned over the railing, and started speaking rapidly in a language I didn't recognize. All of the other guns went down, and the men moved away from the Flock.

We can't just let them go! I said to Fang. That's how we got into this mess before!

Damage control, Max, he said. I wanted to punch him. He glared at me, knowing my thoughts.

It's just too convenient! I said. Too anti-climatic! What the hell is going on?

And then, before my eyes, all of the men disappeared before us.

There was nothing –nothing- that showed any sign of them being there.

They were…gone.

The men, clad in their baggy clothes and backpacks, had disappeared as if they had been erased. No fading in and out of existence. It was a blink-and-you-miss-it experience.

"Holy shit!" I yelled. This wasn't happening!

"Language, Max," Angel said from below.

"They just disappeared!" Gazzy exclaimed, rubbing his eyes. "That was insane! Wish we could do that. But it's just like how the men disappeared from the forest!"

Nudge was stunned, and only managed to ask, "Magic?"

Fang was just as shocked as me. "That's… more than weird. They can't be breaking physics and just disappearing- that's way too science-fiction-y. They must have used some serious technology or something. There's no magic involved here."

Iggy shrugged, picking up on what had happened. "Unless they stole Harry Potter's cloak, or something."

The adults behind me finally spoke up. "Damn, Max," Mom said. "That was the strangest experience of my life."

Stella frowned deeply. "Max, your leg!"

"I'm fine," I said, not sure if that was a lie or not. "But we've got more things to worry about. Like how the hell those guys got out of here."

Fang shrugged. "We should be thankful we all got out of this."

Gazzy turned to Lucia. For the first time in a long while, his eyes were dark. "So the bad guys followed us all the way here- so I guys we didn't have to leave our house."

Lucia's eyes filled with tears. If they were fake, they were good. "I am so, so sorry Max. I- I didn't know they'd be here! And where are the security guards?"

Everyone looked around- the alarm was still flashing, but we were the only people in the exhibit. It had been a few minutes since Fang had set off the alarm- the guards should have been here ages ago.

"Maybe they're on break?" Angel suggested.

Mom shook her head. "No, love, they have shifts. You know, we seem to be having bad luck with 'guards'. And in what random places! A concert, a museum, a forest… "

I crossed my arms, starting to get pissed.

And a pissed Max is seriously not cool.

"So why won't you tell us what we're up against?" I asked, trying to keep my voice calm. "We don't know who or what we're fighting against. Something about the remnants of Itex, sure, but how can we stop them? You've got to have more information."

Stella nervously threw her arm around, indicating that we were in a public place. "Perhaps somewhere else?"

"No," Fang said, standing next to me. From his emotions, I could tell he was losing his patience fast. And if my tempter could be compared to a BB gun, Fang was a machine gun. "We want to know the truth. Now."

Stella sighed. "We don't know the truth. Hell, we hardly know what's going on at all. Here's the thing: we do know that Itex's remains are out to get you guys, since you toppled their company."

"But the thing is," Mom said, rubbing her forehead, "Is that we have Ter Borcht, so he's not the one leading Them."

"Is that what you call the remnants of Itex?" Gazzy asked. He cocked his head to the side. "'Them'?"

Mom nodded. "Or 'They', depending on the context. There's just no other name to call them. There have been a few deaths scattered across the area, and Stella and I agree it's caused by Them."

"This is seriously confusing." Nudge had taken off her windbreaker and flown up the stairs to stand beside me and Fang. "Who's tracking down these people? Just you and Stella?"

"Jeb, too," Stella said. "And hopefully you guys as well. We can't make this a big thing, because then they'll go into hiding for a few years and surprise us right when we get comfortable."

Hmm, that was interesting news.

But how much could I trust Stella? I still wasn't over the fact she had been a whitecoat once.

"But they just disappeared," I cried out. "That's-not-possible!"

Fang shrugged. "If it's not possible, how did it just happen?"

Damn Fang and his brilliant logic.

I heard that, he remarked.

"We should go," Lucia said, putting the bag with Total in it on one shoulder. "Before more people come in and arrest us for setting off the alarm."

All of us agreed. We rushed through the rest of the museum, not pausing to look at anything. Everything was normal in the lobby when we exited the last exhibit. No alarms were going off, and no guards rushing to throw us in jail. How could that be? Burglars would have a field day!

"Weirdddd…." Nudge said quietly.

Everyone crowded around me so passerbys wouldn't notice my still-bleeding leg as we walked through the parking lot. Why was it I was the only one to get hurt?

Our group didn't relax until we were back at Lucia's house after an uneventful ride back. I wanted to try and weasel more information about Them out of Mom and Stella, but they both backed off and said, "Later."

What is with people trying to keep information from the Flock? It's like they're trying to raise my insanity level.

I trudged up to my room, not sure what to think about. Should the Flock try and bring Them down? Or just get on with our lives, and let the world deal with it?

There was a knock on the door just as I fell onto the amazingly awesome bed. I could tell it was Fang, and he was nervous. You can come in.

He opened the door and smiled guiltily.

"Max?" he said. "I think I have something to tell you."

A/N- Why yes, there was a blatant Indiana Jones reference in there. Whoever notices it gets a cookie! Two if you know who said the line in the movie.

Is it just me, or is the overall quality of the MR fandom going down? Go read The Cliché by Darth Atkid. It's in my favorites, and a must read. :D


The first half of the author's note was written yesterday. Today, we had to put down my dog. She was full of cancer; if we hadn't put her down, she would have suffocated and died an agonizing death.

All dogs should live forever.

Don't you agree?

27. Really

A/N- Thanks to disneydork, who let me use her phone. Yes, that was random, and yes, there is an extremely long story behind that.

The Indiana Jones reference: "Kid, you just brought a knife to a gun fight," said by Indy himself in the latest movie. Congrats to those who got it!

A fast update, so I can stop feeling guilty about that month-long wait. This month is going to be jam-packed with updates.

This chapter deals primarily with the past. The thing is, I haven't read MR in a long time. Because of this, I'm bound to mess up on some small detail of the Flock's past. There's no place I can dig up information on quickly enough (we need to start a MR wiki, seriously) so it would be great if I don't get nailed by people for messing up. If it's a major mistake, I'd appreciate being told, but otherwise I'd like to invoke writer's liberty.

Definitely a darker chapter. It's needed, though.

Thanks for the reviews!

So Fang had something to say to me.

Okay, that was normal.

"Max," he said in a low voice, "I really, really don't know how to say this."

Okay, that wasn't normal. And the fact that I couldn't hear his thoughts anymore further scared me. What was going on?

"You don't have to be afraid, Max," he said. He was right: sunlight was streaming through the windows, birds were chirping outside, and I knew the Flock was safe.

Why did I feel like I was about to go head-to-head with an Eraser?

Not that Fang was one, of course.

"You can sit down, you know," I said, motioning to the bed, and avoiding his last comment. "What do you want to tell me? You're quitting the Flock and joining the Backstreet Boys?"

His eyes narrowed slightly. "This is serious."

"I'm as serious as you want me to be."

Fang got up and tousled his hair with one hand, frustrated. He paced around the spacious room, frowning. The void in my head where Fang's thoughts should be was painfully obvious. "I shouldn't do this," he called from the other side of the room. He was leaning on the wall, hands crossed over his chest. "I really shouldn't."

"Then don't." I didn't mean it, and he knew it. I wanted to know what was bugging him so much, but if it was that painful for him…

Moving so fast I could hardly see him, the next thing I knew he was sitting beside me on the bed. My leg, still throbbing from the dagger wound, throbbed uncomfortably.

My heart thudded in my chest. He was inches away.

"You know how we chose our own names?" he asked. His dark eyes were gleaming, but not in a good way. I nodded, trying to stay calm. Why was Fang making me so nervous? "You know how I got mine?"

I tried to think back to when we first made up our names. I was Maximum Ride after Sally Ride, the first female astronaut; Iggy got his name from ignis, the Latin word for fire after Jeb told him what it was; the Gasman's name spoke for itself, as did Angel's, and Nudge made up her name so that it would rhythm with 'fudge', her favorite food that she received once at the School.

But I never knew about Fang. The Flock had all assumed it was Fang's manliness speaking out when he chose his name, and we never really talked about it.

"I have no idea," I said, in response to his question.

He leaned back so he wasn't so close to me. A part of me was relieved. "There's something… I need to show you. I know this works. Angel told me it did. Just follow along, alright?"

I was confused. No, actually, confused didn't really cover it.

Fang looked away, looking a deep breath, and met my eyes. He grabbed my hand, and I gasped.

Two things were immediately noticeable: Fang's irises were pure black. Not dark eyes anymore, but pure black. He was also extremely, extremely cold.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

Everything exploded.

Not literally, but fully to the metaphorical sense. Colors, sounds, smells, feelings, emotions- everything rushed into me at once. My vision was gone, being replaced by swirling lights. I was vaguely aware of Fang still holding my hand.

For a moment I wavered, not sure what the hell was Fang was doing. If I knew how, I would have ended whatever he was doing.

Everything built up. Deafening bolts of sound slammed into my skull, and my skin felt as if it was on fire. The emotions- so, so many emotions. Most of them were dark, like fear, anger and worry.

There was a bitter, tangy taste in my mouth. It took me a moment to realize that it was blood- I had bitten through my cheek. A wave of feeling came crashing down on me, drowning me. Could I get out of this? Would Fang let me? What if-

And just as it had suddenly come on, the strange sensations vanished. I was still on the bed, Fang was still holding my hand, and I hadn't been killed.

I didn't speak for a moment. Right when I was about to, Fang interrupted. "I just gave you a memory."

My eyes shot up to his now-normal ones. "But I thought I already had access to them."

"You did, but you never went into what defines a memory."

I could feel Fang poking around in my head- it was the weirdest sensation in the world, as if someone was rummaging around in your brain. Actually, it was kind of tickly, no matter how immature that sounds.

"This is one memory," he said slowly, "that I try not to think about too much. But it's always there and I've been…reliving it more and more. I really…need…"

We both knew what he wanted to say, and we both knew why he wasn't going to say it.

He needed me to help him with a memory, and he was embarrassed by it.

Stupid men and their anti-emotion thing.

"How have you been blocking this from me?" I asked softly. "Whatever it is, I should've known. I once tried to block you out, but it didn't work."

"It's just a matter of shutting down your brain, almost in a literal sense. I zone out some of my memories, and I create a figurative shield around them. It sounds impossible…" Fang looked deeper into my eyes, and stared at my soul. "Impossible is simply a word that is used by people with no courage and no resolve in order to live in their perfect little world instead of actually standing up and making a difference."

Neither of us moved, until I eventually said, "There's a lot of stuff in my brain right now. Can you show me the memory?"

He took a deep breath.


There was a sudden jerk, like a pulling motion. I fell through space, time, and anything of importance before coming to a screeching halt…in Fang's body.

The phrase 'what the hell' didn't really sum up my feelings.

I was Fang, looking through his eyes. But we were most definitely not in Lucia's house anymore.

Fang's words floated through my head, and I knew somehow he was watching me. You're in my body. I'm four years old, and we're at the School. You can hear my thoughts at the time, if you listen closely…you won't be able to change anything, so don't even try. Just follow along. I'm sorry.

So I was a fifteen-year-old Max in a four-year-old Fang?

Damn, that was actually kind of cool.

I did as Fang had told me, and listened to the younger version of him think about the situation- he was scared, tired and hungry. He was sitting in a cramped caged, watching the whitecoats around the room poke and prod a girl in a cage that was adjacent. With a shock, I realized it was me.

Talk about déjà vu.

But there was something else about Fang: he was intelligent. Hardly your average four-year-old. He had logic and reasoning, something I didn't have at the time.

He also wanted to escape.

A whitecoat with long blond hair came over and kneeled in front of Fang. "Hey, love. Let's see if you can improve your test scores today."

Fuel was added to the deep hatred against the School inside of him. I could feel how he wanted to rip her throat out-


A four-year-old wanting to rip someone's throat out?

The woman took his cage and placed it on a trolley. She rolled us into the halls of the School- oh God, Fang better have a good reason for showing me this.

We arrived in a stark-white room that was fairly small. There was a treadmill in the centre of the room: this test was classic, to see how fast the specimen could run. If they couldn't run fast enough, they would fall off the treadmill and slam into the wall. The whitecoats loved when that happened.

Horrible things happened in this room.

I had done it well over a hundred times. Each time it got progressively worse. Just when you thought your lungs would fully collapse and you would die, the treadmill stopped.

But most times you just kind of wanted to die.

Anything to get away.


The blonde whitecoat rolled the cage over to the treadmill. Through Fang's eyes I saw the window in the side of one wall, where additional whitecoats would track Fang's process.

The woman leaned over to stare at Fang, who was clutching the bars of the cage. I noticed that she had a necklace on that dangled right in front of her.

At the front of the necklace was a silver, decorative fang.

Oh God.

I knew where this was going.

I didn't want to see it. But I didn't know how to get out of the memory, and Fang obviously needed me to see it.

But if it was such a horrible memory, why was he making me relive it?

So I could have more nightmares too?

The whitecoat smiled. She was young and pretty. To be working at Itex already meant she was smart, and had a career ahead of her.

"So you've got a few hours of running today, sweet. Then a quick break, and a friend of mine wants to check if you can swim. After that we've got a few more tests and you're done for the day. That sounds fun, doesn't it!"

The woman thought Fang actually liked it. I could tell by her body language. Fang, however, had a plan forming in his mind. I knew what it was: his thoughts were practically my own.

I tried to stop him: NO! I yelled in my mind, trying so, so hard to be heard.

He was only four years old. The whitecoats knew we were powerful, but they didn't know we were dangerous yet. There was another thought in my mind: most of my memories involved at least five whitecoats guarding me when I was being tested.

Yet Fang only had one.

My adrenaline jacked up another notch.

DON'T DO IT! I screamed my fear into those three words. But the fourteen-year-old Fang had been right. I couldn't stop the past.

The whitecoat opened the cage. The younger Fang smiled sweetly.

He lunged at her.

The woman screamed: Fang clawed for the necklace at the base of her throat, just I had predicted. With utmost horror, I watched as a four-year-old Fang ripped off the necklace. From my point of view, it was as if I was doing it.

Throughout the whole ordeal, I was screaming.

Either way, in thirty seconds, Fang had killed the woman with the necklace.

It was not hard to do. The fang was an inch-and-a-half long. She never had a chance: his strength keep her pinned to the cold, harsh floor. He struck key points: the heart, the eyes, and he slit her wrists.

Holy shit.

That wasn't the worst of it:

He was happy.

"LET ME OUT!" I screamed, hoping the older Fang would let me out of this god-forsaken memory. "LET ME OUT NOW!"

So he did. Suddenly I was back on the bed, in my own body. I took a deep breath, but it didn't calm me at all. Everything was closing in…

Fang was still holding my hand.


I glared at him, panting. It was as if I had killed her…oh God, the look on her face… He was crying openly, as was I.

"You killed a woman at four! You liked it. Fang, that's…that's…beyond horrible!"

He sobbed. My heart broke.

I couldn't be angry with him- not now, at least. I grabbed him in a deep hug as he collapsed into hysterical crying. I had never seen him this way before- he had kept his emotions in too long. My shirt was soaked within a minute, but I didn't care.

I can't say I know how long we stayed like that.

It took a long time for him to calm down- ten, maybe even twenty minutes. He pulled back stiffly. "And you know what's the worst?" he asked. His face was red and puffy from the tears. "I relive that moment every day of my life. Every night, when I go to sleep, I see the woman's face. I've killed people after her- but not real people. Erasers or machines or whatever don't count. She was just a girl in the wrong company.

"And the other whitecoats- God, they didn't care about her. They were surprised I could do that. From then on, that's why security was vamped up around us. I was the cause of that. More and more tests were done on me. They never thought of hurting me, to make me pay for her death. No- they wanted me to do it again."

I didn't respond. I didn't have to.

He continued. "I didn't show you this memory. I would have, but you wanted out. They locked me in a room with an unconscious person lying on a table. I was told I had to kill him. I didn't. So after twelve hours of solitude, they took me out. They performed the worst tests on me, just so I would regret not taking the man's life. I never regret it."

Fang was crying again. "That woman… I named myself after the necklace I used to take her life. So as long as I live, it won't be possible for me to forget her."

I put my hands on his shoulders. "Why didn't you tell me before?"

He looked away. "I wanted to. I…I just couldn't. You hate me for putting you through that. Don't try and deny it. I know how mad you are. But…I just needed someone to share the burden with. I'm sorry.

"I kept telling myself that I would tell you someday. Someday, someday. But then I thought that maybe there won't be a someday, and you have to live in today. At the museum today, you could have died. I could have died. And then the future would have been changed, and either way, you would have never known the truth. So I had to tell you today. God, Max, 'I'm sorry' doesn't begin to cover it…"

"Fang…look, I'm mad, pissed, actually, but I understand. Who else knows what happened?" His extreme guilt was his primary emotion.

"Jeb. Your Mom. Probably Stella."

There was a flash from a memory:

"Fang will be fine," Mom soothed. She put her cards in a pile and started playing absently with them. "His name's 'Fang' for a reason."

Through our strange link, Fang knew what I was thinking of. "She meant that, no matter the situation, if it was really bad, I could get out of it," he said. "It might take…extreme measures, but I can get out of it. And you know why I haven't just…given up yet? It's because of you, Max. When they put me back in my cage, I saw that they had hurt you. It sort of became my goal to protect you, so you would never have to go through what I did. But I guessed I failed miserably at that, since I just showed you."

"No," I said. "Just…no. You have to bleed off the poison. Fang- it was horrid, what you did, but you were provoked. It wasn't your fault."

I hugged him again.

We stayed like that for a small piece of eternity.

A/N- The flash of memory Max has is from chapter six, in case you want to check it out.

Sorry for the shortness. I didn't want to draw out Fang's memory too much, and I didn't want to move on with the story, as that would cause a conflict of interest.

The whole 'someday' thing is based off me mishearing lyrics to my techno songs. I only listen to techno (do you realize how many Daft Punk references are in this story?) and there was this one song I thought was about a girl with an important secret. She never told of it, and she died with the secret. I was all, "Wow, that song was so awesome. I'm going to make that a major part of the story." But when I looked up the lyrics, it turns out the song is about someone trying to phone another person up or something.

I'm curious to see the reaction to Fang's memory. There was a load of character development in here. I realize this was a serious chapter, and hopefully I won't catch too much slack for that, but it was needed. Fang's past isn't explored enough in the books, and it was killing me to give him a background.

Reviews –especially concrit- are loved by both me and my pony Sparkles.

I don't have a pony named Sparkles.

But I want one.

28. Standing

A/N- I went back and re-read the previous chapters since the story is ending soon and I wanted to make sure to tie up any gaps or loops I'd forgotten about. (Right now I'm at 27). However, at Chapter 22 I realized I made a horrible mistake. I made Jeb and Ter Borcht come to Lucia's house- which is weird, because I've mentioned it a few times in the latest chapters that Jeb and Ter Borcht aren't at the house at all. And then in Chapter 24 Stella MAGICALLY appears, even though I had stated she wasn't there.

I went back to edit the chapter to the current timeline. And to clear things up: back in Chapter 22, Jeb stayed with Ter Borcht and the car after he received a wound that forced him to call an ambulance. Stella went with Max. Sorry about the confusion; blame me not even knowing my own story.

Thanks for the reviews! Y'all made Sparkles happy.

You know, I've never seen Fang cry before.

I thought men didn't cry.

But then again, Fang wasn't a man. He wasn't a boy, don't get me wrong, but he really wasn't as macho as everyone thought he was. Under that I'm-so-suave-and-removed exterior, Fang was just a guy who needed a hug.

And maybe men should cry. What's with our society, forcing men to shut up and look tough, while women can go cry their eyes out as much as they wanted?

It really doesn't make sense.

Screw society, I say cry whenever you want to.

"I'm so sorry, Max," Fang said, rubbing away the tears with his sleeves. "I won't…do that…again."

I sent him my thoughts on the situation: "Oh," was all he said. He continued: "And Max…you know in the beginning, when we didn't know what was going on with our heads and all? How I ran away after we figured out we could hear each other?"


"That was because I didn't know if you were able to see my past. I didn't want you to know…"

Something had been bothering me for a while. I really didn't want to ask, but I didn't want to go prying into Fang's head for answers.

"Fang- you never ended up telling us what happened the day you were shot."


A weird silence, though: one that held countless stories, and immeasurable emotions. It was a silence that could have stretched to infinity, beyond, and back, and all within a second.

"I don't know."

"Are you sure?"

"I don't lie, Max." That was a whisper. "I may not tell you something- but I don't lie. At least, anymore. When I went out flying, my thoughts were all jumbled up and mixed with yours. I didn't know what you could hear, and what you couldn't. I remember realizing the storm was really bad, but I kept flying. And then I remember nothing. No pain, no sudden blackout. Just waking up at your Mom's house."

I rubbed my hands together, unsure of what to say. What could I say? I wasn't a guidance councilor! Luckily, a knock at the door saved me from making a fool out of myself.

"You can come in," I said.

It was Iggy. "Max?" he called, trying to figure out where I was in the room.

"I'm over here, with Fang."

All of a sudden, a blush spread across his cheeks and he grimaced. "Oh- sorry- I'm not…uh…interrupting anything, am I?"

Fang laughed. "Gods no, Iggy. Can you get your mind out of the gutter for even a moment?"

"Do I have to answer that?"

I replied instead of Fang. "Of course not. You're a fourteen-year-old teen with more hormones than brain cells. I wouldn't expect anything else. So what's up?"

"Eh..." If I didn't know better, I'd say Iggy was blushing.

Wait a minute-

Fang, can you leave? I asked. Sorry, but can you make up some excuse?

He cocked his eyebrow up, and said aloud, "Uh, I'm going to go do…some…stuff. Things I do."

God. Men just can't make up excuses to save their lives, can they?

Fang left. I waited for Iggy to say something, but he stood there with a blank look on his face. "You wanted to talk?"

He nodded, the blush –I can't believe it!- creeping up his face. "I actually wanted to talk a while ago, but things got interrupted."

Honestly, I was slightly scared of what he had to say. First Fang "wants to talk," and I learn he murdered someone before his fifth birthday. So when Iggy "wants to talk," what would I learn?

Iggy sat on the bed, in the place where Fang had just left. His precision was spot-on. "It's nothing bad, I'm just curious."


"Well, I asked Fang…I asked Fang…what…what…" He was so clearly stalling that I winced.

"Iggy," I said, placing a hand on his shoulder, "it can't be that bad."

"It's not," he breathed. "But it's hard…to say."

Times like these, I feel like Dr. Phil. As Flock leader, I'm sort of shafted to make sure the Flock is emotionally stable. "You can take as much time as you want."

And in the end, it only took him a few seconds.

"Max, how do you know if you're in love?"


That was a shocker. Sarcasm not intended.

"Fang just went on about some random nonsense that didn't make any sense when I asked him. And, well, you're…you're the only person I can really ask. I'm so, so sorry, you don't have to answer-"

"Iggy…" I wringed my hands together, nervous.

"Please, just answer me. Please."

I took a deep, deep breath. Deeeeeep.

"Um…Ig. Well. There's a difference between love and love. You know, between a teenage crush and a forever type of love. Which one are you talking about?" My voice was unnaturally high.

I had never seen Iggy this anxious. He was sweating bullets and biting his lip. "Forever."

My eyes went wide. Was he serious? He had to be. "But you know, teenage love can easily be mistaken with, well, real, love."

"I know. And I also know you're in love with Fang, even if you don't fully realize it yet…anyways, I wanted to know how you feel about him. The emotions."

Damn. I'm no deep-thinking poet who can describe emotions.

"Fang completes me, almost literally. He's my best friend. We've always had each other, you know? And honestly, that's as far as I can really say. Mainly because I'm not comfortable thinking about my feelings, and especially not towards him. All I'm saying is that I see Fang in my future, not in my past."

Iggy stared at me, unblinking, his eyes somehow piercing mine.

I continued, since he wasn't moving. I meant to talk normally, but my voice came out extremely quietly. "So who's the lucky girl?"

I swore time stopped. Neither of us moved, and not a sound was heard anywhere in the house. In a way, this was impossible. But then again, nothing's impossible. Except for slamming a revolving door, but whatever. If you were really into it I bet you could.

Iggy shifted positions. "What if it's two girls?"

Oh, snap, Iggy was a player!


"Do I know them?"


"Are they the girls I'm thinking about?"


"This is interesting."


I twisted a piece of hair around my fingers. "With the two lovely ladies you seem to be contemplating- do you feel the same about both of them?"

"I don't know what I'm contemplating!" he said, throwing his hands up. "Arrr…"

"You sound like a pirate, mate."

"Shut up."

We sat like that for a while, comfortable.

"But with you and Fang, have you talked about what you're going to do when all of this craziness is done with?" Iggy twisted and lay on the bed.

"Of course not. Every day is different, and if I try to keep up with everything my head will explode from the confusion. 'The future' is about five minutes from now, if you get what I mean."

"Of course I do."

"So what are you going to do about Nudge and Ella?"

He shrugged. "I'm not sure. Wait it out, perhaps?"

I smiled, still nervous he might go into another rant. "Sounds like a plan. You want to go downstairs and raid the house for some lunch?"

"Indubitably, my dear Watson. Indubitably."

As Iggy and I stepped into the kitchen, I noticed something orange and long flying towards me. Other than the fact that there were several well-placed innuendos in my last thought, I noticed that the aim was rather good. I dodged the carrot at ease and glared at Fang, where the projectile had come from.

"What's up with the carrot-throwing?" I asked, sitting at the table and grabbing an apple

"It's called boredom," he said. "Lucia and your Mom have placed us under house arrest. I was nearly tackled by them when I tried going outside to swim in the pool. Apparently we're 'at risk of an assault at any given time,' so we're stuck here."

I shrugged. "It can't be that bad, this place is a mansion."

"Ah, but you're forgetting that there are hundreds of closed-circuit cameras in this house transmitting our every move to security." Fang was leaning back in his chair, and ate a slice of cucumber on a plate in front of him.

"Lucia has security?" Considering our previous track record with anything associated with 'security', I'd say we were screwed.

"Yeah," Gazzy said. He was across the kitchen, sticking his head into the refrigerator. "You know all those servants? Turns out they double as security."

My mind flashed back to Bonnie, my overactive hyper maid who could rival Hannah Montana in perkiness levels. She was security? "How do you know this?"

"Oh, it was easy," Angel said. I jumped- she was right behind me, and I hadn't noticed her. I wheeled around to face her. "I was so bored… I started going through the servants' heads and found that if they wanted to, they could snap our necks in a split second. Oh, they're fine- they don't want to hurt us."

I kneeled down to her level. "It's good to know, Angel, but remember what I said about going through other people's heads?"

She had the grace to look slightly ashamed. "Sorry, Max…but I found out something else, too!"


"I know why your Mom never talked about Lucia, and why she hates her!"

Now that was interesting. "Really? Why?"

Angel opened her mouth, but as she did so, a new voice carried to us from down the hallway: "Don't."

It was Mom.

"I need to tell her." She walked down the hall to us. Behind me I could tell that Iggy, Fang and Gazzy were all watching closely.

I stood up, and in the back of my head I noticed that I was eye level with her. "Do you want Ella to know?"

She shook her head. "No, not yet. Later. I'm not sure how she'll take it. Here, sit down." She motioned to the kitchen table, where Fang and Iggy were already placed. Shortly afterwards Gazzy joined the rest of us, piles of food in his hands.

Mom looked at us all. "Where's Nudge?"

I shrugged. "Not sure. Do you want her here?"

"No, that's fine; I know you'll tell her. Anyways, let me tell my story, and don't interrupt, because I'm not sure if I'll be able to pick up again." I just noticed how disheveled she looked. Her hair was falling out of her bun, and her clothes were rumpled.

"Lucia's ten years older than me," she began. "She was everything my father wanted. Blonde, smart, perky as hell. I think he liked Lucia because she reminded him of his wife.

"My father was rich- he had started up a drilling business in the sixties, and the money literally poured in. Lucia was born with money; it was just a fact of life.

"He wanted another child. Specifically, a boy, so he could pass on the business in the 'proper' father-to-son way. But when my mother was giving birth to me, she hemorrhaged, and died.

"So now my father had lost his wife, the most important thing to him, and I was female. But still, I'm pretty sure he loved me. But then, when I was twelve, a man showed up on our doorstep.

"It turns out my mother had an affair with the man, and I was his child, not the father I had thought. To this day I'm not sure who my real father is. But either way, my 'original' father was furious. He kept me in the house, but he released his fury for my mother on me. He pampered Lucia, his 'true' daughter, while I was shunned. He never talked to me. Ever. He used Lucia to talk. For example, if he wanted me to pass the vegetables at dinner, he would say, 'Lucia, tell her to pass the vegetables.' I was her.

"When he died, he gave Lucia all of the money. I wasn't even in the will. Lucia took pity on me, handed me a few thousand dollars, and I didn't speak to her for years. I got a scholarship, entered vet school, and a few days ago was the first time I've seen Lucia in over a decade.

"I had to pay for my mother's mistake. And ever since then, I've been mad at Lucia for what she's gotten, and what should be mine. Ella shouldn't have to live in a small house in the middle of Arizona. Lucia is a millionaire. Not that she does any work, naturally, she hires people for that.

"But that's why."

She started to play with a hangnail, and the rest of us looked around, trying not to meet anyone else's eyes.

I thought things like that only happened on soap operas.

"That's interesting," Fang said.

I sighed. Fang was never tactful.

"So why don't you want Ella to know?" Iggy asked.

"I don't want her to grow up hating Lucia just as I did." Mom huffed. "She's not that bad, really, once you get used to…her ways."

"Does Lucia know about all of your past animosity towards her?" Fang asked.

"Of course not! She only sees the bright side of life. Sometimes that can be good, but other times it's just plain ignorant."

We would have responded, but Stella walked into the kitchen with a cell phone in hand. She was frowning. "I just got off the phone with the authorities in Mesa. Apparently, a Jeb Batchelder and an unnamed man disappeared from the hospital two days ago."

Mom narrowed her eyes. "Why hasn't he called? He probably has his cell, and I know that he always has quarters on him in case he needs to make an emergency pay phone call."

"I'm not sure." Stella turned to the rest of us. "What are you all doing?"

"Nothing," Fang said, standing up, "since we can't go outside." His voice was mocking and sarcastic.

Stella threw her hands up. "We're just trying to do the best for you all!" She turned to Mom, and said, "We need to talk privately."

"Sure." As Mom got up, she gave me a glare that I understood: Don't tell Ella.

The rest of the day was spent lounging around. Now that I knew of them, the CCTV cameras glared at me in places I would have glanced over before.

Two days passed, with nothing interesting happening. We only saw Nudge when food was around; whenever we looked for her she seemed to disappear. We contemplated hacking into the security cameras to see where she was, but decided against it.

Tensions started to rise, that much was clear. Stella, Mom and occasionally even Lucia would talk at night for hours on end. We tried eavesdropping, but failed miserably.

Things were changing around the household. People came in out and out, always with huge boxes.

One night, Mom came into my room, looking solemn. "What's up?" I asked.

She sat on my bed, putting a hand on my shoulder. I tried to sit up, but she pushed me back down. "I love you. You know that, right?"

"Of course I do!"


She kissed me on the forehead, and left. My hand went to my forehead, where I could feel the remains of her lipstick. I could tell Fang was aware of this exchange.

What do you think she meant by that? He asked.

I'm not sure, I said. But something's going to happen. Soon.

Yeah, I'm thinking that too.

I turned off the bedside lamp, tired.

If something was going to happen, then sure as hell I'd be awake for it.

A/N- There are...exactly six chapters left. The next will be posted soon, since half of it's already written out on paper.

Disneydork and I went on the craziest theme park ride on the past weekend. We were strapped together and dropped in a free fall two hundred feet in the air. It was amazing.

Anyways, enough with my rambling. The story is ending quite soon, which is good, because honestly, I'm starting to get sick of it. It's getting harder and harder to sit down and just write.

Con-crit and reviews are loved!

29. Up

A/N- There's a male Swedish exchange student in my drama class. I thought these things only happened in movies…

POV-switching time! It's mainly in Max's POV, but when Max isn't around, I have to go to a third-person limited style of writing. I'm also going to involke writer's liberty and ask for suspension of disbelief for the remainder of the story for creativity's sake.

Recap: Jeb and Ter Borcht are missing; Nudge isn't around; boxes arriving at Lucia's (Dr. M's sister) house; the Flock think that something's about to happen, but have no idea what; llamas have taken over the world.

No, I was kidding about the llamas. But it would be awesome if they had.

Something was changing.

At first I couldn't tell what it was. I should have realized it the second Nudge came to me a week or two ago and wondered if she'd ever find true love. But I ignored it. Maybe it was because I refused to believe it. A few near-death experiences later, and Fang reveals his closest secret. Next, I learn about Mom and Lucia's twisted past.

You know, in two weeks I figured out why everything was so…turbulent.

We were all growing up.

It sounds stupid, I know, I know, I know, but it's true.

What will happen to us as we age? One day, will expiration dates appear on the back of our necks? I honestly can't see us growing old. Picture a bunch of eighty-year-olds with wings. It just doesn't look right, at least, not to me.

We were all growing up, and I had absolutely no idea what to do.

The Flock was starting to pick up on my down mood. "Can we help, Max?" Gazzy asked.

I smiled, unsure if it was real or not. "I'm fine, Gaz!" It sounded fake even to me. Pathetic, Max, really.

We were sitting in the kitchen, which had become an excellent congregating spot due to its proximity to food. The Flock –sans Nudge, who was off doing her own thing- stared at me as I slowly ate a banana. After two minutes of Max-watching, I sighed. "Have I grown a third arm or something? It'd be kind of cool if I did, though."

"No," Angel said. "But we all realize why you're feeling sad- you don't want us to grow up."

"No," I interrupted. "That's not true- I just don't know what will happen when you do."

"It's a matter of life, Max," Iggy said. "You know it as much as we do. But what point is there in living if you're sad all the time? We only get one shot at life. We might as well put everything we've got into it." I knew he was trying not to self-pity himself, and I give him serious Awesome Points for that.

"I know…but with all of this tension, we know there's going to be something big happening. And soon!"

"Have you seen Stella lately?" Fang asked. "She really anxious and shirty. I think she feels the same way as you."

"Your Mom, too," the Gasman added. "And Lucia."

I groaned and leaned back so the front two legs of my chair were off the ground. "I hate just- not- knowing!"

"We've been in these situations before, Max," Iggy said. "Why so worried now?"

I couldn't answer that. I wouldn't. Unfortunately, having two people who can read your thoughts make keeping secrets a thing of the past. Privacy: it's so last year.

In a low voice, Angel said, "She feels like some people won't come back this time."

I put my face in my hands. "Angel!" I directed my thoughts specifically to her: Why'd you say that? It's horrible for moral!

They need to know.

"Max, if we all promise to survive whatever's coming, will that make you feel better?" That was Fang, always one for trying to boost my thoughts. If we were alone, I would have hugged the guts out of him.

I nearly guffawed, though. "You can't promise something like that!"

"The future can be re-written," was all he said. "Well, Max, I promise you that I'll survive."

Everyone else around the table nodded their assent.

"I do, too." Nudge was standing in the doorway, looking down on her shoes.

"Nudge!" Iggy said, before a blush blasted over his face. I remembered our conversation three days ago, and his love triangle problem. Aww. I'd say that it was cuter than a bucket full of puppies. Cute puppies.

"Sorry I haven't been around lately," she said. "I was just…thinking. But anyways, what are we promising?"

"To not die," Gazzy said simply. He laughed. "Max is all worried."

Don't you love it when people talk about you like you're not even there?

"Guys, we don't even know something is going to happen!" I didn't believe myself, and everyone else knew it too. "Well," I said. "If we do have to fight eventually, we might as well be prepared."

Honestly, I regreted saying it as soon as the words left my mouth.

"What do you mean?" the Gasman asked.

"Well," I said, "you and Iggy can make explosives out of just about anything, right?"

They could.

Turns out Gazzy read the book Fight Club. From there, you learn how to make napalm from gasoline, orange juice, diet soda and cat litter. Now that is skill. Add those things to a few Internet guides written by overactive high-schoolers who took chemistry, and you've got a lethal force.

Doing all that without blowing yourself up is harder than it looks.

Epic. Just plain old epic.

The rest of the Flock took the time to make other various traps and explosives. We kept this all secret from the adults: if they found out, we were pretty sure heads would roll.

"And even if we don't use all these soon," Fang commented, "we have them for the future."

Because we're totally going to need them for the future. Catch the sarcasm?

After five days of building explosives I looked at the results with a mixture of dread and happiness. Dread coming from the fact that I knew what these were going to do, but happiness in knowing we were prepared. Normally I wouldn't be this presumptuous, but this was a whole new ball game, and I wanted to be on the winning team.

We had found a room in the basement of Lucia's house that was empty and full of cobwebs. We packed all of the explosives- which were all various sizes and wrapped in brown packaging paper- into large bins we labeled 'Easter Decorations'.

I'm not sure an Easter bunny would want to have anything to do with what was in those bins- unless it was the Rabbit of Caerbannog, of course. Or maybe the swamp rabbit that attacked Jimmy Carter.

Those rabbits are nasty, folks.

The room, which was about the size of Mom's old kitchen, was packed ceiling-to-floor with the bins. Nudge was eyeing the 'Decorations'.

"Isn't that a little obvious?" she asked. "All of them being Easter?"

"And what if someone finds this?" the Gasman asked. He and Iggy had just come downstairs after finishing putting together a batch of lye, which I really, really didn't ever want to use.

"Well, the top of the bin is covered with actual decorations," I answered. "And there's also this on the door."

I pointed to the entrance of the room. At knee level was a small black square an inch thick.

"I found it tucked away in my closet," explained Fang. "You know those cheap 'Spy' packages you can buy in dollar stores that have those alarms that go off if someone's in your stuff?"

Gazzy smiled. "So you modified it?"

Fang nodded. "Yeah, so now it's like an alarm juiced up on steroids. If someone opens the door, we'll know. We put the actually alarm, that one that sounds off, under the kitchen table. It's about the size of a deck of cards, so we just used duct tape to attach it."

"Duct tape," I interrupted, moving around some of the bins. "Savior of the universe."

Fang shot me a what the hell? look.

"Anyyyways," he continued, giving me another rueful glance, "it was actually Angel who took the alarm apart and hyped it up."

"Really?" Gazzy was dumbfounded, unaware of his sister's mad talent. "That thing is so tiny! Since when has she done anything in…what's it called…nen…nana… nanotechnology?"

"I haven't," Angel said, walking up to us. Judging from her wet hair, I'd say she just took a bath. "But Stella has. I just dug around for the necessary information."

"So from another person, you managed to learn how to do something that most people have to study for years to understand?"


It made sense, but it was still sort of eerie. I hadn't thought of it before. If Angel wanted to, she could learn anything. She picked up on my thoughts. With an angelic expression, for lack of better term, she said, "I try not to do things like that, but I needed to know!"

The key word being 'try', Fang said to me. I could tell that this thought was being kept from her.

No kidding. But is it just me, or are the adults around less and less these days? We could have stashed these bins in the kitchen and no one would have noticed.

That was quite the topic change, he said wryly. But I agree. And when they are around, they're more distracted than ever. Especially since Jeb and Ter Borcht's disappearance.

I sighed. I feel…wrong. This is way too preemptive. It's stupid doing this…

Trust me, Max.

I motioned him out of the room full of explosives into the conjoining one that had a living room setting. We sat away from the rest of the Flock, who were talking near the door.

"Fang," I said, slight hysterics coming into my voice, "This is wrong! We can't just make homemade explosives to kill! I know it was my idea and all, but I was thinking irrationally..."

"Max…" Fang put a hand on each of my shoulders. "We have to do what we can to protect the Flock."


Fang put a finger to my lips. "We'll be okay, Max."

He kissed me briefly on the lips, which I really hadn't expected. He pulled back and stared at me. I was torn between kissing him back or walking away.

I chose the first option.

I grabbed his head, brought it down to mine –he was taller than me, bah- and kissed the living daylights out of him. He brought his hands up to the back of my head.

A few blissful moments later –I never, ever thought I would use the word 'blissful'- Gazzy started wolf-whistling. "I never knew you were so promiscuous, Max."

I stepped away from Fang, who had a dazed look about him. "And where did you learn that word?"

He sniggered. "Nelly Furtado."

"Damn it! It isn't going to work."

The man stalked down the hall with his partner beside him. One of the men was in his mid-thirties, but his face was lined with wrinkles. The second man was obviously older, and had an obvious hunch. A third person, a woman, was far down the hall and watching the duo.

The second man shook his head. "We have to keep our cool. Otherwise, it just won't work."

"But Max has already started to figure it out…"

"The boxes were sent in, correct?"

"Naturally," the first man said, running a hand through his hair. "Val got the things delivered, right?"

"Yes, and the correct order as well, thank God. If she'd gotten the real one, we'd have no chance."

The first man shrugged off his lab jacket. He missed San Francisco, where their headquarters had previously been. Nevada was just too damn hot! But seeing as the equivalent of the Armageddon was about to occur, he needed to oversee everything. "Yeah, it'll work quite well. Hopefully. We need this, you know? I can't believe you agreed to this. You started it."

The older man smiled grimly. "Max and Fang's abilities could define us as some of the most important people in the world, if we do it correctly."

The brightly-lit hallway didn't hide the shadow that fell across the younger man's face. "I…I know. I can do this. I can do this."

And without warning, the older man, who was maybe in his fifties or sixties, punched the younger man in the face.

The latter recoiled with a hiss. "What the hell was that for?"

"Don't doubt yourself, we've worked too hard to get here! If you need to build up your confidence, do it somewhere else. Everything is in place. Get it?"

"Got it."


And with that, the two men parted ways, with the infinity of worlds between them.

Valencia Martinez stared at the experiments around her. Several books were spread over the desk, and she had both a PC and laptop running with Internet screens up. Diagrams, figures and illustrations covered the remaining area of the desk. She had just gotten off the phone.

"No freaking way."

Iggy sat in his room, lying on the bed listening to his Ipod. Classical music flowed through the earbuds; most people would assume he listened to rap, or that Iggy Pop guy (he was so sick of those jokes), or whatever the current trend was. But classical musical calmed him down.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when someone tapped him on the shoulder. He ripped out the earbuds. "Nudge?"

Although he couldn't see, the younger girl smiled. "How could you tell?"

Iggy shrugged. "Only you could sneak in here without me hearing. The volume was low."

Iggy felt a weight sit on the end of the bed, and the weight shifted around. Finally, Nude settled into a position. They both were sprawled out on the bed, comfortable with where they were. The evening sun had starting to drift through the openings of the blinds, and a beam of sunlight went right over Iggy's face, even if he didn't notice it.

"This is all pretty crazy, eh?" Nudge commented. "But we've been in worse."

"That doesn't make it any easier."

"Good point." Again, they stayed silent. It was as if neither wanted to interrupt the shared moment.

"Ig, what do you think is going to happen? What's with all of the bombs and stuff we're making?"

The Ipod was still playing, and the two of them could faintly hear a melody coming out of the earbuds that were on the bed. "I'm not sure, but I trust Max," he answered. It took a while for Nudge to reply.

"Is trust enough?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"Do you trust me?"


And then, before he could react, Nudge's lips were on his own.

One-two-…three seconds later, a gasp came from the doorway, having been emitted by a thirteen-year-old girl whose name happened to be Ella.

Two days went by rather quickly: no news from Jeb or Ter Borcht, and I had seen Mom once outside, by the car. Other than that, only the servants were around.

I was sitting in my room, reading over one of Ella's magazines. There was a picture of some Photoshopped girl who looked faker than Barbie. Celebrities smiled at me from every page- ugh. I can't believe people read these! If people spent the amount of time they spent looking up to celebrities focusing on their own lives, they would be fifty times better off.

Just as I was turning the page, one of Fang's thoughts jolted through my head. I processed it quickly- no, this couldn't be right. More thoughts- nononono.

How could this happen?

I threw down the magazine, whipped open my door, and sprinted to the basement. All the way there, I tried to find some way- some crazy way- this could have happened. But not even the most imaginative person in the world could have pulled it off.

I ran through the hallways, went into a room and into the conjoining room where we had stored the explosives. Fang and Gazzy were staring into it, dumbfounded.

"How could this have happened? And why didn't we know?" I asked. "The alarm…should've gone off."

Fang shook his head. "I…don't know. I don't know where they went."

Because somehow all of the explosives we had made over the past while had disappeared. The boxes were overturned, empty.

All the explosives were gone.


The messy, nearly-empty room nearly screamed at the three of us.

This was bad for a few reasons: first, someone had a helluvalot of explosives. Second, we didn't have any.

Which one was worse?

A/N- EPIC Monty Python reference.

I bet you all thought I was kidding about Jimmy Carter being attacked by a killer rabbit.

I know I'm going to be hunted down for the Ella-walking-in-on-Iggy-and-Nudge scene, becuase it's so cliché I gagged a few times. But hey, I need it for the plot, and I've tried to keep the story ascliché-free as humanly possible. (The first rule I set out for myself was absolutely no kidnappings. Seriously, in half the books I read, there's a kidnapping.)

And woot for Brisingr coming out today! Since it's past midnight now...

I'm taking chemistry right now in science, and it's true, once you know the basics you can make explosives rather easily. But that doesn't make naming and combining polyatomic compounds any easier. –sigh-

Sparkles the pony will totally love anyone who reviews. And who doesn't want a pony's love?

30. And

A/N- Chapter dedicated to alpacas. Yes, alpacas.

I know I haven't updated in a while, but I won't bore you with all my reasons. (But believe me, when Conundrum is done, I have a bunch of stories ready for submission.)

Recap: Max and the Flock's explosives were stolen, Valencia Martinez is up to something (it's weird, all of the reviews assumed it was bad), Ella saw Iggy and Nudge kissing (oh, the drama) and Jeb and Ter Borcht are still missing.

At this point I'm re-creating Max's past, and it may or may not comply with canon, so I hope that's cool with you guys.

Here it is, chapter 1/5 of the remaining chaps. This sets up for the three-part climax, and then the epilogue.

"Nudge, get off of me!" Iggy grabbed hold of the girl by the waist and plucked her off of him. Ella, meanwhile, was glued to the doorway, red eyes wide. She watched the scene carefully.

"Iggy?" Nudge's voice was high-pitched. "Are you okay?"


Iggy scrambled back up the bed towards the headrest. "What the hell just happened? Are you crazy? Wait, don't answer that!"

Nudge barely sat where she was, extremely tempted to kiss Iggy again. "Really?"


Iggy took a deep breath. At times like these he wished more than ever he could see Nudge's expression- and Ella's, for that matter.

"Ella," he breathed. "Are you still here?"


Iggy could sense Nudge whipping her head towards the door. "Oh," she said quietly.

There were the slightest vibrations in the bed as Ella stepped into the room. "That was quite the kiss, Nudge," she said, voice barely heard. "If Iggy had been on his feet, you would have knocked him over."

Nudge shifted uncomfortably on the bed. "Thanks…" she said with a blush.

Ella started playing with her hair. "Look," she said. "I'm too young to be involved in any sort of love triangle, okay? You guys have enough issues without me in the picture."

"This…is a love triangle?" Iggy asked, bemused. "Now that is funny."

Ella let out a strangled laugh. "You know what I absolutely hate? In soap operas, the girl always sees another girl making out with her crush or husband or whatever. Seriously, it's like the staple plot maneuver of all cheesy TV shows. And then the one girl runs away and never lets the man explain. So I'm letting you talk. What the hell was that?"

Iggy turned to Nudge. "I had the exact same question on my mind."

Nudge answered immediately. "Max said I should!"

"What?" Out of everything Ella thought she would hear that certainly wasn't it.

"Well," Nudge continued, thinking over her words carefully, "Maybe she didn't say it like that. She said that if I really wanted something I should go and get it."

"That only applies in certain scenarios," Iggy said softly. "Trying to jump me when I'm in bed isn't a great way to say 'I like you'".

Ella smiled, even if Iggy couldn't see it. "You never know what turns some guys on."

Iggy thought that over. "Kinky," he said with a grin.

"But what did I do wrong?" Nudge said, obviously on the verge of tears. "Iggy, I…I…"

Iggy grabbed Nudge by the shoulders. "We're too young, Nudge." He turned to Ella. "That applies for you too. I'm not going to pick between you two, okay? That would destroy your friendship, and that would suck majorly."

Ella nodded. "But we have time, right?"

Iggy wanted to answer so, so, badly, but for some reason he couldn't. Ella just couldn't understand.

"Ella, look. Here's the thing-"

Ella never learned what Iggy was going to say, since out of the blue, Valencia Martinez came flying through the door.

Do you ever have the feeling when you just want to punch someone's guts out?


I get that feeling more and more. For example, I get pretty pissed when someone steals my Cheetos, but this is more of a feeling that takes over your body and threatens to squash everything.

"Well," Fang said, looking into the empty room, "This sucks."

Gazzy nodded. He way crying. "Yup."

We had just lost pounds and pounds of homemade explosives. It was all stable stuff, so we didn't have to worry about it blowing up accidently, but now it was probably going to be used against us.

"We just epically failed," I whispered. Fang and Gazzy made no motion to acknowledge me, but Mom, who came out of nowhere, did.

"What's wrong?" She began frantically. "You guys have to leave here! Now!"

"What! Why? Why now?!" Gazzy was trying even harder to be tough and manly, but he couldn't hold back the tears. "This sucks!"

"It doesn't matter! You have to go…meet Stella by the van! I'll explain there!" We just stood there, stuck between a rock and a hard place. We had to decide if we were going to tell Mom we had just lost an extremely large amount of explosives or not.

We can't tell her! Fang said. Not yet, at least. But we should go.

I blinked in acknowledgment. "Do we have time to bring anything?"

Mom looked like she wanted to hit me for the first time. With a deadly low voice she said, "No."

With that, Gazzy, Fang and I sprinted up the stairs and navigated through the many hallways and passages of Lucia's house. It was nearly a Labyrinth designed by Daedalus or something. When we finally found ourselves in the main hallway, it was deserted. No servants, no boxes, no nothing. We ran out the doors, and saw that a van was parked in the roundabout directly in front of us. Stella waved us towards her with a hurried hand.

Running the last few meters to the van, I saw through the windows that the rest of the Flock -and Ella- were already assembled. Angel, who was sitting in the window seat, was clutching Total close to her chest.

I threw open the doors on one side, while Fang and Gazzy crossed to the opposite side. The van was packed, but there was just enough room for the three of us in the back seat.

For the first time in a while I found I could breathe. "Now," I said calmly, "That was exciting. Great way to wake up."

There was an awkward silence after that.

As in, a really awkward silence.

"What's going on?" Fang asked everyone.

The Flock all shrugged, while Stella stared stonily at the door to the mansion. When Mom came bursting out seconds later clutching only a Blackberry and a purse Stella revved up the engine, which perked to life quickly.

Mom got into the passenger seat in record time. "You have the email?" Stella asked.

"Shut up and drive!" Mom snarled.

Stella hit the gas and drove out of the roundabout and onto the main road. I looked backwards, half expecting the mansion to blow up. Why else was Mom so…irate?

I heard Mom swearing violently under her breath. "What are you saying, Mom?" That was Angel. Out of the entire Flock, only she and I called her Mom.

"Just a word that starts with an 'f' and ends with 'uck'," she said. My eyes bugged out.

"You mean firetruck?" Angel asked in a sweet voice, even though she totally knew what Mom was implying.

I burst out in a laugh, even though it earned me a hard glare from Mom.

"Yes Angel," she said quietly. "Firetruck."

"But why are we even here?" Nudge asked. "You were in a total panic. And where's Lucia?"

"Lucia's over at a friend's house." Mom ran a hand through her hair. "Just read this." She passed us the Blackberry, and it was an email.

"I'm sorry," she said.

Val, the email read.

If I know you at all, the entire Flock is going to be reading this at some point or another. This email should thus be addressed to them, but it's so time consuming to type out all of their names.

Well, it's time to give up this game. Yes, you've been playing a game, Val, for about fifteen years now. And Max, this game started when you were born.

Your mother and I knew you were special. We had decided to try and raise a child together, but when Val was pregnant with you, doctors' tests showed that you were physically disabled, and there were genes in you that meant you would most likely have mental problems as well. When you were born, Max, it was a horrible sight. You didn't even look like a baby. At this point, I was still working for Itex, just so you know.

I told Val that Itex was doing a few experiments, and that maybe we could help you. She didn't want to give you up, but I persuaded her by slipping her drugs. Yes, Val, it's true. You can stop hating yourself now. More drugs, and you thought Max had disappeared forever.

Anyways, you were Itex's dream. We fixed you, Max. And now you're amazing. After the success of you, we managed to find even more children who were compatible with our experiments. They are the people probably sitting beside you right now.

So that's a brief history of how you came to be, Max. Anyways, there is a more important topic to be discussed: you and Fang.

Did you know that the genes that would have given you a mental disability when you were born are actually helping you with your "connection" to Fang? If the cells in your brain had been stronger, the connection would have been more stressed and jerked. It was a totally coincidence that you and Fang connected. I knew you were capable of doing it, but it would have been better if it had been done under controlled circumstances, and preferably to someone else, such as a scientist. But we can't have everything. I had to wait until now, since your brain was still growing too quickly when you were younger.

So what does this have to do with a game? Well, games have goals, and in games you follow the rules. I certainly have a goal, although I do admit I've broken a fair many rules.

You should consider yourself a lamb (or perhaps a martyr if you want a more romantic term). I'm sacrificing you for the greater good of the world. I have no issues with this.

Think about it. If the world could speak mind-to-mind, it would eliminate all means for phones or email or letters. Everything could be instantaneous. No more waiting. The whole world would be connected by their thoughts. Oh, the possibilities! Let's say you're in a dangerous situation. All you have to do is get in contact with a person who knows how to get out of the situation, and you're saved.

No more lies! The world would have to be completely honest and open! Society would be revolutionized.

And it all comes back to you, Max.

All it will take is a few experiments. And you'll be alive the whole time! (Hopefully.) There's no need for senseless killing.


If the deaths justify the end result, I believe in killing. I am a scientist above all, and nothing can stop that.

It was me who stole your explosives, Max. I won't tell you how, naturally, but it wasn't hard. All of them are scheduled to explode at exactly midnight tonight. I've placed them at: 36°11′39″N 115°13′19″W. They're all in the surrounding area.

How do you know I've actually set off the timers? Watch the attached video.

This is where things get really interesting. This a trap. I'm saying it right now. But you have to go and unhook all of the bombs. You made a lot of them, Max, and I'll give you these figures right now:

Luxor: 5

Mirage: 10

Caesar: 2

Strip: 12

New York: 7

Hard Rock: 3

Hilton: 1

Mandalay: 6

Hollywood: 9

There you go, that should help. But the bombs are placed in very hard places to find. You've probably already phoned the bomb squad, Val, but they'll never find them. Only the Flock's amazing vision can locate them, in most cases.

And at one of those spots, I'll find you, Max. I'll take you away.

Don't worry, though. Everything will be alright.


Your father, Jeb, and Ter Borcht

Normally in a situation like this I would say a witty remark.

But… I can't.

This is just… overwhelming.

Jeb had taken the explosives? I stared hard at the letter. He said he had placed them at 36°11′39″N 115°13′19″W.

"Oh, shit," I said suddenly. "That's not where I think it is, is it?"

Mom nodded. "Downtown Las Vegas."

Fang was looking at the Blackberry. "And that list. Those are all of the popular tourist spots, except for 'Strip'. That must be referring to the actual Las Vegas Strip, you know. The road. It's four miles long!"

"I watched the video in the attachment," Mom said. "He set the explosives. He attatched the timers himself. He could have unhooked them, too, but I doubt it. I did already call the bomb squad, but if Jeb says they won't find anything, then they probably won't."

I watched the scenery pass by through the window. I had been both physically and mentally challenged when I was born? And Jeb had drugged Mom? I shoved the thoughts to the back of my head. "So when there was that car accident…Jeb and Ter Borcht just escaped that way? Stella, you didn't know about this?"

Glancing in the rearview mirror, I did a double take. She was crying. "No," she said with all honesty. "But I do need to say something else."

We all looked up in anticipation. She said quietly, with tears streaming down her face, "It was Jeb. Fang…it was Jeb who shot you."

Everyone's jaw dropped. Fang's eyes were as wide as dinner plates, and I could feel the adrenaline rush through him. His mouth went open and closed, as if he was trying to form words, but he wasn't able to. Fang being shot had dropped from our minds.

"What?" Total, who had been silent up until now, asked in a whisper.

Stella sniffed, but the tears kept coming. I had never seen her even smile before. She was always so emotionless! In the back of my head I realized it was dangerous for her to be driving.

"He had been monitoring Max's cerebral activity through some instruments that he had been keeping with him. When it increased tenfold, he knew she had connected with someone. Through careful observation, he learned it was you. He tried to get you down so that he could see why you of all people she connected with. He wasn't planning, though, to have you fall to the bottom of the forest. He had planned for you to fall closer to him."

I realized where this was going. "So I went out, got Fang back, and Jeb eventually followed. And that time when he was at our house, he was monitoring me?"

She nodded. "Yes. All of the things he needed were packed away in the trunk of his car, and if he needed something, he got out and brought it in when you weren't paying attention or weren't there. That's why we had no bags: it was all in the car."

"And you went along with this?" This was obviously the first time Mom had heard this.

"I thought it was a completely harmless experiment! But after he shot Fang, I switched my views. I started to try and stop his plans, or at least foul them up."

"You know how when there were those intruders in the forest, after we…killed…them, they disappeared? What happened?" That was Gazzy.

Stella shrugged. "I don't know. He never told me." She wiped away the tears. "But think about this. If Jeb finds out a way to connect the world, it will be the end of privacy. How would you feel if your secrets were open to everyone? Countries would go to war, since it would be revealed how much they hate each other. And Jeb's hardly gotten around to knowing how to sort through seven billion people's thoughts in your head!

"There could be no learning, since everyone would know 'everything'! But then there would be no scientific or technical gains, because everyone would be perfectly happy with the new rush of knowledge. I could go on and on about the repercussions."

I sat with my head in my lap. Just contending with Fang's thoughts was hard! Seven billion others? I shuddered.

"It's the end of the world as we know it," Iggy said softly. "And I most certainly do not feel fine."

The sun was starting its climb into the sky. It was seven in the morning. We had seventeen hours to unhook all of the bombs.

"I'm presuming that the numbers beside the tourist spots in the email are the number of explosives in each place," I said, reading it over.

Mom turned around. "How the hell did Jeb know you guys were making them? And how did he know where they were? It's as if he planned it himself. And you guys should have told me about them!"

I looked down in shame. "That's totally my fault," I said. "But we were tired of having adults screw us over, even if Jeb did that again anyways. We wanted to be prepared, but that backfired."

Mom took a deep breath. "It's okay. We'll get out of this. We always do."

"We should split up the list," Nudge said. "There are nine places, and six of us. So if we split into groups of two, we can each take three places. But we need to consider the Strip… there are twelve bombs there, so Dr. M and Stella should scout out there. There's no way only two people could do it all."

"What about me?" Ella asked.

Mom looked into the rearview mirror so she could look her in the eyes. "We'll get you're a hotel room or something."

"What! No way!" Ella was pissed.

"Yes way," Mom said. Before Ella could protest further, she continued, "That sounds like a good plan. What are the groups?"

"I'll go with Angel," I said. I was putting the oldest member with the youngest.

"And I'll go with Nudge," Fang added. I need to watch her. She seems upset.

Yeah. I just hope Gazzy and Iggy will be alright.

Gazzy and Iggy high-fived. "Yeah!" they both said, happy with the partner situation.

"So we'll take the Luxor, the Mirage, and Caesar's Palace," I said, and everyone else took their places. Fang, Nudge, Mom and Stella would be searching the Strip.

"And how will we know when we find the explosives?" Angel asked. "Jeb said they were difficult to find, except if we're the ones searching."

Stella answered, even though Angel hadn't been talking to her. She was still clutching the steering wheel tightly. "He of all people would find a way."

Half an hour passed before traffic started to get really heavy. Stella banged on the horn more than was necessary, but it actually seemed to do the trick in a few cases. As we got to the outer limits of the city, my heart started to race.

Nervous? Fang asked.


We'll do it. We'll unhook the bombs while making sure you're not taken away or whatever. If anyone in the world can do the impossible, it's you.

The tension unrolled slightly as I smiled. "Thanks."

As we passed the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign, I grimaced.

Somehow, I had the feeling we wouldn't be welcome at all.

A/N- Time for a three-part climax which will only have one author's note, starting at the beginning. It feels so good to be close to the finish line!

Reviews and con-crit are still and will always be loved, even if I've said that about thirty times now.

Llamas and alpacas for the win!

31. Actually

A/N- Well, I could go on and on about why I've not updated, but it's quite the epic story involving exponential numbers of pirates and ninjas, and it would simply take too long.

Oh, whoever can figure out what the story is based off of gets Internet props. If all else fails, check out chapter five. It's crazy; I still remember writing chapter 14, which was last Christmas' chapter.

This is, by far, the longest chapter. Read all of it, even if some parts seem unimportant or slow. The next chapter will be posted later today, seeing as it's exactly midnight. No matter what you celebrate, or even if you don't, have a great winter break! (Or summer, for those in the Southern Hemisphere.)

Kudos to Blackwing Rose for that one line, and to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra for making good music. Thanks to my geography class last year. I stole of your names for my OCs. Y'all had cool names.

There won't be any A/Ns for a while, and the "bad" language in the following chapters will be more than the previous chapters.

Recap: Jeb and Ter Borcht have placed bombs in all of Las Vegas' top tourist spots, which will go off at midnight. The Flock has to go and defuse all of them, and then confront Jeb and Ter Borcht. –insert epic music here-

Here we go!

We may not make good decisions
But hell, we make good stories.


Seventeen hours.

We had seventeen hours to defuse all of the bombs and drag Jeb to Hell.

This was a new low. What was the point of putting innocent lives at risk? Just to trap me? He was doing a damn good job of doing it, too.

Seventeen hours.


Are you okay? Fang was genuinely concerned.

That's a rhetorical question. No, I'm not. Fang…this is too close for comfort. My hands balled up into fists.

I looked out of the window of the van. Strange people from all races and ethnicities stared back at me. Despite it being seven in the morning, prostitutes were still advertising themselves on the streets, and businessmen went their way, eyes to the ground. The sky overhead was clear and bright.

Stella turned into a parking garage. The lighting was weird; the garage bordered on empty air, so light came in that way, but the overhead lights put everything into shadows. Stella paid the toll and found parking space on the fifth floor. For a moment after she turned off the van, no one moved, afraid they would break a fragile spell or something. "Get out," she said, voice monotone.

I undid the seatbelt and slid out of the van. The cold, dark walls of the garage were horrid; they smelled of urine and vomit. Vegas looked fantastic so far.

"So here's the deal," Stella said, tying her hair back with a clip. "Max, you said you and Angel were going to take the bombs at the Luxor, the Mirage and Caesar's Palace. Fang and Nudge, you've got New York New York, the Hard Rock and the Hilton. I know you said you were searching the Strip, but I want to take some pressure off the hotels.

"Gazzy, Iggy, you're on at Mandalay Bay and Planet Rock. Don't worry about concealing your wings, that's taken care of. When you're done, help Val and me on the Strip. Ella, take Total and sign in at any hotel which I didn't just mention. At two in the morning, meet us here. Sound good?"

"No," Ella grumbled. She took the money Stella had outstretched in her hand. "I feel useless. But whatever."

Without looking back, she whisked her hair and went over to a door in the side of the garage and took the steps down the ground floor. Her footsteps echoed behind her.

Mom took a deep breath, watching her go with sad eyes. "We all have each other's cell numbers, so at least we're connected. The first person to find a bomb, call the others so we know what we're looking for."

We all nodded, trying to control our breathing.

Part of me was revving to go and smash some bombs, but the other part wanted to go and cuddle up in a warm bed with cookies. Well, something told me I could hardly get my second option, so I'd have to live with the first one. Damn. Cookies sounded good right about now.

"I love you all," Mom said. She was holding back tears. Crap. "Good luck."

She and Stella went to the door Ella had gone out, leaving the Flock behind. The door closed with a resounding click. We looked at each other apprehensively.

"Think of this like High School Musical," Nudge said. "You know, that whole 'all in this together' crap can actually be applied here."

"Our lives are not Disney movies!" Gazzy yelled. "We don't have happy ever afters! We have afters. That is, if we don't get blown up!"

Without another word, he ran over to the side of the parking garage. He hopped onto the railing and jumped off, yelling as he did so. His wings unfolded behind him as he caught the wind.

"Go after him," I said to Iggy. "Good luck. We need it."

He nodded, ran to the railing and jumped off as well. I watched as he streaked the sky after the Gasman.

"Ready Nudge?" Fang squeezed her hand, and she smiled weakly.

"Yeah," she whispered. "Ready."

Together they ran to the railing and jumped off in tandem. It was a neat effect, actually.

Angel and I were alone in the enclosing garage. She took a deep breath and tucked some of her hair behind her ears. "I know you're worried, Max. But doing nothing won't help anything. You have to fix it. So come on. We don't have long."

Why is it kids are so logical? Crazy.

I kneeled so we could be at eye level. "You're right. Where you do want to check first?"

"The Luxor is s a giant pyramid- we have to start there!" I laughed. Despite the life-and-death situation, she could still be fascinated by a giant pyramid.

We walked over to the railing. The sun was still ascending. The city never really slept, but there was a feeling of newness in the air. I stepped on the railing, and Angel did as well, but farther down on the railing. We both spread our wings to their maximum, enjoying the stretch. I met her eyes, bent my knees, and we launched into the air.

We seared the sky, almost happy.


Hot damn, the Luxor was cool.

It was indeed a kickass huge pyramid- it pretty much defined the Las Vegas skyline. Inside, masses of people milled around. The very first thing that dominated the front foyer was a massive sphinx, and the check-in area was to the right.

"How could we possibly find something in all of this?" Angel was dwarfed by all of the people surrounding us, none of who were checking out our wings. For the first time I was glad of Las Vegas' weirdness- our wings weren't overly 'out there'.

"Jeb would've left us hints or something," I said. "There are five bombs in here, according to that list he emailed Mom. If you were a creepy mad scientist, where would you hide the bombs?"

"Where there are a lot of people," she replied without missing a beat. "Oooh, we should check out the slots and whatever."

"Good idea." They weren't hard to find; we went around the giant sphinx and were bombarded with colors and lights.

The gambling area was humongous. It was easily a hundred meters from me to the back wall. People were mindlessly plugging coins into the slots with zombie-like movements. People at blackjack tables yelled and cheered with each new deck. Roulette wheels were spinning quickly, getting screams from all its drunken players. Everyone was dressed in skimpy clothes and had obviously pulled an all-nighter. The whole atmosphere was Egyptian-themed, with scantily-clad girls walking around dropping coins and serving free drinks.

"Where to start?" I asked, blown away by the amount of noise.

Angel was looking around, but her eyes were continuously drawn upwards. "He'd make sure only we could get to them. Remember? He said the bomb squad wouldn't be able to get to them- woah!"

She was looking to the top of an obelisk. It looked a bit like the Washington Monument, but painted with hieroglyphics. At the very top of it was a tiny black box, painted with a bit of yellow on the top. I could only see of it because of my unnaturally good sight- since the obelisk was thirty feet tall, no one would have noticed it. The box seemed to be perfectly balanced on the top of the point.

"The only way to get there is to fly..." I said, sighing. I really didn't want to cause a riot.

"Not if we're creative." Angel took off her shoe and looked for a vantage point. "It won't go off if I hit it, right?"

I nodded. "Are you accurate enough? That's a hard target."

"We're going to see."

She found the spot she was looking for, which was a few feet back from the obelisk. People glanced at us, but didn't stop or do any double-takes. Angel looked around to see if security was watching us (they weren't- they were too focused on the gamblers) and reeled up for her throw. She threw the shoe with true aim; it neatly took the box off of the top of the obelisk.

We ran to the other side. No one had been hit by the flying shoe, which was a bonus- how would we have explained that?

As Angel put on the shoe, I picked up the box. It looked exactly like all the bombs we had made, but it was lighter. I snapped open the case, frowning.

I took out a piece of paper that had been folded many times. I opened it fully and spread it out so we could both read it.

No, this isn't a bomb, it read. But this will tell you where they are.

Beneath it was written a list of the five bombs and where they were located. "Sick!" I yelled, happy at not having to look, but then I looked at the locations.

"Shit," I said. "The first one is under that roulette table."

I nodded to a table surrounded by a bunch of inebriated adults who were more than joyous. I bit my tongue. This would take some imagination.

"Wait here," I told Angel. "Let's see if this works. Call the rest of the Flock to tell them to find the first 'control box' that tell them where to find the bombs."

As Angel took out the cell phone, I snuck over to the table, aware of the dozens of security cameras. Minors weren't even allowed to be in gambling sections, so I didn't want to draw any attention. As I got over to the table, I 'tripped'.

"Woah!" I yelled as I hit the ground. Some of the players at the table gasped and laughed. I wiggled a bit and managed to get under the table. I quickly looked up- indeed, there was a small black box duct taped to the underside of the table. I ripped it off and shoved in my pocket.

I crawled back under the table and stood. "Wing girl fell dooowwn!" One of the drunkards yelled.

I could feel dozens of people looking at me. "Sorry," I said. "Clumsy."

Walking back to Angel was the longest walk I've ever faced. Luckily no one followed me. She was sitting up against the obelisk, looking worried. I showed her the box, and she smiled. "How do you defuse it?"

"Just watch."

I switched open the case, and I saw a mass of wires. Indeed, the black and red wires were connected, which meant that it was activated, but stable. An extremely small LED screen was timing down.

"Fang made up a rhyme in case we had to deactivate it. It goes: Red and white make no fight. Black and green are very mean. Black and red will keep you ahead."

"What does that mean, though?"

I glared at the case. "This isn't like the movies. It takes about fifteen minutes to defuse even one…anyways, it means that if the red and white wires are together, the bomb is turned off. If the black and green wires are together, then the bomb is unstable. Black and red means that it's being timed, and won't go off until then."

I looked around- people didn't notice us just sitting there. Security had other things to worry about- they probably thought our parents were checking in or something.

"So," I said. "The trick is to combine the red and white wire together. Once they are, you have to get it out from the black wire."

I grimaced. "I won't defuse it now- it'll take too long. I'll keep it in my pocket. Where's the next bomb?"

It turns out all of the other bombs were hidden in awkward but easy-to-reach places. Two were placed behind slots; one was on top of the giant sphinx (Angel's shoes solved that problem) and the last was behind the check-in counter. For that one I had pretended to check in, only to drop my cell phone behind the counter. When I reached far over the grab it, I took the black box taped to the underside of the counter as well.

"Skill," Angel had said.

Now we were back outside on the sidewalk, trying not to draw attention to ourselves. More cars were on the Strip, and the sidewalk traffic was starting to increase as the day wore on. "That was way too easy," I said. "How could the LVPD or the bomb squad not find those?"

Angel looked at me quizzically. "LVPD?"

"Las Vegas Police Department. Learned it from CSI. But really- that only took us an hour. What Iggy and Gazzy say when you called them?"

Angel frowned. "About that…"

"Gazzy! Come on! We need to get working!"

Iggy was still trying to frantically catch up to his best friend who was streaking in the opposite direction of where they needed to go. Gazzy didn't even look back, and Iggy was only able to follow him because of the disturbance he caused in the air.

"Gazzy! Stop it! This is exactly like everything else. If we don't hurry, who knows what'll happen!" He couldn't keep the pleading tone out of his voice.

Gazzy stopped suddenly, causing Iggy to almost fly right past him. Thousands of feet below them, the people of Las Vegas were oblivious to what was going on. The duo was hovering only a few feet away from each other, wings flapping behind them. "It's not like everything else, Ig! It's not! Why can't we just leave it all alone! It won't affect us- I'm sick and tired of saving other people when they do nothing for me. We're treated like freaks and outcasts. So the second they help me, I'll help them."

"Gazzy, think about it! Why is it getting to you now?"

"I don't want to die!" Gazzy was frantic. "It's not fair, Ig! Why is it we have to have this burden? Did we do something horrible in a previous life or something? There has to be some explanation!"

"Gazzy, calm down." Iggy calculated in his head that they still had over sixteen and a half hours, but the more time he wasted on Gazzy, the more chance of people getting hurt.

"What if I don't want to BE calm?" Iggy wasn't able to see the panic on his face.

Gazzy began to flap his wings to start another mad dash in the sky, but Iggy was ready. Before Gazzy could gain momentum, Iggy grabbed onto his friend and pulled his own wings tightly against his back. Gazzy couldn't hold them up with his wings, and they started to plummet.

"What are you doing!" Gazzy yelled over the rush of the air current. Iggy had his arms wrapped tightly around his chest.

"Shoving some sense into your brain!" The land was rising up quickly. "Damn it, Gazzy, do you really want to have essentially killed hundreds of people because they were mean? Don't you want to do the right thing? Or are you too special for that? You've done it before and you can do it again! Be better than everyone else! You can't just run away!"

Suddenly, Iggy released his wings, and they came to a sudden, jarring halt three thousand feet above the city. Iggy stilled hadn't released his position resembling a hug. "You know, maybe you should run away. Then I'll know for sure if you're my friend or not. It's your choice."

Gazzy looked like he'd been slapped. Tears lined his face, but Gazzy himself didn't know if they were from the wind or his words.

And then, in the middle of the dramatic scene, Iggy's cell phone rang.

Tempted to chuck it below, Iggy released Gazzy and took it out. "What?" he barked.

"It's me," Angel's crackly voice answered. The reception was terrible. "Find a black box with a yellow dot on it- it tells you where all the bombs are."

"Fine!" Iggy shouted and snapped it shut. He turned to Gazzy. "Angel and Max already know where all the bombs are in one of their places. So you can come with me or go away."

The ultimatum gave Gazzy no choice. "Sorry," he whispered, and flew back to where they were originally going. Iggy paused before going after.

"Not half as sorry as I am," he said to himself, and went streaming after his best friend.

"So Iggy was in a bad mood?" I wasn't glad to hear that. We needed everyone calm and collected. Angel just shrugged noncommittally.

"And Fang already knows about the box through our connection…everything is going well on his end," I continued. "Where's the next place we have to check?"

"The Mirage…" Angel said. An alarm went off in my head- Jeb said that sooner or later he'd catch me. Did that mean that he'd soon attack me? We had been so open at the Luxor…

"Don't worry about it, Max," Angel said, reading my thoughts. "Focus on what we can change."

Again, Angel was right. Sometimes it's so much easier to overthink things…

It turns out the bombs at The Mirage were much, much harder to find. Again, we found the black box with the instructions to get them easily. But this time, they were placed in horrible places.

"Attached to the ceiling?" Angel read, groaning. "In the vault where the money's kept…how did Jeb get them there?"

"He probably has connections," I said, shoving my hands in my pocket. The Mirage was more "classy" than the Luxor, and we looked that much more out of place with our dirty skin and mangled clothes. Everything was tinged with sepia, and couches lined the circular entryway. Farther away I could hear the sounds of slots and other gamblers wasting away their life savings.

Angel finished reading off the other eight bombs. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. "We're going to be here for a while, something tells me."

Her solemn eyes went up, trying to find the one on the ceiling. "Yup."

We were there for a long, long time, actually.

Seven frikken hours to be exact.

That meant we had only nine hours left until midnight. Seriously, why does everything happen at midnight? It's so cliché. Jeb could have thought of something a tad more original. But creativity would probably explode his brain.

Anyways, the time in The Mirage nearly drove Angel and me over the edge. The bomb on the ceiling? We naturally had to fly up and get it, which meant security was on our asses when we got back down, and we ran through the hotel until we lost them. Then we had to steal dancers' wigs so we wouldn't be looking the exact same, and we stole some coats in a closet to hide our wings. Then we had to find the other bombs with the coats on and with security throwing us dirty glances.

For the bomb in the money vault, I stole a janitor's uniform, and using "feminine charm" (which meant I just stuck out my chest and smiled a lot) I got past the security people, saying I had to clean the vault. I shuddered- "feminine charm" made me feel like someone I wasn't.

The other eight bombs were hidden extremely well, and I finally realized what Jeb had meant about the bomb squad not being able to find them. Not only were they small, but they were room temperature, which meant they wouldn't come up on any thermal scans. Some were hidden in guests' rooms; others were in swimming pools.

My head felt like it had been shot with from point-blank range. And let me say, that is not the best feeling in the world.

Fang and I had been keeping up a streaming conscious throughout the whole ordeal. He and Nudge were already on their last hotel, but they were having trouble on it.

Iggy and Gazzy, meanwhile, were a complete mystery. After Angel's first call, whenever we phoned them, we got voice mail. Stella and Mom, too, didn't answer their phones.


Chocolate would be lovely right about now.

Really, really lovely.

Angel snapped her fingers in front of my face. I blinked and recoiled a bit, getting back to Earth. We were standing on a side street, with no one else around, despite it being one o'clock in the afternoon.

"You okay, Max? We only have Caesar's Palace next."

"I know. But we still have these to go through."

I pointed to the bulging pockets in our jackets. Each one was a bomb that had to be defused properly, which would be fifteen minutes each. Seeing as we had fifteen of them, it would take…

225 minutes, Fang answered for me. Or 3.75 hours.

Nice math. But is that only for one person? Angel would be helping too.

Fang thought about it. 1.9 hours, then. For both of you.

I kept back a yell of frustration. Is there a shorter way?

No, unless you want to risk blowing your head off. But the more you do of it, the faster you get. I can do mine in seven minutes, but at extreme risk. See, you have to split the red wire and attach it to the white, but make sure no black is with it, because if you touch the green, then, there will be a very pretty lights show around you.

Red and white make no fight. Black and green are very mean. Black and red will keep you ahead, I chanted.

Yeah. Oh, Nudge and I are still on The Hilton…geez, how are we supposed to get the bomb if it's in the shark tank? I mean, really, Jeb's probably laughing at us right now.

There was a sickening lurch in my stomach. Jeb said he'd trap me…and he didn't at the Luxor or at The Mirage, which mean he would at our next stop- Caesar's Palace.

Good luck with the sharks…I said, and then turned to Angel.

"We'd better get working on defusing them."

"Who would put a bomb in a shark tank?"


"Well, obviously."

Fang and Nudge stood in front of the tank, eyeing the four blacktip reef sharks swimming in their spacious aquarium. They were in a long corridor connecting two parts of the hotel, and a few other tourists walked in the hallway as well. The aquarium was melded into the wall seamlessly.

The pair were even more frustrated because the bomb was so close- on the far right, bottom right corner of the glass, the bomb was attached…but on the other side.

"We're going to have to go in," Nudge said, rubbing her hands together. "The aquarium is embedded into the wall, so I guess that's the only way to go in."

She was motioning to a trapdoor on the far side of the tank, where food would be thrown in.

"They can't be that bad…" Fang mused. "They're just overgrown goldfish. And someone has to clean the tank from time to time."

"But how do we get over to the other side?"

"We'll figure it out. Follow me."

Fang casually stuck his hands in his pocket, trying to look normal, despite the wings. Fang tried to argue that they should hide them, but Stella had disagreed. And when Fang had asked Stella why they didn't just tell the bomb squad where the bombs were, or to tell the hotel they needed an all-access pass or whatever, Stella had said that Jeb's "minions" were everywhere.

Fang motioned to a door that led outside. Nudge followed, and they emerged in the too-bright sunlight of the afternoon.

The back side of the hotel was bland, and no one was around. There were many doors embedded in the wall, and none of them had labels or even handles.

Fang was stumped.

"Well, we can get which door it is if we just listen," Nudge reasoned. "There's got to be generators running, and the sound of water. Take the doors farther down."

"Sure thing."

Nudge leaned up against the door and listened. There was the sound of voices, and nothing else. In the next four doors there was nothing. In the final door, she heard the exact thing she had described: The sounds of splashing and generators.

"I think it's here!" she called out. Fang looked up from his door and came running over.

"So how do we open it?" Nudge asked. The door, despite its color difference, was surrounded by the wall and could only be opened from the inside.

"This I do know," he replied. "Can I get your credit card?"

"Sure, but if you ruin it, I'll kill you."

She handed over the Flock's Mastercard, which Dr. M had bestowed upon them. Fang took the card and twirled it, looking it over.

"I guess it'll do," he mumbled.

Carefully, he slid the card down the small seam. There was the smallest click, and Fang grinned.

"Okay," he said calmly, "Dig your nails into the door. It'll hurt, but it's worth it."

"You're paying for my manicure," was all she replied, smiling. She pulled up her sleeves and dug her nails into the door. Seeing as the door was unlocked by the card, it was much easier than expected. The door gave an inch. Nudge let go, and grabbed the portion of the door that stuck out from the outside wall. She opened it fully, and they were given access to what was indeed the shark's aquarium. Past some equipment and machinery they could see the sharks.

"Damn straight!" Fang yelled, happy at something finally going right. "I feel like James Bond."

They walked into the room, closing the door behind them, regretting leaving the shining sun. Everything was blue, naturally, and the floor was wet.

Nudge was already digging around in the racks lining the back room. She threw out a wetsuit for him, and started putting on one of her own. When she finished, the wetsuit was distorted heavily due to her wings. "I guess you're right."

Fang was about to offer suggestion on how to enter the tank safely when he heard a giant splash. Nudge had climbed up the steps to the top of the tank and had jumped in.

"Nudge!" Fang ran up the metal steps and paused. Nudge broke the surface of the water.

"The water's cold…" she shivered. "You know, I bet you don't even have to come in. I can get it."

Before Fang could yell out, she dived beneath the surface.

"Oh God," he muttered to himself, slightly relieved at not having to go himself. He tried to stare into the murky water to see which hazy shape was Nudge, but he couldn't tell the difference between them all.

Fang's tension was rising. What if the sharks were hostile? Did these sharks even attack humans? Did Nudge know how to defend herself? What if that was the last time she ever breathed?

After ten seconds of Nudge being underwater, Fang was beside himself. The 'what ifs' crawled under his skin…

"Catch!" came a voice. Fang looked up, his heart beating expectantly. Nudge threw him the black box, which he caught easily in his right hand.

Nudge looked down below. "See you guys later," she said, and swam over to Fang.

"How was it?" he asked, stepping back on the top of the metal landing as Nudge stepped out of the huge tank.

"Those sharks were adorable!" she gushed. "They rammed into my legs and were all cute and cuddly."

Fang blinked. "You're sure they weren't trying to bite your leg off?"

"Well, they probably were, but hey, it was still cute. Bobby and Tim were especially nice."

"You named them?"

"Of course I did. Wouldn't you?"

"Done." I leaned back, working out a kink in my back. Angel and I had just finished defusing all fifteen bombs. My eyes were killing me from staring at the tiny wires, and my fingers were bleeding from splitting the wire.

We were sitting on an outcrop of rock in the Mojave Desert, which encompassed Las Vegas. We decided to fly out of the city so that if we did mess up, then nobody would get hurt by the following explosion. We only had to fly for a minute to get into the Desert. Vegas, which was still extremely close by, was literally a mirage out of nowhere.

"I'll call Iggy and see how he's doing," Angel said, taking the cell phone out. "Hopefully he'll answer." She dialed the number and put it on speakerphone so I could hear as well.

"Hey," Iggy answered on the second ring. "What's up?"

"We're done defusing all our bombs," Angel said cheerily. "What about you guys?"

"We found all of them," Iggy said, "Although we just got the last one. We're going to start to defuse them now, but it shouldn't take us that long, because we've done this stuff so much."

"We're going to go try and find Stella and Mom," I said. "They still haven't answered any of our calls. Am I missing anything?"

Angel frowned. "Yeah, but I don't remember…it can't be that important. Anyways, we'll be on the Strip. It should be pretty easy to find us."

"Sounds good!" Iggy hung up.

"Ready?" I asked, standing up stiffly. We had been sitting for almost two hours, and the sun was beating mercilessly down on us.

"Yeah," Angel said, frowning. "But I still feel as if we forgot something."

"It'll come back to you," I said, stretching out my wings. Without another word I launched into the air, and Angel followed seconds later.

It still felt weird to be flying this low in the daylight, but hopefully Stella knew what she was doing. A few people looked up, but they didn't point. They probably thought we were filming a movie or something.

We arrived at the Strip, Vegas's main road full of commercial hotels and attractions. We perched atop a low building. Using our frikken-awesome vision, we scanned for Mom and Stella. It took a few minutes, but before long we picked out the two of them. They were near Planet Hollywood and were dumping out trashcans.

Angel looked up and saw that the sun was just beginning to climb down the sky. "Uh oh…"

I looked up and grimaced. "We need to get moving."

In our race against time, time was winning. As always, for that matter.

My feet pounded against the loose gravel of the building top, and I pushed off against the top ledge to give me enough momentum to get moving. The wind blew my hair back…despite all my worries, wow… I loved flying.

I streamlined over to Mom and Stella, arriving in less than a minute. I slowed down, and landed a few meters from them. They looked up with neutral expressions.

"Why haven't you been answering our calls?" I asked as Angel landed behind me.

"Are you kidding?" Stella waved a hand to the horrendous traffic behind us. I hadn't noticed the Strip get so busy, since Angel and I had moved to the edges of town to defuse the bombs. Thousands of people were in the streets and on the sidewalks, a good portion of them staring at me. It seemed as if the whole world was in Vegas, and they were all dressed in fancy clothes. Smells of delicious food wafted towards me.

"Have you found any of the bombs?" Angel asked, brushing dirt off of her shirt.

"We've defused all of them but five, which we're still looking for. We don't even know where they are- the note in the box that said that five of them were going to remain a mystery for us, which really sucks." Mom looked as if she wanted to strangle somebody.

"We'll help, too." There was a flutter of wings, and Fang and Nudge landed. "We've got ours done."

"So the bombs could be anywhere on the Strip? Anywhere in four miles?" Nudge asked. Her hair was wild after being in the shark tank- Fang had told me all about that.

Stella nodded. "They'll be near the street, at least."

Mom untied her hair. "I feel like crap for practically ditching Ella. She sent us a text saying she's signed into a hotel."

"She's fine, and it's for the best," Stella answered, overturning another trashcan.

We went to work, looking under benches and in bus shelters. We received more strange looks than I've ever received before, with a few people even scoffing.


"FOUND ONE!" Angel's ecstatic voice could probably have been heard down the entire Strip. She was holding onto the edge of a dumpster with one hand, and the other hand was thrust high with the bomb.

Fang ran over to see if any more could be found, and as he did so, Iggy and Gazzy came down from the sky.

"Sorry we're late," Iggy landed with a soft thump, with a miserable-looking Gazzy beside him. "What're we looking for?"

After we filled him in, they went off to search further on down. After Angel's initial success, nothing came for another two hours.

I looked at my watch to see what time it was. Normally I could tell what time it was pretty easily, but it was just too hot out to concentrate. But it was the strangest thing: my watch flashed at 12:00.

"What time is it?" I called over to Nudge. She looked at her watch.

"I don't know," she yelled over the noise of the street. "My watch is weird."

Something was wrong. Fang, what time is it?

A pause. I'm not sure, actually, my watch is messed up.

My adrenaline was increasing. I turned to the sidewalk and picked out a young woman with a watch. "What time is it?" I asked.

She glanced down, frowning. "Not sure, my watch is whacked. Sorry." She went on her way.

I looked at each person's wrist as they walked by, trying to find someone with a watch. "What time is it?" I asked an older man.

"Time for you to get a watch," he sniffed.

"Ugh!" I turned away and flipped out my cell phone. Again, 12:00.

Mom was about a hundred meters from me up the Strip. I made my way over to her, not wanting to fly.

"Something's wrong with everyone's watches," I called.

She looked at her own watch. "Jeb," she whispered quietly. "Now we won't know exactly when midnight is. Damn, he's good."

"How'd he do it?" Fang ran up next to me and wiped the sweat out of his eyes. He had stripped off his sweater by now.

"It's easy, actually- he just sent out a magnetic pulse, which is also messing with your internal clock." Mom shifted her stance. "He's brilliant."

She turned her back on us. For ease of conversation, I spoke to Fang mentally.

We'll get out of this, right?

Of course.

He leaned in, and despite both of us being tremendously sweaty and sticky, he kissed me. It was romantic, in a sick sort of way.

I'm always here for you, Max, he said, before softly smiling and walking back to his original position.

I watched him walk away.

It was easily ten o'clock at night, and we still had two bombs to find.

Nudge and Gazzy had found the other three, with Nudge getting two. And they had found them over a course of about seven hours.

The Strip was nearly overloading my senses. Everything was colorful and loud. The Luxor had a giant beam shooting out from the top of the pyramid, and fountains going off in marvelous displays. The sidewalk was impossible to search now, as the traffic was so intense that you literally couldn't stand still. Playboys got out of their limos and took random girls off the street. Couples laughed and danced down the side of the street. Cars flashed by in the wink of an eye, leaving a trail of lights. Even though it was night, it was still hot out. Advertisements gleamed from windows. Las Vegas was a different world from anything I'd ever experienced.

And then my world exploded.

The sound of the explosion was so immense I had to cover my ears. The sight of it was so hideous I ran to the nearby bushes and puked. I could feel the heat on the back of my neck.

I realized what Angel and I had forgotten.

We hadn't gone to Caesar's Palace and gotten the bombs there.

People screamed and ran. I looked up- our bombs were good, but not this good. The bombs had been placed on the base of the hotel, and as I watched in horror, the whole building began to collapse.

For the first time in my life I wanted to die.

As if it was in slow motion, the building began to collapse. It was as if a Jenga piece had been taken out of the bottom of the hotel. The Roman-styled building's front part collapsed first, followed by the back.

It was so, so loud as the foundation and concrete gave away. It hit the ground with a sound that was literally impossible to describe.

People were still screaming and running away. People's cars were stopped in the middle of the Strip as they got out and ran. Meanwhile, I just stared openmouthed at the horrible, horrible sight. I started to cry. I didn't care I was breaking Max's Book of Rules.

And right when I thought it couldn't be worse, the dust came.

It was a wave- no, it was a tsunami that came rushing towards us. Within seconds it overwhelmed everything. Turn your back and cover your mouth! Fang yelled across our link.

But I couldn't even move. I could barely see my hand when I brought it up into my face the dust was so thick. Even though I couldn't see it, I stared at where Caesar's Palace used to be.

How many people were in there?

How many people were near it?

How many people were still alive?

"It's not midnight!" I screamed, although the dust muffled it. "Jeb, God dammit, show your face like a man! You lied!"

"Would you expect anything else?" His voice was a whisper beside my ear.

I nearly jumped out of my skin. I attempted to punch him, but he caught my fist. "Now, now, Max, that's not nice."

The dust was starting to clear slightly, and I could see his face. He looked…alive. Ter Borcht stepped out from behind him.

"You killed all those people!" the tears ran tracks over the dust covering my face. "It was you!"

"You're the one who forgot about them!" Jeb laughed. "And you still have two more to find, too."

"You mean these?" Fang stepped into the area where I could see. In each hand he held a defused bomb.

"Yeesh, let me keel them now!" Ter Borcht slid a knife out of his pocket, and I saw Jeb slide a gun out of his own.

Jeb ignored his partner. "Yes, those. Hey Fang, what do you think now that your girlfriend's a mass murderer?"

"She didn't kill anybody!" Fang looked feral. He lunged for Jeb, but Stella came out of the swirling tendrils of dust and caught him. Now I could see in a diameter of about a meter.

"Stella!" Jeb called out. "Nice to see you." He squinted in the dust. "You too, Val."

Mom became visible. She didn't say anything. For the first time I realized how quiet everything was- the dust covered everything like a blanket.

I assessed the situation. Jeb and Ter Borcht were armed- Iggy, Gazzy, Angel and Nudge were off on the other end of the Strip when the explosion occurred. We'll be right there, Angel said.

"So what was the point of this?" Fang threw out his hands. "What was the point?"

"The possibilities! The world is lacking imagination. Think of it: if we could just have you and Max, we would be invincible. The world would be connected! Everyone would be equal, because the pain would be shared. We would be a collective. We could be one sentient being."

"That's bullshit," Stella spat. "You know it. Sure, you want it, but there's something more."

"'Nobody will give you power,'" Jeb quoted. "'You have to take it.'"

"Let me guess," I said. "Maybe George Orwell had it right. Maybe you just want to be more equal than everyone else, right?"

"There always has to be a leader!" he said as the rest of the Flock landed, causing me to sneeze from the swishing dust.

"This is where it ends," I said slowly. "You're a sick, crazy man, and we have to draw the line. Let me guess- you're the one who attacked the old man? The one who can speak in that creepy voice- the one who attacked us at the concert? The one who sent out those people in the forest?"


"How did those men live?" Angel asked. "We killed them. But then they disappeared."

"Oh, that was the funniest thing. Actually, they were standing right there…but I can't give out all my secrets, now can I?"

"Stop eet!" Ter Borcht stepped into the circle we had made inadvertently. Now he and Jeb were in the middle, surrounded by us. Despite the difference in numbers, they were still at an advantage. Ter Borcht continued, "You haf been keeving me isolated," he said to Jeb. "Just un."

Jeb nodded. "One."

Ter Borcht lunged to the edge of the circle, and within a second, the knife was at Nudge's throat. He laughed when he saw Iggy's twisted face. His accent made him hard to hear. "I'll do eet slowly, just for you. You'll hear hur scream…that's got to be worse than seeing eet."

"You're going to Hell, bastard," Iggy breathed. His movement was so accurate it was like he had received his sight back. He grabbed Ter Borcht's hand and jerked it away from Nudge's throat. Then he deftly broke Ter Borcht's arm at the elbow and pressed it against his chest. Normally that would've just been extremely painful, but Iggy hadn't taken into account the knife.

Despite the extreme pain, Ter Borcht hadn't dropped it- his nerves had gone into lock, which was known to happen in certain scenarios. And when Iggy had pressed Ter Borcht's arm against his chest, the knife went straight in.

When Ter Borcht suddenly shivered, a look of horror crossed Iggy's face as he realized what he did.

Then Ter Borcht leaned down to Iggy's right ear and whispered, "I'll see you there, kid."

And then he died, with Iggy holding him.

Iggy collapsed. "IGGY!" We all shouted, but for no reason. Iggy brushed off the body and quickly stood.

"I- I'm fine," he said shakily. "Watch out for Jeb."

The man who claimed to be my father cocked his head to the side. "I love you guys."

I couldn't help it. I laughed harder than ever before. It echoed against the street. "Oh, God, that was funny. Jeb, you need to buy a dictionary and look up 'love'. Last time I heard it didn't involve anything with bombs or guns or killing. But you never know, definitions change."

He just couldn't be my father…I had accepted it before, but this was a madman.

Jeb kneeled down to Angel's level and paused about an inch away from her nose. "I love you most, sweet."

Angel met his eyes steadily. She wore a blank mask. With carefully enunciated words, she said, "Fuck off."

Everyone reeled back. Point for Angel! Jeb was honestly shocked.

"Oooh, Angel, trying to get all 'badass' on me, now? But maybe I will. You know, this is Sin City. But first…" He stood to his full height. "This is for Borcht."

There's no way Iggy could have seen him coming. Jeb lunged for him almost quicker than I could see. Jeb gave him a full wallop on the back of the neck, and I heard a sickening crack. Iggy dropped like a stone. I tried to run to him, but he was across the circle from me, and Fang held me back.

Don't! Fang yelled.

"You bastard!" Mom screamed. She broke through the circle and ran to Jeb. He whirled around and slapped her so hard she fell to the ground.

"You bitch!" He continued. His face was so contorted he didn't look human. "Bitch! I hate you! You left me."

Mom, surprisingly, wasn't crying. It was as if all the tears had been drained from her. Instead, she stood slowly. "You were abusing me. Of course I tried to leave."

Wait, what? And Mom still had feelings for him, a while back?

Jeb still had the gun in his hand. In paralyzed horror, Jeb drew the gun on Mom. As soon as he gave any signal that he was going to pull the trigger, I'd tackle him and kill him. Maybe I could just do it now...

"You didn't follow the rules, Val. And bad things happen when you don't follow the rules."

And then he took a step back.

And aimed the gun at me.

And he smiled.

And I couldn't move, because he was my father.

And I didn't want to kill.

And he did.

And he pressed the trigger.

And he let the bullet out.

And he killed me.

32. Making

There was a lot of light.


So this was Heaven?

Or perhaps Hell?

Either way, I was dead.

Gone. Poof.

My life was gone- it had disappeared in only a few seconds.

Because of Jeb.

My father had killed me.

Oh, the youth councilors would have nightmares.

Why am I still able to think?

I shouldn't be able to.

Maybe when you're dead you're still aware of everything.

I wouldn't know; I've never been dead before.

I just need to say one last thing.

When you die,

and your life is flashing before your eyes,

make it worth watching.

33. Any

"You fucking bastard!" Fang screamed. His world imploded as he watched Max slowly fall to the ground. Her eyes were empty and blank, and the bullet was lodged directly in her chest. A blossom of blood stretched out in a strange pattern over her T-shirt.

It was if his head had been cut in two. Well, it a way, it had been. All of Max's thoughts, emotions, and worst of all, consciousness, had been stripped away in seconds. He was left alone- terribly alone, for the first time in what seemed to be forever. His own thoughts pounded against his skull. Fang fell to his knees, the pain driving him crazy.

Jeb just laughed.

The rest of the Flock was split between running to Max and running to Iggy. Dr. Martinez solved that problem by picking up Iggy and setting him down beside Max. She bent down to listen to his heart, and smiled. "He has a heartbeat."

"But she doesn't," Stella said, taking her hand away from Max's neck. She was crying.

As the dust from Caesar's Palace swirled around them, Angel pushed past everyone to get to Max. "No!" she yelled. The scream drove demons into everyone who heard it. "MAX!"

The lights in front of Fang's eyes started fade away, and he was able to come back to reality. He was only aware of his breath and the dirty gravel beneath his knees. He looked up, and Jeb met his eyes. Fang stood.

"How can you meet my eyes?" Fang whispered. "You're nothing."

Jeb's eyes were slightly glazed over. "Why? Because I killed my daughter? She was a stupid cunt."

"DON'T – EVER – SAY- THAT- ABOUT- MAX!" Fang lost all sanity. He launched himself on Jeb, ignoring the gun still in Jeb's hands.

Jeb was taken aback. Fang took hold of Jeb's hand, broke it, and took the gun himself. Jeb grunted in pain, but withheld a yell. Fang pointed the gun at Jeb. "Look at who's the big shot now."

Jeb put his hands up in a "mercy" position. "Go ahead. Kill me."

Fang nodded. "I will. But this is cheating." He threw the gun a good fifteen meters to the side, outside of the circle everyone had made. "I'll kill you with my own hands."

Meanwhile, the remaining members of the Flock watched in horror as the two faced off. Angel was hysterical, sobbing over Max's still chest. Gazzy's eyes weren't focused as he stared at Fang while holding Iggy's pulsing hand. Nudge was torn between the showdown and Max.

Fang and Jeb started to circle, with their hands up and ready. "You can't kill me," Jeb taunted. "You have honor. You have a heart."

"My heart died about two minutes ago."

Once again, Fang charged straight at Jeb. His handicapped hand hindering him, Jeb wasn't able to fully stop Fang from taking hold of him. Fang put one hand around Jeb's waist and the other on Jeb's back. Rotating his hands, he flipped Jeb onto his back. With a thud Jeb hit the hard ground, groaning as he lost his breath. Fang straddled Jeb and put his hands over his enemy's neck. "This is how you kill someone like a man," Fang said coldly.

"Real men don't kill," Jeb taunted. His knee came up suddenly, hitting Fang in the groin. Fang rolled off of Jeb, while the latter stood. Fang got up nearly as quickly.

Jeb started the confrontation that time. He punched towards Fang, who neatly caught the punch and pulled it over to his side. Jeb, recognizing that this was the first step in putting someone into a lock, kicked rapidly out with his feet, causing Fang to once again hit the ground with a poof of rising dust. Fang rolled and stood, the fall not hurting him.

"Then you're not a man," Fang said, started to circle with Jeb again.

"No," he grinned. "I'm not. I'm more than a man."

Fang punched towards Jeb, twisting his wrist so that Jeb wouldn't be able to catch it. Jeb ducked and dodged, Fang's barrage of punches not ceasing. Jeb kept stepping back so much that Nudge and Angel had to pick up Max's body so she wouldn't be stepped on.

Jeb realized that his broken right hand was a disability, so he started to gain ground by doing several well-coordinated kicks. Their fight started to get more acrobatic. There were more dodges and maneuvers than punches or kicks. At one point, when Jeb charged at Fang, Fang was able to plant both of his hands on Jeb's shoulders and use his wings to boost him over the man.

"Isn't that cheating?" Jeb asked, panting.

"The rules are gone," Fang said, licking blood away from his lip- Jeb had landed an excellent punch there.

Fang regretted taking off his sweater. The dust covered everything. When he looked up, he couldn't even see the low-rise buildings. However, this also meant that the temperature had dropped considerably. Not only was he cold, but his exposed arms were covered in welts.

Both of them were starting to get tired. Fang walked over to Jeb, not wanting to start another taxing fight, but he realized he must. Instead of throwing a punch or kick, he grabbed Jeb's arm and stabbed his nails into his forearm and dragged it down the centre of his pale arm. His nails, which hadn't been cut due to Fang's stubborn attitude, left a thin red line in its wake. Jeb was unable to move- Fang had grabbed his left arm, which meant his right was still throbbing in blinding pain from the break.

Fang broke away from the contact before Jeb could kick out. The two stood opposite each other, both ready to drop dead without complaints.

"FANG!" Angel yelled, noticing his drop in energy. "DO IT FOR MAX!"

Fang just smiled. Then, moments later, he laughed.

"You may be more than a man, Jeb," Fang said quietly. "But we're both human, after all."

Fang walked straight up to Jeb and stared him down. The pair seemed to have a silent battle just staring at each other. And, quicker than someone could blink, Fang's hand shot out and grabbed Jeb's neck while the other hand grabbed his shoulder.

"You're right," Jeb whispered as he started to lose breath. "This is better."

And then Fang snapped his neck.

Jeb died immediately and without pain.

Fang dropped the body and stepped back. Surprisingly, he didn't feel any remorse or sorrow.

He looked to the people surrounding him. The Flock stared at him with a mixture of horror and awe, while Dr. Martinez and Stella couldn't tear their eyes away from the broken man at Fang's feet.

Fang himself walked straight over to Max. He kneeled by her body. He put his hand on her neck, checking for a pulse, but just as Stella said, there was none. Fang didn't cry. He had no emotions left in him.

"Wait," Fang said, looking up to Angel. "I know how to save Max."

"She's dead, Fang. You can't bring back the dead." Angel looked pitifully at Fang. "I can't hear her thoughts anymore."

"I know!" Fang started to get excited. "The bombs- even though they were defused, you can make them active again, right?"

Gazzy nodded, realizing Fang was talking to him. "Yeah. Just attach the black and green wires together and throw it. Or the red and white wires if you want to time it."

"Good. Do you still have one?"

"Yeah." Gazzy dug deep into his pockets for one of the last bombs they had found. Fang cracked open the case. It took only seconds to combine the red and white wires, since setting it off was exactly was he wanted to do.

"Is it possible to make it a smaller explosion?"

"Don't fully combine the wires- only half, or a quarter, or whatever."

"Thanks." Fang took the wires and combined only a few strands of the wire. It had to be perfect and precise- otherwise Max would be gone forever. He knew it was impossible to bring back the dead, but Max had only been gone for a few minutes. Her brain could still be acive. The LED timer blinked to life. He set it for five minutes.

"What are you doing?" Nudge asked, still looking at Max.


Fang grinned and stood as the LED started counting down from five minutes.

"Stella…anyone…pick up Max and follow me."

It was Dr. Martinez who picked up her daughter. She slowly followed Fang to an area in the middle of the road that was devoid of cars. By this point, no one was around them due to the still-rising dust. The small area was just what Fang needed.

Fang carefully placed the bomb four feet away from where Dr. Martinez placed Max's body. Inside of him, he desperately hoped he did the wiring correctly. He needed the tiny explosion to be only three by three feet. He kneeled right next to Max's body. "Angel!" he called out.

"Yeah?" she came right over to him.

"I need you to listen to Max's thoughts as well as mine." Fang grimaced- the knees in his jeans had been torn out.


"Listen to where they should be!" He was starting to panic.

A look of dawning came over Angel. "I know what you're trying to do. Wow…could it work?"

"Let's see."

Cars were strewn everywhere on the road, and the rest of the Flock took refuge behind them. They watched solemnly as Fang, Max and the bomb were left in the middle of the street, with Fang kneeling right beside Max. Angel had a look of concentration on her face.

"What are they doing?" Nudge whispered to Gazzy.

"I have no idea."

By now, Stella had brought Iggy's still-breathing body behind the cars as well. He had a steady pulse, but he wouldn't wake up for a while.

The dust covered every sound as they waited for the bomb to explode. Fang had set it for five minutes- how long had passed?

As it turned out, the bomb went off that very second.



I really, really hurt.

But wait a second. How could I hurt? Just a few minutes ago I didn't. Just a few minutes ago I was happy. Just a few minutes ago, I was warm. Just a few minutes ago, I was dead.

Just a few minutes ago…

Dead people don't hurt.

So did that mean I wasn't dead?


That was new.

My senses slowly crawled back to me. So, so slowly…

And then I opened my eyes.

It was a great, shuddering heave of breath that I heard. It was rasping, and whoever it came from didn't sound the least bit healthy. Oh, wait. That was me breathing. And a jagged, raw breath is better than none at all, I guess.

I was hungry.

I could really go for McDonalds.

Yeah, a Happy Meal sounded good right about now.

The toy is always the best part.

The sky above me was…well, it wasn't a sky. It was dust, weirdly enough. Swirling, twisting, wisps and vines of dust…it got stuck up my nose. I wanted to sneeze, but I couldn't. The ground below me was sticking up into my back…it felt like cement, but with gravel mixed in, and a bit of debris.

As if something had blown up.

I blinked once, twice. There was a large weight spread across my stomach. I raised my head a tad bit to see what it was. All I could see were a few colors. More blinking, and I realized Fang had collapsed over me.

"What?" I attempted to say, but my tongue got stuck in my mouth. He didn't move.


Hearing the yell coming a few yards behind me, I couldn't twist my head to see what was going on. Why was someone yelling my name? Why was I on the ground? Why was Fang over me? And why did my goddamn chest hurt so badly?

"MAX MAX MAX MAX!" I cocked my head to the side, still only seeing dust until, moments later, Gazzy, Nudge and Angel went flying into my field of vision.

All of them were crying. Why?

I licked my poor chapped lips, trying to speak. "What?" I croaked out.

It turns out they couldn't talk too much either. All three of them fell on me, tugging my shirt and getting as close to me as possible. Fang began to stir, moaning a bit.


And with his one word, I remembered. Everything.

Caesar's Palace, and my royal fuck-up. Ter Borcht and Iggy. Jeb and his betrayal. The gun and my blood. Leaving Fang. Light, and warmth, and love.

I had experienced death.

And it wasn't that bad.

"I get it now," I whispered.

"What?" Gazzy rubbed his nose on my sleeve.

"People are afraid of death. It's only natural. But…but I was there. I don't know if it was Heaven or Eden or Valhalla or Hell or New York. But it wasn't that bad. The thing is, it would've been torture if I hadn't lived my life."

Nudge wiped away her tears on the back of her hand. "What are you talking about?"

"If you've lived a full life, you don't have to be afraid of death. It's…it's an adventure." I sat up straighter. "I saw my life. Every little detail. Every stupid comment or wonderful praise I've said. I saw me being tortured, us breaking out of the School, destroying Itex, falling in love, coming here, and dying."

My eyes were unfocused. "I don't think people get it. Society is following the crowd…peer pressure… nobody's doing their own thing. It's like we're a culture of Anonymous. Nothing to be proud of. Nothing unique."

My eyes suddenly focused on Fang. "Those are the people who fear death."

I shivered. "I had lived a full life, so I had no regrets. But there was something missing. I'd lived my full life, but it wasn't complete."

"Why not?" Angel asked quietly.

"You guys, of course," I said, giving them a weak smile. "Until I die again, I'll always be with you guys."

"But how did you come back?" Nudge asked, hugging me so tight is was as if she was afraid I'd disappear again.

I frowned. "I have absolutely no idea."

Angel grinned. "Oooh, I know this one!" She pulled back from me and sat cross-legged. "So…you remember like, a month ago, when there was that explosion and you and Fang started to hear each other's thoughts?"

I nodded, recognizing that Angel was about to go into speech-mode. And seeing as I just gave my own little monologue, she deserved her own. "Of course."

Angel continued. "Well, here's the thing. The stuff used in Gazzy and Iggy's original, controlled explosion was bismuth. Bismuth just happens to be the last element on the periodic table of elements that isn't radioactive, so when the explosion occurred, it was able to fry your afferent nerves easier than any other element."

"Afferent nerves?" Gazzy asked.

Angel sighed. "I told you guys this a while back. They're what carry the nerve impulses to your brain. So they carry pain, I guess you could say. So…since you probably don't remember, your afferent nerves shorted out and got attached to Fang's nerves through me, since I was listening to both of your thoughts at the time of the explosion."

A hazy memory came up. Angel was saying nearly the exact same thing she had said in the forest off of Mom's house. "Right. It was because our bodies are hardwired to live, right?"

"Yeah. Anyways, back to Fang." She motioned to the semi-unconscious Fang who was still sprawled across me. "He was pretty much dead without you. He knew he has to try to get you back."

"Get to the point!" Gazzy interrupted.

"Okay, okay!" she pouted. "As I was saying, before I was interrupted, Fang decided to re-create the original explosion."

I gasped. I totally couldn't help it, no matter how weak and feminine I sounded.

"It was a great idea, really," she continued. "He combined only a few of the wires to get a smaller explosion. He had me pick up on his thoughts and where yours should be. Then, when the bomb went off, it had the same dimensions as the original and was the same distance from you guys. And here's the cool part. Fang's own afferent nerves were weakened, but not shortened out, since bismuth wasn't used. But the nerves still panicked- they reached out for the closest thing- you. Even though you were dead, your body was still there, and you still had all the body parts, and your brain hadn't totally shut down yet. Through me, Fang's nerves went out to you."

Angel paused for breath. "It was pure and raw power, Max. I felt it. And there was a lot of love in there, too. The sensation nearly knocked me out. His afferent nerves shot through me, into you, and when his body realized he wasn't going to die, they went back to him. But before, they had pretty much jolted your brain back into action."

"Why don't I have brain damage?" I asked slowly, still afraid to move.

"I don't know," she answered honestly.

"But you're still dying!" Nudge shrieked, looking at my shirt. She had a point. The bullet had gone in my chest, and I was still bleeding.

"Well, look at that. Crap."

And then I passed out.

The two doctors leaned over the teenaged boy lying on the cot. The hospital smelled of bleach and antiseptic, but it was still a friendly place. Despite all of the deaths that occurred there, the nurses and doctors still smiled and lively paintings hung the walls. In the center of the hospital was where all of the deep surgery took place, the type of surgeries that changed lives. Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center prized themselves on having cutting-edge technology and ideas.

And now they were testing it to their full abilities.

"We've got nothing to lose," Valencia Martinez shrugged, tucking a piece of Iggy's hair behind his ears. He was half asleep, half unconscious.

The other woman, who was dressed in classic scrubs with a nametag of "Dr. Robinson", smiled. "My team and I have looked at your research that you sent us. It will be difficult. Honestly, it's the most challenging thing I've ever done. But your work is infallible. It's perfect. You're brilliant, you know that?"

Val grinned. "I mostly work with animals, but over the past years, I've been drawn to optics. I didn't know why…but when Iggy showed up in my life, I doubled my efforts."

Dr. Robinson put her clipboard in her other hand. "So this 'School', you say, messed with the occipital lobe of his brain, causing permanent blindness?"

Val nodded. "Iggy's actual eyes are fine. That's why I called in you- everyone I contacted said you're the best neurosurgeon on North America."

Dr. Robinson bent her head to acknowledge the high praise. Indeed, she prized herself on being the best. Val had looked up her credentials. She had an undergraduate from Cambridge University, gotten her M.D. from York, and her Ph.D. from Harvard. If Val trusted Iggy with any person in the world, it was with the woman standing opposite her.

The woman's black hair was streaked with grey. She tugged at it absently as she read over Iggy's file. "This is ground-breaking," she whispered.

"So you'll do it?" Val asked. She barely kept the pleading out of her voice.

"Of course I do it. I can't pass this up- my name will go down in history!" Dr. Robinson suddenly frowned. "But there's a good chance I could go wrong- I could kill him."

Val looked at her intensely. "I know. But I also know that my research is good, your practical ability is fantastic, and your team is made up of only the best. He would be able to fully live!"

Dr. Robinson nodded, realizing that this boy was like a son to her. "I've already taken the liberty and distributed the wavers to my team, saying that they won't ever mention the boy's wings or any other abnormalities other than the blindness. All ten of them have been signed and returned."

She showed the clipboard to Val, who took and clicked her tongue in approval. It had been nearly impossible to contact Dr. Robinson, but once she had said Iggy was a once-in-a-lifetime case, Dr. Robinson had agreed to meet her. Val had quickly gone through what had happened to Iggy in the School, and Dr. Robinson had been sickened but interested. Val had planned to get Iggy to willingly undergo the operation, but seeing as he was already unconscious and needed medical attention already, Val had brought him in. They would have to wake him up later on to ask his permission to go ahead.

"When can you do it?" Val asked, taking a deep breath. Not only was she shaking about taking Iggy's life and turning it upside down, but her mind was still replaying Fang killing Jeb.

"Three hours and I can get started. The actual operation could take up to twelve hours."

Val looked out the window. It was midnight, finally, so the operation would be done by the afternoon of the next day.

"Let's do it."

I woke lethargically to bright lights in the room. It was nice…I was just existing. I was alive.

I was obviously in a hospital. IVs poked out of my arms and went into a strange contraption beside my bed. I was propped up comfortably with lovely fluffed-up pillows behind my head. My chest was wrapped up tightly, and numerous bandages were on my bare arms. Looking down, I noticed that I was dressed in a hospital smock. "That's sexy," I grumbled.

There wasn't a clock in my field of vision. The room was empty, but after looking around, I noticed a button with 'NURSE' below it. I pressed it.

Within a minute, a nice-looking man walked in. His dark skin contrasted with the while on the walls. "You're awake!" he said, clapping his hands together.

"How long have I been out?"

"Well," he said, thinking back, "You came in around eleven last night, and it's three in the afternoon now."

Hmm. I honestly thought I would've slept for longer. "Where is everyone now? The other people I came in with?"

"They all have rooms in this hallway," he said kindly. "They've all been up for a few hours."

"Can I see them?"

He frowned slightly. "They can come in here, but we still want to monitor you. Is that okay?"

"That would be great." The nice man left, and I heard him walk into the other rooms. I wondered what Fang would say…Fang! I reached out with my brain- I could feel him, although I hadn't noticed it.

"Max!" Angel came into the room, dressed in a smock as well. Her eyes were red- had she been crying about me? I looked on in horror- her wings were out. I craned my neck back- so were mine!

"Don't worry about them," the kind man said, coming back into the room and noticing what I was looking at. He was followed by Fang, Nudge and Gazzy.

"You're not going to do all sorts of experiments or whatever?" I asked.

He shook his head. "No. You see, this hallway is open only to very few people who have signed about a thousand documents that say you won't say anything they see on the pain of death." He laughed. "We get all sorts of weird cases- but none as different as you, I'll admit that. We've have kids with strange diseases that modify your bodies, but you guys are unique. Either way, we won't do anything to you guys unless you ask for it. If you need be, just press the button- I'll be around." He flashed a smile and left.

Fang hung back as the three others ran over to me. "Oh, Max," Nudge sighed. "Never, ever, ever, ever do that to us again."

Despite the happiness in the room, there was something lying underneath it all. They weren't telling me something.

I looked up to Fang. He had a blank face, but when I raised my eyebrows at him, his face split into the biggest grin. "You're welcome for me saving you," he said with a teasing voice.

"Brilliant and cocky!" I said. "The perfect combination."

He went and sat on a chair near my bed. Grabbing my hand, his eyes darkened as he said, "Nudge is right. Don't do that again. Next time, there may not be a spare bomb lying around."

Angel climbed off the bed to give me room to breath. "And the cooler thing is, you guys can still talk to each other mentally- but now you can't pick up on abstract thoughts like before. It's because Fang's explosion was weaker than the first one, so your abilities weren't totally taken away."

"So does that mean," Fang said in mock horror, "I can always talk to Max?"

Angel went over and sat on his lap. "Yup."

Fang shook his head. "Tsk, tsk," he said before looking up and beaming at me.

"Hey, where's Iggy?" I suddenly asked. I regretted it moments later- the atmosphere darkened considerably.

"Apparently he's in surgery," Gazzy said quietly. "I asked the nice man. He said Iggy was fine, despite Ter Borcht nearly breaking his back."

"So why's he getting surgery?" I asked, my adrenaline starting to pump. They couldn't be experimenting- but then again, maybe the nice man was a little too nice.

"We don't know," Angel said softly. "I can't pick up on the thoughts of anyone involved. Their mental shields are crazy; it's as if they've been trained to specifically focus on just one thing."

"Where's Mom, and Stella?"

"Stella, we don't know," Fang answered, "But Val is with Iggy, last we heard."

My heart melted. For the first time Fang had finally stopped calling her 'Dr. Martinez' or 'Doctor'. Calling her 'Mom' would have been creepy, since it implied he and I were brother and sister, but 'Val' was a good substitute.

"We found this in Jeb's pocket, by the way," Fang said, taking a small book out of his pocket. He threw it to me. Opening it, I gasped.

It was a company log. It described everything Jeb had been doing- including the number of people killed. "I don't feel bad for killing him," Fang said blandly. "It was weird. We were staring at each other…and then…the hardness in his eyesdisappeared. We seemed to talk to each other. There wasn't a connection, like we had, but I said things would be better if he just surrendered. And he did. He finally realized what he'd done, and he realized he wanted to die."

"Will you be charged?" I asked slowly, a dreadful feeling crawling up my spine.

"No," he said. "Here's the thing- the Las Vegas Police are having a hell of a time explaining the Caesar's Palace explosion. As it turned out, they think that Jeb had died from the explosion- they have no reason to believe he was murdered."

Caesar's Palace…

"How many?" I asked in a hushed tone.

"How many what?" He was genuinely confused.

"How many people died?"

He paused and turned his face away from me. Everyone shuddered, Angel especially. No one could meet my eyes. I even noticed that Fang himself had a tear dripping down his cheek. The only other time I had seen him cry was when he revealed how he was named. "How many?" I asked again.

"Three thousand, five hundred and twelve people."

"NO!" I yelled.

"The Caesar's Palace has over three thousand rooms, Max.," Fang said, his eyes closed, desperately trying to keep his eyes closed. "And people were just passing by, as tourists, and there was staff, and some were in the rubble…the death count is rising as we speak."

I couldn't move. Three thousand, five hundred and twelve.

I puked over the side of my bed and onto my floor. My stupid mistake had cost THREE THOUSAND, FIVE HUNDRED AND TWELVE people their lives. How could I live with that on my shoulders?

Everyone hopped away from me, revolted by the puke. They'd already had time to digest the death count- I hadn't. So that's what Angel's red eyes had been caused by- not by me, but the death of more people than we'd ever imagined.

"Get out," I said quietly. "Please, please, leave me alone. Please."

They filed out of the room one by one, with Fang leaving last. "It'll be alright," he said before shutting the door behind him.

I waited ten seconds, and then I screamed.

I didn't care if the walls were soundproof or not. I let out a strangled scream and burst into uncontrollable hysterics. Three thousand, five hundred and twelve people dead because I, Maximum Ride, had a bad memory. How many families didn't have Moms or Dads or Brothers or Sisters anymore? How many tears would be shed because of me? How would this all be covered up?

The tears flowed faster and faster. Everything had been pent up for so long, and it was a relief to get it all out. I specifically kept my thoughts away from Fang.

I pounded on my bed, bawling more. Never once in my life had I thrown a temper tantrum. Never before had I been so consumed by regret, or fear, or anger. Never before had I killed in the thousands.

For five straight minutes I yelled, screamed and cried. I couldn't get out of bed due to the IV, but I clawed at the confining bandages on my chest. I curled up in a ball, rocking myself back and forth, shrieking.

I shouldn't have been brought back. Death is a lot better than this place.

More screaming, yelling, and crying. I couldn't stop myself. It was as if a gateway had been opened up, and the constant flow of emotions was enough to kill me.

And then I ran out of energy.

My breathing was heavy as I lay, sweat-soaked, on the bed. I knew I shouldn't have done that. The rest of the Flock had probably heard my extreme rant.

But for five minutes, I needed to cry for me.

I pressed the button on the table beside me. Instead of the nurse coming in, a previously unnoticed intercom beeped to life. "Yes?" the voice of the kind man came through.

"I need my Mom," I said, not bothering to keep the desperation out of my voice. My throat burned horribly from the screaming.

"Sure thing," he said.

A few minutes passed, but Mom never came in. Finally, the intercom beeped to life. "Sorry," he said, genuine sadness in his voice. "She's not available right now."

"Okay," I said, not okay at all.

My Mom was too busy for me at the weakest point of my life.

Valencia Martinez had not heard her daughter's screams. Then again, no one could have- the walls were indeed soundproofed to the best possible quality.

She glanced up at the clock- in was four thirty in the afternoon, and Dr. Robinson was going to brief her any minute. She currently sat in a strange waiting room. The walls were blank, and only she was in it. Seconds later Dr. Robinson came in.

Val stood up immediately. "How'd it go?"

Dr. Robinson wearily smiled. "It went great. Iggy should be awake in about two days."

There was a pause, and both women just realized what she'd said. "Wow," Val said. "This is incredible."

Dr. Robinson laughed. "I know, but I never knew making history would be so tiring." Indeed, there were bags under her eyes from staying up all night. A streak of blood was on her cheek.

"But only two days? I'm surprised."

"He was unconscious when he came in, so he had already been asleep for a while a hour as we monitored him. And the occipital area of the brain doesn't have anything to do with fatigue."

Val grinned from ear-to-ear. "I can't wait to see him open his eyes."

There was a TV hanging from the ceiling of my room. On it, I put on CNN.

Anderson Cooper was standing in front of what used to be Caesar's Palace. It was a split screen between him and a woman in the studio. "Oh God, Christi, you have to be down here in Las Vegas to truly understand the fear around here. Police are pulling out bodies by the dozen- this is the worst explosion to ever occur on American soil. This is worse than 9/11 in terms of casualties! We have yet to find an explanation for the explosion. Terrorist activities are suspected.

"All planes have been re-routed to Canada and Mexico. The borders and immigration are shut down. The country's eyes are glued to Las Vegas today, and our hearts are with the families who are affected."

The screen cut off Anderson Cooper and Christi Paul's face took over the full screen. "Indeed, we are reminded of the horrible 9/11 tragedy that took place seven years ago. As with then, the economy, which is already on a downward spiral, has all but collapsed. We're seeing a surge in blood donations in just these few hours, and we encourage you to do the same. Republican nominee John McCain and Democratic nominee Barrack Obama have already released statements saying how horrible these attacks were, and that we must respond. In case you're just joining us, at approximately ten thirty last night, a massive explosion rocked the core of Las Vegas…"

I turned the volume down as they re-started the news. It was everywhere- CNN, Fox, ABC, CBC, NBC and every news program in the world replayed what I had caused.

It was worse than 9/11…

Three thousand, five hundred and twelve people died in what was dubbed as the "Caesar Explosion", while two thousand, nine hundred and seventy four people died on 9/11.

"You can't change it," Fang said, standing in the doorway. I hadn't noticed him come in- it had been two hours since he'd left.

"I killed them," I whispered. "It was me."

No!" he said, coming over to my bed. He sat on it and grasped my hand. "It was Jeb- all of it. It wasn't your fault."

"If I had remembered, three thousand, five hundred and twelve people would be ALIVE. CNN would be reporting on the election. Families wouldn't be grieving. The 'Caesar Explosion' wouldn't be an article on Wikipedia."

"Max," Fang said seriously. "I know how horrible this is. I'm not saying to just forget it all, but you can't live your life re-living last night. You're alive. You died and came back in the same night."

"I wish I was still dead."

"I know, Max, I know," he said quietly. "But we have to re-build…to help the families who lost someone."

I buried my face in the blanket. "Oh, God…I don't know what to do with myself."

Fang took the blanket from me and leaned in close. "Live," he said simply. He paused. "Apparently everyone is gathering in Iggy's room- do you want to come?"

"Sure," I sighed, not wanting to keep seeing the news. I had been watching it for two straight days. The IVs had been taken out of my arms an hour ago, so I could get up easily. I slipped off the bed and slid my feet into slippers that were waiting for me. My stomach growled- I hadn't eaten real food in about three days.

I opened the door and went into the hallway. It was pristine white, reminding me slightly of the School, but this place had a much better atmosphere. Fang followed me into the hallway. "Which way is it?" I asked. I hadn't gone into anyone's room for the time we'd been here- everyone came to me.

"Right over here." I followed him a short way down the hallway and into a room.

It was much different than my own room. It was bigger, but there were many more machines monitoring him. Three doctors were checking the instruments for any abnormalities. The rest of the Flock was gathered around the bed, looking confused. Val looked triumphant as she looked at the white bandage over Iggy's eyes. "Hi," she said.

I gave a weak smile that didn't show my teeth. She had seen me twice in the past two days, although she hadn't been paying much attention to me.

"I don't get it," Iggy said suddenly, making the Flock jump, "Why is everyone here?"

I put my hand over my jumping heart. "Jesus, Iggy, I thought you were asleep."


A doctor went over to Iggy's side. "We're going to wheel your bed to another room to do this properly, okay?"

"Do what properly?" Iggy was just as confused as the rest of us.

"You'll see." Val laughed, while no one else did. Weird. "I'm Dr. Robinson, by the way."

Iggy sighed. "If only I was Benjamin, and you were Mrs. Robinson…"

The adults in the room all laughed, while everyone else was left behind. Was it Let's-laugh-about-things-Max-doesn't-know-day or what?

"Sorry, Iggy, I'm just not that into you." Dr. Robinson grinned as she started to wheel Iggy's bed into the hallway.

The occupants in the room –Mom, the Flock, and the doctors- loyally followed behind as we went down to the very end of the hallway. There were two doors. "Go in that there," Dr. Robinson told us, motioning to the door on the right, while she wheeled Iggy into the door on the left.

The room reminded me of a recording studio. There was a wall of glass, and on one side were the Flock, Mom, and even more doctors and surgeons. Stella was sitting near the back, apparently having been there a while. Various machines clinked and clacked on our side. There were many chairs, and attached to the glass were contraptions and equipment with many dials. I shivered. The likeliness to the School was growing.

On the other side, however, was just Dr. Robinson, Iggy in his bed, and two other doctors. Nothing else was on that side of the glass.

A red-headed doctor beside me pressed a button, activating what was probably an intercom, as she asked, "Ready?"

"Yeah," all three doctors said, giving the thumbs up sign.

The doctor beside me pressed a button. The Flock went right up to the glass, on edge. Was this just a big trap? At the first sign of trouble, I'd jump the doctors.

Instead of Iggy writhing around in pain or anything, the lights went completely off in both rooms. As in, completely off. Not even the machines had any lights or anything. Despite our amazing vision, the Flock was totally blinded.

Dr. Robinson's voice came through the intercom. "It's fine, guys, I know how tense you are. No, we're not going to trap you or perform experiments on you. I'll walk you through what I'm doing. Right now, I'm taking off Iggy's bandages on his eyes."

I went over near the intercom. "Iggy," I said. "Is she telling the truth?"

"Yeah," he said. He was nervous- I could tell from his voice.

"The bandage is off," Dr. Robinson continued. "Now we wait."

"Why?" I asked.

"Just be patient," Mom said behind me.

So we waited. Five, ten, fifteen minutes were spent in total silence and total darkness. It was horrible. I felt more vulnerable than ever. It was as if my senses had been wiped out. I grabbed hold of Fang's hand, knowing he was beside me. In the dark like this, I could practically hear the screams of thousands of people from the explosion…Stop it, I told myself. Focus on Iggy.

"Okay," Dr. Robinson said calmly, "Now Dr. Crusher, who is beside you, will turn the lights up one notch, which won't change much."

I heard a click beside me. I honestly couldn't see the difference with the lights. Again, we waited fifteen minutes.

"One more notch," the doctor said.

Iggy started to yell and scream.

"WHAT DID YOU DO?" I grabbed hold of the doctor beside me. "UNDO IT!"

"No," she said calmly. "He'll get used to it."

Iggy continued to yell for a minute straight. I would have attacked the doctor, but Mom had come over and pinned my arms to my side. "Trust us," she said.

Finally, the yelling stopped. Iggy said something, but I couldn't make it out. "Another notch," came over the intercom.

I was ready for Iggy's yells, but they didn't come. By now, I could see the outline of my hand in front of my face. We waited fifteen minutes, and Iggy didn't even whimper.

"Two notches," Dr. Robinson said.

By now, I could barely, just barely see the outline of Dr. Crusher to my right and Fang to my left. Iggy didn't respond, but I could hear him breathing deeply. More waiting.

"Two, again." This time I could start to make out facial features of everyone around me. It was as if it was eternal twilight in the room.

"I think they can come in now," Dr. Robinson said.

"He's responded well?" Dr. Crusher asked.


There was a door that joined both sides of the room together. The Flock hastily went to the other side. It was colder in here- it was probably caused by there being so many people in the other room. Our steps echoed around us.

We gathered around the bed as the doctors backed off.

"Iggy!" Gazzy yelled, hugging him close. "Did they hurt you?"

"No," he said calmly. "Quite the contrary."

"What do you mean?" Fang asked.

We had to squint to see it, but there was something different about Iggy. Physically he was fine, mentally he seemed okay, but there was something off. My gaze lingered over his face. Something was nagging at the back of my head.

I gasped.

Iggy's eyes were focused on Fang.

And to focus, you had to be able to see.

One by one, the Flock figured it out. I could tell when they either gasped or took a deep breath. Nudge was the last to figure it out. "Oh, Iggy," she whispered. "You can see?"

He nodded, and broke down into tears. The rest of us weren't far behind as we all converged on him in a giant bear hug.

It was all too much. The death count, Iggy's vision- everything happened together. Emotions swelled around us.

"But why did you yell?" Angel asked. "It scared us."

"My eyes weren't used to it," Iggy explained patiently. "Just that small bit of light was too much. It hurt like hell. My eyes had to adjust, which is why they're turning on the lights bit by bit."

"When did you know they were doing this to you?" I asked. "How long have you known?"

"Right before the operation they brought me around and asked me. I was too sleepy to really understand what they were saying, but I still agreed. I totally forgot about what they had done until right before the intercom was turned on." He wiped away the tears. "I can't put into words how grateful I am."

We backed away from the bed so he could breathe. "Are you ready for more, Iggy?" one of the doctors asked. He nodded, although the doctors didn't see it due to the still-dark lighting, so he said, "Yeah."

We went back to the other side of the room, still in shock. Iggy's sight meant so much to him- he had always considered himself a liability to the group, knowing he could hardly be considered third-in-command when he couldn't even grab milk out of the fridge unless it was in the same spot as always.

Out of all of us, Iggy had been most affected by the School. None of us were 'normal' by any stretch of the imagination, but Iggy had gotten the short end of the stick. Now he could begin to fully live.

I didn't realize it, but I was still crying.

Over three hours, not one person left either room. We kept careful watch as the lights went up. Occasionally Iggy would mumble something, but we could never hear it. Finally, the dial went up to the max amount, and the lights could go up no more. It was exactly as how we had come into the room.

"Damn," Dr. Robinson said, looking at Iggy. "We just got ourselves a chapter in the history books."

Iggy looked up at the person who gave his vision back. "Thank you so…so…"

She put a kind hand on his shoulder. "Anytime. We'll make it public we know how to cure your type of blindness…a lot of people are going to be very happy in the next few years."

Iggy was searching for words, but he couldn't find any. It was strange, to see him looking right at Dr. Robinson. For the first time, I noticed that he was actually quite attractive. Before, sure, he was good-looking, but it took a special person to love him. Not that I'm interested, of course –Fang is mine, thankyouverymuch- but I saw him as any teenage girl would. I was also aware that Nudge had noticed the exact same thing I had.

"Your eyes are adjusted to the light levels in the hospital," Dr. Robinson said. "However, when you go outside, wear sunglasses for the next month to protect them from the sun. Do you want to go back to your room?"

Iggy nodded, still not finding the right words.

She wheeled Iggy out into the hallway while the doctors on my side of the glass started to high-five, just like NASA does when they do a successful takeoff.

"Wow," Angel breathed.

"Does he know about the death count?" I asked suddenly, it still on my mind. Everyone shook their heads.

"We won't tell him for a while," Mom said. "He has enough to deal with right now."

Once Iggy had been brought back to his room, we went and talked with him. He broke down into tears occasionally, making the rest of us do so too, but it was all fine. He had lost his vision so, so long ago…

"It's weird to see what you guys look like now," he said. Sure, he had touched our faces and new how we generally looked, but to see it in color was something extraordinary.

He ruffled Gazzy's hair. "You haven't brushed your hair in a month, have you?" he asked while Gazzy grinned.

Something occurred to me. "Iggy, do you know how to read?"

He frowned. "To think about it… no."

"I'll teach him!" Nudge was way, way too fast on that. Both of them smiled at each other. Aww…

"I'll try and get books in," I said, yawning.

"Go back to bed," Iggy said, piercing me with his clear blue eyes. It was the weirdest feeling. "It's been quite the day."

I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Congrats, Iggy."

For the millionth time, he grinned. "Thanks."

I went back to my own room, my emotions tearing me apart. I was so unbelievably happy for Iggy- I guess Mom had something to do with it. She had probably doing research at Lucia's house, which was why she was away so often. But with Caesar's Palace…I just wanted to cry.

I shoved that thought into the back of my brain. No, I told myself sternly.

Mom came into my room. "Hey," she said quietly, sitting on the bed.



"Where's Lucia and Ella?" I asked.

"Lucia's still at her friend's house, and she brought Ella there too. See, after the explosion, I knew Ella wouldn't go to the car like we had planned, so I called up Lucia and told her to pick up Ella."

I nodded. Ella would be pissed she missed so much, though.

"And we still don't know some of Jeb's secrets," she sighed. "How those men disappeared in the forest…while he was attacking random people…they probably knew something they shouldn't know. But I guess those secrets will follow him to the grave."

"Are you sad, about Jeb's death?" I asked.

"No," she said quickly. "Well, maybe. I was always attracted to his cool demeanor and whatnot, but he was a horrible man. And Fang's feeling absolutely no regret about killing him, so that's good, I guess."

I nodded. "Yup."

"I'll see you around, then," she said, standing.


She left. I don't know why I was feeling so much animosity towards her, but it hurt me as much as it hurt her.

God, Fang, I don't know what to do.

It was different speaking to him this way. Before it was much more natural, but now I had to think about what I was saying and to whom was I saying it to. At least we couldn't read each other's every random though, like before.

I already answered this, Max, he said kindly. We'll all be here with you. Me, Iggy, Nudge, Gazzy, and Angel. We'll get through Caesar's Palace, we'll get through all the death, and we'll get through any obstacles life throws at us.

We can do it, Max. We've done it before any we can do it again.

All we have to do is live.


The Benjamin/Mrs. Robinson dialogue is a reference to the famous movie The Graduate. I've noticed a weird trend that most of my favorite fanfics reference it, so I had to throw it in.

I've mentioned it before, but this takes place in September 2008 in the midst of the election, which is why the phrase "nominee" is still being used to describe Obama and McCain. I was an election junkie, so I had to throw in a reference. So many times I wanted to shout out who I support, but I tried to make the story as unbiased as possible to appeal to both sides of the political spectrum.

Non sequitur: Go donate blood, okay? It doesn't matter if you're scared of needles- you're saving a life. I'm really, really bummed right now because I have a genetic deficiency that doesn't really impact my life, but it means I can't donate blood.

A surprising amount of people thought the last chapter was the last. I'm not that mean. Congratulations to Remily who had the most creative death threat with killing me with a stuffed whale while I sleep. Believe me, I'll sleep with my eyes open tonight.

Also, a HUGE congrats to cRaZyMaN676 who was the only person to get what the story was based off of: Star Trek. Yes, that's right. The total nerd show you hear your parents talking about gave me Conundrum. And there is a NEW STAR TREK MOVIE coming out May 8th. It features Chris Pine, the guy from the second Princess Diaries movie. Go Google or Youtube "Star Trek Movie". Watch the trailer. Your mind will be blown.

Just the epilogue is left…

34. Difference

We stayed in the hospital for a month.

During that time, Iggy got used to his newfound sight, Nudge helped him learn to read, Gazzy went stir crazy and nearly blew himself up, and Angel and I just did whatever we pleased, but it was hard to enjoy myself with the knowledge of death on my shoulders. Caesar's Palace wouldn't ever leave me alone.

We borrowed a car and took two vans back to Mom's house is Mesa, Arizona. The car trip was silent, with no one really having anything to say. It was all too surreal. I was in Stella's car along with Fang and Angel, who looked at least a bit happier than myself.

As we passed by a shopping complex, I saw they had a Dollarama. "Can we go in there?" I asked, not to sure why I wanted to go in there.

Sure enough, minutes later I found myself in the dollar store. Everyone else was waiting in the car, and I fingered the crisp five-dollar bill Stella had given me.

I went through the rows of stuff. Most of it was junk and would break easily, but near the back I found the section I was looking for.

The blank journals stared at me. Some of the journals were sparkly and had ponies and others had trucks- but near the edge of the row was just the one I was looking for. It was brown leather and made with surprisingly good quality. It had a blank cover, and a piece of yellow ribbon hung from the top of the spine to mark the owner's place.

Grabbing it, I walked over the cashier. A teenaged boy with slicked-back hair asked, "Is that all?"

"Yeah," I said. "Thanks."

I slowly opened the door to my room, and closed it behind me just as quickly. How long had it been since I had truly relaxed in here?

It was sunset, now, and light came through the window behind the bed. The bed was done up, which I found curious. I laughed- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was lying on the bedside table. It was the book I was desperately trying to read before this whole mess started. It had been really good, too; I would try to read it now that everything was…done.

The desk on the right side of the room was still there, also cleaned off, devoid of anything on the surface. Knowing Ella, the mess would all be stuffed in the drawers.

Ella herself was still at Lucia's friend's house. Mom was going back to pick her up and apologize for leaving her there. The rest of the Flock, having arrived at the only place we knew as home, had scattered to their respective rooms.

The journal, still in my hand, was then thrown onto the desk. I sat on the chair and stared at it, then opened the desk, not exactly sure what I was looking for.

Something at my door caught my attention. I held my breath, practically waiting for it to come crashing down and someone come rushing in, asking for my help to save something. I was wrong; the person knocked again.

"You can come in," I called nonchalantly, turning to my visitor. It was Fang. He looked...older than usual.

"Hey," I called, as he came up behind me. He put his, warm, strong hands on my shoulders.

"What's this?" he asked softly, gesturing to the journal. I had hidden it from him when I had gotten back into the van.

I shook my head, trying to rub out an annoying knot in my hair. I decided to tell him the truth. I picked it up and flipped through the blank, lined pages. "I don't know- I just had a whim to buy it."

"I think I may know." He gently plucked the book from my fingers and leaned casually on my desk. "But there's no way I'm telling."

For some reason, that didn't bother me one bit.

"This whole thing's been extraordinary," I whispered, not really directing it to him.

"No kidding," he said, and put the book back. "Max, maybe the book can help. You know, with everything."

I didn't meet his eyes. I couldn't.

But no, Fang lifted my chin with his hand. "Think about it," he said, kissed me softly on the lips, and was gone as the light shifted through the window.

I looked at the leather-bound, black book, no bigger than my palm. How could this thing hurt me? I breathed in and out slowly and opened up the desk. I pulled out one of Mom's best pens; a gold ballpoint that wouldn't come off of anything, an idea slowly coming around.

On the cover of the book I wrote in a neat, tidy, script. I leaned back to examine the work. It was one word to sum everything up: Conundrum.

What else could I put? A conundrum was a complex problem that required a lot of hard work and tough thinking to get through.

I was pretty sure I qualified in that area.

The next step was both the easiest and the hardest.

Outside, the wind blew against the house, the trees swaying. And they always would- that much, I knew for sure. I was sad beyond belief at the recent events, which I still refused to think about. But I would eventually confront them, defeat them, and move on.

Perhaps Fang could help me with it, and I could take some ideas from the planner Fang had found in Jeb's pocket.

For now, though, I just needed to think.

As the light continued filtering through the window, the birds swooping outside in the summer's last rays, I began to write. I creased open the first page, grabbed a new pen, and took a deep, satisfying breath.

"Well," I said to myself. "Here goes!"

And I wrote:

In the end, you could say the whole experience would change the Flocks' lives forever.

Well, this isn't the end, now, is it?

This is the beginning.

And the beginning we will start at.

A/N- If you don't understand the end, go back to the beginning.

A humongous thank you goes to disneydork who has put up with my hundreds (literally) of phone calls and emails concerning the story. This story was completely un-beta-d, but many ideas went by her first, as did every scene that didn't feel right.

Another thank you goes to YOU, the reader, for putting up with my procrastination. This story, with author's notes, is 282 pages, which is novel-sized. If you've stuck through with the story since the beginning, a sincere congrats, seeing you've just finished a novel. I promise to respond to every review for this chapter/epilogue. Honestly. Truly.

I find it funny that after posting chapter 33, my word count was 102, 102. Sick.

I have two MR story ideas that will be posted eventually, and a story in a different fandom that will be uploaded soon as well.

Go check the new chapter names. It's taken from chapter 27, and it also explains why I needed 34 chapters exactly.

Again, thank you, and I guess this is goodbye.

Here goes!

-Phoenix Fanatic