Misunderstood by Maiyri-Omega

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Angst, Romance
Characters:Ari B., Iggy
Published:2009-07-24 04:12:41
Updated:2010-08-15 22:22:33
Packaged:2021-04-21 22:41:51
Summary:It's not a love triangle, not a love square. But there's four people all in love, and most of it one-sided. And then there's the hate, and most of that's one sided as well. Max/Fang IggyPOV. Now mostly complete!

Table of Contents

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

1. Chapter 1



Definitely PG-13

Warnings for the usual stuff.

It's not a love triangle, and not a love square. But there's four people all in love, and most of it one-sided. And then there's the hate, and most of that's one sided as well. I'm the one who's unlucky enough to just fade into the background.

A/N: I keep saying that Fax is, in my opinion, the crappiest pairing out there, mostly through bad writing that drags even the good stuff down. I don't even read the stuff. And somehow, it keeps slipping in.

I've decided that Faxness! is like Golden Syrup. It gets everywhere, sticks to everything. It can be gloopy or runny. It oozes, it's sap, and it makes things mushy. Some people like it, some people don't. It can make people crazy. It goes with some things, and not with others. And, finally, it can attract butterflies, and it inevitably attracts ants.

This was originally a oneshot written just after School's Out Forever. After the tragic events in Saving the World... I decided to expand on it, and this became an AU story. I didn't end up finishing it though. Now I have, so it's finally being reposted. Max and Ari are NOT related in this story.


Part One


"We're so stupid to do this, you know. Be in love with her. She can't love anyone who's so obviously physically imperfect. Because she's so shallow, and so caught up in herself."


They were at it again.

Iggy had the best hearing of all the flock, and besides, they were the only ones awake. Iggy, and Max, and Fang. He was supposed to be on watch, making sure that everything was okay while the little ones slept. He couldn't really watch, but he could listen. And he couldn't listen, because all he could hear was them.

He didn't know where they were, but then he didn't think anyone else did either. They were camped out in a clearing in a forest, and it was night. There was nothing around for miles, and all he could hear was the whisper of the wind through the leaves, and the whisper of his voice in her ear.

Oh, yes, he had the best hearing of all the flock.

She giggled. "Oh, Fang, don't."

Quietly, he stood on his watch-rock. He could be the quietest too, fading into the background. He wasn't the leader, he wasn't the one with powers, and he wasn't talkative. He was old enough to not be taken care of. He was old enough to know what he wanted, and what he couldn't have was breaking his heart.

Even quieter, he stretched out his wings, and jumped into the air. Wings caught and he soared up into the night. He didn't need to see to fly, and he didn't need to hear them. He'd be back before they remembered that there was a world outside of each other.

It was cold up here, and he could hear a jet screaming high overheard. He wasn't sure that he'd remember the way back to the clearing, but if all else failed, he'd wait until they noticed he was gone and came looking.

He banked, and then banked again, flying figure-of-eights just because he could. He loved flying.

And he had the sky all to himself.

Almost all to himself.

There, faintly on the edge of his hearing, air through feathers. Thrsssh. Someone was here, flying. One of the flock? Flying Erasers?

Someone large and pain slammed into his shoulder and ribs, and a hand wrapped around his mouth. Desperately, Iggy tried to kick and punch the attacker. He was falling, but one of his wings was pinned painfully, and he couldn't get it free. The other chuckled in the way that only an Eraser could.

"Little blind bird-boy out here all on his own? What a pity! What are we gonna do about you?"

Iggy had the best hearing of everyone in the flock, and he never forgot a voice. He stopped fighting. Ari chuckled again, and the hand removed itself, so he could breathe.

"You're in love with her too, aren't you." He said. It wasn't a question.

He realised that this wasn't the wisest thing to say, when something hit him out of nowhere. On the other hand, Ari had had to let him go. He spread his wings out, and hovered.

"Quit your bad Eraser act, Ari, I just want to talk. I know you're alone here, and I know that we're in earshot of the flock if I yell loud enough. I'm sure Fang wants a piece of your hide. "

He could hear Ari's wing beats in front of him, and could almost sense the incredulity and confusion rolling off of the Eraser. "You want to talk? About what, bird-boy?"

Iggy snorted. "And quit with the insults. I'm not Fang, and I'm not going to be baited."

Ari hissed at him, and from the sound of it, smacked one massive hairy fist into the palm of one equally massive and hairy hand.

"Fine, I'm listening."

"You're in love with Max. I can see it, and I'm blind. I can hear it in your voice, when you talk to her. You hate Fang, you're so jealous of him. I'm jealous of him. I'm in love with her too, because she's Max – she's Maximum Ride, and she's beautiful, and brave, and can kick ass. I'm the blind one, but she doesn't see me, and she just doesn't like you. You kidnapping Angel has a lot to do with that. Like it or not, we're in the same boat. Helplessly, hopelessly in love with Max, and no chance at all of her loving us back."

Ari snorted.

"We're so stupid to do this, you know. Be in love with her. She can't love anyone who's so obviously physically imperfect. Because she's so shallow, and so caught up in herself."

This time Ari growled.

"And you're just as bad as Fang at not talking sometimes. What, did you get together back at the School and take classes on how to be endlessly monosyllabic?" Iggy demanded in irritation.

"Maybe I just don't want to listen to your endless hormonal teenage rants about how your life sucks." The Eraser shot back.

"Jealous because the track record says you won't make a teenager, Ari?" Iggy retorted. "How long are Erasers lasting these days?"

Ari slammed into his side with no warning that he'd even moved. Iggy struggled against the massive Eraser, but both his arms were stuck, and one wing was bent back at an angle that made his shoulder scream in protest. The feathers off both were being bent back by the speed of their descent; Ari's wings were not strong enough to support both his and Iggy's weight.

They slammed into tree branches on the way down. Iggy pulled his lone wing back in, desperate to not break the bones. Ari slammed into the ground shoulder first with a groan of pain. Iggy had the somewhat softer landing across Ari's torso.

Both of them lay there, stunned, in the dark forest, panting heavily.

"You do this often, bird boy?" Ari unexpectedly asked after they'd lain there a few minutes.

Iggy gave a dark chuckle. "Crash land? Or lie on the damp ground in a dark forest? Or get into fights with Erasers? Talk to an Eraser? Lie on the damp ground in a dark forest with the Eraser I just had a talk to and a fight with after crash landing?"

"You're a cynical bastard."

Iggy slid away from Ari, disentangling his wings from the Erasers' by touch.

"I haven't crash landed in nearly two years, but I've done the damp ground thing far too often. Same goes for the fighting. Talking – not so much. As for the final, this'd be the first."

"There's a first time for everything." Ari said quietly, heaving his huge frame into a sitting position.

Iggy grimaced, really not liking the connotations that the other boy put into that one simple statement. "Why are you out here alone, Ari?" Iggy asked, curious and keen to distract Ari.

"If I tell you, you'll hate me," He replied, sounding more vulnerable than Iggy had heard him since they'd been at the School. Ari had been three then. "The flock always hated me, ever since I was just little."

Iggy thought for a few minutes, listening to Ari idly playing with a stick. "I'm guessing that you want to get Max? Good luck with that." He said, only half sarcastically.

Ari said nothing, and Iggy was surprised at the fact that he was still sitting here in the middle of nowhere, with someone who'd tried to kill him many times before. Why? What was it that kept him here?

"Is she…" Ari began. He went silent. Iggy knew better than to prompt him, and possibly anger Ari again. He could be killed in the blink of an eye, and yet he was still here, listening to the confessions of someone who he'd been sure he hated up until only a few minutes ago. Maybe they were both just misunderstood.

"Is she happy?" Ari asked. "With Fang?"

"Yes." Iggy replied softly. "They're happy."

Ari curled in on himself, wrapped his wings around his body in a feathered cocoon and whispered. "She couldn't be happy with me, could she?"

"Or with me."

"Then why are you in love with her?" Ari asked roughly.

Iggy chuckled. "Gods, she's Max. I know that's not much of an answer, but…how many other girls her age do I know?"

"What about the freaky black chick?"

Iggy swung his head round to face Ari, so the Eraser could read the emotions on his face. "Nudge!" He exclaimed. "Ew, man, she's like my little sister! And seriously, don't you have all those freaky Eraser females?"

Ari burst out laughing. "Jeez, the Eraser females? Sure, they've got the appetite for that kind of thing…" Iggy's cheeks flushed, "But Daddy dearest doesn't like me lowering myself to their level. Even if they'd have anything to do with me in the first place, which is unlikely, because pretty much all the Erasers think I'm ugly."

"If it's any consolation, I'd be happy to see your face," Iggy said with a grin, "But then, I'm blind, and I'd be happy to see anything. Well, mostly."

Iggy sensed Ari's grin, and heard him snort. "The blind-bird-boy would be happy to see it. Real cute. Problem is, that's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me in…a long time."

Iggy grinned, and leaned over and poked Ari lightly on the shoulder. Ari poked his shoulder back, then stood. Iggy felt the offered hand brush his shoulder lightly, and he took it, letting the Eraser easily pull him to his feet.

"So, what now Ari?" He said, brushing damp leaves off his clothes.

"I was thinking that we'd take off, and I'd point you in the direction of your flock."

"That's it?"

"What were you expecting? A fight? I'd kick your ass. I'm not really working for the School anymore, I don't care about them, I don't care that they want you, I want her. That's all." Ari rumbled. "This way," He tugged on Iggy's sleeve. "There's a clearing for take-off."

Iggy obediently followed, for a few moments. "Why should I trust you? You could lead me over a cliff, for all I know, get rid of some of the competition."

Ari stopped walking and chuckled. "Not my style. I'd just rip your throat out." Iggy swallowed, and shivered as he felt a claw lightly run across his throat.

"Oh," He said weakly.

Ari just chuckled, and started walking again. Iggy swallowed convulsively for a second time, and decided there were worse things than following the sounds of someone trying to not make a sound while walking through the damp and dark forest.

He stopped when Ari did, hearing the absence of sound, the absence of echo that told him that they stood in a clearing. "Up, Up, and away," Ari said cheerfully, unfurling his wings. Iggy matched that, flicking feathers ruffled by the fight and letting them fall back into place.

He almost heard the challenge from Ari, something not said, and something he couldn't see, but they both leapt into the air simultaneously. Iggy could hear the passage of the larger, the sound that feathers made, the hiss of moving air, and with his greater agility, managed to stay right on Ari's proverbial tail, much to the Eraser's disgust.

He heard Ari's voice over the wind, telling him where they were to land. For a first time guide, he wasn't doing too badly at explaining what was in the area, with what Iggy knew already, like avoiding the rock. He made a decent landing this time, quiet. Ari whispered across that the Flock was still sleeping, and Iggy felt a slight twinge of guilt, but mostly relief. He sighed.

"Happy to be back with your flock?" Ari asked slightly nastily.

Iggy shrugged, "They're my flock, my family, y'know." He said.

"No, I don't know. I don't have a flock, or a pack."

Iggy winced at his lack of tact, he knew that Ari had never really fit in properly, and that it really did suck to be Jeb's kid. "I'm sorry."

"Why?" Ari questioned. "It's not your fault. It's Dad's, for doing this to me. Anyway, are you going to be okay?"

Iggy snorted. "Like you really care! Whaddaya mean, anyway? They don't know."

"Mindreader brat."

Iggy bit his lip. "Oh, Angel." He heard Ari shift, and give the slight snort he knew meant someone was rolling their eyes. "She…probably won't say anything. Even if she does, though, what can Max do aside from going nuclear? At least then she'd say something to me. Fang'd only ignore me, but then, I won't miss much, because he doesn't say ..." He bit off the rest of that sentence as Ari growled. "Sorry."

"Stop saying that." Ari grunted. "Sign of weakness." He stalked off into the trees.

"Um, Bye." He said weakly at the retreating back. Iggy wasn't sure if he felt like laughing or crying or whatever the hell… this was confusing. He'd just spent the past…however long talking to Ari Batchelder. As in Ari Batchelder, son of spawn of the Devil who was also known as Jeb Batchelder, Eraser Commander, and the one who had captured Angel. As in Bad Guy.

He wasn't sure what to think.

2. Chapter 2

Here's part two, after a bit of a delay. Enjoy.

Part Two


Iggy had nothing else to do for now, but wait, but think…wait for Max or Fang remembered that he was alive, or Nudge to wake up. Neither of the scenarios were all that likely. Such was the hassle of Watch.

He heard Ari standing in the trees for a while, he assumed watching Max. Thank the Gods that they were asleep, because he didn't think that Ari would cope with them doing anything any better than he himself did. Although, then again, Ari was an Eraser who'd done a pretty good job of almost killing Fang once before. Iggy heard the sigh, and the shuffle of leaves as he walked away.

Angel woke first of all the flock, and put him to sleep with her freaky mental power when he argued that he really was fine. Fang shook him awake what seemed like only a few seconds later, saying nothing, like usual, and probably glaring for the dereliction of duty. If only he knew.

The others were already awake, and Max cheerfully ordered him to make breakfast (and make it snappy), because they (she) were hungry, and they had serious flight hours ahead to…God knew where.

He fixed something quick with what little they had, while Nudge and Gazzy cleaned camp, and Angel rummaged through the packs. He couldn't hear Max and Fang, but wasn't trying to. Ten minutes later, they were off again. Iggy shouldered his pack and leapt into the air, feeling all of last night's bruises scream at him in the downstroke.

They settled into their flight, Max leading and Fang hovering above her, pretending that he wasn't thinking indecent thoughts. Nudge, Gazzy and Angel were talking amongst themselves, or rather, Nudge was talking, Gazzy was humming to himself and not listening, and Angel was talking to Total and Celeste. He knew that he was broadcasting a 'don't talk to me' vibe, but he really didn't care. All he had to do was follow Nudge's voice, and that was completely fine.

They flew until lunch, and the day warmed up so even at this height the space between his back and the bag was uncomfortably warm. They landed outside a town, he had no idea of the name, while Max, Fang and the credit card did their thing. There was a creek nearby, and Nudge washed Angel's hair, Gazzy swam, and Iggy himself cleaned up a way downstream, if only to hide the bruises he knew must be all over his ribs. The flock had never really learned the concept of modesty, and in his own case…it wasn't really as if he could see anything.

The terrible twosome returned at least an hour later, but admittedly bearing still mostly-hot food. They'd hauled themselves out of the creek, and were happily drying on a nearby rock, Iggy hiding the bruises with a baggy T-shirt he'd hauled out of his pack.

They have hamburgers, and cheeseburgers without the meat for Nudge, and several bottles of orange soda. Angel gave him a smile, and dished them out while he and Nudge were interrogated over exactly what happened while MotherMax was away.

In the air again, he said no more than he had done the first few hours of flying. Nothing else changed. The wind picked up a little, which was Max's incentive to land, and of course she picked the ever-present clearing in the damp, dark, cold and scary forest. They angled downwards to land, Max first, Fang, Nudge Gazzy, Angel, then him, although his landing…wasn't. Or rather his crash was spectacularly bad, his feet hitting a muddy patch that no-one had bothered warning him about.

The laughing from everyone sucked, but Nudge offered a hand up, and to make dinner, neither of which he wanted to turn down. She'd turned into a good little cook, and the spaghetti-o's were worth it.

It got dark quickly, not that he minded, but then as the temperature dropped, Max curled up into her blankets with Fang, and both quickly fell asleep. Nudge tucked in the younger two, along with Celeste and Total for the second night in a row, and he told her to go to bed, as she protested that she wasn't tired, and gave a jaw-cracking yawn to the contrary. He ignored the looks that he knew she was shooting Max, Fang and himself, just accepted the blanket that she handed over.

They didn't even bother with the hand-stacking anymore.

So he was supposed to be on watch for the second night running, and the strain was beginning to get to him. Two days without sleeping with long-haul flights was a lot more than most people could handle. Iggy listened to the regular breathing of his flockmates-but Nudge, and sighed.

He knew she was watching him closely, and he knew that he wasn't going to win this argument. Either Nudge would say something, which was likely, or she wouldn't, which wasn't. He wasn't disappointed when she told him that she'd take first watch anyway, that she couldn't possibly be as tired as he was – he'd sat up last night too. He couldn't argue with that, so he agreed, knowing perfectly well that Max wouldn't like it, and Fang would like it even less. But then, Max was asleep. Iggy told her to wake him up at midnight, knowing full well that she didn't want to, but would, as her exhaustion got the better of her.

Iggy felt like he'd only just closed his eyes when she woke him up with a quick shake and a half melted chocolate bar. He had a minor scare when she shook his shoulder just as Fang had the previous morning, thinking, just for a second that Fang would tell Max and then she'd be mad, and he'd get ignored and treated like he was useless more than ever.

But it was Nudge. She smiled at him when he thanked her for the chocolate, he always knew when she smiled, and she squeezed his shoulder. "It's half-past midnight," she told him, yawning. He grinned to himself. She'd managed six-hour exhausted night-watch, and not much more besides. He should have made a bet with himself, because then he would have won.

"Goodnight, Nudge. Sleep tight." She yawned again, her jaw cracking, and curled up in the blankets he vacated. There was no convenient watch rock here, so he sat on the cold ground, a few metres away from the fire, listening for whatever was out there. It took only a few minutes for him to get bored and cold, and it was windy, so he stood, and began to wander aimlessly in and around the clearing that they'd set up in. He could hear far off rustling of small nocturnal things, and the occasional cries of birds, the breathing of his flockmates, but nothing else.

No, something else. Not heard, but a general sense of someone's there. He was sure he couldn't hear anything, straining his ears, but then, Erasers could be damned quiet when they weren't trying to be in murderous rampages. And Iggy knew that they had better hearing than he did if they bothered trying to listen…

Iggy circled the camp once more, before coming to a stop right in front of Ari's hiding place. "So, still following us?" He asked, half amused, half worried.

He was answered by a chuckle. "Not much else I can do. Can't go back to the School, they'd kill me and dissect me. Can't show myself to you lot, Max'd kill me. So, I'm on stalker duty."


He sat down on the slightly dewy ground, and leaned his elbows on his knees. Ari shuffled out of the trees slightly, leaning up against one as the wood creaked in protest. They said nothing for a while, but it wasn't really an uncomfortable silence, just a pause, because they had nothing to say for the moment. Iggy was used to not talking, and Ari was used to not being listened to, he thought.

"I didn't have any trouble with Angel," He told Ari, though he wasn't sure why. Maybe because it was the Eraser who'd brought up the possibility last night, Or maybe it was just because he was slightly curious to see just how much he could mention.

Ari grunted.

"I mean she probably knows, but for some reason she hasn't ratted me out to Max."

Ari grunted again. Iggy decided it probably wasn't a good idea to mention how alike Ari and Fang sounded. So he didn't say anything, and they lapsed into silence.

Iggy listened to the forest, he could hear and owl hunting somewhere off to his left, and the shuffle of mice, maybe, in the leaf litter fairly close.

"What did you do to your wing?" Ari broke the silence with genuine curiosity. It wasn't hard to hear it – the eraser, like all of his kind, was young, and had never learned to hide it, trusting that their angelic looks and compelling 'you will do what I want' voices and fake 'Thom Cruize' ID's would get them past any resistance. Iggy had learned when he was six to look, listen for things in the voices of his captors, because then he knew what to expect, and whether or not it would hurt.

"Had a bit of a bad landing." Iggy said in a whisper after a moment.

Ari grinned – Iggy heard the rasp of lips against teeth and the faint exhale that he'd come to associate with it. "I suppose that ruins your 'I haven't crashed in nearly two years' lucky streak."

Iggy tilted his head in surprise, and the realised he'd told Ari about that, about not crashing, last time they'd talked. He snickered. "Yeah, I suppose it does. Nobody told me about the big slippery muddy patch."

"Yeah, I wondered what the smell was."

Iggy couldn't resist. "Well, when did you last have a shower!"

Ari mock-growled and then burst out into snickers. "Okay, so you got me there!" He lay down with his hand behind his head. Iggy shifted back against the tree, and couldn't help wincing as his injured wing brushed against the rough bark.

"You okay?" Ari grunted.

"Fine," said Iggy, wincing, "just a little bruised."

Ari snorted, "I though you lot were the ones who were good at flying – whereas we're, what, fridges with wings?" Iggy jumped to hear Fang's words coming out of Ari's mouth. It seemed kind of bizarre, scary. Even worse was Ari's tone, bitingly ironic with nastiness, hate, and yet, envy too.

He though about it from Ari's point of view, and realised that Fang had it good – no psychotic father, no working for some evil corporation. And Fang had Max, which was all that Ari wanted. All that Iggy wanted.

Iggy heard a rustling of cloth, and then a rattle and a pop like a lid being taken off, and then Ari took his hand and dropped a small round thing into his palm. "What…" he trailed off.

"Painkiller – stuff called AEC10, know it?"

Iggy knew it indeed, it was one of the only medicines that worked long term on both human-avian hybrids and Erasers, what with the speedy metabolisms and they'd found it out by testing on, well, who better than the blind kid who was useless at the running and the written intelligence tests. "Yes, I know it." Iggy said grimly, popping the pill in his mouth and swallowing it dry. "Notice they haven't improved the taste."

"Who cares about taste, it works. And you're more than a just little bruised, taking pills off me."

Iggy matched Ari's tone exactly, "And being a drug dealer is such a new low for you."

"Assault, aggravated assault, possession of firearms, explosives, multitudes of driving offences, theft…"

"Torture, blackmail, murder…." Iggy added.

"I don't think I've actually killed anyone, at least not when it wasn't an accident…not that I haven't tried, I suppose…And you'd know all about possession of explosives." Ari snarked.

"Inotice that you're not denying blackmail and torture," Iggy commented sarcastically, "and drugs were so the natural next step."

Both of them started laughing, quietly.

"Really scary, is the thought of what comes next." Ari snickered.

Iggy groaned, "I don't even want to go…" He stopped mid-sentence as someone's voice from the camp woke him. He heard Ari beside him tense, then relax and let out the breath he was holding. Iggy breathed out himself as he realised he was doing the same.

Ari stood quietly, and offered Iggy a hand, which he accepted, because it was the polite thing to do. Ari slid soundlessly into the trees, and Iggy walked equally as quiet out into the clearing.

He could tell by the muttering that it was Max who was awake. "Where were you?" She hissed angrily as he walked back into the firelight.

Iggy shrugged, kicking himself that he'd made her angry, that he'd been that careless, that he'd been talking to Ari…

"Well!" she demanded, "Where?"

"I-I-I thought I heard something over in the trees, and I decided to check it out." He stammered out.

Max made an angry noise, and muttered something about a needing to pee, and stomped off into the dark. He settled himself down on the ground, listening intently, and it wasn't long before Max's stomps came back to the camp.

He said nothing, and neither did she as she curled up next to Fang. It didn't take long for her to fall asleep, and he sat there, just listening to her breathe.


Like all the times he'd been on watch before, he started breakfast as it got light. He didn't actually know when it was light, but he knew that the birds got louder, and the bigger ground dwellers started moving. The flock also got a bit more restless, dreaming, he supposed. Gazzy was obviously dreaming something interesting, 'I'm not a mouse, you're a cheese.'

Max and Fang had stocked up yesterday, so Pop-Tarts on a stick were on the menu. He'd got the fire up and burning again with the rest of wood collected last night when he heard Angel wake up. "Morning, Iggy!" She chirped, shuffling into clothes. He listened to her talk to Celeste for a while, Total wasn't awake yet.

After finishing her conversation with the winged teddy bear, Angel bounded over to him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Morning Angel," he said, smiling. "Have a Pop-Tart-on-a-stick." Angel smiled and took one, murmuring in pleasure as she bit into it.

Nudge, by now, dragged herself out of the blankets and dressed too, "What flavours, Ig?" she asked groggily. "I'm hungry."

Iggy grinned, "What else is new!" he sniffed the air, "Blueberry and Apple from the smell, but don't quote me on that." He was surprised that Nudge was up this early, she'd been on watch, which should have made her harder to wake up than usual. And that was pretty hard.

Nudge happily sat down next to Angel, and she took the stick he offered, keeping one for himself. He set another four sticks close to the fire, but not right in the heat to warm through for the others, listening to Angel and Nudge's conversation. It was about who had the cooler friends from back at the notSchool-school. From the sound of things, Angel was winning.

He pulled apart his breakfast like he always had, licking out the filling. He'd done this ever since he'd first got a Pop-Tart, and he remembered the explanation he'd given to Max and Jeb, about why he was sticky and covered with bits of filling.

He'd been given this thing that Jeb called a "pop tart" for "breakfast", although he wasn't sure what either was. And the Poptart didn't pop, although he wasn't sure what tart meant. Either way, it smelled good, so he gave it a nibble, and he was surprised into giving a yelp when the thing dribbled on him.

He sniffed the dribble on his shirt, it didn't seem to be dangerous, so he licked it. It tasted good, really good. All sweet and gooey and yummy. So he nibbled the "pop tart" again, and more dropped onto his shirt, but in a different place, so he licked that too.

Then, ten year old Iggy discovered that if you pulled off a bit more of the Poptart's skin stuff, that he could get more of the sweet tasting goo. Iggy felt his teeth go through the skin stuff, which didn't taste too bad on it's own, and felt the goo explode everywhere – on his shirt, on his face, on his hands. He eagerly licked off as much as he could find.

"Iggy, what have you been doing?" He heard the feminine voice behind him, Max. She was okay for a girl, and she had a really nice sounding voice.

"Poptart." He said, mouth full of skin stuff.

Max giggled. "Jeb, come look at Iggy!" she called.

Footsteps came down the hall, and Jeb chuckled as he caught sight of the very sticky, skinny, blond boy smeared with poptart from head to toe. "How did you get yourself covered in food, Iggy? It's meant for eating, not for clothes!" the man said, amused.

"It dribbled on me." He said, "It's not my fault. The poptart started it!"

Max started giggling again. Jeb burst out laughing at his vehemence. "Of course it was," he said, "Let's get you cleaned up before you get stuck to something!"

He smiled at the memory, and Angel giggled next to him, sounding uncannily like Max had all those years ago.

"What?" said Nudge, looking up at them, "What're you laughing at?"

Angel giggled again. "Iggy was remembering his first Poptart." She explained to the older girl. She handed Total, who'd just awoken, half a poptart, while she herself took the other half. Iggy took another from the packet and slid it onto the stick, a half-thought occurring to him.

Nudge gave a grin of comprehension. "I remember that, although you probably don't, cause you were too little," she said to Angel. "Iggy made a right mess of himself, he was covered all over with sticky stuff!" Iggy felt himself begin to blush.

"Have you heard the story about the first time Nudge tried to make a chocolate milkshake," he retorted.

Nudge gasped, "Oh don't you dare!" she squealed, "Don't you dare tell her!"

Iggy burst out laughing at the outrage in her voice, and pictured what little he had of the memory. Angel's laughter joined his as she caught it, combining his recollection with Nudge's imagery.

"Would you guys quit it, some of us are trying to sleep here!" a sharp voice, Max's, cut across their laughter, and they stopped.

"Sorry Max," Angel said, not sounding sorry at all.

"Yeah, sorry, Max," added Nudge. "Iggy made poptarts, if you're hungry." She explained.

The sound of Max glaring at them made Iggy shift uncomfortably. "Fine," she eventually broke the silence, "Since you seem to have so much energy, you can pack up camp."

Angel, who by now sounded pretty annoyed, muttered, "Yeah, so what else is new. We did it yesterday. And the day before." But she obediently took all but one of the poptarts off the sticks, and handed them to Max, Fang, and the bleary eyed Gazzy, who'd been woken up by the yelling.

Iggy smiled, and took the remaining one from its stick and wrapped it in a piece of newspaper, sliding it into the pocket of his jacket. He scraped up dirt to throw on the fire to put it out, and once he was satisfied that it had cooled down, he took some of the larger, mostly un-burnt branches, and circled the camp, scattering them amongst the trees. They'd be harder to track this way, and the remains of the fire would disappear faster.

He heard Angel and Nudge fold and pack up all the blankets and Max and Fang grudgingly vacated theirs. Gazzy buried the ashes of the fire, and then helped the girls with the packing. It took five minutes before they were all assembled, ready to go. Iggy shouldered the pack Gazzy offered him.

"We're headed for the coast." Max said. "Should be another hour or two." With that she turned around, flicked out her wings, ran a few steps and got airborne – Fang right behind her.

Angel growled under her breath, picked up Total, and leaped into the air. Gazzy and Nudge followed. Iggy quickly bent, as if to tie his shoe. He slipped the still warm newspaper wrapped package from his pocket, and sat it on the ground. He hoped Ari would find it. With that, he stood, and leapt into the air.

Angel called to him in her sweet voice, and he swerved to hold position beneath her. She dropped down beside him, "Do you want me to carry Total?" He asked her, knowing that she didn't like to carry too much for too long, even though she was the most efficient flyer of all the flock. Something about being the 'latest model', he supposed. Even so, she was still the youngest, and Total weighed about half as much as she did.

"Okay," she said, and he stretched out his arm to brush against hers. She turned over mid air and handed him the dog, who grumbled about his change in position, and kicked him in the chest several times trying to find a comfortable position.

"By the way," she added, "He found your Poptart. He's happy about it." Iggy nodded in thanks, and Angel sped up to talk to Nudge about…something. Well, to listen to Nudge anyway. Iggy grinned, and concentrated on flying, the joy of it.

It was so easy to him now, he had an almost-sixth sense in that he could tell where the thermals were, where the dead pockets of air lay, where the different wind layers were. It was sort of hearing it, and part feeling the changes of pressure and temperature on his skin, but it was a little bit more than that too, a whisper in his head, a 3D map of not-quite-colours where he knew where everything was. It wasn't a power-power, not like Angel's mind reading, or Max's super speed, but it was his.

It was part of why he hated cities, the concrete and glass messed up his map into something that he'd drawn when he was still able to see. They'd given them crayons once, let them loose in a white room to see what they could, what they would draw. It hadn't taken long for them to get the hang of it, and making a mess of Whitecoat stuff was always fun.

Iggy had drawn spirals of all different colours, all over 'his' wall. They were pretty, and he'd tried to get them all the same size, but then he'd run out of space, and had to draw over the ones he'd already done. The end result had been a bit like what he pictured a tie dyed sixties shirt to look like.

Fang on the other hand, had hogged the dark colours, the blacks and dark blues and browns, and had scribbled. Four-year-old Max had drawn pictures of herself, Fang, Iggy and Chee. Well, at least that's what she thought they were. Iggy thought they looked more like multicolored blobs. Or vomit stuck to the wall.

Chee, who'd been a little bit older than he was, had drawn the best pictures, there had been a little Max and Fang and Iggy on the wall. It had been the first time he'd seen what he looked like. When Chee had died of whatever she died of when he'd been about six, he remembered that drawing. She'd never been quite right, her wings didn't work and she couldn't breathe right. In the end, he'd just been happy that she hadn't had to suffer anymore. He had been happy and sad on that day.

Max and Fang didn't remember her any more.

He wondered what had happened to those paintings, whether the School had kept them as part of the Psych assessment, or whether some poor underpaid janitor had just scrubbed them off. Either way, he, like all of the Flock, had developed an almost-photographic memory, and he could bring up that room in all its detail.

Gazzy interrupted his thinking by dropping down to fly beside him, "Hey, Gaz," he yelled over the howl of the wind, "What's the time?"

Gazzy yelled back, "It's nearly lunchtime."

Iggy started in surprise – he'd been reminiscing for longer than he'd thought. Funny how that happened sometimes. "What are the others doing?"

"Nudge and Angel are acting like girls," the younger boy said in disgust, "Max and Fang were talking to me about where we are headed, but then they started getting all mushy so I left. They're being really gross. Fang is flying above Max with his hand touching between her wings."

Iggy could just picture the look on Gazzy's face, as well as Fang's hand on Max's back. How he wished that was him, his hand, but he was just the blind one who'd probably miss her back altogether if he tried. "Yeah, that's pretty gross!" he forced himself to say, because that was what Gazzy wanted to hear. Gazzy didn't want to hear that he wanted her. Gazzy still thought girls had cooties.

Iggy remembered Chee hugging him when he'd gone blind, remembered Max hugging him when he'd thrown that rock through the window. He wondered what happened to that Max, the one who had told him, that he might have been a blind mutant freak, but he was her blind mutant freak. The Max who had said that she needed him, and the other five, just to feel whole herself.

The one who'd made him realise that he was in love with her.

He wondered if she'd been kidnapped and replaced with a clone, Max 2 or Max 3 or something. If Fang had been replaced with Fang 2. No, their changes had been gradual, over time. They'd become what they were, and Iggy hadn't fought it. Because she'd been happy.

He wondered, now, whether he was still in love with her, or whether it was reflex. There wasn't much of the girl he fell in love with left, or so it seemed.

3. Chapter 3


Part Three


The rest of the flight was uneventful. They reached the sea with time to spare, so Nudge, Gazzy and Angel went swimming. Iggy sat on the beach, which was deserted, and listened to them over the crackle of the flames. Nudge and Gazzy had a water fight, and Total barked frantically from the beach. Angel wasn't to be heard sometimes, searching beneath the waves for pretty shells or pieces of water-smoothed glass.

Occasionally, Iggy tossed a new piece of wood on the fire, just to break up the routine. Max and Fang disappeared off somewhere inland, Max speeding off and Fang straining to follow. No-one was wondering where, or what they were doing. None of them were going to go looking either. They'd been caught in the act a few times before, and Iggy wasn't keen to repeat the experience. At all.

It would've been at least polite to have some kind of warning, Iggy has said then, the rest of the flock would have respected any boundaries. It wasn't as if they weren't going to find out – it was a flock of six and there was a telepath in that number. He'd asked why they wanted to keep it a secret. He hadn't got an answer then, he still hadn't. Maybe Max did know about his feelings, maybe she was trying to protect him. He didn't know.

As it started to get dark, Angel walked back up the beach, with what smelled like fish. He offered her a towel, and she put whatever she was carrying down on a rock with a squishing sound followed by a clinking of what he could guess were the fruits of her 'treasure hunt'. Nudge and Gazzy followed a short while later, Nudge complaining about something. Again.

"What's that smell?" he asked, wrinkling his nose.

Gazzy snickered ,"Angel put her fish talking talents to good use for once and got the fish to come up to her. Then she made them die. So we've got fish for dinner." He explained.

Iggy frowned at Angel's latest use of power, it was one thing to use it on Erasers, but…

"It's okay, Iggy." She told him. He wasn't sure whether to believe her, but he nodded. At least she wasn't making him think it was okay. He didn't think she'd do that, but maybe…Iggy's head started to hurt.

"We'll have fish for dinner then, but only if you gut and skin them, and cut off the heads and the tails first." He said, taking charge, as oldest. "Nudge and Gazzy can do that. Take them away down the beach first though, otherwise they'll smell up the place. Angel, have we got some foil left?" He handed Nudge his sharpest knife, and Gazzy took out his own.

They walked down the beach arguing about which X-man had the coolest power. So far Nudge was winning with Rogue, but Gazzy was adamant that Cyclops would kick ass. Iggy just hoped none of them developed eye-laserbeams. He listened until they were out of earshot, smiling. They'd argue about anything. Angel started searching around in the packs. He decided he might as well contribute and started building up the fire to a cooking heat with some of the stuff collected from the forest off the beach earlier. Driftwood didn't burn well, and Gazzy had told him that if it did burn then the flames were green.

"There's not much foil left," Angel chirped disappointedly, after a few moments of rummaging. "What're we gonna cook the fish in now? I'd feel really bad if we just wasted them!"

Iggy put a hand on her shoulder to comfort the girl, and hummed in thought. "Is there any roofing iron on the beach anywhere?" he asked her, unable to see himself. "A small piece?"

The sand shuffled around her feet as she turned around to scan along the beach. "Yeah," she exclaimed, "There's a smallish piece down there."

"How rusty is it? If it's not too rusty we can use it to cook on." Angel clapped her hands in delight, and grabbed his hand to pull him down the beach. She was right, the piece was a little on the big side, but it would do okay for cooking, and it wasn't too rusty.

He'd dragged it up the beach with Angel's 'help' and covered the top in the remaining foil when Gazzy and Nudge returned with the now de-scaled, beheaded and gutted fish. They helped set up the iron on sticks, and Iggy told them to go and get washed off while he cooked. Because they really did smell. Angel needed no prompting to head off with them into the water again. Iggy sat down next to the fire and waited as the fish began to sizzle.

The terrible twosome showed up just after the fish had finished cooking, smelling like each other and sounding satisfied. Iggy said nothing, and it didn't sound like either of them intended to say much either. Angel muttered something about now being one of those times where she wished she wasn't a mind reader, because she really didn't want to know what was on their minds. Iggy grinned because they did deserve it, Max ignored them both.

They ate their fish in silence, Max and Fang snuggling up one side of the fire and the rest of them on the other. The divisions were becoming all the clearer now that he knew where to look.

They'd finished and cleaned up, well, he and Nudge had cleaned up, and while it was still a little light they decided to go for a quick fly, just for the fun of it. Well, Max and Fang decided and the others decided to follow because no one turned down flying-for-the-fun of it. They had precious little time to do what they wanted, and besides, flying cross-country was a boring necessity. This was fun.

The flock took off and flew south a way to the nearest of cliffs that dotted the coast, ones that Nudge had spotted as they'd circled in to land at the beach.



Iggy sped down the side of the cliff, wings half out and tilted so his feathers whistled uselessly, falling. He began to feel cold, salty sea spray on his face, and he pulled up at the last second to stop from plowing into the rough water. From the height he'd fallen, it would hurt like hitting concrete.

The danger, the fear that something would go wrong, that he wouldn't pull up in time - You couldn't do this without letting out a whoop, the adrenaline burning through your veins, wings on fire, every feather tingling with the force of drag.

He loved this – he'd come up with in a way, literally walking off one of the drops that surrounded the mountain top home in the Sangre de Cristos. To be fair, Iggy hadn't seen it, and no one else had been looking out for him, making sure he didn't do just that. He hadn't got the hang of walking around their home yet.

Then Fang, being Fang, just had to copy. Max and Jeb had gone ballistic. Nudge had nearly fainted the first time she saw it happen. Gazzy couldn't wait to join in. Iggy had blushed every time it was referred to. Nearly-three-year-old Angel had blinked at the noise and the thoughts and emotions and had gone back to chewing on the liquorice she'd been given.

All in all, it hadn't been a fun few weeks until Fang had pushed him off when he wasn't expecting it. That had been when he realised that this was pretty good when you weren't convinced that you were going to die at any second. It had become a competition, how far would you fall. They'd gotten better and better over the years, so now he could fall so far his feet nearly brushed the ground when he pulled up. He swooped back up to the top of the cliff listening out for Nudge's turn to fall.

Instead the older boy had another kick in the guts. "Max," Fang yelled, "Erasers!"

Max swung around frantically, eyes scanning the area as she told them to U and A. They all sped into the air like bullets, off the cliff in formation that at any other time would've made Max proud.

The reached a good fighting altitude for the flying Erasers, a height were their ground-bound cousins wouldn't be able to reach with most of their standard range weapons.

Ten seconds, twenty… Iggy got a strange, slightly elated, mostly guilty feeling in the pit of his stomach

Still nothing.

"Some joke, Fang!" Max shrieked. "Next time you get the urge to have a sense of humour, why don't you take a leaf out of Gazzy's book and let off a smoke bomb or ten!"

Fang looked furious that Max thought he was joking, "I saw Erasers!"

"Then where," and Max spun around midair, probably gesturing all around them at the bare cliff and the sky, both absent of murderous wolfmen toting submachine guns, "Are they?"

Fang, stubborn until the last, "I saw Ari." Iggy felt that feeling in his stomach swing all the way to guilt, then back to guilty elation.

Max took several deep breaths, calming herself down at the mention of her nemesis, and then she mumbled something. Probably to her Voice, though Iggy wouldn't know. It sounded a bit like she was swearing. "Fine. Whatever. This has ruined the evening anyway. Head back to camp!" she ordered, anger obvious in her voice.

She sped away, half using her super speed to keep just a bit to fast for them to follow easily. It was annoying to not be able to fly as he wanted to, and he couldn't ask Max to slow down. She wouldn't do so, maybe she'd even speed up.

The flock gathered in the air above the beach, Max impatiently doing the winged equivalent of tapping her feet on the floor. "Guys," she said sweetly. "Why don't you land while Fang and I have a little chat." Her tone of voice implied that it wasn't a suggestion. "Don't bother staying up for us, we might be a while. Get all nice and tucked up in bed. Iggy can be on watch."

Iggy bit his lip to keep from yelling in anger. Three nights on watch. Three.

"Goodnight." Came Max's dismissal. Noiselessly the flock dropped from the sky, landing quietly, ears straining to catch what Max would say to Fang. No luck, as soon as they landed, Max sped off seaward. Fang following reluctantly.

"Do you think," Gazzy said, breaking the silence, "Do you think Fang really did see Ari?"

Iggy flinched and hoped that the other three hadn't seen it in the flickering firelight.

"I don't know Gazzy, I didn't see whatever Fang was looking at, but what if it was Ari?" Nudge started, "What if Ari's watching us right now, with a whole pile of Erasers looking down on us with guns and Max and Fang not being here, and we'd have to fight and…" Someone clamped a hand over Nudge's mouth.

"I don't hear any Erasers," said Angel, ending that discussion. "There's no one else around."

Iggy got out the blankets, and sat down on the nearest log. "You might want to get to sleep before they return, else Max might get angry." Three sighs met his words.

"Okay," Gazzy said half-heartedly. The younger boy came and picked up a blanket, passing two out to the girls, who thanked him. Iggy dropped the other two, Max's and Fang's, on the sand. He had a thought then. Tentatively, Iggy extended one fist. Gazzy reached out and put his on top of Iggy's, and was quickly joined by Nudge's and Angel's.

"Goodnight, guys."

"Night Iggy!"


"'mm. 'Night."

It wasn't long until he heard Gazzy's snores and Nudge's sleep talking, they were tired and it had been a long day. "Do you think we should tell Max?" Angel asked.

"Was it Ari?"

Angel nodded, "Yep."

"I don't know." He told her honestly; after all, she was a mind reader. "I'll think about whether I want to. If you think you should, then…"

"Okay." Angel said, yawning. "I think I'm going to tell Max, it's not fair that she's mad at..."

"Tell Max what?" Max asked, stepping into the camp so quietly Iggy wasn't surprised he hadn't heard. "Angel? Iggy?" she demanded loudly. "Tell me what!"

"Wha's goin' on?" Nudge asked sleepily.

"Angel and Iggy have something to tell me!" Max said furiously.

4. Chapter 4

Hi guys, Mai here. I've always wanted to finish this story. And I never did. –frowny face-. But a lot of you really liked it, so here's what I've got.

Part Four

Iggy jumped up, stunned that he hadn't heard Max get close to camp. He was good at hearing things from at least a hundred meters away, he was the best out of the flock, and somehow he'd managed to miss her coming. Somehow he and Angel had managed to miss the fact that they were listening.

"What do you mean, Iggy and Angel have something to tell you, Max? It's late, we're goin' to sleep, because we're… " Nudge said to Max half asleep, trailing off at whatever Max's expression was. Things were about to get worse. He hadn't meant to be overheard.

And now they had to decide what to say, and quickly. Max wasn't shabby at spotting lies if she knew that she was supposed to be, so there wasn't really much choice in what they could say to answer her.

Iggy swung his head around to where he knew Angel was, hoping that she was reading his thoughts for once. It was a weird feeling, wanting to have his thoughts, his private thoughts read by another, especially his 'baby sister." We have to tell her. He thought at Angel. There's nothing else we can do.

Nudge and Gazzy shuffled and sat up in their blankets, both sounding confused in their whispered mutterings to each other. Iggy felt guilty about those two, at least, because he should have told them what was going on. He always told them things. Because they always told him things and that was the way it had always been.

"Ari's been following us." Angel said quietly, telling the flock the secret that they never should have kept.

Gazzy's muttering to Nudge stopped mid sentence and Total let out a yelp, and scrabbled under the blankets. It was exactly what Iggy wanted to do at the moment, get out of the way of the impending hurricane Max. Fang then strode into their camp a lot louder than Max had been, or maybe Iggy was listening now. He sounded angry, in his stomping footsteps, and his harsh breathing.

"What did you say?" Max's voice was deadly calm, which meant that she was very, very angry, probably more so than fang. The 'calm before the hurricane' kind of angry. Iggy shivered, this was going to be painful, and he almost wanted to cry.

Angel was crying, almost-silent tears. She could hear what Max was thinking, Iggy guessed, which would be accusations tumbling with anger and fear and denial. She didn't want to listen, Iggy wouldn't have wanted to listen, and most of the time he would have given anything to listen to what Max was thinking.

"Ari's been following us, Max," she repeated dully. "That was Ari that Fang saw on the cliffs. He was watching us fly, he's jealous because we're so much better at it than he is. He didn't mean to get spotted, either. You shouldn't have been yelling at Fang for that, he was right." Angel's story seemed to stir everyone out of their immediate shock that they were being followed – that was nothing new, after all. But what wasn't new…

"Why didn't you tell me?" Max demanded, and Iggy knew she was struggling to understand why her own flock would 'betray' her like this, failing to tell her that Ari was following them.

Max didn't get it, like usual, that things were different than they used to be, when there were no secrets. It was hard to keep secrets in a flock-of-six-plus-one-dog, but it could be done. And she'd started it. She'd had no excuses for what she and Fang had done when they'd got together, and Iggy knew that he and Angel didn't either.

Angel burst into tears at what Max was thinking. Iggy knew that whatever it was had to be completely awful to make Angel cry and Iggy stepped in front of the sobbing girl, who then clutched at his shirt and buried her face into his side.

He hoped that because Angel was crying that Max would back off, and Fang too, because they all had a soft spot for the youngest. He wrapped an arm around Angel's thin shoulders, trying to stand between the girl who was his little sister and the girl who he was at least a rather big bit still in love with.

"I didn't tell you, Max, because I don't think that he's a threat to us." Iggy told Max boldly in his and Angel's defence. He had to say something to divert Max's attack on Angel, because that just wasn't fair, he'd chosen to say nothing before as well, and besides, he believed that Ari wasn't a threat. "He's been following us now for at least two days, and nothing's happened yet."

"Four days," Angel confessed in a small voice, sniffling back her tears. "As far as I can tell, he's been following us for four days. Ari's not with the School and…"

Max cut off what Angel was going to say, stunned, and Iggy would have bet some serious money if he had any that she stood there with hand balled into fists and her mouth half open. Iggy was surprised that it was four days, and that he hadn't noticed immediately.

Across the campfire, Nudge let out a frightened gasp and clapped a hand across her mouth. Even worse was a cracking noise from Fang's direction that told Iggy that Fang was so angry with all this he was showing some emotion for a change and taking the anger out on the driftwood.

Max closed her mouth with a snap, "You both knew." she clarified, once again deadly calm. She shifted her feet as she waited for the answer, and Iggy thought she might have turned around to look at Fang.

Angel nodded to Max against his side, saying nothing. Iggy could hear Gazzy, Nudge and Total curl up against each other and against the firewood to try and save themselves from Max and Fang's wrath. Because getting Max angry wasn't hard, but getting Max this angry was fairly difficult and always awful to watch. And only Ari succeeded in doing it on a regular basis.

"I didn't know Angel knew until this morning." Iggy said. "I met him a couple of nights ago when I went for a fly." As soon as the words came out of his mouth, he regretted them, wishing he could take them back. Confessing to dereliction of duty was not a good explanation. It would only make matters worse, and he could've kicked himself for being so stupid.

"You went for a fly." Fang joined into the accusations darkly, dropping his firewood/sawdust with a clink and sounding so deadly calm that Iggy was scared by it. Fang was dangerous, a skilled and ruthless fighter and while he didn't think that the older boy would hit him… "You just got up and went for a nice, fun fly. Weren't you on watch that night?"

Iggy was backed into a corner now, Iggy had backed himself into a corner and he hated it. It was worse than being in a cage, and he snapped "Yeah, pretty good guess that, because of me being on watch most of the last two weeks and both of the last two bloody nights…"

"Because you were watching out for Ari and the Erasers really well when I woke you up the other morning!" Fang retorted, taking two steps closer to Iggy in what was a direct challenge – I'm the alpha male and you can back off.

Fang's accusation turned that anger and fear into outright fury, and Iggy let rip at the boy who was everything that he sometimes wished that he was. "Why don't you try and be on watch for two nights straight and let us all see how you handle it! You don't even give a damn about the rest of us anymore, like it's only the two of you that matter! You're taking us for granted and I hate you both for it! You don't bother doing anything except finding places that you can have a good shag in!"

Fang growled and closed the distance between them. Half stunned by what he'd just said, Iggy didn't even take a step back, and the rest of the flock did nothing. "Jealous because Max loves me and you're just a pathetic little blind guy who no one cares about!" Fang hissed. "You probably got sick of watching us so you decided to sleep and have some sick fantasy dream about how you'd love to be in my place, watching Max's face as she…"

"Fang!" Angel cried out, trying to stop what they were saying before any worse was said, anything unforgivable and they half-killed each other. "I put him to sleep then. I knew he was tired and…"

"Butt out, Angel!" Max snapped. "This doesn't concern you at all! Let us older kids handle it, and we're going to have a serious conversation about how you use your powers, especially around the flock, because you're turning into an evil little six-year-old tyrant!"

Nudge's gasp was audible above the hiss of the fire, but that was the only sound any of them made. Angel clutched at Iggy's waist, and Iggy tightened the arm around the girl's shoulders. He felt the Avian-hybrid combination of adrenaline and something else burning through his body.

He hoped Max knew she'd gone too far. He hoped that she felt guilty that she'd said it. Angel was powerful, yes, and sometimes she did misuse her power, but she was six, and she made mistakes because she hadn't learnt yet.

Iggy was so furious with Max's pigheadedness and indifference to what they all needed, not just herself and Fang, that he felt almost icy. They needed to stop this now. "I think it's time we get some sleep. We can sort this out in the morning. C'mon Angel," he said, hoisting the girl into his arms.

"You'd like that, wouldn't you? Ari coming in the middle of the night and cutting all our throats." Fang snapped, as Iggy turned to put Angel into her blankets.

He tucked the blonde girl in quietly and gently brushed the tears off her cheeks. She took his hands in hers and squeezed them gently, "Thanks, Iggy. For sticking up for me."

He bent over and kissed her forehead. "Any time, Angel."

Fang still stood there, waiting for Iggy to say something. He wasn't going to get away with simply going to sleep, Fang wanted to continue this. Iggy chose to answer him, quietly saying, "Ari wouldn't cut all our throats, Fang. Not Max's anyway. Yours, definitely."

With that said, he walked over to the log he'd sat down on, picked up his blanket, and settled down next to Angel. Fang snorted, and Iggy felt compelled to add spitefully, "I suppose you're just going to have to wait up and watch to make sure that he doesn't."

Fang swore, and Max told him to get over it, stomping over and yanking a blanket out of the pack, cursing as the rest of the gear spilled out. The two of them left the spilt gear and took the blanket and stalked off down the beach a way, far enough out of hearing range and unfortunately in the opposite direction of the fishguts.

He curled comfortably into the sand and pulled the blanket up over his head. Angel shifted backwards against his chest, and Iggy put an arm around Angel, and closed his eyes.

There would be hell to pay in the morning.

Except, he realised, that there was no reason to stay here until the morning. There was nothing left here anymore, besides force of habit. He'd never been away from Max and Fang for very long, since Angel got captured. Things had changed since then, and maybe this would be for the good. He had no idea where he'd go, but he'd go, and he'd take the others with him if they wanted to come.

"I'll come," Angel whispered. "I'm not evil."

"No, you're not." He whispered back. "You're an Angel."

5. Chapter 5

Part Five

Iggy didn't sleep well, the argument and the enormity of his decision to leave the flock weighting heavily on his conscience. He must have slept a little, because he woke with a start some time in the middle of the night. He lifted his arm from where it was still over Angel carefully, and sat up.

They'd come back in the night, he heard, from wherever they'd been down the beach. He hadn't woken when they'd first got here, but he knew that the little he'd slept must have been a fairly deep sleep, for them to have arrived without him noticing. He'd been exhausted, after all, so it wasn't that much of a surprise. The thing that was, was that he was usually the ears of the flock, and he'd put a lot of faith in his hearing, because it was the best sense he had. The most annoying thing was that he still felt like an overcooked noodle, and it was going to get worse before it got better.

Quietly, he listened, and built up the mental sound-map of where things were. Fang was asleep, snoring faintly in time with Max. Nudge was curled up her blankets near Gazzy on the other side of the slight rush/crackle that was the fire.

As lightly as he moved, Angel still woke. She wasn't as tired as Iggy was, and the Flock usually had hair-trigger sense-alerts. Sleeping to fully awake in 0.25 seconds. "You're really leaving?" she asked quietly. "You're really going to leave Max?"

Iggy thought about that. He loved Max. Max was in love with Fang, and there was nothing he could do to change that. Fang loved Max. They were obviously happy in their own little world, happy enough to the point of excluding the rest of the flock. He deserved better than being miserable half the time, and so did any of the others – if they chose to join.

"Yeah." He said. It wasn't that hard a decision, really. "I'm really leaving. It'll get worse if I stay, so I'm not going to." It was true. Things could get much worse. Being ignored was one thing, but being deliberately ignored with that angry aura that Max was a master of broadcasting was worse.

"I'm coming with you." Angel said with all the force of her six-year-old will. And Iggy hoped, once again, that she wasn't making him think things. Either way, he folded. He needed the company. Being blind wasn't usually a problem, but he had the flock to guide him in new places. If he left them behind, he'd lose that.

"Okay." He said. "Help me get some stuff together. We're gonna need it."

"Yup," she chirped, and he heard her turn around and take one of the packs. Then she paused and turned back to him. "Iggy, what about Nudge and Gazzy?"

Iggy bit his lip. They couldn't just leave them here. He should have thought this through, not just jumped up in the middle of the freaking night and decided to leave. He wished this part was going to be that easy, but it wasn't. The Flock had always been fairly independent, effectively out of all adult control (as far as they knew) since he was twelve. Nudge had been nine, and Gazzy only the same age as Angel was now, but they still could make their own decisions, and they should have a right to.

"Wake up Nudge and Gazzy, please, Angel. Quietly. Ask them if they want to come. And if they don't…" Iggy hesitated. This wasn't one of those requests that he liked.

"Put them to sleep," Angel finished. "I know. And it's okay."

No it isn't, Iggy thought. It's not okay that I'm asking my six year old almost little sister to use her power against another one of the flock. Erasers are okay. We're not.

He didn't say it though, and if Angel heard it then she didn't say anything either. In a way, she knew that this was wrong, but she was six, and with the life the flock had had so far, it wasn't any wonder that they all had slightly flexible morals.

That didn't make it right.

He felt the pile of backpacks they had to find 'his' backpack, which was the one Fang had apparently commandeered from one of the places they'd borrowed for a night. He folded 'his' blanket and Angel's and stuffed them in the bottom of the bag, and followed it with a decent size portion of their remaining food – which was most of it. But that was okay, because Max had the credit card, and they could always dumpster dive.

In the background Iggy heard Angel wake her brother and tell him in whispers of their plan to leave. Angel was upset, and Gazzy sounded furious, but still he whispered, hissing that they were betraying Max. He wasn't coming, and 'if Angel was going to leave, then she was no sister of his'. Angel sniffed loudly, and told him to go to sleep until morning or he was woken up by Erasers or Max or Fang. Iggy heard the muffled thump as Gazzy, dead to the world, slumped back into his blankets. Iggy winced. Angel had done the same thing to him only nights ago, but that sounded creepier this side of wakefulness.

Saddened by Gazzy's determination to stay with Max, Iggy took out some of the food he'd stored, and put it into Gazzy's bag. He didn't want his friend to starve, and knowing how oblivious they could be to anything but themselves, Fang and Max-with-her-credit-card would be of little use when Gazzy got hungry.

The younger boy was his friend, and he was a little trooper, really, and he wouldn't complain just to be a 'big boy'. Someone had to look out for him, but Iggy couldn't choose for anyone else on something like this. He wished he could leave a note for Gazzy to tell them where they were going, so that maybe, if he got really desperate, he could find them. But he knew that any note would be handed off to Max, and right now, he only had a few half-formed thoughts of where he'd head.

Nudge was woken by Angel next, and he knew from the start that Nudge would be right on board the leave-wagon. He heard both girls get up after only a minimum of whispering and shuffle around to where he was still packing the gear. He grabbed Nudge's backpack too, and when Nudge silently handed him the still-warm blanket she'd been rolled into only minutes before, he put it inside along with the share of food he knew she'd burn through in the next few hours. They'd all have to be a bit more responsible than they were usually, and they'd probably resort to dumpster-diving before they'd gone three hundred miles. They'd take it as slow as he dared, but still pretty fast.

Because with Max's superspeed, they were going to have to make some serious miles before dawn, and then hunker down in a cave or something somewhere and wait. It wasn't going to be much of an escape if they were found, and if they were, Max would murder them where they stood. Why, he didn't know. It would be cleaner to just let them leave, Iggy thought cynically.

He offered the pack Nudge would carry, and she took it without a sound. He got the feeling that in a few days, or maybe only a few hours, he'd get the ear bashing of his life from her, mostly for not planning this with them, or planning this at all. But that was then and he needed to focus on the now. Angel picked up the still sleeping Total, and with that, there was nothing left to do but leave.

He motioned down the beach, and Angel took his hand to guide him around the driftwood logs and other seawrack that he would have stumbled over. The water worn beach stones shifted under their feet until they reached the sand of the lower beach, and the wind was getting up, he could smell the tang of salt, and the slightly damp-sweet of rotting seaweed.

The walk down the beach was silent, not out of necessity as they were out of earshot, but because if they talked about it, they might change their minds. Iggy didn't know how he'd be able to look at Max tomorrow morning if they turned back and tried to pretend nothing happened. He stopped, and the others stopped too, their attention on him. He was the leader now, and he didn't want to be, not really. That wasn't what this was about.

"Okay, Guys," he said, breaking their collective silence. "Up and Away time."

He spread his fifteen and a half foot wings, and heard the answering rustle of Nudge and Angel's wings flick out. He broke into a run down the beach, five steps and then the wind under his feathers felt enough to give him lift. Downstroke. He was in the air, and Nudge and Angel joined him.

"How about we head north." He said, as they reached 'cruising altitude'.

Nudge didn't answer, instead veering north, followed closely by Angel. Sighing internally, Iggy adjusted his wingtips, swinging in an arc to face the direction his internal compass told him was north.

"Tell me when it starts to get light," he called to the two girls, but he didn't expect a reply. It was too soon, and they'd all have to adjust to the fact that there was no big strong Max to get them out of the trouble that they all knew was going to be waiting around the corner. All of the flock had highly developed Murphy's law-o-meters. They knew.

Nudge yelled across to him that it was getting light what seemed like only minutes later. The thoughts had been going around and around in his head, the same circular argument over and over again. "Okay," he called back. "Find us somewhere to land!"

They dropped altitude slowly, closing on the ground in a gentler glide as the girls scanned the ground for somewhere to land. As they slowed, he heard Total grumble, "Oh, not a tree again!" to Angel.

Nudge gave him the layout. Clearing with big trees that had lots of cover and a nice little stream. Angel landed first, and then Nudge. He heard where they went, one to the left of him, one to the right, outlining a clear area for him to land in with sound. He landed easily on the flat ground, and followed the girls and the dog to a spot on the rocks by the stream.

They hauled out what amounted to a rationed breakfast, and were munching on it when Angel suddenly gasped. Nudge whipped around from where she'd been sitting, quiet and subdued. "What is it Angel?" she asked "Is it Max and Fang and Gazzy, have they found us. I didn't think they'd find us this quick, because we've gone this far and they've got lots of places to search and only Max has got that superspeed and mmphmph..." Iggy stuck one hand over her mouth to ask Angel what was happening.

Angel's forehead creased into a frown. "It's Ari. Ari's here."

And so he was. Iggy could hear it, the sound of wingbeats. Ones he knew, but not so well as those of the Flock. Ari swooped into the clearing, landing heavily like most Erasers did. Iggy let go of Nudge, who started whispering intently with Angel as Iggy picked his way towards where Ari was.

"Hi." Iggy said once he'd reached the Eraser.

"Um, hi," Ari replied. "I, um, I followed you."

"Yeah, I figured," Iggy said with some irony.

"Right. Well, do you...mind?" Ari asked him uncertainly, "It's just that I, well, I heard your, um, argument with Max, and I saw you leave and decided to follow."

"Oh," said Iggy. "Well, do you want some breakfast?" He heard the Eraser smile. Really, there wasn't any point in asking why Ari decided to follow them and not the others. Ari was, more or less, another victim of the School, another hater of Fang. Ari was another who was defined by not being good enough for Max.

"Yeah, I'd like that." Ari grinned.

Iggy's reservations about keeping an Eraser around quickly disappeared after the first day. The fact that Angel had gotten over hers quicker and she had access to his mind played a rather large part, and a couple of days later even Nudge and Total were quite happy to include Ari in their conversations. It was a bit rocky at first, Iggy had to admit. When he'd led Ari over to the others for breakfast the morning after The Escape From Max, they'd been quiet, even Nudge, and wary. Throughout the whole meal, Angel had been silent, but her breathing told Iggy that she was either listening to thoughts or sending them out – either talking with Nudge or reading Ari.

For some reason, he'd always trusted Angel's abilities, even if he didn't trust her interpretation of what she read from people's minds. He decided that in Ari's case she wasn't wrong – he himself knew that there was no reason for Ari not to be telling the truth. And one thing Iggy definitely knew is that there was no way that Ari was working for the School. Angel would know, and would do something about it.

He'd finally decided on a destination. They had left not really knowing what was going to happen next – after all, it used to be Max who did all the planning in the flock's lives. Now it wasn't and Iggy had to step up to the plate. It's wasn't easy, he'd found so far, but he'd do it with Nudge's help and everyone else's patience.

They were heading home. The only place Iggy had ever known as being home, a place he felt safe in the way he hadn't at his parents' place.

The E-house in the Sangre de Cristos. He just hoped it wasn't totally destroyed. Max had told him what the Erasers had said, but he didn't believe it. It just meant he now needed to have two important conversations.

They'd stopped for the night in, surprise, a cave. Iggy had thought that, now that there was so much ground they could have covered in the nearly ten hours of flight time that they'd had in the last few days that Max, Fang and Gazzy were unlikely to find them. They'd been careful too, flying first in the dark, and then in the two hours before dusk on the first day, and then five hours today. Iggy didn't know where they were, but he knew where home was.

Angel sat outside the cave, watching the stars and waiting for him. He'd been thinking about talking to her most of the day, so he knew she knew, and was probably making an opportunity just to get it over with. He walked out, and sat down beside her, gingerly probing the edge of the dropoff to find a spot that wasn't likely to collapse underneath his lanky frame. This conversation was likely going to be quick.

"What he told you before was all true," Angel started off. "The School thinks that he's a liability because of his whole Max thing, and because they think he's got an unstable personality. So they were gonna turn him into an experiment again. Something about seeing if they can remove DNA that they stuck in. They wanted to un-eraserfy him."

Iggy raised his eyebrows in shock. Angel snorted. "Ari didn't want it because he thinks that if he's an Eraser he can at least defend himself. If they can take out the wolf without killing him, he's afraid that he'll just be a seven year old again with huge grafted wings. And that he won't be able to save himself."

Iggy was once more struck by just how crap Ari's life had been. Once, the Flock, well, him, Fang and Max had been so jealous of Ari because the little boy, because he was only three, had been loved. He'd had a father.

And then suddenly, the Flock was at the E-house with Jeb and there had been no time to think of the boy they'd left behind, because there was no many new things. It had been twice as hard for him, not being able to see, and the rest of the flock had taken their sight for granted, not realising just how hard it was. He'd struggled along, and he'd managed, but he hadn't thought of Ari again until they'd shown up in the strawberry patch that fateful day that spawned all of this.

"He wouldn't want you feeling sorry for him," Angel said idly, playing with a piece of grass.

Iggy was disappointed. She was reading his mind, and he'd thought that she knew by now that it wasn't polite, and that she shouldn't be doing it without a reason. While he didn't agree with Max, he knew that what she said had some basis in truth. Angel has this power, and she needed to take responsibility for it. Because no one else could or would.

Angel sniffed, upset. And that just proved his point.

"I'm aware that Ari wouldn't like pity, but I feel what I feel and that's that." He said stiffly, standing up. There was nothing else he could do but disapprove. And so he walked away, intending to find the second person he needed to have a conversation with.

Ari sat at the back of the cave brooding. Ari was usually broody at this time, and none of them had asked what he was thinking about, simply because Ari liked his privacy, and would talk to them if he wanted.

"Hey," said Iggy, sitting down beside the Eraser. It still surprised him a little that he was so comfortable with a former enemy, but then again, things change, and you had to change with it or you died.

Ari only grunted in response, but then Iggy had been expecting that.

"I need a bit of information from you," Iggy decided that if he explained the reason for disturbing Ari's peace then he'd have more luck.

"Is it about the School?" Ari asked warily.

Iggy shook his head, and then paused for a second, wondering how best to phrase this. "I had a destination in mind for us," He began.

"I doubt any of the places I know about are very good places to be right now. The Eraser network of safehouses are pretty dodgy." Ari snorted, shifting around on the bare rock to try and get comfortable.

"You guys...sorry, the Erasers have safehouses?" Iggy asked, impressed by the knowledge that the School let Erasers stay out on their own.

Ari merely grunted in response once more.

"Right," Iggy muttered, thinking that now was about the time to return to the topic that needed being discussed, and to stop avoiding it like a coward.

"Our old house, in the mountains," Iggy almost blurted out. "Is it still standing?" here he paused for breath before diving right in again. "Because I heard that it was destroyed, but I'm not sure, and I think that would be a good place for us to go."

The silence drew out, and Iggy had the uncomfortable feeling that Ari was looking at him, but he didn't actually know, and that pissed him off a little. He'd always been uneasy about the fact that he missed out on all those visual cues that people had. He wished that Ari would just say something, instead of sitting there, unreadable. His heart rate wasn't changing, nor his breathing. It was disconcerting, and Iggy was irrationally annoyed.

Finally, Ari decided to say something. "It's still there. We were supposed to torch it – well, I was, but I just couldn't get rid of something that had made Max happy. I thought that if I ever had to take her somewhere, away, just us, it would be there. Somewhere familiar, to make her more comfortable."

Iggy didn't really know what to say. What do you say to that kind of admission? He'd known, in a way, that Ari wasn't the type to share much, and that he'd never share Max if he had her, but he hadn't known that his plans to take her had got so far.

"Will you be okay with going there, as somewhere to base ourselves?" he simply asked instead.

Ari's clothes scraped against the wall in what Iggy assumed was a shrug. "It's a good spot, easy to hide in, defensible, and the higher ups think it's gone. If I had to pick a place to hide out, it would be there, or somewhere up in Canada."

Iggy was relieved in a way, if Ari, who had much more in the way of tactics and fighting experience than he had approved of his choice of hideout, then he wasn't failing too miserably yet.

He was going to ask more about what Ari knew on the subject of the Eraser safehouses and the whole higher-ups thing being able to track them down when Nudge called that dinner was ready. Like usual, dinner wasn't much comparatively, but it was all high kilojoule food, because flying burned energy like nothing else. They'd got into the habit pretty quick of scrounging what they could, but carrying around a whole pile of junk food for when they needed sugar and carbohydrates.

Even with what they'd taken from the Flock's collective supply, they were almost out, and would need to stock up soon, which would be a problem. Iggy had no money, and no foreseeable way of getting any money. And he knew it. Which meant, of course, that complete failure was only a day and a half away.

He ate in relative silence, and wondered just how he was going to make this work. Being Max wasn't easy, but loving Max hadn't been either, and he'd yet to decide which one he could deal with better. He wondered how Gazzy was faring, alone with the MaxandFang entity he'd come to hate. They weren't the Max and Fang he knew, and he wasn't going back.

Gazzy on the other hand was now beginning to regret his decision. He'd been shaken roughly awake by Fang and then he'd been interrogated for answers. He didn't know anything aside from the fact that Iggy and Angel and Nudge had taken off. Angel had made him sleep, so he didn't see where. He didn't know anything about where they'd gone to.

He told them that they'd woken him and asked him if they wanted to come, but he proudly said that he'd told his sister that he couldn't betray Max. He'd thought Max would be proud, maybe ruffle his hair and give him a hug, and call him her little trooper, but she'd snapped at him to get his sorry little butt into gear because they had to find the traitors and now. She stormed off, and Fang just gave him one long look, the same look that he'd been giving Gazzy throughout Max's questioning, before following her.

Tearfully, he'd got up, packed his blanket away into his bag and had packed up camp all by himself for the first time ever. He reached blindly into his backpack and pulled out the nearest bit of food, and ate it, even though he didn't want to. He knew he needed to eat, needed to keep his strength up to fly and find the others and make the Flock whole again. It wasn't right. They swore they'd stick together. They swore, and now Iggy and Nudge and his own sister were breaking that promise.

And now Max and Fang were arguing again. They never used to argue like this, not before. Now they'd yell at each other about anything and everything, and then the next minute they would be all happy and together, off by themselves. He wondered if they loved each other, because if that's what love was, he didn't want to be in love with anyone. Ever.

He blindly kicked sand over the ashes of the fire and dried his eyes before Max saw. He wanted her to know that he was strong, and that he wouldn't give in no matter what. But it didn't matter, because she didn't even look at him, just leaping into the air angrily.

Without talking to him or Fang, she shot off in what seemed to Gazzy to be a totally random direction. He followed her by sound, the tears welling up in his eyes again. From the wind, he told himself.

Nobody talked to him for an entire day. They just flew, and flew, and flew. He got so tired that he wanted to stop, but he didn't want to bother Max when they were doing something so important. He needed to pee, and he was finally hungry again.

But they didn't stop until it was nearly dark. And all they did then was fly down into a clearing, climb up into the trees and curl up on the hard branches. He tried to sleep for a little while, but he just couldn't, so he got up to pee again, climbing down carefully past Max and Fang, trying not to wake them. After he'd emptied his bladder, he found a tree just down from Max and Fang, and he'd curled up in his blanket, all by himself, all alone.

He missed them. Angel, his sister, who always laughed at his jokes, and he missed the sound of Nudge's voice. It was too quiet without her. He missed Iggy too, and his bombs and his better jokes. Maybe, he thought, just maybe I should have gone with them.

He didn't feel like sleeping, but he must have, because Fang shook him awake the next morning. They shot into the air with not a word said to him or by him. He ate on the fly, mechanically. He knew he needed food. He'd noticed that he had lots more in his pack than he'd had before They left. Even though he wasn't here, Iggy was still taking care of him.

6. Chapter 6

README: I never finished this- I was never happy with it. So here's the plot. Iggy and his mini-flock go home. Jeb's waiting for them. They get all settled in, and then Jeb explains a few things and reconciles with Ari. He then goes and does... stuff. I think the original plan involved him busting out a few hybrids and they join up with the new-flock. Max, Fang and Gazzy show up. There is confrontation etc. I always liked the scenes between Max and Iggy, then Fang and Iggy, and they were written quite early on.

The moral of the story was that Max didn't learn from any of it. Sorry. This was always Max/Fang bashing. Deal.

Any scene breaks in the text '00' usually indicate where I was supposed to write something and didn't.

And of course, Terry Pratchett's 'Carpe Jugulum' is the story Nudge is reading.

Part Six

Iggy remembered the way home. He'd never ever forgotten the way. It was almost ingrained in his memory, traced in with the bright colours that he remembered from when he was little. He knew when he was getting close. It was something in the air.

Nudge and Ari talked quietly. Angel sang to herself, stopping occasionally to remark on something to Celeste. Iggy would have felt content, only there were three bird-kid sized holes.

A thermal picked them up, he felt the warm air ruffle his feathers. He loved the feeling of soaring blind. It was his own kind of freedom. It was a beautiful and terrible thing, placing so much trust in his own skills to fly, and the skills of those around him. Trusting that they'd lead him safely, and not into a building or a cliff or something.

Truth was, he'd never known anything different, so he couldn't be jealous. Just like cliff-diving.

He knew this valley. He knew the smells. They were close.

Nudge gasped behind him. "We're home," she whispered. Then she and Angel shot towards the cliff where they'd always landed. Iggy found that it was overgrown with weeds when he touched down.

"Iggy," Ari barked softly, as he neared the door. Iggy stopped where he was and half turned towards Ari's voice. "There's someone here." The Eraser explained.


Taking pity on Ari, he decided that he'd clear away Fang's things from his half of the room, moving them into the clear space on Max's floor. He doubted that she'd mind. Unfortunately Gazzy's room was just too small, and the smell was ingrained into the walls from four years of abuse.


"Iggy!" barked Ari for the second time in three days. "There's someone here."

Ari had been looking out the balcony door, and Nudge rushed over to join him. "Oh... Oh!" She breathed, torn between excitement and sadness.

He knew who it had to be then.

Ari cleared his throat. "I'll...yeah." he said quietly, and left the room. Iggy bit his lip. Angel's hand slipped into his, as the sound of wingbeats got ever closer.

"What the hell do you think you're doing!"

It was Max.


This reunion was never going to be joyous. Too much had happened, too much had changed. They had changed, for better or for worse.

Gazzy he'd been truly happy to see. Although not in that condition, sad, lonely, tired and hungry. He'd been fed, clothed, and put straight into bed, while Max and Fang re-established themselves in her room.

He'd just managed to explain that Jeb would be back in a couple of days before she slammed the door. Maybe she heard him, maybe she didn't. Either way she'd find out in a couple of days.

Jeb returned the day after Max did.


The confrontation between them would happen eventually, but Iggy thought it would be less than three stressful days. She cornered him in the cupboard.

"I get it, Max!" Iggy said calmly, trying again, maybe, just maybe he'd get through to her. "I do, I really do. You need him."

"I need you, all of you too!" She cried back. "My Flock!"

He snorted. "You say you do, "he hissed, anger and pain getting the better of him, "Well, if it's true, then you need to give us something, Max. You can't order us around and that's it. We, me and Nudge and Angel and Gazzy, we need you to talk to us, bandage those scraped knees and tell stories and be the only mom we've ever had. We need you. But if you're not there, if you ignore us and yell, leave for hours at a time, then we'll help ourselves. We'll leave. And next time you won't find us again. We're not going to let you hurt us again."

Iggy stopped speaking to draw breath, stunned with what he'd said. That was the most he'd said to her in so long, he couldn't even remember. Max sounded as stunned as he was, she didn't say anything for what seemed to be a whole minute.

"Why didn't you say anything?" Max burst out, accusing, angry.

Iggy chuckled darkly. "We couldn't talk to you, Max. None of us. We haven't been able to in months. If we tried, you'd get angry, say we were wasting your time. You'd yell, and then you'd run away. With Fang."

"And Ari!" She yelled. "You think I wouldn't have done something if I'd known about him being around!"

Iggy shrugged. "I'd got into the habit of not talking to you. And I'm kinda glad, you know. He's okay, Ari. He's angry, doesn't really like us because of what Jeb did, but he's okay now that he's here and he can see what we're really like. He's free now, he knows that the School did they same to us as it did to him. He kinda gets that." He explained. It was hard to understand, let alone explain to somebody else why you were buddying up to an old enemy.

Max just rolled her eyes, her body set into that hostile, defensive pose that she always had now. "Well I don't want him to come anywhere near me or Fang!" she hissed. "I don't want to be in the same house as him."

"Then you can leave." Iggy said firmly.

Max gaped. "What did you say to me?"

Iggy set his teeth, and plunged in. "Ari's staying here, with Jeb. I'm staying too."

"What!" Max hissed. "This is my house, and you can't make me do anything."

"No, I can't," Iggy admitted easily. "But you're wrong. This is Jeb's house, not yours. He's staying, once he gets back, and he's letting Ari stay. He's letting all of us stay. You can go if you want. The kids can go with you, if they want. But you're not making anyone leave."

Max looked stunned for a while at his defiance, but then, the last year, she'd always got her way, turning into more and more of a tyrant. Now she wasn't getting her way, and it was going to be a hard lesson. "I hate you!" She screamed, "I hate you!"

Iggy sighed, as Max's stomping footsteps retreated. That went better than he'd thought it would.

He still wanted to curl up into a corner and cry. Only Max could make him feel like he was four years old again. He'd gone through a crying stage when he was four. He'd gotten over it quickly.

There was no point in crying. Somebody had to cook lunch, and to be perfectly honest, even his cooking when he was having a bad day was better than anyone else's on a good day.

He made lunch, and tried not to think. The others hadn't returned yet, so he'd have to go call them...

Someone was there...

What was it about the damned cupboard?

Iggy's back contacted the wall so hard it would probably cause bruises, but there was no point in fighting, because Fang could kick his ass into next week. The fist in his shirt tightened uncomfortably, and so he just waited.

"Don't you ever, ever, ever upset her, ever again!" Fang hissed, voice dangerously low, a tone usually reserved for Erasers.

"Alright," Iggy agreed, trying to be reasonable, "I can promise to try, but I can't promise that I won't. I won't promise the impossible."

Fang dropped him, digusted. Iggy sagged against the wall, trying to ignore the fight-reflex adrenaline. "You've changed, Iggy. You used to be a good guy, a good friend." Fang snorted in disgust. "Now you're just a scheming, betraying Eraser lover."

Iggy shrugged. He was doing that a lot, now. "Sticks and Stones, Fang." He retorted, "I never picked Ari over you. You and Max just excluded everyone else, forced us into the same corner. We could kill each other, or we could do what we did. Band together to survive."

Fang looked stunned for a second, before the anger came back. "Don't you turn this around so it's my fault!" he yelled, and then stormed off.

People were doing that around him a lot.

"Go find Max and cry her a river." Iggy yelled back, before walking out to the balcony and calling for the others to come and get lunch before he ate it all.

Lunch was good. It had been like this before, when they'd lived here with Jeb the first time. Except most of the food got eaten before the foodfight started this time 'round.

Before Gazzy started the foodfight. Iggy had nothing to do with it. Of course.

He also hadn't laughed that hard in years.

Until they all piled into the bathroom and someone started a water fight.

And then he laughed harder, and he was reminded of just how much he hate-loved his family, and then Nudge shoved foam in his face and he had to get her back.

They cleaned up like responsible young bird-freaks who knew that Jeb was coming home soon and would probably freak out and ground them forever.

They were dried and clean-clothed, the washing was on, the floors were mopped, the walls wiped sparkly-spotless, and the spaghetti peeled off the roof. According to Ari, at least, who hadn't figured out about dishonesty when it came to household chores.

They'd done the dishes, and put everything away, and Iggy had even had Nudge write up some ingredient requests for the next shopping trip. Jeb arrived home, and that had meant the excitement of sorting through everything and then the eventual wrestle with Nudge to get the chocolate back. Jeb had even bought 'presents' – miscellany for Iggy's bomb-building, a few magazines for Nudge, games for Gazzy and Ari and some new robes for Celeste.

There was nothing for Max and Fang. Nobody knew where they were anyway, and leaving the house seemed like a bad idea with those two on a hair-trigger and Jeb present, so they had an inside afternoon. It wasn't like the weather was all that nice either.

Nudge sat in the armchair, reading aloud, while Iggy was on the couch with Angel and Gazzy tucked under each arm. Ari lay on the floor, wings outstretched, head pillowed on his arms.

"Magrat's expression froze.
'Oh, no...' she began.

'Don't think it! Don't think it!' said Nanny urgently. 'Pink elephants! Pink elephants!'" Nudge read.

Max and Fang landed outside with a rustle of feathers and the whoosh of displaced air. They entered the room, Fang's arm around Max's waist, and Max giggling. Nudge paused in her reading.

"Want to join us, guys?" Iggy asked politely, hoping they would, just once. Hoping they'd listened to what he'd said. Hoping that they cared enough to do something to repair the damage they'd done.

"No!" Max almost-snarled, before she checked herself. "We're...busy." she explained sweetly.

"Okay." Iggy said, making sure he had that right tone of bored with them. He'd almost perfected it over the last few days. Nudge had her own version, almost as good, while Ari, Gazzy and Angel avoided the pair altogether – not that either of them had noticed. "Have fun." He turned back to Nudge and nodded.

She started reading again, "'She wouldn't—'

'Lalalala! Ee-ie-ee-ie-oh!' shouted Nanny, dragging Magrat towards the kitchen door. 'Come on, let's go! Agnes, it's up to you two!'"

Max and Fang disappeared down the corridor to her bedroom, whispering the whole way. Jeb had come out of his office at the noise, and he leaned against the doorframe, the disapproval radiating off him. Iggy knew what he was thinking – 'she was his biggest success, and now his worst failure. She wouldn't save the world, she didn't care about it'.

That argument would be another day, soon, but not now. Iggy would make sure that he and the others were out of the house when it finally happened.

Jeb sighed, and joined them, taking the other armchair, listening to Nudge talk. Iggy wished he could see it, a not-quite-picture-postcard of his family.

His family.