Solace by rootlessdream

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Romance, Suspense
Characters:Fang, Max
Published:2008-10-20 22:43:54
Updated:2010-01-03 14:38:25
Packaged:2021-05-07 01:37:58
Summary:New horrors reveal themselves and Max begins to realize the end could be near for the Flock. What will she decide when the Voice asks her to do the unthinkable? Set after MR4. Fang/Max. Action/Adventure/Romance/Suspense. Extended Summary Inside.

Table of Contents

1. Chapter 1 Special Day
2. Chapter 2 Distraction
3. Chapter 3 Replacement
4. Chapter 4 Headache
5. Chapter 5 Mystery Revealed
6. Chapter 6 Invisible
7. Chapter 7 Reflectors
8. Chapter 8 Info Overload
9. Chapter 9 Someone Like Fang
10. Chapter 10 A Single Gesture
11. Chapter 11 Disturbance
12. Chapter 12 Liberty
13. Chapter 13 Sights and Sounds
14. Chapter 14 Outbursts
15. Chapter 15 Confusion
16. Chapter 16 Test Subject
17. Chapter 17 Hypnotic
18. Chapter 18 Changing
19. Chapter 19 Physical Phenomenon
20. Chapter 20 Search and Destroy
21. Chapter 21 Separation Anxiety
22. Chapter 22 Stingers
23. Chapter 23 Snap, Crunch, Bang
24. Chapter 24 Weight of Her World
25. Chapter 25 Rivals Return
26. Chapter 26 Rivals Return part 2
27. Chapter 27 I Come In Peace
28. Chapter 28 Fly On, Major News
29. Chapter 29 Shoulda Been A Hitman
30. Chapter 30 The End Is Near
31. Chapter 31

1. Chapter 1 Special Day

Solace: A Maximum Ride FanFiction

Extended Summary: It's been four years since The Final Warning. The Flock have been living in a secluded home for about a year, the length of time it's been since they destroyed the final branch of Itex. However, everything goes awry the night of Fang's birthday, causing the Flock to adopt their old lifestyle again. What new horrors are lurking in the shadows and who created them? Max begins to realize the end could be near for the Flock and finally lets go of her inhibitions. What will she do when the Voice asks her to do the unthinkable? Will Max do everything in her power to get the job done and complete her mission at any cost? Or will she let her emotions for the Flock and her newfound romance overrule her decisions? Nothing is what it seems.

Solace: Chapter One - Special Day

Four months ago, I celebrated my 18th birthday. The flock had really outdone themselves making it a special day for me, even after I begged them to let it pass by like any other ordinary day. They decorated the entire house, including the back yard, with blue and purple streamers and custom-made balloons that said Happy Birthday Max!, and Iggy even acted as a DJ, playing music from all of my favorite bands.

Today, it was Fang's birthday. We spent close to $100 on decorations alone; well, not so much we, but more like Nudge and Angel. Iggy did his part by making his famously delicious black velvet cake – because a white vanilla cake just wouldn't cut it for Fang. It was my task to send him off to run errands (or would that be fly errands?) and be on the lookout to make sure he didn't come back before everything was ready. It was going to be a great party. Gazzy didn't even complain that he spent the whole morning wrapping the presents we bought.

I felt embarrassed about the gift I found for him. It wasn't nearly as special or personal as the gift he had given me. Sure, Iggy and Angel had surprised me with a pretty silver bracelet they picked out together. Nudge teamed up with the Gasman and Total to provide me with almost a whole new wardrobe. Everything they had given me was all very nice, but it was only Fang's gift that made me get teary-eyed later that night while I was looking at it.

Fang had given me a dreamcatcher for my birthday; he made it himself using things he found in the forest behind our home and even added some of the Ferruginous hawk feathers he had collected a few years ago – part of his prized feather collection. He included a note with it explaining that he hoped the dreamcatcher would help to keep my frequent nightmares away. It may not seem like much to you, but that gift meant the world to me. He put thought and effort into it, and he cared. He made it to help me.

And what did I get for him, you ask? You're going to want to smack me. I bought him… a watch. I got him a stupid watch that he doesn't even need – we were all taught by Jeb how to find out the time based on the position of the sun and moon. It didn't seem stupid at the store where the saleswoman convinced me that the best gift to give my best friend was a watch. I was actually excited about it at the time – it really is a nice watch. But there had to have been something better I could have gotten him, something more… Fang.

Max, what does he really want? the Voice asked.

How should I know? He's Fang. He doesn't want anything.

You're wrong, Max. There is something he wants.

I thought about this for a moment. What could he want? A new black hoodie? Tickets to see his favorite band? Video games? Is that it, Voice? Boys like video games, right?


No? I asked. Would you like to add anything to that? What can I get for him? I still have a few hours before the party is starting. I could fly to the store and be back with plenty of time, I think. Please, Voice, this is important.

I swear I heard the voice sigh. You already have what he wants.

What do I have? The watch? You mean, he wants the watch? I asked.


Then what do I have? Could you possibly be any more cryptic with your responses?

The Voice didn't answer. But now my curiosity was burning. What did I have that he wanted? I started thinking about the possibilities, but a loud BOOM from our kitchen interrupted me. I hurried to see what it was, immediately assuming the worst, but I was greeted by the sight of an icing-covered Total and the bustling laughter of the three younger bird kids. Fang hadn't returned yet, but I'm sure that even he would have let a chuckle escape.

"Do I even want to know?" I asked.

Gazzy was holding his side and trying to suppress his laughter long enough to explain. "Well, Iggy and I made some special candles…" Another fit of giggles erupted, but then he continued, "Total tried to steal some of the cake and… well… he set one of the candles off… and BOOM!" The Gasman made a sweeping hand gesture as he said it.

Granted it was a humorous sight, we still needed to finish setting up for the party and now the kitchen was mess. I tried to sound authoritative when I said, "Clean up, please. Fang will be here any minute," but I had trouble keeping a straight face when I took another glance at Total.

I left the kitchen then and headed outside to wait for Fang.



2. Chapter 2 Distraction

Solace: Chapter Two - Distraction

As he was flying, the usual excitement that came along with the freedom of soaring through the open skies was absent. Max had sent him off this morning, saying no more than, "Iggy's out of some spices and Angel needs a package of socks." Fang knew that it was just her way of telling him to go away for a few hours, so they could decorate for his birthday party.

It made him feel anxious, knowing that there was a house full of people and balloons and presents, all waiting for his return. Having people crowded into their small home in Vermont put him on edge. Could everyone be trusted? The guest list would probably consist mostly of Angel's friends, a few of Gazzy's buddies from the skate park, and of course, Nudge's boyfriend.

Fang hadn't made any friends or acquaintances in the year they had been living here. He knew that Itex could rise up again at any moment and they'd have to leave if the Flock's location was exposed. This also made him uneasy about receiving presents from everyone. You can't take much with you when you're on the run. Only the essentials.

The one thing Fang was excited about, very excited about, was Max's gift for him. He had no idea what it could be, and he was curious to find out. What he did know is that it didn't matter whether or not her gift would be huge or bulky or useless; he would find a way to bring it with if they had to live on the run again because if they ever got separated again, he would want something to remind him of her until they were reunited. Fang realized that Iggy would probably call him some less than endearing names if he ever heard that, so he could never admit it out loud.

Secretly, he was just glad that he made it to eighteen and the Flock was together and safe. He wouldn't admit that to them either. Except, maybe to Max. He knew she had felt the same way on her birthday.

He had been out shopping and flying around for the past four hours now, so Fang decided it would be a good time to go back to the house and face the party ahead.

When their home came into view beyond the treetops, he was startled at the scene he was witnessing. He spotted Max immediately, but then he saw a tall boy with blonde hair leaning in towards her, arms extended. Who is that? he wondered, slightly more than annoyed.

He picked up speed and angled himself towards the house.



3. Chapter 3 Replacement

Solace: Chapter Three - Replacement

Our guests were beginning to fill the house, although most were ten to twelve years old, making it hard to believe we were throwing a party for an eighteen-year-old. Fang had to open his mouth a few days ago and tell the two youngest kids that they could invite anyone they wanted. So of course they told everyone they knew. I'm not entirely convinced that Angel didn't have something to do with his sudden urge to crowd the house with kids.

There must have been twenty people here already and I didn't have a clue where or when Angel and Gazzy had met them. I was still waiting on Fang and I knew that Nudge invited her boyfriend, Peter, who also hadn't arrived yet.

My eyes were scanning the sky for the birthday boy, sending my thoughts back to what the Voice had told me. You already have what he wants. Yeah, about that… what? Considering the Voice seemed to get impatient with me earlier today, I'm assuming I should have figured this out by now.

And who was the one person that could surely help me? The little girl who was staring at me right now with the most devilish grin imaginable. Could that possibly be a good thing?

"Angel?" I asked cautiously. "What are you doing, sweetie?"

"I want to help you." She walked up closer to me and motioned me to bend down to her level. "Fang's present is in your room," she whispered.

"What are you talking about? I put it in the living room with everyone else's." She moved it back to my room?

"No. I found out what he wanted and now you can stop worrying about it." She turned to run back to her friends, but I grabbed her before she got away.

"Are you saying you bought a different gift and put my name on it?" She nodded. "Well, what is it, Angel?"

That devilish grin hadn't left her face yet, but now it grew into a wicked smile that was just downright creepy. "Don't worry about it. He'll like it. That's all you need to know." And then she got away.

I wanted to run to my room and find out what this new gift was, but another car pulled into our driveway, so I mentally shrugged and decided that it didn't really matter. Any gift would have been better than that stupid watch.

Nudge came bounding down the steps then and ran to the arriving guests. Peter stepped out of the passenger's side of the car and caught Nudge as she slammed into him. Personally, I wasn't so sure about him, but as long as it's keeping her happy, I'm not going to ruin her fun.

When the driver stepped out, he looked around for a minute before walking over to Nudge and Peter. I watched him suspiciously. All of these little kids I've never seen before… I could deal with them. But when someone closer to the adult age range appears, I get a little nervous. He could have been one of the surviving Whitecoats for all I knew.

But then the three of them were walking up to me. I started to get tense. It's been over a year since we've had to fight anyone. If this turns into something…

Whoa. I lost my train of thought when I caught a glimpse of Angel and I think it's safe to say that the girl has made it to the top of the list of Things That Scare Max. I wish you could see the scathing look she's directing at Nudge right now. Actually, no, I take that back. You would surely have nightmares.

What's up with those two? I'll have to worry about it later. Right now, I have to focus on defending myself.

"Max, this is Peter's friend… I hope you don't mind that I invited him," Nudge said.

"Uh… No, I don't mind." I guardedly held my hand out to shake his. That's what you normal folks do, right?

Apparently not.

He started forward with arms spread wide and I crossed my own arms, taking a step back.

That didn't stop him. He advanced toward me, speaking with an accent, "Hello there, love! Name's Ray…"

He sounded Australian. I've never met someone from there before… It took me off guard for a split second, but that was enough for him to wrap his arms around me for a moment before I quickly pulled away.

"Who's this?" I heard a voice say from behind me, followed by a hand on my shoulder. Fang.

For reasons I can't explain, I whirled around to face him and threw my arms around him, shouting, "Happy birthday, Fang!"

The moment turned awkward with Fang holding his arms limp by his sides and, feeling heat flush through my cheeks, I let go, turning to face Nudge, Peter, and Ray again.

"This is Ray… Peter's friend," I said.

"Yo," is all Fang said. It looked like Ray was going to throw an embrace at him also, but he must have realized Fang would have punched him in the face if he tried anything touchy-feely.

Hours later, after everyone socialized for a while, we sang Happy Birthday and had Iggy's sinfully delicious cake – all 'special' candles had been replaced by normal wax candles, for the sake of all the non-mutants in attendance.

Turn on some dramatic music for this next part: Now it's time for the birthday bird to open his gifts…

Angel immediately jumped onto the couch to sit next to Fang and threw me another one of those creepy smiles. I opted to linger by the doorway and lean against the wall. The other kids were scattered haphazardly around the room to watch, except for Gazzy, who had been elected to bring the presents from the pile and hand them to Fang.

I took a deep breath and sighed. Of course, Gazzy had chosen mine to give him first.

Why I was freaking out over this so much, I don't know, but I almost didn't want to look when he started opening the box.

But then it was open and he stared at it for a few seconds before reaching in. Yet he didn't actually take it out. It looked like he was reading something… or maybe he was just mesmerized by it… whatever it was. I couldn't really see it from where I was standing across the room.

Jeez, what is he doing? Lift it out of the box, Fang!

I tried to find some answers from Angel.

Ugh! Angel! What did you get him? He's acting like there's a rattlesnake in the box…

No answer. Naturally.

He started closing the lid of the box, but I had to find out what I got for him, so what do I do? I'll tell you what I did. I went hopping over to the couch like an idiot and plopped down next to him, almost crushing Angel. But I saw it.

It was a small black wallet.

Well, it hadn't occurred to me before, but I guess he could use a new wallet.

"Like it?" I asked.

He hesitated for a moment before turning to meet my gaze and nodded. He had the strangest look of confusion in his expression, which I wasn't so sure about, but he added slowly, "Yeah… Thanks." That was just enough for the relief to wash over me. He liked my gift.

But wait a minute…

Voice? Voice, are you there? I don't get it. You said I already had what he wanted… I didn't have that wallet though…

Again, no answer.

Fang opened the remaining presents fairly quickly, thanked everyone, and the party ended, just like that, even though it was only 8pm.

Once everyone began leaving, I started helping Nudge clean up.

Peter came to say goodbye to her, followed by none other than his Aussie friend, Ray. I'm not sure if it's a custom of his to offer hugs repeatedly, but he tried it again when he was saying goodbye to me. This time, Fang appeared next to me before he succeeded in his attempt again. I didn't look, but I can only guess what kind of look he threw him because Ray backed off, only saying, "Right then. Catch you later, love."

I didn't know what to expect when I chanced a quick glance at Fang, but I was surprised to find he still wore the same peculiar expression when he looked at me.

When just us bird-kids were left in the house and mostly everything was acceptably clean, Gazzy asked, "Is there any cake left? I'm really hungry."

Iggy laughed and told us to follow him. So we did. And there on the kitchen counter were plates of cookies. Chocolate chip cookies.

There were various shouts of joy that followed the discovery.

"Iggy, I don't know when you had time to make these, but thank you. You're amazing," I said, giving his arm a small squeeze.

He grinned wickedly. "I try."

It grew quiet in the room, except for the sound of bird-kids stuffing their faces with chocolate chip cookies and gulping down milk.


"It looks like Gazzy ate shit!" Nudge yelled. At the same time I whipped my gaze to her and shouted, "Nudge!" there was an outburst of laughter from Iggy. Even though she was fifteen, I didn't want ten-year-old Angel to pick up Nudge's potty mouth.

But I had to admit that she was right and I stifled a laugh. Gazzy had an awful smile plastered across his face; his teeth were covered with chocolate and he indeed looked like he was guilty of her accusation.

"Hey guys, why don't we fly over to the field? We've been cooped up all day with all of these normal people. I need some air," Iggy asked after the raucous laughter began to dwindle.

"Yes!" I heard Angel and Gazzy shout at the same time. Angel knocked over her glass of milk when she punched the air with excitement.

It didn't take long for everyone to throw on shoes and coats and head out the door.

Fang and I were left in the kitchen putting the plates and glasses in the sink.

"Max, you have chocolate…" Fang said, pointing to the corner of his own mouth. I could swear he was still looking at me curiously, but I tried to ignore it because I wasn't sure what he was wondering.

I licked my lips self-consciously and, sure enough, I tasted the mess that was left from shoving cookies in my mouth like a barbarian.

"Still there," he said, the smallest hint of a grin appearing on his face.

I wasn't going to stand there trying to lick food off of my face all day, so I started to take a step towards the counter to get a napkin, but without realizing it, I walked right onto Angel's spilled milk and slipped.

In a fraction of a second, I swung my arm out, but missed the counter top when I tried to grab it to catch myself, so I squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for the impact of my head hitting the floor tiles.

But I didn't hit the floor. I opened my eyes slowly, wondering what stopped me from crashing onto my back. Fang, of course. How he was able to catch me so fast was beyond me, but I didn't question it. I just said, "Thanks," as he helped me steady myself on a dry patch of the floor.

"Erasers attacking you, not a problem. Flyboys, no big deal. A little spilled milk shows up and you're defenseless," he said, shaking his head. The grin that appeared before had widened noticeably.

"Yeah, yeah, go ahead and laugh." I scowled halfheartedly at him, then took an exaggeratedly cautious step closer to the counter, still trying to get a napkin to clean the mess from my face, but Fang's hand slipped over mine before I picked one up. With his other hand on my shoulder, he pushed me into the stool behind me and I sat.

"Uh… Fang?" I asked. His eyes were piercing mine as he leaned closer, one hand still on my shoulder, the other one trailing up my arm.

"Still some chocolate…" he breathed, just inches from my face.

Oh. My. God. Is he going to do what I think he is?

I felt an odd warmth on my lips as I closed my eyes…

And then…

"Max! Max, you'd better not have a concussion!"

"Ow," I managed, opening my eyes to the bright light of the kitchen. Fang was leaning over me, watching me as I grabbed my head. "What the hell?"

"You slipped and hit your head on the stool," he said. "How do you feel? Can you stand?" He offered a hand. Then I realized I had only suffered a quick hallucination a moment ago. Is it wrong how disappointed I am that our little exchange hadn't been real?

The strange warmth on my lips was still there though, so I put my hand to my mouth. When I took it away and looked, I saw a faint smear of blood on my fingertips. "Crap. I think I bit my lip."

Fang just nodded, then said, "You were only out for about five seconds, so you should be fine, but you may want to lay down for a while instead of flying to the field."

I shook my head and started to get up. "No, I want to go to the field. It's pretty at night…" I trailed off, remembering the false scene that played a minute ago, as I reached again for a napkin, this time to wipe the blood off of my bottom lip.

"Let's go then. I think the others are already in the air," Fang said, motioning me towards the door.



4. Chapter 4 Headache

Solace: Chapter Four - Headache

It only took a few minutes for us to catch up to the flock, who were already half-way to the field, but we trailed behind them, letting them lead the way. Fang hadn't said anything since we left the kitchen, but I could feel his eyes on me as we were flying. I'm sure he was just watching me because I just incurred minor head trauma.

Even so, something was making me uneasy about it and I didn't dare to sneak a glance at him, afraid I might find that weird look again.

Imagine that. Maximum Ride afraid to look over at Fang. That's laughable.

In fact, I actually laughed out loud about it. Just a quick, quiet chuckle to myself, but he still noticed.

"What's so funny?"

"Nothing. I guess I'm just tired," I lied.

"You should've gone to lay down. You're in hysterics now."

I said nothing in response, just rolled my eyes. I peeked over at him and he was grinning. Okay, that's a good sign, I think. At least he wasn't giving me that look from before.

Up ahead, I saw the forest starting to turn sparse, so I knew we were only about a mile away. I made my way to the front of our formation to lay down some rules for everyone.

"Listen up," I called out. "It's been a long day. I really don't want to spend more than an hour or so here. We'll start heading back home around 9:30. Everyone clear on that?"

There were a few groans, but the Flock accepted my instructions. I was thankful because lately, they've been taking advantage of our recent 'freedom' a bit too carelessly. But I knew that the mad scientists could return to their throne any day and come after us again.

To be honest, this 'freedom' is a bit uncomfortable. At least when we were on the run, we always knew we had to watch our backs. It was never a surprise when an Eraser popped out of a crowd or a Flyboy darted out of the sky, guns blazing.

But now… We aren't actually expecting anything to come for us. And it's driving me crazy. We aren't prepared for anything like we always used to be. We've all been out of practice for a while… since we made sure the very last of the Itex branches had been destroyed about a year ago.

My head was still throbbing a little from when I fell, so I chose to sit at the edge of the forest to lean against a tree trunk. Iggy and Gazzy made their way to the center of the field and started taking things out of their coat pockets, presumably the ingredients to some new bomb. Oh, great, I thought. Nudge only landed for a short moment, to put Total safely on the ground, before leaping back into the air and joining Angel in a game of tag.

And then there was Fang, who silently appeared next to me. Always so damn quiet…

He took a seat against a nearby tree and stared out at the other bird-kids. After a moment, he said, "Glad they're finally able to enjoy themselves. Been a while."

"Yeah. It's nice to see. But… I wonder how long it can last…"

He looked thoughtful for a moment, but then leaned back against his tree, staring at them again, wordlessly saying, 'I don't really want to worry about that right now.'

I sighed and pulled my legs up to my chest, resting my head on my knees and closing my eyes. I didn't really want to worry about that right now, either.

I guess I must have drifted off to sleep because I was startled out of unconsciousness to find a boot tapping against my foot. I looked up and Fang was grinning at me. "It's almost 9:30. Wake up," he said.

I mumbled something incoherent and squeezed my eyes shut when I felt a faint pain in my head. Perfect. I just love headaches.

"Max? You okay to fly back?" Fang asked.

"Just give me a minute. Go round up the Flock and tell them to start heading home." Surprisingly, he listened.

Ten minutes later, I managed to force myself into the air. Fang was flying below me just in case the headache paralyzed me, so he would be able to catch me if I started falling.

I couldn't wait to get into my bed and bury my head under a pillow. Maybe after I take some aspirin…

And when we got back to the house, I did just that. We stacked fists and everyone went to their bedrooms, except for Fang, who was collecting all of his new things that were still stacked next to the couch. I offered to help because he had quite a handful, but he shook his head. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but then closed it and looked away from me.

I didn't know why he was acting weird and I almost didn't care. Almost. My head was throbbing and I just wanted to go to sleep.

I woke up to a loud groaning noise and looked around, blinking and startled, before I realized the noise came from myself. The pulsing headache seemed to be gone, but I felt like I was going to be sick.

Rushing to get out of the tangle of blankets I'd created, I almost fell off the bed. I made it to the bathroom just in time, but I'll spare you the details of it.

There was a quiet knock on the bathroom door while I was making sure my mouth received a proper cleansing. I opened it a crack and of course, Fang was there.

"Rabies!" he whisper shouted with mock horror. I quickly rinsed the toothpaste from my mouth and scowled at him, then squeezed by to go back to my room.

He followed next to me and asked, "How's your head?"

"I'm fine now," I snapped and closed my door before he could follow me into my room. I heard him sigh and then I waited until I was sure he'd closed his own door at the end of the hall before I climbed back into bed.

Laying there for a while, staring at the ceiling, I started wondering why I had just given Fang such an attitude. He was only checking to see if I was feeling any better, right? I glanced over at my alarm clock… not even midnight. So it was still his birthday and now I felt… what, guilty? Ugh.

Again, I pulled myself out of bed and made my way down the hall, where I paused outside of Fang's door. I don't need more than my ten fingers to count how many times I've ever apologized about anything, so I started to feel awkward about what I was going to say. I'm not even sure why I was making such a big deal about it, but I didn't want to keep thinking I'd ruined his day with how I'd acted a moment ago.

Hah! Listen to me! I really am full of myself… as if I, Maximum Ride, could ruin the kid's whole day just because I made a stupid remark…

The doorknob started turning then… shit. He's going to see me standing here like a creep…

"What are you doing?" he asked. I couldn't help but notice that 'the look' had returned. Although, I guess he had a decent reason for it this time.

"I… uh… I just…" He didn't wait for me to finish babbling before pulling me into his room and closing the door.

"You've been out there mumbling nonsense for the past five minutes. Is there something you wanted to tell me?"

I hesitated, but then spoke quietly, trying my hardest to make eye contact. "I wanted to say I'm sor… Why do you keep looking at me like that?" I couldn't stop myself from asking. He was just too distracting.

"Like what?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Like you have been all night… like I'm growing a third arm… or another pair of wings."

"I'm just curious about that gift, I guess."



5. Chapter 5 Mystery Revealed

Solace: Chapter Five - Mystery Revealed

Fang was curious about his gift? "What about it?" I asked.

"It's a nice gesture, no offense, but are you sure? It seems a bit unlike you, to be perfectly honest…" he whispered, making sure not to wake the rest of the Flock.

I wanted to say, 'Dude, it's just a wallet,' but I didn't. He's going to be mad, but this isn't right. I have to tell him it's not from me…

Dammit, Angel, you couldn't just let me give him the watch? Oops… I hope she didn't really hear that.

"Sit down. I need to tell you something." I gestured to the bed, where he proceeded to sit, and I sat down next to him. Okay, I'm probably making this more dramatic than I need to, but I just feel like such a jerk… I mean, I couldn't even get my best friend a decent birthday gift by myself?

I blame Jeb. I don't know how this is his fault… It's just easier to blame everything on Jeb…

Just rip it off like a band-aid, Maximum… I think I'm going to be sick again.

"I… well… Fang, I let Angel put my name on that gift because I only bought you a dumb watch and I hated it, but I couldn't think of what you wanted or needed… I'm sorry," I blurted out as quickly as I could. Then I threw my hands over my eyes so I couldn't see his reaction.

It was silent for a moment. And then I heard him laugh. It was quiet, but still, it was a laugh. I slowly lowered my hands and turned to look at him.

"I suspected that." A half smile was playing on his lips when he stood and walked to his closet, poking around in a pile until he found a piece of paper, then came back over to me. "This was sticking out of the wallet when I opened the box. You would never have written this for me," he said, handing me a small note.

I looked at him cautiously, then began to read:


I want you to pick a night this week, any night, your choice.

We're going to go out somewhere. Just the two of us.

It'll be fun. I promise.

Happy Birthday!


I stared down at the paper in my hands for what seemed like an eternity, until I decided that I would smack that little scheming mind-reader right into next week.

Wait… she read his mind…

That's what he wanted?! …a night out?! …a date?!

I felt his eyes on me the whole time and as I turned to face him, I was unsure of whether to punch him or throw my arms around him, but before I had the chance to choose between my options, there was an explosive noise outside.

We both ran to the window, eyes wide, bodies tensed…



6. Chapter 6 Invisible

Solace: Chapter Six - Invisible

My eyes scanned the clearing outside the house, but I couldn't see anything.

"What the hell was that?" I whispered, nervously.

"We can only hope it was Gazzy and Iggy messing around…" he started, but was interrupted by a bloodcurdling scream from the room next door.

Fang looked at me as we whispered in unison, "Angel…"

We raced to Angel's room and found the girl pressing herself into a corner, still screaming, her eyes searching around the room frantically. But there appeared to be nothing frightening there, nothing out of the ordinary.

"Angel, it's okay… Sweetie, there was just a loud noise outside, that's all." I tried to calm her down, stroking her hair and holding her close to me.

"Max! They came for you! They're going to take you away!" she shrieked.

Immediately, Fang was kneeling next to us, one arm around my back, the other wrapped around Angel.

"No one is going to take Max away. They aren't going to take any of us away. I promise," he said with a calm, quiet voice.

"You can't promise that! They're here! They're going to take her!" she yelled at him. Unconsciously, I leaned closer to Fang, fear settling in. I've seen the girl afraid before, but I've never seen such terror in her eyes as I did right now.

"Angel, calm down. Who are they? Who's here?" I raised my voice slightly to get her to focus.

"I don't know… I don't see them…"

"That's because there's no one here," Fang reassured her.

She ripped herself from my arms and lunged into Fang, grasping at the fabric of his shirt, yelling, "I don't know who they are, but they're here! They're in the room with us! I can hear them! They want Max! I can hear them!"

Fang and I looked at each other, realizing something unspeakably terrible was about to happen.

"We need to get the rest of the Flock and get downstairs, now," I said, trying to mask the fear in my shaking voice.

But they were already there, in the doorway. Gazzy was looking more like a child than ever before, clinging to Iggy's side. He's always tried to stay strong in these situations, but he'd never seen his sister behave like this before. Nudge was beside the two boys, speechless.

Angel wrapped her arms tightly around Fang's neck as we stood and he held her there firmly with one arm. I took his free hand and we hurried to the other kids.

"Downstairs. Let's go," I ordered.

"What are we dealing with here?" Iggy asked, once we were all in the living room.

Angel had calmed down a bit and was now quietly sobbing into Fang's shoulder, so I was hoping Iggy's question wouldn't make her all freaked again. I was relieved when it seemed she had hardly acknowledged that he spoke.

"Okay, well, what do we know? There's someone or something trying to get us, or more specifically, me. That can only mean that Itex is back or a sister company emerged and wants to finish what Itex couldn't. And we know that they, whoever they are, were in Angel's room because she heard them. But none of us saw anyone, so they were… what, invisible?" I shuddered at the thought of what could only be considered our ultimate enemy… one we couldn't see.

There was silence for a moment while everyone let that sink in, but then the room erupted into a chaotic mess of voices…

"But we destroyed Itex!"

"It's been months!"

"A year!"

"I don't want to go back in a cage!"

"Is there no hope?!"

I couldn't even distinguish who was yelling what, it came out so fast. Other than my own, Fang's voice was the only one not amidst the chaos.

Instead, he bent towards me and spoke quietly next to my ear, so that only I alone could hear.

"Max, we have to leave here, now. I know the others won't want to, but we need to. You know that."

"We should leave, yes, but we can't see these things. Flying away isn't going to do us any good. They'll just follow us," I tried to reason.

"What do you suggest we do then? Sit here and wait for them to just… take you, like Angel said they wanted to? Let these invisible things get what they want, take you off to God knows where, and probably kill the rest of us?" He paused for a moment, concentrating on something. "Besides, I don't buy into the whole 'invisible monster' act. I think there's some other explanation."

Not gonna lie… Fang was leaning really close to me when he was saying this… close enough for me to feel his warm breath on my neck… it left me distracted for a moment…

But after considering what he said, I agreed. Essentially… yeah, okay, they were invisible, but there had to be some kind of a life force behind them for Angel to have heard their thoughts.

Meanwhile, the hectic scene of frantic bird-kids was still upholding and it was driving me insane. So I snapped. "Stop it! Just, stop! Please… everyone, just calm down."

I waited until the room quieted. "No one is taking anyone away. I'm not going to let them throw us into cages again. I'll do whatever I need to, no matter what happens, to make sure you guys don't end up in some kind of lab again. And I know it's been a long time since we watched Itex burn to the ground, but we knew this could happen. We knew they would try to find us again if they could find the resources to rebuild."

There were a few weak nods and Angel started crying again, but Fang mumbled something into her hair that seemed to silence her. I gave him a grateful smile and turned to the Flock again.

"Now, why are we acting like this? We've dealt with worse things before. This isn't such a big deal. So, why is everyone so panicked?"

Suddenly, as if on cue, a glass of water that was sitting on the table went hurling across the room, apparently by itself. Thank you, invisible monsters, thank you… Because that's just what I needed…

Angel let out a nightmarish scream as the glass shattered against the wall. Poor Fang.

Thankfully, everyone else was too shocked to scream or cry…

"Max?" Nudge finally whispered. "What's the plan?"

The plan… Good question, Nudge! I don't even know how to make a plan for this one. It would be nice if the voice chimed in right about now… Not that I want to get my hopes up for that happening.

Something occurred to me then. "Fang, do you think these things are doing what you do? You know how you can blend into the scenery? I mean, maybe they're some kind of chameleon mutants?"

He considered it for a moment, but shook his head. "If it's anything like that, they're way better at it than I am. I can only blend while I'm not moving. We would have seen at least an arm or something when the glass was thrown."

Again, silence filled the room very briefly.

"So… Seriously… You guys really can't see this dude? You're not just playing a trick on the blind kid?" Iggy asked.

We all threw him a dirty look, not that it did any good. "No, Iggy. None of us can see this thing," I told him.

There was a noise at the front door then and everyone tensed. Seconds later, Total came strolling into the living room.

"Boy, it's cold outside," he yapped, apparently unaware of our situation.

"Total! Come here!" Gazzy cried.

"Hey, what's happening? Did I miss anything exciting? I always miss the good stuff. Well, not all the good stuff. I did see the tree out back spontaneously burst into flames. That was great, Gazzy."

Every bird-kid in the room was gaping at Gazzy then.

"You blew up a tree?" I asked, already knowing the answer, but hoping that somehow I was wrong.



There was no way we could stay here. "Okay, then. Grab our packs. We're leaving. Now. Iggy, take Total."

"Wait," Iggy said.

"What is it, Ig," Fang asked.




7. Chapter 7 Reflectors

Solace: Chapter Seven - Reflectors

"Iggy, you don't need a mirror! What would you even do with it?! We have to go! Now!" I shouted. After finding out that one of our trees just happened to combust for no reason, I'm a little more than high-strung at the moment.

"No, wait! Just listen… these things… I think they could have been created with mirrors," he said.

"Huh?" I wasn't sure where he was going with this.

"I think it's an illusion. If I'm right, they must be covered in mirrors, every part of their bodies. Not regular mirrors, like we would use to look at ourselves, but cellular mirrors. I think they are actually made from mirrors. Each cell is more spherical than it is flat. That's why you can't see them. Light is bouncing off of them at the same angle that it arrives, but reappears facing another direction, so it looks like the real thing. They're not invisible. They're… Reflectors."

So… needless to say, I was dumbfounded by his explanation. "You lost me at cellular mirrors, Ig." I looked at Fang, who seemed just as puzzled as me, then at the others, who all had their mouths hanging open, Total included.

"The how isn't as important as the why," he said.

"And we don't know the why, other than Itex wants me for something, and since I don't want to stick around to find out, can we please get going and figure this out once we're in a safer place?"

"Fine, but we need to find a cave with a large opening. We also need to stop and pick up some supplies. I have a plan to keep them away from us, or at the very least, alert us of their presence."

Jeez. Where would we be without Iggy?

An hour and a half later, Nudge, Angel, Total, and I were hovering over a dimly lit neighborhood, waiting for the boys to fly back up to us. They had picked a lock at a hardware store to take some supplies for our 'safety plan' and Fang convinced me that the girls should stay in the air.

The leader in me is apparently away on business, since I'm letting just anyone tell me how to take care of the Flock.

When the boys returned safely with the supplies, I breathed a quiet sigh of relief.

I started making a mental note of what they brought back: a few hammers and mallets, six gallons of water, a long styrofoam container, and… dry ice?

"Where did you find dry ice?" I wondered.

With his signature toothy grin, Iggy said, "I'd tell you, but then I'd have to…"

"Yeah, yeah, alright, I don't need to know," I interrupted him. "But tell me what your plan is, please? It's safe, right?"

"Perfectly safe. And it's simple. I can't believe you couldn't figure this one out. I should be the leader. I mean, honestly, I'm doing all the thinking here."

I raised my eyebrows, impatiently waiting for an answer, but he didn't respond… obviously. "Just tell me already."

"Fog," he said matter-of-factly.

It took him all of five minutes to set up his fog maker at the cave entrance. Then Iggy told us why it was important to have a large opening. "Well, if there isn't enough room for fresh air to enter, this becomes a bit of an asphyxiation hazard."

Really safe. Thanks.

But at least if any of the Reflectors followed us, they'll have to pass through the fog to get to us. And we all know what a foggy mirror means, right? Assuming Iggy's theory is correct, that is.

After we stacked fists, the younger kids curled up and fell asleep, for the second time tonight. I don't blame them. They were probably exhausted.

"I'll take first watch, Iggy can take second, and then we'll repeat if we have to," Fang said.

Before I could argue with him, he continued, "Max, we're not going to let you sit here alone as bait."

And then I couldn't argue with his reasoning. It made perfect sense. This situation was making me feel helpless and I hated it. But all I could do was nod in acceptance.

Iggy agreed also and went over to lay near the others for the next few hours.

Fang took a thick blanket out of his pack and draped it over his shoulders as he sat about ten feet back from the source of the fog, with two mallets within his reach, which he would presumably throw at any intruding Reflectors. Smash!

I walked over to him cautiously, expecting him to tell me to stay away from the entrance.

"Can I at least sit with you? I won't be alone," I whispered.

He nodded and I smiled absently, taking a seat on the ground next to him.

A few minutes passed and I considered going back to where the others were sleeping. Surely, it was warmer there.

Fang must have noticed that I was shivering because he oh-so-wittingly asked, "Cold?"

"Yeah, Sherlock," I answered with a grin.

He looked like he was struggling with some kind of decision in his head for a moment, but then he inched himself closer to me and rearranged the blanket so that it covered both of us.

We sat like that for maybe twenty minutes, at which point I started to feel myself drift off several times and I kept jerking my head back up before I ended up doing a face plant into the cave floor.

That's when Fang put his arm over my shoulders and pulled me closer. I resisted for a split second before gently leaning against him.

"You're tired," said Captain Obvious.

I sighed and out came all of my worries to the one person I could trust them with. "Fang, I don't have a plan this time. The Voice won't say anything to give me a single clue. I mean, Iggy's fog thing is a good idea and it's helpful for now, but what about tomorrow morning? They're probably out there right now. They're probably watching us. These things could prove to be Itex's ultimate assassins. Maybe I should just go… If it's only me that they want…"

"Stop it, Max. You're staying with us. We'll do whatever we have to, just like you said. Maybe they are out there right now, but it's possible that they didn't even follow us. Itex might not have given them matching mirror-wings or whatever. If that's the case, then we're tucked away out of harm's reach in here for now. We'll figure this out, get some answers, and find a way to be safe again. We always do."

Burying my face in his shoulder, I closed my eyes and whispered, "I'm just scared, Fang."



8. Chapter 8 Info Overload

Solace: Chapter Eight - Info Overload

In the morning, I felt renewed, as if the last year of living in a stable home had only been a rest stop and I was now Leader Max again, somehow comforted by the instability of this old familiarity.

I started to form my plan.

Well, okay, it wasn't so much of a plan as it was just me deciding we would find Jeb and see if he had any idea about what the hell was going on.

Angel had come over to sit by me and I started to twist her hair into a long braid while I looked around at the rest of my Flock. Iggy was crouched by the fire holding two sticks, something staked on the end of each. Nudge was sitting on the ground near him, chattering incessantly about a television show she wanted to watch tonight and how she probably won't get to see it now. Gazzy was over by our packs, rearranging his own. And Fang was…

It took me a brief second of panic, but I spotted him leaning against a wall near the entrance of the cave, blending in with the dark outcropping of rocks without even needing to use his ability. He looked… exhausted, I think.

"Sweetie, is Fang alright?" I asked Angel quietly, knowing she had probably already read his thoughts.

"He's really tired," she said, handing me a light blue hair tie.

"Is he sick? Or did he just not sleep well?"

"He didn't sleep at all."

"Why not?" I practically hissed. I'd really like to hear a good reason why he neglected to rest last night when he knew we could possibly be attacked by those new freaks today. Idiot.

"Iggy sat down for the second watch last night and realized he wouldn't be able see the Reflectors even if they got all foggy. Then he got upset and Fang told him to relax, that he would watch all night." Crap. That is a good reason. Why hadn't any of us realized that sooner?

I finished Angel's braid – recently she's been asking me to fix her hair like I used to wear mine years ago – and she turned to look at me, a sad expression covering her pretty face.

"Iggy's still really upset about it. He feels like he's useless." She paused for a minute. "Max, I really wish he could see again. I want him to be happy," she whispered.

She was so pure and sincere that it almost brought tears to my eyes. I just nodded and stood up.

I wanted to go to Fang and talk to him, tell him to never again take all of the shifts alone, make him sleep for a few hours before we leave and find somewhere to call Jeb.

But I didn't, because we had to leave soon if we were going to make good distance today and find somewhere safe to sleep.

That, and it's become sort of a pattern over the years for me to avoid him after he's had to comfort me while I whine about how hard it is to save the world.

Maximum, you're lucky to have him. You shouldn't have to carry this burden alone.

Voice? Thanks for the wisdom, but where have you been? I asked, surprised that it was speaking, but thoroughly annoyed that it didn't chime in sooner, as in, when we had that lovely first encounter with the Reflectors last night.

I can't always help you. One day, I might not be here anymore. You need to learn to figure things out for yourself, it lectured.

I might actually celebrate the day you disappear. No offense or anything, I said, sarcastically. Besides, you and I both know that I was doing fine before you ever showed up. Now, what is all this talk about a burden? Are you saying you finally agree with me, that this whole saving the world thing is a huge freaking burden?

I am saying that it's your destiny to save the world. But, Max, it wouldn't hurt to let someone help you. I can feel how hard this is for you.

It's not my destiny, Jeb. It's my misfortune. Yes, I called the Voice 'Jeb,' but only to get my point across to him. Mostly, I hated acknowledging that it was Jeb in my head these past few years, especially after Angel found out for me that he had lied when he told me he wasn't the Voice.

I really wish you didn't see it that way. The Voice sounded sad as it said this, even though it usually spoke with less emotion than Fang.

With that, I felt it's presence fade and I knew it wouldn't answer any more of my questions right now. I was glad that I didn't have to listen to any more of his destiny crap, but I would've liked to get a bit more insight on our new 'situation' at hand.

After we finished eating what Iggy had cooked, I somehow managed to convince my little troop of mutants that we should leave the cave and try to put as much distance between us and the house as we can, and that we would fly higher than normal to avoid being seen.

With my lead, everyone followed quickly with a 'run and jump' out of the cave and up to safety of higher altitudes.

Fang flew up beside me after we had been in the air for a few minutes.

"Welcome back, Fearless Leader," he said, so low that I'm sure only I alone heard him.

But before I could respond, he had already darted away to the rear of our group… which was fine with me.

The hours passed rapidly as we flew southwest from our home in the woods, where we could hopefully return one day.

When we reached the Pennsylvania-Ohio border, I decided we should stop for something to eat. I was sure Nudge was starving, though I was just as sure that she wasn't saying anything because she was scared of landing and having the Reflectors show up. I could see it in her expression and Angel eventually confirmed it for me.

I spotted a Denny's as we were flying over a small city and motioned for everyone to head down. They didn't seem enthused by the idea and not one of them starting decreasing altitude.

"We'll eat and then find another cave somewhere, okay?"

No response. I hovered there for a moment, crossing my arms.

"Let's go guys, we need to eat. We can't fly forever," Fang said, flying up to the front and giving them all a look that said, 'Listen to Max, or you'll never again savor the yummy goodness of a chocolate chip cookie.' Not that Fang would ever say the word 'yummy' or anything…

There were a few groans, but everyone began to descend towards the restaurant.

I sighed and mouthed a 'thank you' to Fang, who just nodded.

Inside Denny's, we received the usual look of surprise from the waiter as six kids ordered enough food to feed a family of twenty. We had to sneak Total in inside of Iggy's backpack, but Angel made sure to order four sides of bacon for him.

That had seated us at a booth because the restaurant was packed, so being confined wasn't easing any of the Flock's severe paranoia. I could feel the tension rolling off of us like waves and it didn't surprise me that a few people seated nearby were throwing curious glances our way.

I drummed my fingers impatiently on the table, until Fang, sitting next to me, put his hand over mine, then pulled it under the table between us and held it there. I wasn't sure what to think of that. Did he want to hold my hand? Or did he just want me to stop making the noise?


I mentally growled. I couldn't think about anything without the Voice interrupting.

What do you want now? If you aren't going to give me anything useful to work with, can you please go away?

Listen to me. You need to stay here for the next few days. Just trust me, Max.

Are you insane? Stay here? Those things will come and get us… get me… There is no way we're staying.

They're already here. Those things, Reflectors, as you call them, won't bother you here, though. They have strict commands to not attack in public places. The Axis Corporation doesn't want any attention drawn to you. Experiment Z-2 is waiting at the city limits. If he catches you, I'm afraid you won't have much of a chance. Just give him three days. That was his assigned mission, to wait three days for you before returning to the headquarters with the Reflectors for a reboot.


Ok, Voice, slow down… The Axis Corporation? Who are they and why don't they want witnesses? What's the Z-2 experiment? I'm slightly offended that you think I'm no match against this new guy… How do they reboot him? Why three days?

It didn't reply at first. But then with two words, the Voice sent me spiraling into hell.

Brace yourself.

My hands flew to my head as an explosion of pain seared through my skull. If my eyes weren't clenched tightly shut, I'm sure I would have seen a madman in front of me hacking through my flesh and bone with the jagged edge of a chainsaw.

Out of instinct, my body folded forward to curl into a ball, but in the process, I managed to smash my forehead into the table.

Everything turned to a blank flash of gray for a moment and I wasn't sure I was still conscious. Then there were images flashing so quickly that it made me nauseous and when I became aware of something wrapped around me, which I assumed were someone's arms, I was positive I was going to be sick all over them.

And then I saw nothing.

I felt nothing.



9. Chapter 9 Someone Like Fang

Solace: Chapter Nine - Someone Like Fang

I shuddered and groaned quietly as the peaceful numbness receded and I became aware of a throbbing pain on my forehead.

I opened my eyes cautiously, waiting for bright lights to force me to shut them again, but there were none, not really. My face was pressed into a soft black fabric. I held back a gasp when I thought that maybe I had been captured and thrown into a sack.

But it only took a second to realize that the fabric was Fang's t-shirt and he was holding me against his chest, stroking my hair.

Part of me wanted to stay there and enjoy the feeling of his arms around me, listening to his calm even breaths against me. Instead, I pulled back slowly and his arms fell away loosely. I looked around to find that we were still in the booth at Denny's and there was no food on the table yet.

The others were looking at me nervously, so I forced a reassuring smile for them, which seemed to help a little.

Then I looked at Fang.

"What was that about?" he asked, reaching his hand to my face and gently touching the source of my new pain. "You're starting to bruise already. You okay?" His face was composed and to the rest of the Flock, he probably seemed completely calm, but I saw the concern in his eyes.

"Brain explosion," I said. Then I lowered my voice to barely a whisper to tell them about all of the new information. "Listen up. There's some kind of new company, the Axis Corporation. I don't how, or even if, it's connected to Itex, but they've got something called Experiment Z-2 and it's waiting for us with a bunch of Reflectors outside the city."

The waiter, with two helpers, came with our food then and asked if we needed anything else. Angel asked for some more ketchup, but the rest of us just politely thanked them.

When they left, I continued…

"Apparently, the company doesn't want the public getting involved, so we're safe as long as we stay here for the next three days, which is how long these guys have been sent to wait for us."

"Why three days, Max?" Gazzy asked, hesitation in his voice.

"They have to… uh… reboot the thing after three days. So I guess we'll try to stay in the heart of the city and find a hotel nearby."

The waiter came back again, placing a bottle of ketchup in front of Angel.

"Did I hear you say you need to find a hotel? There's a Holiday Inn right across the street," he said.

I thanked him and he left again.

"Well, let's finish eating then and we'll go check it out," I said.

When everyone was nearly done with their huge portions, Nudge asked, "Max, are we really staying here?"

I answered her with a nod in record time, so that she wouldn't start rambling, but record time wasn't fast enough…

"Well, that's good. I'm glad we don't have to sleep in a cave tonight. Last night was really cold and I'm used to sleeping in a warm comfy bed now, so I couldn't get comfortable. What are we going to do for three days here? I want to go shopping at least once. Could we do that Max? Could we go shopping? We haven't bought new clothes or shoes in a long time. If we aren't going to have anything to do anyway…" Iggy elbowed her in the side and she stopped.

But not before Angel got excited about the idea of a shopping trip. "Max, we should! Please? Please, Max? We only have one extra set of clothes each in our packs. If we stay here a few days, we have to go shopping! Please?"

I was shaking my head, but I heard Fang chuckle softly under his breath, so I turned to look at him.

"You're going to give in. You know it," he said quietly.

I glared at him half-heartedly. He was right, but that didn't mean I was happy about giving in to a shopping spree.

Fine, I told Angel in my head. I know she heard me because she squealed with joy and then Nudge joined in with delight.

After we finished and paid, Angel, Gazzy, Nudge, and Iggy were heading to the door already and I was about to follow, but a certain bird boy was blocking me from leaving the booth.

"Fang, we have to go. What are you doing? Get up."

"This feels like a trap," he said.

"Yes, it does. I'm trapped in this booth. Are you going to make me climb over the table to get out?" I asked, knowing that he was referring to the instructions I was given in my head, but I was trying to be more optimistic about it.

I tried to shove him off the seat, but he wouldn't budge.

"I trust you, Max, but do you really think we should stay here for that long?"

"What other choice do we have? As far as I know, the Voice has never lied about anything, so if those things are really out there waiting for us, I don't want to deal with it. Any one of us could be killed or taken if we try to fight. We're staying."

He sighed and got up, finally.

We dashed across the street to the Holiday Inn, the six of us doing 360's to check if we were being followed, but we didn't find anything suspicious.

A female receptionist greeted us as we entered the lobby. "Good evening! Welcome to our establishment. How may I help you?"

I waved my hands at the kids to go sit down while I got us some rooms and then turned back to the woman at the desk. "Do you have any adjoining rooms available?"

She started typing feverishly on a computer and searched the screen for a moment.

"We don't, unfortunately, but I could give you rooms that are close to each other. How many do you need?"

I thought for a minute and decided two kids to a room should work. "Three rooms for three nights," I told her.

She charged my Maximum Ride card and gave me the keys.

It was decided that I would share a room with Fang, so that Angel, Nudge, and Total could be together in one room and Gazzy and Iggy in the other.

I know what you're thinking… Max and Fang sharing a hotel room? But the rooms all had two beds, so it wasn't a big deal. Jeez, people, get your minds out of the gutter. We're best friends and that's all!

We went to the rooms, stopping at the first one we had a key for and went in. We tapped fists and I handed out the other two keys, declaring that this room would be mine and Fang's. Then I told them to shower and go get some rest.

I waited until Fang and I were alone in the room to tell him about the images I saw because I didn't want to worry the rest of the Flock about Crazy Ole Max seeing visions in her head.

Fang, on the other hand, understood it. He had seen the flashes of images on the guy's laptop in the subway a few years ago, the same way they had projected inside my head.

So I told him how they had flashed so quickly tonight that I wasn't able to distinguish what any of it was. He tried to convince me that it was just from hitting my head on the table.

Now, he's in the shower and I'm sitting on the bed brushing out my wet hair because I had showered first.

I'm sorry I had to do that, Max, the Voice said.

Hah! Right, I'm sure you're wallowing in your sorrow as we speak. You wasted your time, anyway. I didn't catch any of it. Besides, why did you even tell me all of that? I thought you said I needed to figure things out on my own?

No answer.

Frustrated and not tired enough to lay down and try to fall asleep, so I decided to go next door and talk with Nudge.

She answered the door after two knocks and we went over to her bed to sit down, while Angel was in the bathroom giving Total a much-needed bath.

"I'm sorry we had to leave, Nudge. I know you must miss Peter, but do you think you could try to not call him? Someone might be able to trace the call and find us."

"Sure," she said, shrugging, which surprised me.

"You don't mind? I figured you would be missing him like crazy."

She shrugged again and took a deep breath, so I knew a speech was coming…

"Well, it's just that he doesn't really treat me much differently than the other girls he hangs out with and he never really looks at me like I'm special. Peter gives me kisses all the time and it's nice and we have fun together, but it's not really going anywhere. What do you think, Max? Do you think he cares about me? What should I do? I don't know what I should do. I like him, but it's just… he's not like Fang," she said matter-of-factly. My breath caught in my throat and I stared at her.

"Whoa, Nudge! You like Fang?" What was this girl thinking? She couldn't like Fang. She was only 15! And he was 18! And I know he doesn't like her in any way other than as a sister. He couldn't like her more than that!

"Nooo! That's not what I meant. Eww, Max! I don't like Fang like that! He's my brother… Well, not like a blood brother, but I still consider him to be my brother. Hey, I wonder if I have any real brothers somewhere. I know we decided to stop searching for our families after what happened with Iggy, but wouldn't it be cool if I had real brothers? Anyway, the point is, I do not like Fang like that. What I meant was that I want to have someone like you have Fang. The way he looks at you is incredible." She paused for a breath and a grin spread across her face before she continued. "Wait a minute. What if I did? What if I said I did like him like that? You'd be mad, wouldn't you? That's okay, Max. You can have him all to yourself…"

"Enough, Nudge… I get what you meant…" I said, exasperated. I mean, so what if she had liked him? She could like whomever she wanted to like… And there I was, getting upset that she might care for Fang in the same way I do, which would have been impossible, but there I was, thinking of her as competition for a split second.

Snap out of the madness, Max!

I sat with Nudge for a few more minutes, telling her she was important and special and that any guy who didn't see that wasn't worth it. I left the room feeling all big-sisterly and I smiled to myself.

I slipped back into my room and Fang was already asleep in his bed, probably because he didn't sleep the night before, so I quietly crawled into my own.

Before I closed my eyes, Angel sent me one final thought.

I'm so excited for our shopping adventure tomorrow!

I groaned and rolled over, falling asleep after just a few minutes.



10. Chapter 10 A Single Gesture

Solace: Chapter Ten - A Single Gesture

Shopping with Nudge was one of those things that scared me more than coming face to face with Erasers and Flyboys.

I was awake, but still in bed, not wanting to go to the other rooms and wake the other kids up just yet. The sooner they were up, the sooner I would be subjected to this 'adventure,' as Angel called it.

I turned my head to see if Fang was still asleep. He had his eyes closed, but his breaths weren't as slow and deep as they are when he sleeps, so I assumed he was awake.

I watched him for a few minutes and wondered if he was just as apprehensive about a shopping trip as I was.

No, of course he wouldn't be. It didn't bother him because he wasn't going to be attacked with piles of clothes to try on. He would probably find himself some random pair of black pants and a black shirt, then run off to the arcade or something with Gazzy and Iggy. He always gets it easy…



"What?" He opened his eyes and was looking at me now.

"Could you do me a favor?" I was hoping my face didn't show how much I was hoping he'd agree to this.

"Depends…" he said, looking at me questioningly.

"Do you want to… um… hang out with me today?" I asked carefully.

He stared at me for a moment. "And have Nudge beg me to try on a purple shirt or something? No way," he said with a smirk.

"No, no. I don't want to be subjected to that either, but I also don't want to walk around by myself. So I was thinking maybe you and I could just pick out a few things and then find somewhere to wait for the others. How does that sound?"

"There's four other people and a dog you could ask, but you want me to wait with you because…" He raised an eyebrow, waiting for me to finish the sentence.

I wasn't going to give Fang the satisfaction of hearing me say I'd rather spend the day with him than with the others, so I promptly thought of an excellent reason.

"… because Angel said they wanted to take me, so if for some reason the Voice lied about them being commanded to not try anything in public, then I may need some backup and you know you would be the best candidate for that," I said, which was also true, of course. I quickly added, "But if you don't want to, that's fine." I shrugged, as if it didn't matter to me in the slightest.

"Whatever," he said quietly. Anyone else would have replied to that with something along the lines of, "Jeez, what's with the attitude?" However, this is Fang, and I'm pretty sure his tone suggested that he just agreed to spend the day with me.

I smiled inwardly and got out of bed, ready to tackle the day ahead of me. I pulled on my hooded sweatshirt, grabbed my Maximum Ride card out of my pack, and went for the door. Before I left the room, I called over my shoulder, "Be ready in ten."

By the time I got the others up and out of their rooms, Fang was waiting in the hallway. It had taken a while to convince Angel and Total that it would be best to leave the dog in the hotel room because we probably wouldn't be allowed to bring him into a clothing store.

After the six of us took advantage of the complimentary breakfast table, which basically consisted of muffins and orange juice, I approached the woman at the front desk.

"Excuse me. Could you tell me if there's a store around here where we could buy some clothes?" I asked, politely. Yes, I can be polite when I try.

"You're kidding, right?" she asked, looking at me incredulously.

"Um… no?" I didn't know what this woman was getting at.

She smiled apologetically at me. "Sorry, it's just that most people who stay here have come just for the mall. You don't know about the Harkrow Mall?"

"No. We're not really from around here," I replied, shaking my head.

"Oh! You should definitely check it out. It's only around the corner, about two blocks away. There are four floors of every kind of store you can imagine. There's even a bowling alley, a big game room, a movie theater, and an ice rink," she said, excitedly.

"Sounds great… Thanks!" It did sound pretty sweet. So I rounded up the troops and we headed out.

It was a short walk, just like the receptionist had said, but we were still looking over our shoulders and up at the sky above us because we had no idea if we really were safe. Then as we rounded the corner, it only took a second for the chorus of glee to begin…


"This is going to be so much fun!"


"What? What does it look like, guys?" Iggy asked.

"This place is huge!" Gazzy shouted, tugging at Iggy's arm, pulling him toward the mall.

'Huge' was a huge understatement. This building was absolutely massive. The sign that said 'Harkrow Mall' must have been 25 feet tall by itself! It's hard to believe we didn't see it when we landed last night.

Once we were inside, I stopped at the ATM machine and withdrew as much as it would let me. Then I got the group's attention and we gathered in a small circle.

"Okay, I have a plan for today that I think everyone will be happy with it. You just have to promise me you'll all be on your best behavior…" I started.

"I promise, Max. I think it's an excellent plan," Angel said with a big smile. Of course, since she already read my mind, she knew what I was about to tell everyone.

"Angel, please stay out of my head. Now, Nudge, you're going to take Angel and find both of yourselves some clothes. Make sure whatever you find isn't too impractical to fight in or I'll make you return it. When you've found everything you need, there's plenty to do here. Maybe there's a movie you want to see or something? And you can get something to eat for lunch, too. You decide, but make sure to stay inside the mall at all times." I tried to say that last part with a stern tone to make it clear that they were not allowed to leave for any reason.

"Don't worry, Max. There's tons of stuff to do here. We won't go outside. The first place I want to go is the pet store. I think Chihuahuas have big ears. Do you think they'll have any Chihuahuas there? I want to go look at all the puppies. Hey, maybe we can find a friend for Tota—" I stopped her with a glare. It really bothered me that Nudge actually wanted to look at caged animals…

"Angel, Nudge, do not bring any puppies back with you. We have Total and he's enough. Get him a toy or a little doggie sweater or something, but do not get him a friend. If anyone comes back with any animals… well, just don't."

No one fought me on the issue, so I continued, looking at Iggy and the Gasman. "The same goes for you two. Find some clothes. I assume I don't have to warn you about the impracticalities of skirts, right?" Iggy chuckled at my comment. "And then, I'm sure you can find something to do to keep you occupied for a few hours after you shop and grab a bite to eat."

"Um, Max, why are you letting us stay here all day? Not that I'm complaining, but don't you hate malls?" Gazzy asked.

"Because I'd rather not stay in the hotel all day with nothing to do. And besides, it's not going to be all day." I looked around for a minute and noticed a large fountain, then pointed to it. "We'll meet in front of that fountain at 4pm, got it?"

They nodded fervently, obviously wanting to run off and enjoy themselves. "And, guys? Please don't forget that there are people that are trying to come after us. Just be aware of everything and everyone, okay?"

"Yes, Mom. Can we go now?" Iggy asked, impatiently.

"Yeah, here's some cash…" I handed a lump of cash to Iggy and another to Nudge. I started to say, "Remember… Careful…" but they were already heading off.

I sighed and looked up at Fang, who hadn't said a word the entire time. He was looking at me, grinning. "What?" I asked.

"Iggy's right. You're such a mom," he said, his grin widening. "So, where are we going?"

We ended up in a department store, where we both bought a few pairs of black jeans, some t-shirts, and boxers (hey, what can I say… they're comfy to sleep in). I even decided that shopping wasn't so horrible as long as no one was shoving clothes in my face. Until Fang pointed out a shirt and said I should try it on. I warned him that he sounded like Nudge and he just shrugged. But the shirt was kinda nice, so I did. And I actually liked it, so I bought it. I noticed Fang looking smug about it, so I scowled at him.

The last stop was the lingerie section. I tried to be fast and grab the first few things I saw in my size, figuring Fang would be uncomfortable amongst all of the women's undergarments, but I turned around and found him holding up a lacy black bra. He held it out to me with a smirk on his face. I felt my cheeks turn crimson and snatched it from his hand. I looked at the tag.

"Fang? How did you know my size?" I asked, curiously.

He shrugged. "Lucky guess? Here, these match," he said, holding out his other hand. Of course, lacy black panties, in my size.

I could tell by the look on his face that he was joking around. He obviously didn't think I'd actually get them. So just to see his expression, I added both to the pile of clothes in my arms.

"Are you serious?" he asked, letting out a small chuckle.

"What? Maximum Ride can't wear black lace?" A playful smile pulled at my lips before I had time to realize how flirtatious it seemed. I blushed again and looked away from him.

We paid for our things, left the store, and realized that we still had a few hours, so we started walking around to see what else we could do.

There was a comfortable silence between us as we walked side by side, allowing me to enjoy the whole 'mall experience' more with each passing minute. Even so, my enjoyment was entwined with anxiety because we couldn't know for sure what kind of demonic things could be watching us…

Fang must have noticed me looking over my shoulder every five seconds. He brought his hand lightly to my elbow and guided me to a bench. I sat down while he stood in front of me, his hands on my shoulders.

"We're safe here," he said in a low, calming voice. I looked at him and nodded after a moment.

I heard a loud, obnoxious laugh come from behind me and I turned to see what it was. It was coming from the pet store. There were three young boys, probably around Gazzy's age, poking their fingers into a cage on the ground near the front of the store. I focused my eyes on the cage to see a small, white rat. It was pressed up into one corner looking frightened.

The scene made me sick. I imagined that's probably what we looked like at the school when the Whitecoats were trying to stick needles into us without letting us out of our cages. That's all we were to them – unimportant little lab rats.

I watched in disgust as one of the boys pulled his foot back and then kicked the rat's cage. The little white rat shrieked in terror.

Fang growled beside me and I turned back to face him.

"Wait here. Don't move," he told me. He walked over to the pet store with a fierce look of determination and started talking quietly to the boys, all of whom instantly looked shaken by Fang's expression.

I had always admired him for standing up for himself and others who were treated badly. Now, here he was, standing up for a rat. I smiled. Fang. Defending a rat.

Fang. My best friend. Solace…

Is it so wrong to want your best friend? I remember the time he left me and I remember the shard of ice that formed in my heart because of it. I never want to feel that again. I want Fang in my life, always. I need him.

I think if I told him that right now, he'd just smile and say "I told you so."

Fang knew there would be an 'us' somewhere down the line. He'd said it himself a long time ago when we were arguing over something…

"Max, if you would just talk to me–"

"About what? You and me? There is no you and me."

"You're wrong Max. There's a you and me, all right. There will always be a you and me."

He's been waiting for years, hasn't he? Thinking back, Lissa was the only girl he ever dated. I mean, sure, he had gotten friendly with Brigid, but nothing ever happened with that… And there's been no one since…

The note… Angel had seen in his mind that he just wanted some time with me. That's all he really wanted. Yet, he was sure he couldn't have it…

"You would never have written this for me."

I understand what the Voice meant now. I felt hot tears prickling at my eyes. He just wanted me to give him a chance…

I remembered then what Nudge had said last night…

"What I meant was that I want to have someone like you have Fang. The way he looks at you is incredible."

Was it so obvious to everyone else? That I was the only one he let in? Through one look, he was able to grant me access to the emotions that he didn't dare reveal to the rest of the world, as if they were so fragile that only the right people could be trusted with them. And he trusted me whole-heartedly…

He would continue to wait for me. I believed that. But why should I choose to make him wait? I finally know exactly how to make him happy…

Just one small gesture. I knew he would accept it, without hesitation, and he'd never look back. There would be no going back, ever. It would be Max and Fang, always.

And I wanted it…

"Let's go," Fang said, pulling me out of my daze. I looked up at him and I noticed a small smile appear.

"I don't want to know what you did in there…" I guessed. I tried to subtly wipe at my face to make sure the tears hadn't escaped. I was relieved when I felt none.

"You're right. You don't," he said, still smiling.

We walked for a few more minutes and ended up in front of the ice rink. Fang kept walking, but I stopped and looked through the glass doors, my eyes catching a glimpse of a family. A small girl was skating around, unsteadily, each hand held by a parent.

"I've never been ice skating…" I said, mostly to myself.

I didn't even realize Fang was standing there until he opened one of the doors and gestured for me to go in.

I shook my head. "I don't even know how."

"Me neither," he said, grinning.

Two hours later, after skidding into walls, falling on top of one another, and almost taking down a few other people, we realized that we had the most success skating side by side, holding each other's hand for support.

Eventually, we realized we had to meet up with Iggy, Nudge, Gazzy, and Angel soon, so we returned our skates and retrieved our shopping bags from the lockers we had rented outside of the rink.

Heading back to the fountain, something caught Fang's attention and he stopped walking.

"We still have ten minutes. Let's do this…" he said, as he grabbed my arm and started pulling me toward a booth. It was an instant photo booth with a pale green curtain hanging from the entryway for privacy. The others were probably waiting for us already, but I figured this would only take a few minutes, so I let him drag me in.

We stepped into the booth and closed the curtain. There wasn't really enough room on the seat for both of us, so Fang pulled me into his lap with his arms around my stomach. I didn't have to look twice to see that his cheeks turned slightly pink, but we both just laughed. I put the money in and pressed the 'start' button. On a small screen in front of us, a 20-second countdown began before the first picture would be taken. I leaned back and put my arm around his neck.

When the camera flashed the first time, we were still laughing, so it was probably one of the first pictures we would have where we were flashing our pearly whites. Then another 20-second countdown appeared.

"Make a funny face," Fang said quietly. I waited until there was only 5 seconds left, then turned and stuck my tongue out at him. He did the same. The camera flashed again.

I was thinking of what to do for the next picture when something occurred to me. This booth was the definition of claustrophobia, and yet I managed to overlook it. I was sitting on my best friend's lap in a tiny booth in a mall and I was actually having fun, despite the crap hand we've been dealt, the creatures that were created to destroy us, and all of humanity depending on me to save the world. If there was one thing that was absolutely certain in my life, it was Fang.

So I made the decision, right then and there.

I lifted my free hand to his face, skimming my fingers delicately across his cheek, leaving behind a trail of fire, my eyes locked with his. I leaned into him and watched the emotions displayed in his eyes… surprise… relief… joy… his rare happiness…

Eyes fluttering closed, I pressed my lips gently against his, immediately feeling their warmth move softly in acceptance. There was a flash of light that I barely registered. A moment later, another flash. I realized two photos were taken, capturing the beginning of our future, for all it's worth, in those two images.

I had to force myself to pull back and open my eyes. We stared into each other's soul while we waited for the pictures to print. We didn't need to verbalize what just happened. He was mine now, and I, his. And that's how it would always be. It was a silent agreement.

We left the booth, hand in hand, the pictures tucked safely away in my pocket, tangible proof that this wasn't just a dream.

Angel was giggling as we approached the fountain a few minutes later. Fang and I weren't holding hands as we neared the other kids… Neither of us was ready to jump up and shout, "Hey! Guess what we just did!?" But I knew Angel was reading our minds, so I didn't want her to be the one to announce anything, either.

Angel, you won't say anything, will you? I asked her in my head.

I won't say a word, she replied.

I smiled to her in appreciation.



11. Chapter 11 Disturbance

Solace: Chapter Eleven - Disturbance

We only had a short walk to get back to the Holiday Inn and we were becoming more and more certain that we weren't going to be attacked. So when Angel insisted on walking between Fang and I to hold both of our hands, Gazzy teased her about acting like a baby. She just shrugged and smiled at him.

I'm not scared. I'm just really happy for the two of you, she said in my head.

I looked down at her and gave her an appreciative smile. I pictured in my head what the three of us looked like walking together. It reminded me of the family I'd just seen at the ice rink.

Of course, I had my mother and half-sister back in Arizona, but truly, this was my family right here. No matter what, the six of us would always have each other.

I glanced up to smile at Fang, but he wasn't looking. His eyes were locked on his coat pocket, where his free hand was poking around. He must have felt me staring because he turned his gaze to me.

"There's a hole in my pocket," he said immediately when he saw that I was looking.

"Oh. I'll fix it later, if you want…" I offered.

"It's fine. Here, let me carry the bags," he said, changing the subject abruptly and reaching for the shopping bags I'd forgotten I was carrying. I handed them over gratefully.

We were back at the hotel in a matter of minutes and I decided that we would order room service for dinner, which seemed to please everyone. We ended up with heaps of food being delivered to Iggy and Gazzy's room on an oversized cart.

It didn't take very long for us to eat it all, minus a few small bread rolls. Angel was helping me clean up when I noticed that she started yawning.

I called Nudge over. "It's getting late. You and Angel should go back to your room and find something to watch on TV until you fall asleep," I said to her. It really wasn't late, only being 9:30 pm, but I think all of the excitement of spending the day at the mall wore them out.

She agreed and led Angel back to their room, but not before everyone stacked fists and said goodnight to each other.

"Max, you'd better come up with a plan tomorrow that includes me," Total said bitterly as he trotted after the two girls.

"Sure thing, Total," I replied, rolling my eyes.

I gathered the last few plates that were scattered around the room, placed them back on the cart, and then wheeled it into the hallway, where housekeeping would eventually retrieve it.

Fang and I went back to our room soon after. On the way out of Iggy and Gazzy's room, he grabbed a bread roll off of the cart and stuffed it into his coat pocket… the same pocket he told me there was a hole in… I was about to voice my curiosity, but he took me by surprise when he slipped his hand into mine as we were walking down the hallway. So I decided the bread in his pocket wasn't interesting anymore.

And then I had another idea…

"Tired?" I asked him.


"Good. We're going out," I said, pulling him in the other direction, back to the lobby.

"Okay… Where are we going?" he asked, sounding mildly interested. I didn't have to turn around and look at him to know that his eyes were absolutely burning with curiosity. I could feel it.

With a grin, I said, "That's your choice. I owe you a night, remember?"

He let me pull him along for a few steps, but then he stopped and firmly planted his feet.

When I turned to look at him, he was shaking his head. "Max, you don't have to do this. You didn't write the note. You're not obligated…"

I interrupted him by pressing my index finger to his lips. "It doesn't matter who wrote it. I want the same things as you do," I whispered, feeling my cheeks grow warm.

He studied my face for a moment, as if there would be some kind of proof that I was lying to make him feel better. But he wouldn't find any. I had made my decision in the photobooth.

Finally, he sighed and his eyes looked happy. "How about we just walk then?" he suggested.

So we did, even though it was cold out. For over an hour, we walked with our fingers interlaced, simply enjoying each other's presence. We spoke occasionally, but mostly it was quiet.

At some point it became too quiet. I noticed there weren't as many streetlights in the area we had walked to, let alone even one other person. Fang must have realized this at the same time and stopped walking. We were in front of an old brick building and I'm guessing it was near the edge of the city. But at least we were still in the city… We started to turn around to head back to the hotel, but something wasn't right.

Everything happened very quickly then.

Suddenly, Fang stumbled for no reason, letting go of his grasp on my hand, and fell backwards into the road, his head smashing into the ground. The impact made a horrible sound in the silence and I gasped, unable to understand why he didn't catch himself.

He let out a low, pained noise and I quickly reached forward to help him, but was slammed back against the building. I tried throwing myself forward, but it was no use. There was some kind of force restraining me.

Only then did the realization occur. Reflectors.

You said they wouldn't touch us in public! I mentally screamed at the Voice.

I was stunned when there was a reply. Look around, Maximum. There's no one here to witness this, it said.

I can fix that.

I took a deep breath before letting out a bloodcurdling cry for help that I was sure half the city would hear. Almost instantly, something cold and rough pressed over my mouth, muting my scream, but I could see nothing there.

I had never wanted to attract attention to myself before, and yet I wanted it more than anything at this moment if it would make the Reflectors flee. I was putting up quite a struggle and it didn't seem to be getting me anywhere. This newest batch of freaks was really freaking strong.

One glance at Fang lying in the road sent me into more of a panic when I saw that his eyes were closed. I had to get to him to see how badly he'd hit his head.

My struggling became thrashing as I tried to free myself from the creature with a fierce determination. For a moment, I wondered if this is how Iggy felt whenever he was being attacked, never being able to see the attacker.

The invisible pressure over my mouth was still there, which gave me an idea. I opened my mouth just enough to feel something slip between my teeth. Then I bit down with as much force as I could muster.

There was a sickening crunch accompanied by pain and a metallic taste in my mouth. Iggy had been right… These things were made of mirrors somehow and I'd just bitten off a piece of one, slicing my tongue open in the process. I spit out blood and what felt like shards of glass.

I quickly noticed that I was no longer being pressed against the building… The Reflector had let me go when I bit its hand.

I lunged forward toward Fang, but I rammed into something just before I could touch him.

One of those things was on top of Fang, pinning him down! And what was the point? The boy was unconscious! Out of anger and panic, I was about to start kicking the space above Fang's body, in hopes of kicking the crap out of the Reflector that I couldn't see.

But before I was able to unleash my wrath on Mr. Invisible, a savior showed up in the form of a giant blue bus.

Something brushed my arm as the bus was turning the corner in front of me…

Feeling around with my hands, there was nothing near Fang anymore except air.

"Fang… Fang, wake up," I pleaded, shaking him lightly. No response…

I gently lifted his head and carefully felt around for any wounds. I breathed a sigh of relief. No blood. It was only a concussion.

I hadn't even noticed that that bus has stopped, but the door swung open then and the driver leaned out. "Hey, is he okay?" he asked.

"Yeah, he's just… uh… he's drunk. He passed out," I said. This guy didn't need to know that he actually passed out because some invisible freak launched an unfair attack on him. "Are you passing by the Holiday Inn?" I asked, hoping to get a ride back to the hotel, rather than carrying an unconscious Fang the whole way in the cold.

"No, sorry," he answered, closing the door.

Great. Now I'd have to drag Fang back to the hotel and somehow keep an eye out for invisible creeps. I tried to shake him awake again, but it wasn't worth the effort. He was off in some distant dreamland. Sliding one arm under his back and the other behind his knees, I lifted him up. It's actually easier than it sounds, since he's a lightweight bird-kid and all. Yet even so, he weighs slightly more than I do and it's a long way back to the Holiday Inn…

The driver must have been watching and seen my expression change into worry because he opened the door again, calling out, "I can make an exception, though."

When I looked at the man, his face showed true concern. Part of me wanted to walk over and hug him for being such a kind person, but since that's not my style, I settled on giving him a warm smile as I climbed into the bus.

I sat in the first empty seat I found, with Fang propped up next to me, slumped against my shoulder. I held him tightly around the waist, so that he wouldn't fall forward every time the bus came to a stop.

As we were driving away from the scene of our attack, a movement outside caught my eye. I glanced over and saw someone standing on the corner across the street. Had they been there the whole time? I had no idea, but something about the person was giving me the creeps, so I looked away.

A few minutes later, Fang started mumbling something incoherent, like "think I landed on her." It didn't matter to me whether or not he was making sense because at least he was talking.

I brought one hand up to his cheek and patted it lightly. "Fang, look at me. Open your eyes," I said quietly.

And he did. For two seconds anyway…

"Snap out of it," I told him, giving him a light shake. "You've got a concussion. I don't need you falling asleep and going into a coma or something…"

He opened his eyes halfway and smiled at me. I couldn't help but smile back. For a moment, it made me forget about how freaked out I was from the Reflectors attacking us, so I kissed his cheek. He chuckled and I decided he was delirious.

The bus came to a stop then. "Uh, Miss, we're at the hotel," the driver said, looking at me.

I pulled Fang along, grateful that I didn't have to carry him again. "Thank you. We really appreciate it," I said to the bus driver as we stepped off. He smiled and nodded before closing the door and pulling away.

The cold air outside must have brought Fang back to reality because he was instantly more alert, walking quickly into the hotel lobby, and this time he was pulling me along.

"Do you think it's still safe here?" he asked as we were walking through the hall to our room.

I thought about it. "Those things ran off as soon as that bus rounded the corner… As long as we stay within view of witnesses, I think we'll be fine."

He nodded as he took out the key and opened the door.

"How do you feel?" I asked as he flopped loosely onto my bed, while I was taking the first aid kit out of my pack.

"Fine." Big shocker there.

I didn't give him a chance to ask me how I was. I went into the bathroom and dug out the hydrogen peroxide to rinse my mouth before the cut on my tongue could get infected. I looked it over in the mirror, pleased to see that it had begun healing already and wasn't nearly as bad as I had expected.

Figuring he had a pretty bad headache, even though he wouldn't admit it, I took a few aspirin out of the bottle and filled a cup with water to bring to him.

I walked out of the bathroom only to find Fang poking around in his pocket again.

"What do you have in there?" I finally asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Nothing," he answered, sounding bored with my suspicion. He took the water and aspirin from me and gulped it down. "Thank you, Max," he said, a smile spreading over his lips.

He wasn't going to charm his way out of this one, though. I put my open hand out in front of him. "Give me it," I said.

"What?" he asked, continuing to look at me innocently. It only made me more suspicious. He knew I wasn't going to drop it, but he wasn't going to make it easy, either.

"I know you're hiding something that you don't want me to know about. Let me see," I said, motioning my hand towards his pocket.

He stared at me, saying nothing this time.

So I reached into his pocket myself… and as soon as my hand brushed against it, I knew what he was hiding.




12. Chapter 12 Liberty

Solace: Chapter Twelve - Liberty (Fang's POV)

While Max was in the bathroom, I decided to check the bread situation in my pocket. I knew she was getting suspicious as to why I keep looking in my pocket, but I couldn't just tell her. She would be royally pissed off…

I reached in and pulled out half a piece of bread, which was all that was left.

The bathroom door started to open. Crap, I thought, while I shoved the roll back into the pocket.

I wasn't quick enough, though. She saw me do it.

Max had a cup of water in one hand and some pills in the other as she walked over to me.

"What do you have in there?" she asked me, raising an eyebrow and eyeing up my coat pocket.

"Nothing," I said, trying to sound oblivious. She held out the water and pills to me and I sucked it all down without a thought. I really didn't care what she gave me, as long as the splitting headache went away.

She was still staring at my pocket, so I tried to pull her attention away by summoning up my sweetest tone. "Thank you, Max," I said, letting a small, innocent smile play on my lips.

She didn't let it fool her. She stuck her hand out in front of me with an open palm.

"Give me it," she said calmly.

"What?" I asked, continuing to look as though I had no clue about what she wanted. She saw right through the act, as usual.

"I know you're hiding something that you don't want me to know about. Let me see," she said, waving her hand at my pocket.

I didn't know what else to say, so I just sat there and stared at her.

She waited a moment, but she must have figured I wasn't giving in, so she reached into my coat pocket herself… I felt something wiggle around and watched as Max's eyes widened.

"Fang!" she yelled. I thought she was going to hit me, to be honest.

Max pulled out the little white rat and gaped at me.

"All day you've had it in there?" she asked, her nose wrinkling a little.

"What else was I supposed to do with her?" That kid kicked her cage as she was cringing in the corner, afraid for her life. It reminded me too much of the School. Even a rat doesn't deserve that. I think Max was thinking the same thing. Her expression was softening as she stared at the rat.

"I told everyone 'no more pets,' you know…" she said quietly, but sternly.

Her eyes flicked from the rat, sitting calmly in her hand, back to me, sitting expressionless on her bed. I expected to hear, 'Take it back,' or, 'Bring it outside.' But she didn't say anything at first, just stared at me. She was thinking about what to say; I knew that. Perhaps she would ask me to choose between her and the rat. I laughed inwardly at the thought. Of course I would choose Max over the rat. Always Max.

I was pulled from my thoughts when she sighed loudly. "What are we going to name her?" she asked, sounding exasperated, as if making the decision had left her physically exhausted.

A grin crept over my lips when I realized that she meant we were keeping the rat. Not that I'm a rat-fanatic or anything… I was just glad she wasn't going to make me bring the little animal back to the pet store to be caged and harassed again.

"I saved her. You should name her," I said.

"No. You gave her freedom. You give her a name," she said, putting the rat in my hand, as she sat down next to me on the bed.

I didn't even have a second to think of a name before she spoke again. "Actually, wait... I think we should call her Liberty."

I nodded slowly, eyes locked on the little, white rodent in my hand. I turned to Max and said, "Libby." She nodded back with a small smile.



13. Chapter 13 Sights and Sounds

Solace: Chapter Thirteen - Sights and Sounds

When I had pulled the rat out of Fang's coat pocket, I was annoyed, of course. I mean, I had specifically stated that there were to be no animals when Nudge suggested she would find a friend for Total!

But Fang had a good point. We saw those kids messing around. What were we supposed to do? Stand around and watch, without doing anything about it? I couldn't find it in myself to actually be mad about what he did.

So, now we have Libby, who's currently sitting in the middle of Fang's bed, nibbling away at a granola bar. Whatever. I guess she's kinda cute… you know, for a rodent…

I don't think the others will mind too much. Except maybe the Gasman. He was pretty freaked out about the rats in the subway back in New York. I guess we'll find out in the morning…

"Max?" Fang said, breaking me away from my thoughts. "It's been two hours. I'm going to sleep now."

He wanted to go to sleep a few minutes after we had named the rat, but I wouldn't let him. Tired or not, he knew just as well I as I did that it wasn't smart to sleep right after a concussion, so he didn't try to argue about it… much. I threatened that if he didn't stay awake, I'd tell the kids that I had to carry him onto the bus. With a half-hearted glare directed at me, he gave in, if only to keep his pride.

After finding that there was nothing entertaining to watch on television, we talked for a while, mostly about the Flock, where we should go next, and what we needed to research. Then to lighten things up, we started to joke around for a while about how the two of us could be the rulers of the Head Trauma Kingdom, until we had fallen into another comfortable silence.

I looked at him now, sitting next to me. He looked well enough, so I nodded, not about to argue that he should stay up any longer.

He got up from my bed and scooted the rat off of his own to lie down, then flipped the light switch off.

It was nice to lay back and relax against the pillow, finally, even if it did smell faintly of bleach.

Not five minutes later, I heard, "Max?"

"Yeah, Fang?" I replied. I already knew by his tone what he was going to say. We had avoided this all night, which was fine by me, but I knew it wasn't going to be that simple. He was always the one who saying 'We need to talk.' It was so obvious he was about to inquire about my sudden decision to accept the existence of an 'us.'

There was silence for a moment and I thought maybe he was falling asleep, but then he whispered, "Why now?" Ugh.

"What?" I asked quietly, trying to delay any conversation about feelings. I may have accepted and encouraged the feelings, but that didn't mean I wanted to verbalize about them any more than I already had, which, let's face it, wasn't much.

He was silent again for a minute, but then he sighed and said, "Night, Max."

I heard him turn over quietly, rolling on his side. It wasn't like him to give up like that, but I shrugged it off. "Night, Fang," I whispered, before easily drifting off.

I don't know how long I was asleep, but when I woke up clutching my head, it was still dark in the hotel room. The pain came out of nowhere. I was in the middle of a very pleasant dream about flying over a field of red and white poppies, and suddenly it felt like some kind of ax-murdering sadist was repeatedly bringing his weapon of choice down on my head in a furious rage. Somehow, I was able to compose myself enough to scream out, "Son of a bitch!"

But yelling at the pain did nothing… surprisingly…

I noticed there were images again, flashing by just a bit slower than the last time, but still, they were blurred and I had no idea what any of it was. There was something different, as well… There were sounds this time. It was muffled, yet I could distinguish some of it… dogs barking… rushing water… strangled cries…

It was startling and everything was happening so quickly. I wanted nothing to do with it.

I tried to move my body, as if I could escape it, but still being curled in a fetal ball, I ended up rolling myself off the side of the bed with a thud as I hit the carpeted floor.

Instantly, an alert Fang was by my side, pulling me close, comforting me the only way he knows how. Soon, the 'attack' was over and I relaxed myself against his warm body for a few minutes.

"There were sounds this time," I told him eventually. "None of it was clear, but… it sounded like danger." Brilliant conclusion, I know.

He didn't say anything, but nodded and started to stand up, still holding me. He helped me climb back into my bed and, although it was completely unnecessary, I didn't protest. After pulling a blanket halfway up my body, he sat down near the edge of the bed, just looking at me, one eye hidden behind messy black hair.

My stomach fluttered from his intense gaze and I hoped he would come out and say something. He didn't, though. He started leaning down towards me and I felt my eyes widen slightly. I don't know why I was so incredibly nervous about the idea that Fang might be leaning in to kiss me, but I was.

He may have sensed it because he bypassed my lips and kissed my forehead. He lingered there near my face for a minute, making my heart pound almost painfully against its enclosure, before he leaned away from me and stood up.

A small wave of disappointment washed over me. I wanted him to stay. His closeness was comforting, even if it made me feel like jumping out of my skin half the time. I assessed that as a good thing, somehow. I caught the hem of his shirt, just before he was out of reach, and he turned back to me with a questioning look.

"Stay," I breathed, almost inaudibly. I saw the edges of his lips curve up fractionally, before he wordlessly and slowly slipped himself into the bed and under the blanket with me. He wrapped his arms around me as I scooted down a tiny bit to rest my head against his chest, where I soon fell into a deep sleep.

Some time later, but not much later, since the room was still dark, I was pulled from my slumber again. This time, the trigger was the muffled scream of a young boy.

I groaned and pressed my forehead against Fang's chest. "It won't stop," I complained quietly. I knew he was awake and heard me because as soon as I had opened my eyes, his grip on me tightened, protectively.

"Max, I think that was Gazzy…" he said, tension in his voice. Wait… if he heard it, too… it wasn't in my head…

My eyes widened as we both sprung from the bed…



14. Chapter 14 Outbursts

Solace: Chapter Fourteen - Outbursts

As Fang and I were waiting impatiently outside of the boys' room for Iggy to let us in, Fang suggested, "Maybe the rat got out and he found her?"

"I hope that's all it was…" I said, knocking on their door for the third time.

Finally, Iggy threw open the door. Speaking quietly, he said, "Calm down, guys. You're going to wake the entire –"

"Where's Gazzy?" I interrupted, pushing past him, walking nervously into the room.

I turned on a light and found the boy sitting on the floor at the end of his bed, looking up at me, wide-eyed. "Max…" he started.

"He told me he was blind," Iggy said, crossing his arms.

Shocker… And, no, I'm not being sarcastic for once. I really was not expecting that.

Iggy continued, "I heard a scream, so I jumped out of bed thinking we were being ambushed or something and I tripped over Gazzy, who, by the way, was crawling around on the floor. He kept saying he was blind and he was clinging to my shirt. I couldn't get him off of me, or I would have let you in sooner."

I looked at Gazzy. He was looking me right in the eyes. He was not blind. But I also find it hard to believe that he would wake up in the middle of the night to start mocking Iggy's sightlessness, something he would never do. So my guess is… a nightmare?

"Why did you think you were blind?" I asked, kneeling down next to him.

"Because I was, Max!" he shouted. "I was laying in my bed and I couldn't fall asleep. The red light up there keeps blinking," he said, pointing up to the ceiling, where there was a smoke alarm with a small red light, blinking at intervals to show it's working. "It was so annoying. I kept wishing it would stop… and then I couldn't see it blinking anymore… and I couldn't see anything else, either. But I didn't have my eyes closed! I'm sorry I screamed… Everything was just gone. I was going to try to turn the light on to see if it would help, but I couldn't find my way, so I crouched on the floor and tried to feel my way around, which is when Iggy tripped over me. Sorry…"

"It's fine, Gaz," Iggy said.

"But you can see now, right?" I asked him. He nodded and I stood up, but not before I ruffled his hair and smiled at him reassuringly. "It was probably just a bad dream that seemed real."

After about ten minutes, Gazzy was back in bed and fast asleep. Iggy said he'd take care of it if the kid woke up screaming again, so that I wouldn't have to come banging on the door a second time.

I thought about telling Iggy what happened earlier that night with the Reflectors, but decided against it. There was no need to make him or the others worry about it just because Fang and I got into a little trouble by not paying attention when we were out alone.

Back in our room, I asked Fang, "So, what should we do tomorrow?"

He shrugged as he was climbing back into his bed. Yeah, his bed, not mine, where he had just been sleeping half an hour ago with me in his arms. What, do I smell or something?

It occurred to me that he hadn't said a word the entire time we were in the boys' room, which shouldn't have bothered me because he's Mr. Silent, as we all know. But usually he's silent because he's listening. Now it just looked like he was distant, deep in thought.

He needs you to be open with him, the Voice said, making me scowl as I crawled into my bed, alone.

Gee, thanks for the advice. Now, could you please leave me alone? I asked, then quickly added, And could you quit attacking my brain?

The only response I received was, I'm sorry, Maximum.

I sighed as I curled up on my side, not very tired anymore. I heard Fang's breathing slow and I figured he fell asleep.

I wonder if things between us would have been any different if I hadn't kissed him on the beach four years ago. If Ari hadn't almost killed him, we wouldn't have been in that situation where I felt the urge to lean down and kiss him. I wonder if he still would have kissed me those couple of times after that, had I not kissed him first.

I remember when Fang was kissing me in the cave that time… The first thing I thought about, once I got over the shock of what he was doing, was how he and I could be like Tarzan and Jane with a little troop of mutants at our heels. I giggled as I thought ab–

Wait, I… I just giggled? Did I seriously just giggle? Out loud?

Unfortunately, the supposedly sleeping Fang asked, "Is something funny?" Cue the rush of blood to my cheeks…

There was no way I was telling him what had amused me, so I ignored his question and asked my own. "Why aren't you sleeping?"

"I could ask you the same thing, Max," was his response. I sighed when I realized this back-and-forth questioning could go on for a long while if we let it. And I didn't really want to let it. I already knew I would eventually let him know I wasn't sleeping because I couldn't stop thinking and he would tell me the same thing. I knew exactly what he was laying there thinking about, too. 'Why now?' He was still trying to figure it out.

So why not just tell him what changed my mind about 'us' and get it over with? Well, duh, it's because I'm the reliably stubborn can't-talk-about-her-feelings Maximum Ride. But there would have to be no avoiding it this time. If I wanted him in my life, as more than just my best friend and second in command, then I had to suck it up and speak up…

And after three deep breaths, I did… very quietly

"Fang… I don't want to wait any longer. I can't wait any longer… not with our lives at stake every minute of every day… not knowing whether or not we'll even be alive in the morning or next week or… I don't know." I paused for a second to wait for some kind of reaction, but decided that if I was going to talk about feelings, then I might as well get it all out now, especially with tears threatening to make an appearance, so I continued before he could say anything. "I just feel like I wasted this past year of what we thought was freedom. We all could have done so much more, but now we're on the run again, from God-knows-what this time, and I'm not entirely convinced that there's going to be 'freedom' for us again in the future. It seems like they aren't going to stop at any cost to make sure we've been removed from existence, so I think we need to make the most of our time from now on. Safety and taking this company down for good will be our top priorities, but I want… I need the Flock to be able to enjoy themselves sometimes, too. It's going to be hard, being on the run, I know, but… I need to know that if they only have a short time left… I want them to be happy. I want you to be happy… I want to be happy… I know you wanted to try to make 'us' work… I did, too. I still do… so if you still want that… I'm… here. And, um… I'm not gonna… run… again…"

By the time I had trailed off senselessly at the end with tears spilling silently down my cheeks, Fang was at my side pulling me into an unspeakably rare hug…



15. Chapter 15 Confusion

Solace: Chapter Fifteen - Confusion

The next morning, I woke up with Fang's arms draped loosely around me. I could feel his warm breath on my forehead each time he exhaled. I blushed thinking about how close our bodies were…

Glancing up at his face, I noticed how his lips were parted just slightly and his jaw was completely relaxed. He was still asleep, not pretending, like I thought he might have been.

Not wanting to get up and face the day ahead yet, as well as not wanting to move and wake Fang, I continued to lie there, studying his face. He looked so peaceful, as if he hadn't just been attacked the night before by some demented science experiment. His skin looked soft, making me want to brush my fingers against it like I had done yesterday in the photobooth before I kissed him.

I glanced at his lips then… soft… warm… inviting… I wanted to kiss him again…

Abruptly, his eyelashes starting fluttering almost unnoticeably, letting me know he was waking up. I should have looked away or closed my eyes, anything so that he wouldn't have caught me staring at him so intensely. But try as I might, I couldn't peel my eyes away.

His eyes opened slowly and immediately locked with mine. As a blush crept up to my cheeks, a small smirk appeared on his lips. And suddenly I didn't want to kiss those lips anymore. Now that he was awake, all of the awkwardness I had felt in the past had returned. I couldn't believe that just seconds ago, my teenage hormones had almost tricked me into leaning forward, closing those few inches between us, and pressing my lips to Fang's.

"What? Are you going to say, 'Good morning,' or just keep staring at me all day?" he asked, his small smirk growing into a wide grin.

"Ha. Ha. You've got quite the wit this morning… I was not staring. If you must know, I was simply being considerate. I didn't want to wake you by climbing out of the bed," I replied, hoping he would just drop it and not tease me about it for the next three weeks.

He didn't say anything else, so I took it as an opportunity to get away. "I'm going to get the kids up so we can go downstairs and have breakfast," I said.

He nodded and told me, "I'll meet you down there in a few minutes. I want to hop in the shower before you get in there and use up all the hot water."

"You're so funny today," I said sarcastically, while scooting off the bed to go wake up the rest of the Flock.

After breakfast, I told everyone that they could rent movies or play games in their rooms because I needed to do some things. No one seemed to mind this, thankfully.

Tonight would be our last night here and then it would supposedly be safe to leave the city. So my goal for today was to find out whatever I could about this new company, Axis. I didn't expect to find much that would lead us anywhere, so my plan for tomorrow was to wake up super early and start flying to Arizona… to my mom and Jeb. He obviously knew something, since he told me all of that stuff about Axis and Experiment Z-2. And he knew about the Reflectors, so maybe he could tell us how to deal with them. Of course, he could save us time and just tell me in my head what I want to know. But he won't…

I perched myself in the middle of my bed with Fang's laptop open in front of me, using the wireless internet connection to research 'Itex,' 'Axis,' 'experimental science facilities,' and anything else I could think of…

Five hours later, I still hadn't found anything useful, so I decided that we really had no other choice but to fly to Arizona for the answers.

I sighed and closed the laptop, sliding it away from me, groaning quietly with frustration. I looked over at Fang and watched him as he was opening another granola bar for Libby.

"You're staring again," he said, turning his gaze to me with another smirk.

"Oh, shut up," I muttered, looking away quickly. My stomach rumbled a second later and I shot out of the bed, silently thanking the funny noise, before shouting "Lunchtime!"

We all convened in Angel and Nudge's room, where we had a ton of food delivered for lunch. I told them all about the plan to leave tomorrow and start heading to my mom's house. When I added that we'd be staying in hotels along the way, for safety reasons, there were a few cheers from the younger kids, who really didn't want to stay in caves anymore. I couldn't blame them. Winter just arrived and spending the night on a cold, rocky cave floor wasn't exactly an appealing option.

I told them that once we found where this new building was, we would go and bomb the place to the ground and make sure that no one escaped to resurrect another company ever again. Iggy started telling me what kinds of explosives he was going to build that would get the job done, clearly overjoyed that I would allow it at all.

I glanced over to Gazzy, who was surprisingly quiet. I would have expected him to be more excited.

"Hey, Gaz, what do you think?" I asked.

He was munching away happily on a double cheeseburger, seemingly oblivious to the conversation around him.

"Gazzy…" I said again, waving my hand in front of his face this time to grab his attention. He looked up at me and I repeated my question. "So, how do you feel about the plan?"

He stared at me for a moment before I watched his eyes grow as wide as the hamburger patties he was eating. "Oh, God…" he said, very loudly.

"What wrong?" I asked, starting to worry.

His eyes widened further, if that was even possible, and he answered, "Max, I can't hear you!"



16. Chapter 16 Test Subject

Solace: Chapter Sixteen - Test Subject

Within a few minutes, Gazzy was hearing perfectly fine again, but no one could come up with an explanation of what might have happened. We figured the blindness he experienced last night was related to this somehow. Because of that, we eliminated the possibility of last night's episode being just a nightmare, as he was clearly not asleep five minutes ago when his hearing had vanished. We also ruled out the possibility of it being a gift of some sort because we couldn't imagine the usefulness of a gift that allows you to disable yourself.

"Max, I think we need to go to your mom's house now. If this is something neurological, he could be in trouble. What's he going to lose next? Mobility? The next time something happens, it could last longer than a few minutes, you know. He could be… Max, check for…" Iggy said, trailing off, not wanting to say out loud what he wanted me to look for.

But I knew what he meant, so I looked down at Gazzy, who was in my arms, sobbing quietly against my shoulder, scared to death about what was happening to him. I moved one hand to the collar of his shirt and reluctantly pulled it back, allowing for a view of his neck. I peered down at it, not wanting to see something I'd been dreading.

"No date," I said, letting out a huge breath that I'd been holding. I heard everyone else do the same…

…everyone but Angel, who was sitting by herself on one of the beds, a few tears streaming down her cheeks. She was looking at me, a sad expression on her face.

Gazzy will be fine, Angel. Don't worry. My mom will figure out what's wrong and she'll fix it, ok? I told her in my mind.

She shook her head slightly and said, I need to talk to you.

Before I could reply to her, Iggy said, "We should get to Dr. Martinez's then. She can run some tests and find out what the problem is. He isn't going to be able to fight for his life if he can't see or hear… or move," he continued, talking as if Gazzy wasn't sitting right there, able to listen and start worrying even more.

"We can't go now, Iggy. Not yet. We'll wait until morning. That was the plan and we're following it."

"But, Max –"

"It's too dangerous."

"You honestly still believe what Jeb told you? Those Reflectors probably aren't even out there. He's probably tricking us into staying here this long so that whoever's looking for us has time to get here and capture us. And they will because we're just sitting here and –"

"Fang and I were attacked last night!" I shouted, not wanting to let everyone know, but it was the only way to prove my point. "Jeb wasn't lying. We went out, walked too far, there was no one around, and then we were attacked. The Reflectors are really strong. They had us both restrained and the only reason I escaped from one was because I bit him. Look," I said, sticking my tongue out to show them where I had been cut by the Reflector's glassy finger when I crunched it with my teeth.

They all stared at me, curious to hear the rest, so I continued. "Less than a minute later, a bus came around the corner and the Reflectors ran off. It's true, what Jeb said. They were told to have no witnesses. We got away safely, but we might not be so lucky again. So we're staying here until the morning, when they'll be gone. There's no other option. I'm not risking all of our lives."

Fang was looking at me, probably wondering why I didn't mention his little concussion to everyone. But I knew how much he hated it when people were worrying about him, so since he seemed to have recovered from it perfectly, I didn't feel the need to bring it up and draw attention to him.

No one said anything for a minute or two, until Nudge started talking. "Hey, Max, why were you and Fang out last night? Were you buying supplies or something? Because I don't really think that we need any. We just bought a ton of clothes yesterday and we all have blankets in our packs if we get stuck spending the night in a cave somewhere again. Oh, but I guess we should have a good supply of food. I didn't think of that until just now…"

When Nudge paused for a breath, Angel saved me from having to hear any more of it. "Can I talk to you, Max?" she asked.

"Sure. What's up?"

"Can we go into the bathroom to talk?"

I nodded, but wondered what she needed to speak to me about that she couldn't say in front of the others or even just in my head. I pulled away gently from Gazzy, who was still leaning against me, but no longer sobbing. Nudge walked over and put her arm around his shoulders, taking my place. I smiled at her. She usually didn't take the role of comforting the others…

Once inside the bathroom, Angel made sure the door was closed and listened closely to see if anyone was going to try to eavesdrop. When she was sure no one would, she whispered to me, "I'm sorry, Max. I didn't mean to scare everyone."

"What are you talking about, sweetie?" I asked, utterly confused by her statement.

I watched as tears began to well up in her pretty blue eyes before she said, "I don't even know how I did it. I just wanted him to go to sleep. His thoughts were so loud, it was driving me crazy, Max. He wouldn't stop thinking about that stupid blinking light, so I tried really hard to concentrate on making him not look at it anymore, but then his thoughts changed to how he couldn't see anything. Then I stopped concentrating and he could see everything again."

I'm not sure how long I sat there with my mouth hanging open, staring at Angel disbelievingly, but I'm sure a few minutes had passed.

"Are you telling me that you made Gazzy lose his sight?" I asked, looking at her incredulously.

She nodded.

"And his hearing?" I asked.

She nodded again and I couldn't help but feel a huge sense of relief. I was able to smile, now knowing that Gazzy wasn't developing random disabilities or worse… dying.

Then I wondered, Why Gazzy?

Because he's my brother. I'm allowed to use him as a test subject if I want, she said to me in my head as an innocent smile appeared on her face.

I chuckled, but then I told her, "Angel, I know you didn't mean any harm by what you did, so I guess it's alright, but please don't try that on any of us anymore, okay? But be my guest and try it on as many Reflectors as you want," I said with a smile, pulling her into a small hug.

I pulled back from our hug and shook my head, still slightly shocked about what she could do now. "So… a new gift then, huh?" I sighed, thinking about how much this little girl could already do.

Seriously? Angel has another freaking ability?

I don't think so, Max. I think maybe it's just my ability to read and control minds becoming more… powerful? she suggested.

I stared at her for a minute, thinking it over. "Well, sweetie, it's downright creepy… But I think you're right," I said, nodding my head slowly. "I don't even want to know how it's possible, but you're probably controlling the nervous system somehow… like flipping a light switch off."

She looked down at the tiled floor and didn't say anything for a few seconds. Then her eyes brightened as if she had an idea.

"Max! What if– Oh, wait… Tell Fang to come in here, first," she said.


"Because Iggy just realized that you and Fang didn't let anyone know you were going anywhere last night, so he thinks maybe you finally went out on a date or something and he's about to ask Fang, but Fang is thinking that he doesn't want to tell anyone about last night because he doesn't think you want any of us to know."

And he's absolutely right.

"Fang!" I called, as I quickly opened the door a crack.

He was there in two seconds and I pulled him into the bathroom, closing the door again. He looked at me questioningly.

I shrugged. "Iggy was just about to ask you about last night, so I thought I'd save you from that conversation… But anyway, Angel told me something interesting. It seems she has a new gift."

Fang raised one eyebrow, as if to say, 'Do tell…'

Angel then mentally repeated our conversation to Fang as I watched his eyes widen just barely with surprise.

The three of us then exchanged glances a few times, unsure of what to do next.

"We should probably go tell the others that Gazzy's fine…" Fang suggested.

"Wait!" Angel whisper shouted.

I looked at her and nodded once, waiting for her to go on.

"Well, if it's okay with you, Max, there's something I really, really want to try…" she said with a huge grin.

"And what is that?" I asked, returning the grin.

"If this really works like you think it might, like flipping a switch off and on, then what if I found the one switch out there that was already turned off… and I flipped it on?" she replied, pointing a finger to the bedroom.

I stared at her, confused for a moment, before I realized what she would want to try…



17. Chapter 17 Hypnotic

Solace: Chapter Seventeen - Hypnotic

Angel wanted to try her new gift on Iggy. She thought maybe she could 'flip the switch' to turn his sight back on.

Fang and I convinced her that maybe it would be better to wait until she had more control over how the ability worked. That way, Iggy wouldn't have to be repeatedly disappointed if she tried and it didn't work right away, if it worked at all. It was definitely an exciting possibility, though!

The three of us agreed to keep that plan to ourselves as 'our little secret' until further notice before heading back to the bedroom to inform the rest of the Flock about what Angel had done.

Gazzy took the news much better than I thought he would have. Instead of getting angry about it, he simply tackled Angel and tickled her until she was gasping for air. I think he was just too relieved to get upset over it. That, or he understood that she didn't do it with harmful intent. I smiled, thinking it was probably a bit of both…

Not wanting to ruin the good mood in the room, I felt a little bad about saying, "All right, people, I think we should get to sleep early today. We're going to need a lot of rest for tomorrow. We'll be starting a long flight and we'll need all the energy we can get."

Not surprisingly, my request was met with groans of disappointment, but everyone complied as we stacked fists and said goodnight.

Back in our room, Fang and I were laying in my bed, on opposite sides, while Libby, who still hadn't been introduced to the rest of the Flock, was once again nibbling away at a granola bar on Fang's bed.

Not ready to sleep just yet, I decided to flip through the channels to see if I could find anything good… I stopped when I found a show called Myth Busters, where two men were standing over a small beaker of fizzing liquid, debating about whether or not it would explode.

I looked over at Fang, wordlessly asking him if I should leave it on and he shrugged, so I left it and put the remote control down.

A moment later, I started to feel thirsty. I reached over to grab my bottle of water that I had on the table near the bed. After drinking a few sips – well, really, more like half the bottle – I put the lid on and reached over to put it back. However, Fang thought it would be amusing to give me a playful little push as I was leaning towards the table…

The water bottle slipped from my hand and rolled…

I turned to glare at him, but he was facing forward, looking at the television with an expressionless mask on his face, pretending he hadn't done anything. To make things even, I pushed him back. He smirked, but didn't say anything.

I looked over at the water bottle on the ground and reached out for it, but it had rolled further than I thought. I leaned as far as I could and managed to get a grasp on the bottle, but before I was able to put it back on the table, I was pushed again. This time, I nearly toppled off the bed, but I caught myself.

Quickly turning back to Fang, I pushed him again and he chuckled, giving me another light shove.

I knew he was just trying to make me mad…

Instead of yelling, which probably would have made him laugh, I threw all of my weight into my arms as I abruptly pushed one hand against his hip and the other against his shoulder, shoving him right off the bed and onto the floor with a quiet thump.

I stifled a laugh as I slowly pulled myself to his side of the bed, peeking over the edge… only to find that he wasn't there. Thinking that maybe he rolled himself under the bed to play a trick on me, I leaned down to get a better look, when suddenly I was being pulled to the floor.

Fang appeared under me, shaking with uncontrollable laughter as he saw my horrified expression.

"You're mean! I told you not to go invisible to play tricks on people, Fang!" I yelled.

This just caused another fit of laughter. I struggled to get up, since he had pulled me down right on top of him, but he had a firm hold on my arms and I couldn't break free.

"Let go of me!"

"Say you're sorry," he choked out.

"Why should I say I'm sorry?" I asked, starting to become even more irritated.

"You pushed me onto the floor." he stated, a horrible grin covering his face.

"You tried to push me onto the floor first."


"Ugh…" I groaned. "See! I was right! You're just plain mean!"

Again, my shouting only brought on another wave of laughter from him. Unwilling to lay there and endure the ridicule, I tried again to escape his hold, but it was a failed attempt.

I resorted to my one last option…

Without warning, I pressed my lips to his with a rough kiss, startling him enough to loosen his grip. I took the opportunity to roll off of him and quickly get up before he could grab me again. To my surprise, he didn't even try. He just stared up at me, looking mystified at what just happened.

Realizing what I'd just done, I stared back, just as puzzled as he was. I wasn't entirely sure what had come over me in that moment. The kiss at the mall was one thing… it was just more fitting than words could have been. But last night, when he started leaning down to kiss me at the perfect moment, I almost threw up from how nervous it made me. And now, after yelling about how mean he was, I just go ahead and throw my lips against his, without so much as a second thought?

What is wrong with me? Am I a schizo or something?

I sighed and took a step forward, reaching my hand out to Fang. He took it and I helped him to his feet. I mumbled a "sorry" as I climbed over the bed to my side again and lay down on my stomach with my head at the bottom of the bed, so that I could watch Myth Busters again.

Fang stood there for a minute before laying down next to me.

A few minutes passed…

A few more…

I started to get tired, so I crossed my arms in front of me and rested my head there, closing my eyes.

Again, a few minutes passed…

And then there was a hand on my back…

My eyes flew open and I tensed up automatically, of course, before realizing that it was obviously Fang's hand. I relaxed, but then tensed up again, not sure whether or not I really wanted Fang's hand on my back…

Gently, he began rubbing back and forth in little ovals… back and forth… he trailed his way down my spine, just far enough, then trailed his way back up… back and forth… up and down… continuously forming the little ovals with his warm, gentle palm… back and forth… up and down… until I practically melted, letting out a contented sigh.

I turned my head to face him, expecting to see him smirking horribly with satisfaction… but he wasn't. He had his eyes closed and it almost appeared as if he was asleep. And if not for his hand still moving hypnotically along my spine, I would have believed he was.

I smiled to myself as I watched Fang's tranquil expression until I succumbed to the pull of a deep sleep…



18. Chapter 18 Changing

Solace: Chapter Eighteen - Changing

By 7:30am the next morning, we had begun our nearly-two-thousand-mile flight to Arizona.

Fang had let me sleep a little later than I had planned by getting up before me to reorganize both of our packs and wake the others to get ready. Now before all of you fan girls go, "Aw! That was sweet," let me finish…

Being the pain in the butt that he is, he left me the task of introducing Libby to the rest of the Flock, who still had no clue that we'd been housing the little rat in our room. Well, I wasn't going to argue about it, since he did all the other stuff for me, but I wasn't going to do it alone, either, so I made him come with me to the other kids' rooms.

Down the hall, I raised my hand to knock at the girl's room first, but before my knuckles made contact with the door, Angel swung it open. "I heard you coming," she said with a smile, before turning and walking back to finish packing up all of her new stuff. I followed her in, but Fang stayed back, leaning in the open doorway.

I sighed. "Nudge, Angel… um…," I started, holding the rat out in front of me. They both turned to look at me. Nudge got a weird look on her face, but Angel seemed almost bored. Oh, duh, she probably knew already.

"Uh… Max?" Nudge asked, her voice sounding strangled.

"Hmm?" was my reply as I watched Libby cautiously sniffing the sleeve of my hoodie.

"That's not…," she paused to gulp, "…breakfast, right?"

I looked at her, confused for a moment, before understanding… Then I nearly doubled over in laughter remembering the time that Fang had told her they were having rat for dinner and she was utterly repulsed. Even Fang was laughing, albeit very quietly, but still…

"Hey, what are you guys laughing about?" Gazzy asked, peeking his head out from behind Fang, who was still leaning in the doorway. Iggy came up right behind him, just as curious.

I tried to compose myself and then explained that the rat was the newest addition to our strange little family, thanks to Fang.

They all stared at me with expressions that said, "Seriously? What are you smoking?"

Gazzy was the first one to speak. "Can I carry her while we're flying? I'll be careful."

I quickly glanced at Fang. His eyebrows raised the tiniest bit… Clearly, he was very surprised. I was, too. Hadn't Gazzy been freaked out by those subway rats? And now he wants to carry one around? I mean, not that I mind… If he wants the rat, he can have her… But I wonder why…

He's not afraid of them anymore. He's actually thinking about how cute she is, Angel explained, in my head.

Really? Oh…

"Uh, sure…," I said, gently putting the rat into Gazzy's waiting hands. He smiled brightly and tucked her close to himself. I couldn't help but smile back at the unexpected sight.

Moments later, we were checked out and up in the air once again…

So, here we are now, soaring in a delicate silence, the only noise coming from our wings, cutting through the chilly air of the overcast winter sky with every downstroke. It was the only thing calming my tattered nerves. Even so, that's not to say I was calm.

We didn't want to be seen. For safety reasons, we wanted to keep our days of being in the spotlight – our days of being seen flying over cities and towns where people would look up and shout, "It's the Flock!" – behind us. And we had been successful at remaining mostly unnoticed by the public eye for the last three years… But now with the whole "stay within sight of witnesses" thing, we've temporarily abandoned that policy. However, like I said, we didn't want to be seen. So I led the Flock in a lopsided V-formation low enough to be seen by the passersby below us, yet high enough that we just looked like a small group of migrating geese.

I basked in the quietness of our flight, thinking about what the next step would be if we couldn't get our answers from Jeb, hoping we had time to get there before my new friend, Z-2, was "rebooted" and sent out again for me…

"Max?" Nudge asked, violating my beloved silence.

"What is it, Nudge?" I inquired, fully assuming that she would tell me she was hungry or needed a break, even though we'd just stopped two hours ago… But when I turned to look at her, I noticed a curious expression in place of the pleading one I had expected to see. Hmm…

She swooped closer to me. "Why do they call it Sunday?"

Oh, jeez… "I don't really know… Why?"

"Well, today is Sunday, but the sun doesn't always shine on Sundays, so it seems a bit –"

"Not right now, Nudge," I interrupted her, knowing she could easily turn that thought into a preposterously lengthy speech if I allowed her to continue.

"Sorry, Max." With that, she left my side and flew back to her position behind Angel.

I thought I'd get my quiet aura back, but I was terribly mistaken… Nudge had given everyone else the opening they'd been waiting for…

"Max, I'm hungry."

"Are we in Arizona yet?"

"When are we stopping, Max?"

"I think Libby's tired."

"I don't want to carry Total anymore."

"I'm hungry, too."

"Can we go to Disney World?"

"Whoa! Listen, guys… First of all, no, Nudge, we are definitely not going to Disney World. Angel, we are nowhere near Arizona yet. Fang, can you take Total from Iggy? Gazzy, Libby has no reason to be tired. It's not like she's flying. I know everyone who is flying is getting tired, though… So, yeah, I guess we can stop soon to eat and find another hotel…"

Cue the whoops and cheers…

Did I want to stop? No. Should we stop? No, not really. We were more than halfway through Indiana. I didn't want to rest until we had made it into Illinois, but one glance at the younger kids' faces made me weak. They really were exhausted. Flying any further today would get us closer to Arizona, but at the same time, if we don't stop and rest now, they'll all be flying like zombies tomorrow, floating through the sky like destitute beings, devoid of excitement, their exuberance nonexistent, their determination just an echo of what used to be… Alright, so I'm getting carried away. Well, you get the point. They'll be tired and cranky and I will not be in the mood to deal with it calmly.

The next city we passed over looked good enough…

"We're heading down!" I shouted, just loud enough so that all of the bird-kids could hear.

We landed in a forested area behind a diner and walked out, trying to look as casual as six genetically altered mutant bird-kids can attempt to look.

"Hey, Ig? Could you put Total in your pack again?" I asked him. Most of the time, we can pass him off as Iggy's seeing-eye dog, but his leash is at home, or what used to be our home, and we forgot to get a new one at the mall… And since most food-serving establishments have that silly little "no pets" policy for hygiene purposes, we would need to hide him again, like we did at Denny's.

"No," Iggy answered. He then quickly added, "Er… well, I mean I don't have room for him, actually… All those new clothes I bought…"

I looked at him suspiciously, but decided to ask about it later.

"It's okay. I have room in mine," Angel said, sliding off her pack and bringing it in front off herself to open it. She struggled with the zipper for a minute… "Hold on. It's stuck." And then as she yanked on it with a great deal of force, it pulled open, but she also lost her grip on the pack itself. It tumbled upside-down onto the ground and the contents spewed out.

I heard someone sigh impatiently…

"You four go in and order. I'll help Angel pick this stuff up and get Total situated," I said when I turned and noticed Iggy tapping his foot. And they actually listened.

Total strutted close and grumbled as I bent down to help gather up the girl's scattered belongings. A few colorful shirts, some light blue jeans, a small pink hoodie, a half-filled water canteen, a small square of paper… I picked up the paper and turned it over, curiosity getting the better of me…

It was the photo of the Gasman as a baby…

We had two copies of the same photo, one that Fang and I had found at the abandoned crack house and one that Fang had found while "searching for a paperclip" in my mom's office, before we knew she was my mom. I used to keep the photos at the bottom of my pack, so that we wouldn't lose them, but eventually I gave them to Gazzy and Angel, who each kept one.

I handed it to Angel, who looked at it for a full minute and then smiled merrily at me. Sometimes I wish I had her ability to read minds. This was one of those times… Just to know what she had been thinking about while holding such an intense stare upon that small picture…

"Just thinking about how different our lives would be if we were with our real parents," she told me, still smiling. "But don't worry, Max. I'd take this life over that one, any day." With that, she bent down and held her pack open. "Come on, Total. Hop in."

Inside the diner, we found the others easily. They were sitting in a booth near the rear exit. Angel slid in next to Gazzy and Nudge, while I sat next to Fang and Iggy.

"Max, why do we have to go to Arizona?" Gazzy asked, a few minutes after our food arrived.

I swallowed my mouthful of french fries before answering, "Because we need to get answers from Jeb."

"But why? Why can't you just ask him… in your head?"

"He doesn't answer me all the time. You know that."

"Can't you try, though?" he pleaded.

I sighed. "Give me a minute."

Jeb? You there, buddy? I waited for a response…

"Nope. Nothing, Gaz."

He sighed, frowning. "But it's so faaar," he whined.

I threw my hands up in exasperation. "Would you rather take a plane?" I snapped. I dropped my hands and instantly regretted my harsh tone when I watched him shrink back in his chair, avoiding my gaze. "Come on, you know I didn't mean that…"

Just then, Angel popped into my head. Max?

I looked at her, sitting next to her brother, munching away on some chicken nuggets. Angel, I didn't mean to talk to Gazzy like that…

He's fine. He just feels a little guilty that he upset you. That's not what I wanted to tell you, though.

Oh. Well, what were you going to say?

She glanced up and gave me one of her sweet little smiles. Fang's thinking about how stressed you are. He wants to hug you, but he thinks it would be way too awkward in front of the Flock.

I sighed inwardly. Thanks, Angel, but you shouldn't be listening to his thoughts… even if it did make me feel better.

It's the thought that counts. She let out an audible giggle at her own witticism, breaking the silence that had befallen our group.

"Did I miss something?" Iggy asked, turning his eyes in Angel's direction.

Nudge answered, "Max and Angel are just having a mental conversation… Hey, wouldn't it be wild if we could all do that with each other? We could all be having conversations and we wouldn't even have to speak ever again, unless we were talking to a normal human who couldn't communicate through their mind, but if we had the power to talk in each other's heads, then maybe we would become too lazy to actually speak out loud. Then everyone might think we were mutes, and that would be really weird for someone to think we were a family of six mu –"

Fang interjected with "the look" and she shut up.

We finished the rest of our food in silence before heading outside to start looking for a hotel… which didn't take long. We found a nice one, right in the center of the city. It was a bit pricey, but I figured my bank card had been limitless so far, so why not take advantage of it?

Again, I checked us into three rooms to allow two kids per room. We all went into the first room, where I reinforced the don't-leave-your-rooms-unless-your-life-depends-on-it policy and then assigned the same pairings as in the last hotel. I wasn't expecting Nudge to give me a strange look when I finished… And I mean it was a really strange look… like a look of contempt…

What the heck was that about? Then, to make things better, Angel turned to glare at Nudge. It was the same menacing look she gave her a few days ago at Fang's birthday – although it seemed like that was ages ago. I had forgotten to ask about that… Seriously, what was going on with those two? Everyone noticed it, except for Iggy, so we stood there looking back and forth between the two for a long, silent minute.

The staring contest ended when Nudge walked away and headed to the bathroom. I muttered to Fang, "Well, that was weird."

And then we heard, "Oh, my God! There's a hot tub in here!"



19. Chapter 19 Physical Phenomenon

Solace: Chapter Nineteen - Physical Phenomenon

Indeed, Nudge was correct. There were hot tubs in each bathroom… Turns out, this was a much nicer hotel than I had thought. Apart from the hot tub in the huge bathroom, each room was furnished with two queen-sized beds – as opposed to the smaller double-sized beds we were used to – and a huge flat-screen television mounted on the wall.

After everyone went to their own rooms for the night, Fang and I sat around watching some movie about wizards and a giant spider. I don't remember the name. I was too distracted thinking about the hot tub in the bathroom. I really wanted to try it out. And I know Fang did, too. I caught him taking frequent glimpses in its direction.

I mean, honestly, how often do we mutant bird-kids get to use a freaking personal hot tub? Never! So, of course we wanted to use it… But how awkward would that be? I'd be barely-clothed, soaking in a maelstrom of bubbling water with a barely-clothed Fang beside me… Well, okay, personally, I wouldn't mind the view, but Fang definitely didn't need that view of me… But the more I thought about it, I could practically feel it… the whirlpool of warm water gently kneading against my muscles after flying all day… I briefly wondered if it would be half as relaxing as whatever Fang was doing last night on my back… I sighed… I just had to try it.

I glanced at Fang and a blush threatened to creep into my cheeks, but I willed myself to ignore it and just ask him the damn question. "You wanna… um…" Trailing off, I twitched my head in the direction of the hot tub, trying to ask him, without really asking him… if that makes any sense.

He looked at me for a moment before he shrugged a "yeah, sure." I gave him a slight smile, then got up and told him I'd go turn on the little whirlpool jets so that it'd be nice and – whirlpooly? – for us…

Ten minutes later, I finally figured out how to use the silly contraption. I turned around to find Fang leaning up against the wall outside the bathroom with his arms crossed, looking at me.

"Were you watching me?" I asked as a smirk started pulling at the corner of my mouth.

"Took you long enough in there," he said, grinning.

I grinned right back and jokingly muttered, "Shut up." It was then that I'd noticed the two steps I had taken towards him unknowingly. And it felt like another one was coming…

Yep. One more step… then another, until I was maybe half a step away from Fang, who now wore a curious expression. I was drawn to him by some kind of magnetism. My body had taken on a life of its own, it seemed, and yet I knew it wasn't Angel controlling me – and yes, I did consider that possibility. It was more like my subconscious saying, Go to him, Max. Go to Fang…

And just like that, I took one more small step, leaving just inches between us. I didn't even care. I wanted it that way, all of a sudden. I raised my hands and gingerly placed them on his toned shoulders, feeling a flurry of emotion in my stomach as I touched him. He uncrossed his arms and let them fall limp at his sides. As anxious as I was making myself, I had to bite back a chuckle when I saw his expression. I was either freaking him out or making him the happiest Avian American ever. With any luck, it was the latter.

It took him a second to recover from my sudden change in willingness. He lifted his arms slowly then, his eyes studying my face, as if one wrong move would send me fleeing – I couldn't blame him for feeling that way. Placing one hand ever so gently on my waist and raising the other to rest on my cheek, he continued to watch me. And I could see it in his eyes as they bore into mine… He seriously thought I was about to run at any moment. Couldn't he see what it did to me when he touched me? Did he not see the effect he had on me? The desperation for more of his touch?

Where was all of this coming from? I had no idea. But clearly, I had been lying all of those times I'd told myself it wasn't okay to think of Fang as anything other than my brother or friend. Honestly, though, did I ever really think of him as my brother? No, I don't think so. A friend? Yes, of course – my very best friend. He always was. And I'm sure he always will be. Anything more than that? Definitely. I was ready to accept it without any more doubts, finally.

His thumb started lightly stroking my cheek as I leaned forward slightly. To say that there were butterflies fluttering in my stomach would be an understatement. If anything, these were mutant butterflies darting wildly, threatening to break free. So close now, I could feel his every warm breath, already coming out heavier, matching my own.

I looked quickly from his intensely delicious eyes, down to his full lips, then back up, and I repeated the action several times before I settled my focus back on his dark, penetrating gaze.

All I wanted to do was kiss him right now.

So I did.

Closing the last remaining gap between us, I leaned up on my toes, towards Fang's patiently waiting lips and sneaked one final glance at them before my eyes quivered shut. Our lips met and the mutant butterflies ignited into a blaze that spread throughout my entire body. His hand moved from my cheek and found a comfortable new home on the back of my neck, mingling with my hair. My fingers trailed down his chest and I soon found myself gripping the fabric there, pulling his body closer to mine as our kiss intensified…

Without my noticing, both of his hands somehow reached my lower back, where he started absently tracing shapes, sending thrills of pleasure up my spine. Oh, jeez. This was better than chocolate chip cookies! I released his shirt from my grasp to bring my hands behind his head, holding him closer to me, wanting more Fang…

I pressed myself against him, sandwiching him between my body and the wall… He didn't seem to mind. His hands traveled up my back, slipping under my wings, holding me against his chest. I started breathing deeply through my nose, not willing to stop for something as silly as a breath.

I only had two words for this: physical phenomenon.

Suddenly, nothing else mattered. There was me. There was Fang. Nothing else. We were together and there wasn't anything more important than that.

He could tell me right now to forget everything else, forget the mission, forget the world, and I'd do it. I couldn't even comprehend the existence of anything else besides the two of us at this moment…

Fang was telling me everything in this kiss… How happy it made him that I was finally showing acceptance of an us, even though he would have continued to wait for as long as I needed… How, even though I annoy the crap out of him sometimes and say the stupidest things, he still wants to be by my side, always… How he didn't care what the hell I was or what I'd done, he still wanted me… None of it needed words…

All I could hope for was that he understood just how much I really needed him

Fang pulled back eventually and gave me the best Fang-smile I'd ever seen, making me experience all kinds of fluffy feelings inside. That, or his kissing made me high. Either is possible, really. I could only imagine the goofy smile that was plastered on my own face…

I leaned in again, this time just resting my head against his shoulder, loving every minute of it.


I tensed in Fang's arms, startling him.

"Wh–" I stopped him, pressing my index finger to his lips.

"The Voice," I grumbled. Did it seriously have to chime in now?

Unless this is of dire importance, get lost… I'm having a moment.

I know, and I am sorry, but you need to gather the Flock. I have a mission for you, it said.

Yeah, I've heard it all before. I need to save the world, look at the bigger picture, fulfill my destiny… Now, leave, I ordered. You know, 'cause that always worked in the past…

Think of this as a side mission. There is a group of experiments that were set loose in a clearing twelve miles northeast from this hotel. They failed to become what Axis envisioned, so they were discarded. There are nine of them left. You need to go and destroy them.

Uh… Say what? I'm not taking my Flock out in the middle of the night to some dark clearing to destroy anything… Are you insane? I was getting angrier now.

Maximum, these things are very dangerous, but you can do this. People will die if you don't. Innocent people, Max. You can do this and be back in less than an hour. Somehow, the Voice sounded panicked, but that didn't make me trust its instructions.

You know, you once told me that optimism is overrated… That it's better to face reality head-on… Well, the reality is that you've always been a lying, manipulating traitor, and now you're sending me and my Flock on a mission to destroy a group of failed experiments that were set loose. Tell me why I shouldn't just assume this is all another trap, or test, as you would rather call it…

There's no way for me to prove it to you. I need you to trust me on this. You don't even need to make contact with them. In fact, it's better if you didn't. Your best chance would be to use a bomb.

Why did they let them loose? Can you tell me that, at least? I asked, hoping to find out anything I could.

That's part of the bigger picture. You'll have to discover that on your own.

I'm going to strangle you one day…



20. Chapter 20 Search and Destroy

Solace: Chapter Twenty - Search and Destroy

No one in the Flock was too thrilled when I had woken them up and explained that we were going out for a little while to destroy some experiments…

However, after telling Iggy that we were going to need a bomb, I watched as his unseeing eyes came to life with excitement.

We found the clearing with no problem and sure enough, there were nine experiments there, like the Voice had said. We had no idea what they were, though. Their skin was dark, like a rusty brown, and they all had yellow hair. Not yellow as in blonde… I'm talking big-yellow-school-bus yellow. That wasn't even the weird part. Their eyes were huge and had an amber tint… it was just plain creepy.

What I found to be interesting, though, was that there was one female amongst the group, and she was larger in build than all of the males…

We circled above them, scanning the surrounding area carefully, looking for any other surprises that might turn up. When I was satisfied by the seeming lack of any other freaky experiments sent here to kill or capture us, I shouted, "Now, Ig!"

Without hesitation, he raised a small chrome box above his head and then hurled it down towards the group of experiments with full force. I couldn't help but notice… the bomb looked like it was made from the outer shell of a toaster…

That's when I noticed that two of the experiments, the woman and one of the larger men, were sprinting away from the gathering, into the forest. "Fang, help me with them!" I shouted to him, pointing to the two escapees. He nodded and started heading towards them in pursuit.

I was following close behind Fang as I called over my shoulder, "You guys stay together and get back to the hotel, now!" I didn't wait for any responses. I wouldn't have heard them, anyway, over the noise of the explosion. It was larger than Iggy had led me to believe it would be. I made a mental note to scowl at him later for that.

For now, I had to find the runaways and do away with them… I hated to dwell on that fact. In the past when we were on the run, we had never set out with intent to kill. We only fought out of self-defense… even then, I usually only aimed to knock my attackers unconscious…

But then came the time when we made the decision to obliterate every single branch of Itex, taking down everything – and everyone – inside. At the first few establishments we destroyed, we had gone in and "rescued" as many experiments as we could, before blowing it to pieces… But we soon found out that the majority of those experiments were mindless, screwed up hybrids that couldn't live in the outside world… and the few "successful" hybrids had been trained as ultimate killing machines, definitely unfit for being released among the general public.

So we stopped the rescue missions…

The only reason I became comfortable with the mass murder of everyone inside of those buildings was by repeating to myself that it was best for the world… the world I was destined to save….

Yet, now, we were actually hunting down the experiments just because a voice in my head told me to do it? I shuddered. This isn't right. But what other choice was there? They were a threat to the world my Flock lived in, and my Flock was Priority #1, the world coming in at a close second, so there was no other option but to take care of this. And that's exactly what I was doing. The first seven guys were gone already, thanks to Iggy's toaster bomb… I just had to finish the task… with a little help from Fang, that is…

I glanced over at him. He had that determined look on his face as he used his hawk-like vision to scan the forest below. He turned his head abruptly and met my gaze, his lips twitching up into a slight smile, before turning his attention back to the search.

It only took another few seconds…

"There," Fang quietly announced, pointing to the two shadows running below us. We were about 300 feet up in the air, and on my command, we silently descended upon them.

As we landed, I motioned for Fang to go after the man, while I would attack the woman. With a quick nod, he raced forward in combat mode.

I ran towards the woman and immediately sprang into battle as well, sending a roundhouse kick to her spine, knocking her off balance as she hissed in pain. She didn't fall, though. She wheeled around and charged with a hard elbow jab to my ribs, which I blocked effortlessly, being the stealthy bird-kid that I am.

I thrust my fist up at her chin, but she blocked me while smashing her boot into my thigh before I could dodge it. I winced, but then brought my knee up high, smashing it into her chest and knocking the wind out of her. The gust of air leaving her lungs sounded unnatural, like an irritated humming or buzzing noise.

I hurtled myself into her, catching her off guard, and successfully landed a double-punch. I continued with a front kick, but she caught my boot and gripped it while her free hand knifed into my neck. I thought for a millisecond that I might pass out, but I sucked in a deep breath and yanked my foot from her grasp. She glared at me through her oversized amber eyes.

The woman's arms then became a flurry of movement as she swung at me viciously. I was bobbing and weaving just out of her striking range, until she landed just one brutal punch to my side with a flare of pain. I ignored it. Taking advantage of her stance, while her hands were lowered, I slammed a punch into her face, hearing a sickening crack. She stumbled backward, then fell forward and braced herself on the ground while crimson liquid began spouting from her nose.

I heard a low gasp come from behind me and immediately turned to look. Fang had been knocked to the ground on his side, his right hand clenched tightly over his left arm, just below his shoulder. I didn't recognize the look on his face, but it was almost a mix of pain and… bewilderment? I had an insane urge to dash over, scoop him up in a hug, and find out what that creep did to him, but I needed to take care of the woman first…

I whipped a glance at her and she was still on the ground, her hands now bloodied from holding them up to her nose. I turned my eyes back to Fang for a second…

From his place on the ground, he whipped out his leg and swiped the man's feet out from under him, sending him down to the ground on his back. Fang took the opportunity to lunge at him and connect his angry fist to the man's face several times, leaving an unsightly mess. Inwardly, I cheered for his victory.

As I quickly turned my full attention back to the woman, she was staggering to her feet, a murderous glint in her eyes.

I was out of patience. Throwing myself into a spinning snap kick aimed at her neck, I finished our battle and watched her drop down into a lifeless heap in front of me.

Without giving her body a second look, I whirled around and sprinted over to Fang.

"You okay?" I asked, trying not to sound frantic, but failing horribly when I noticed beads of sweat on his forehead where it wasn't covered by his bangs. And I know what you're thinking. So what if he's sweating a bit? He was just in a physically demanding fight. Yes, that's true, but he was fighting for less than five minutes. We bird-kids just don't get overheated that quickly…

"Fang?" He stood there looking at me strangely with his hand wrapped around his arm again, but finally he nodded. I stepped beside him and put my palm on his lower back, giving him a little push because it didn't seem like he was going to move. "Come on. Let's get back to the hotel."

He took three steps, then froze. I looked at him anxiously.

"What's wrong?" I asked, hoping it would sound like my no-nonsense-tell-me-what-the-problem-is tone.

"I don't feel… s'good," he stammered, half a second before bending over forward and vomiting…



21. Chapter 21 Separation Anxiety

Solace: Chapter Twenty-One – Separation Anxiety

10 minutes…

30 minutes…

1 hour, 15 minutes…

"Are Max and Fang coming back?" Angel whispered to Iggy, knowing he couldn't have the answer, but needing some kind of reassurance, however false it might be. Nudge and Gazzy had already passed out from exhaustion, not being able to fight it, no matter how worried they were about the eldest Flock members' return.

"They always come back," he told her, offering a weak smile. "You should try to sleep, Angel. Max is going to be angry at me if she knows I've let you stay up so late."

Iggy could hear her breaths wavering, forcing back the quiet sobs that threatened to escape. He was amazed at how strong the 10-year-old was. She was battling with her composure and winning, for the most part. Any other 10-year-old would be in hysterics if their leader/stand-in mother went missing, along with her second-in-command. He didn't know if he could fill their role if they didn't return…

He shook his head lightly. This is ridiculous, Iggy thought to himself. It had been less than an hour and a half since Max and Fang separated from them. He was overreacting. There were only two experiments that escaped before the bomb was dropped, or so Gazzy had informed him. Surely they could hold their own against just two…

But what if it had been a trap? What if that damn voice in Max's head had finally turned sour? It could have been waiting patiently these past four years, slowly gaining Max's unconditional trust, then luring her to her demise when it was absolutely sure she would listen. There could have been Reflectors concealed in the forest, blocking their minds from Angel to keep their presence unknown. That other experiment, the one in charge, could have been there, too, trying to take Max back with him to God-knows-where. Oh, hell, there could be any number of new and dangerous things out there.

If only he wasn't blind… Maybe Max would have let him help… Then he wouldn't be sitting in this chair in a hotel room, just waiting around uselessly for his next command. If she would just trust him…

"Iggy, Max trusts you to take care of us," Angel soothed, hearing the rejection in Iggy's thoughts. "She wouldn't have been able to send us back here without knowing we would be safe and she knows that we're safe with you. It doesn't matter to her that you're blind. She knows you can watch over us, even if you can't see us," she assured him, pulling herself into his lap and hugging him around his neck. "Besides, everything will be better soon. I promise." He couldn't help but wonder what she meant by that last part, but he pushed it aside, focusing his thoughts more on how to handle this situation.

He held her close and she kissed him once on the cheek. He sighed, feeling less than adequate being comforted by the small girl when he couldn't comfort her in return.



22. Chapter 22 Stingers

Solace: Chapter Twenty-Two - Stingers

"I'm fine," Fang groaned through clenched teeth.

"If you're fine, then why is your dinner all over the ground?" I argued, pointing to the where he just purged his stomach contents. "And what happened to your arm?"

He was still grasping the upper part of his left arm, so I reached my hand up and tried to pry his fingers away to check out how bad it looked, but he wouldn't let me.

"Max, we need to go," he said, swiftly walking forward and unfurling his wings.

With an exasperated sigh, I followed, taking to the skies behind him. If he wanted to be dumb and not let me take a look at his injury, then fine… Let him be hurt and fall out of the sky because of his stupidity…

I cringed, remembering the time he did fall out of the sky after not telling me he had a gaping hole in his side. Idiot.

With that incident freshly recalled in my mind, you can imagine the panic that swept over me when, about half a minute after we took flight, Fang started descending toward the trees… fast…

The only thing that kept me from actually freaking out was that his wings were still beating of his own accord; he wasn't just dropping like a limp sack of rocks. But that didn't stop me from thinking, I take back what I said! I take it back!

I swooped down, trying to avoid clipping my wings on the branches as I followed him through the canopy and found him perched on a wide branch.

"Fang?" I landed near him, pulling my wings in as I approached him.

"What were those things?" he mumbled, more to himself than me. He had a peculiar expression on his face, as if he was going to be sick again. I also noticed the sheen of moisture on his forehead, more prominent now than just a minute ago. Before I had a chance to ask or do anything, he added, "I can't fly."

"What do you mean you can't fly? What do you call what you were just doing?" I shot back. "Why did you land?" I asked, not waiting for a reply to my first inquiry.

He lowered himself onto the branch in a sitting position before answering me. "My arm is burning. All through my shoulder, too."

"Well, you were able to fly to this tree. Let's get back to the hotel and Iggy can take a look," I insisted, watching him unzip his coat, presumably to take it off. I kneeled in front of him, grabbing his hands. "Forget it. It's too cold to do this here. It'll only take five minutes to get back."

"You don't get it. It's burning," he said, starting to sound irritated.

"Why, though? What happened?" I pressed.

"All he did was jab his elbow into my arm. That's all, Max."

The bitter cold wind started picking up. What a harsh coincidence…

I was about to drag him to his feet, but it wasn't until just now that I realized how openly he'd admitted to me that he couldn't fly. He never admits he's actually injured.

He stared, as if he was willing me to just let him be.

"Fang, you're positive you can't make it back to the hotel?" I asked quietly.

He continued to stare at me, but didn't respond. I took that as my confirmation and nodded, whispering, "Okay," before I released my grasp on his hands and sat down.

I helped him out of his coat, trying to avoid touching his arm much, since neither of us knew what was wrong… I draped it over a branch above us when it was finally off.

He was wearing only a t-shirt underneath, so my eyes were immediately drawn to his upper arm and the slightly swollen bump with a tiny trickle of dried blood at the center. I probed my fingers gently along the underside of his arm to check if there was a break, but it felt perfectly intact.

I looked at Fang's blank expression and pressed my hand to his forehead. He didn't have a fever like I'd thought; he was cold. And yet, his face was damp with sweat.

"I have no idea," I finally said, shaking my head in bewilderment. "Were you feeling sick before we left the hotel?"

"No. Did I seem sick to you?" he asked, rolling his eyes. I was about to ask what he meant by that, but then I remembered what we'd been doing when the Voice gave me this side mission. I suppose he didn't seem sick, but then again, he would've taken advantage of that opportunity whether he was sick or not.

Just for fun, I decided to see if the Voice would give me some answers.

Any idea what's wrong with Fang? I asked it, a hint of sarcasm in my tone.

Get this. It actually answered. He's having an allergic reaction.

"You're having an allergic reaction," I told Fang. He stared, but cocked one eyebrow, asking for more information.

"You're allergic to whatever that thing was."

"What was it?" he asked, his nose scrunching up almost unnoticeably in disgust.

Voice? I tried.

No response. I shrugged.

I considered possible allergies… Cats and dogs? That didn't make any sense, as Fang had never had a problem around Total. Pollen? Berries? Soap? Shellfish? Shellfish could be feasible… Shellfish hybrids? Ew. No, I didn't think they looked much like shrimp or lobsters. The image of the woman was clear in my head. The yellow hair… the freakishly large eyes…

Fang was looking down, deep in thought, when I noticed the recognition that suddenly spread over his face. His eyes flicked up to mine and he suggested, "Bees?"

Makes sense, I thought. "You're probably right."

I shivered as a gust of wind tore at my exposed skin and realized Fang must be freezing without a coat on.

"Now that we know what it is, can we go back to the hotel?"

"In a little while," he mumbled, closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the tree trunk.

"It hurts that bad?" I asked quietly, brushing dark hair away from his face.

Again, he didn't answer, and it made me sick that he was in enough pain to keep him from flying.

"Put this back on, at least," I sighed, taking the coat from where it was slung over a branch and handed it to him.

But, of course, being Fang, he refused to put it back on, insisting on resting there in just a t-shirt for the rest of the night. But I wasn't having that.

"You're going to turn into a frozen Fang-cicle," I frowned, forcefully shoving his good arm into the coat.

"Doesn't burn as much without this," he said, shaking it off his arm.

Getting frustrated, I grabbed it and draped it over him like a small blanket, and with a few embarrassingly ungraceful maneuvers, I planted myself directly in front of him and leaned against him, ensuring the makeshift blanket stayed in place.

I sighed, resting head on Fang's shoulder. "Just let me know when you can fly again," I whispered.



23. Chapter 23 Snap, Crunch, Bang

Solace: Chapter Twenty-Three – Snap, Crunch, Bang

"Do you think the Flock got back all right?" I asked, a few minutes after the partial silence around us started to become unnerving. The sound of our breathing had been accompanied only by that of the rustling leaves, being jostled by the continual gusts of wind. Yet I couldn't help feeling like someone else was there with us…

"They'll be fine, Max. The new company is looking for you, not them," Fang reminded me, shifting slightly against the tree trunk.

I sighed, knowing he was right. God, I hate it when he's right. But that didn't stop me from worrying about the matter. If someone or something tracked them back to the hotel, thinking I was still with them, there could be an attack. And we don't even know if the enemies would have weapons.

Or what if they started to get worried about us? I hoped they would have the sense to stay in the hotel and wait, but we've been separated from them for nearly half an hour. One of them is bound to suggest a return flight to the clearing to search for us if we don't make an appearance soon.

For a moment, I considered flying back to the hotel to check on the Flock, just make sure they're okay, let them know what happened, then come back for Fang… But who was I kidding? There was no way I was leaving him here, even for merely a few minutes. That wasn't even an option.


I looked up at him expectantly.

"Why do you think they want you this time?" he asked.

"To use me," I said immediately, using my best it's-really-obvious voice.

Fang rolled his eyes. "But the Voice didn't give you any reason why? Are they going to try to sell you again?"

"Sorry. It didn't mention anything," I shook my head. "There has to be a reason, though. There's a reason for everything, or so I've been told."

Bigger picture this…

Bigger picture that…

"I just don't understand how these bee hybrids fit in with the bigger picture. I mean, wouldn't it be easier for Jeb to just come out and tell me what the bigger picture is? We thought we had it all figured out last year, and then BAM, a new company, new experiments, new… new everything. If someone would just tell me what I'm supposed to be doing, I could be doing it, saving the world instead of sitting around trying to figure it all out while there are freaking monsters prowling around stinging people with their elbows. It's stupid. It just doesn't make sense," I whispered in a fury.

After a moment, Fang lazily draped his non-burning arm over my shoulder. "When this is all over, again, I'm taking you on a vacation," he said, a small grin pulling at the corner of his mouth.

I stared at him, inwardly gaping. How can he joke around like that? A vacation? That's about the last thing I needed to think about right now.

And to top it off, he leaned his head down, lips slightly parted, offering a kiss.

What? Does he think that every time he kisses me, he's helping me to forget my problems and allowing me to relax? Well, okay, he doesn't think that; he knows that… But I can't afford to be distracted at the moment.

I turned my head and his kiss landed on my cheek, obviously not his intended target. He sighed and I knew he was getting frustrated with me, but I tried to ignore it.

"Try to rest for a few more minutes. Then we're out of here," I told him quietly.

Taking it as an order, Fang allowed his eyes to drift shut after scowling at me half-heartedly for a second. Deal with it, I almost snapped… But I heard a noise not far away and cocked my head in its direction, trying to get a feel for what it was.

I remained alert for quite a while, ready to launch into an attack if need be… But no other noises resounded near us. Even so, the mute darkness didn't fool me. My every muscle was tensed…

That's when the realization hit me…

There was silence… Total silence. The wind and leaves had grown quiet at some point. Not even the quiet murmurs of nocturnal fauna could be heard. This couldn't be good…


My head whipped in the direction of a twig surrendering under pressure. Definitely not good.

Fang's eyes shot open instantly as another sound came from the opposite direction of the last one.

I tried to keep myself cool and collected. After all, it could be… just a bear… or something… right?

Snap. Crunch.

It was the distinct sound of leaves and twigs being crushed as approaching feet shuffled beneath us. I could hear my racing pulse pounding in my ears as I started counting. One, two… four… seven…

Seven… Seven sets of feet were moving in on us, from nearly every direction. Okay, not just a bear or something…

And almost as if on cue, the Voice dropped in…

Fly, Maximum! Get away, now! it shouted with greater volume than ever before.

With wide eyes, I sprang to my feet, unfurling my wings with one swift, fluid movement. I nearly knocked Fang off the branch, but he grabbed my leg and quickly steadied himself. Undoubtedly, he was about to make one of his smart-ass comments, but a short-lived whistle whipped through the air just before a small metal fragment pelted into the tree bark, barely an inch from his neck…

"Holy sh–" I yanked Fang to his feet before he could finish. We couldn't stay and fight. My former fears were confirmed. They had weapons. Firearms.

"Go!" I demanded him. Without hesitation, he was in the air, one hand holding his coat that he still hadn't put back on.

I did a 360 in record time, my eyes hastily scanning the area, unable to figure out where the shooter was located. I couldn't find it, so I shot straight up, trying my best to avoid crashing into branches. My gaze remained on the forest floor as I gained altitude.

That's when I spotted a man slinking out of the shadows. He was tall and broad-shouldered, but any other notable features were hidden under a dark hoodie. I squinted to see his face as he peered up at me, but all I caught was a horribly smug grin, before, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Fang flying dangerously close to the ground, not really going anywhere, just watching me. What was he doing?!

As the man began raising his arm, my eyes flicked back to him. He was looking at Fang and suddenly I noticed a glint of moonlight reflecting from something in his hand.

"No!" I shrieked, panicking as he aimed his gun directly at my best friend. No, no, no!

I swooped lower and started to plunge toward the shooter, but his other arm came up abruptly, revealing a second gun…

A shot rang out as he fired at me with lightning-fast reflexes and utterly perfect precision…

Had I not been genetically enhanced, I wouldn't have been able to avoid the bullet whizzing toward my chest. Since I was, one powerful downstroke removed me from immediate fatal danger…

Yet I didn't pull myself completely from his line of fire… The bullet grazed my thigh. I winced at the painful sensation, but beat my wings harder, trying to rise above the canopy safely.

"Just fly!" I shouted to Fang, who seemed frozen in place, except for the rhythmic strokes of his dark wings keeping him in the air.

Without warning, another bullet streaked by my face from behind, barely missing me. There was another shooter. As Fang would say, Holy shit!

I started to fly as fast as I could in the direction of our hotel, but refrained from pouring on my enhanced speed, not wanting to let Fang fall behind. I glanced down to find him weaving back and forth around thick tree trunks, high-tailing through the dense forest. All I could think was, He's going to crash. He's going to fly into a tree and die.

To my complete and utter dismay, the hooded figure effortlessly sprinted below. He was fast. Too fast.

More gunshots echoed behind us, but the other shooters were far out of range now. It was just this one man…

And he was closing the distance between himself and Fang at an alarming rate, firing his weapons continuously.

"Higher, Fang!" I cried out. He was still only about twenty feet above the ground, narrowly avoiding bullets and branches as he banked left and right… My heartbeat was becoming painfully frantic.

He's going to get himself killed.


"All right!" he bellowed. And in the next second, he reared straight up, soaring through the canopy at full speed, nearly plowing into me. I nearly burst with relief.

Ahead, I could see the lights of the city…

So close…

Then one more shot rang out clear…



24. Chapter 24 Weight of Her World

Solace: Chapter Twenty-Four – Weight of Her World

Iggy's hand rested gently on Angel's blonde curls as he heard her breathing slow to a steady tempo. The final ounces of exhaustion had taken their toll on the young girl as she fell asleep in his lap.

He sighed quietly, a feeling of trepidation sweeping over him as he thought about how much time had passed since the Flock had been together at the clearing.

Long enough to worry, he thought. The seconds beat away slower than a dying man's pulse. The minutes were like hours, painfully long and punishing. Fear was building up quickly, bitterly lacing every thought.

However, this was a different fear than he'd ever experienced. Different than facing killer wolf men and flying, flesh-covered robots. Different than being poked and prodded and stuffed into a dog crate. Different than running blindly from danger. This was the chilling panic of losing a leader and a brother.

And even though it had always been a possibility, really, he wasn't prepared for it to become a reality. It wasn't something he could just accept and get over. He would be losing two of the five most important people in his life…

Suddenly and very briefly, anger flashed through his thoughts. If they didn't come back, he would need to take over Max's role. Rightfully, the position would be passed on to Fang, but he was out there getting himself killed with Max. How very Romeo and Juliet of them…

Iggy knew it sounded selfish, but he didn't want the arduous duty of keeping this family together. He loved them all, but he didn't want the duty of constant surveillance, the weight of their survival painfully balanced on his genetically enhanced shoulders, the open and constant comfort he would need to provide, the pressure. Iggy wanted none of that. He had become dependent on Max, not because of his blindness - although it was a factor in some situations - but because she had always taken care of him. Them. The entire Flock's well-being had been in Max's hands and she had learned to manage it almost effortlessly.

It was only now that Iggy realized he'd never given Max any proper thanks for what she had been doing for the Flock her entire, miserable life.

But what if he did have to take her place?

The more he thought about it, the more he became sick to his stomach. He didn't think Max would even want him to take the responsibility of it.

Nagging memories of when Angel had been taken by Itex years ago surfaced to taunt him. Max left him behind with Gazzy while she and the others executed the rescue mission because it would have been burdensome to have him slowing the group down. He would have been a liability to the group. Again, sudden anger briefly tainted his thoughts. He remembered how her decision had insulted him. And why shouldn't he have been insulted? After all, he had adapted to his blindness so well that it had evolved from a disability into somewhat of an advantage in that his other senses had heightened drastically.

Iggy knew he was the best man for the duty of keeping watch because he could purely listen for threats. He wasn't constantly being distracted by the sight of his surroundings, the moon glinting off the beautifully ambitious waves as they lunged and receded from a nearby shore, the twinkling constellations above, the nighthawks swooping silently and gracefully in pursuit of their prey… But, heck, he would give up his title as "the best" in a fraction of a second if those things could distract him.

He would gladly accept the title of "liability" if he had his sight back… He would savor every captivating shape, every magnificent color in front of him, every delicious pattern… He would meticulously memorize everything with his eyes, every minute detail…

Yeah. And then he would turn around and find his entire Flock tied up and being stuffed into sacks, only to then notice a bit too late the new generation of baddies coming to bag him next.

There was a reason Fang had always been second in command. Max trusted him to do the job… And do it well, performing carefully and successfully, even if he couldn't duplicate her fiery passion.

But if by some horrendous chance both Max and Fang didn't come back, he would have to do it. What other choice was there? He would have to man up and handle the task in a mature manner that would make Max proud.

Could he handle the task, though? He didn't consider himself too lazy for it, not by any means, but could he stick it out the way Max had through the years? He wasn't sure. After all, he had given up and nearly surrendered the night they'd come to a dead end attempting to find his parents the first time… He'd broken that storefront window and sat down on the curb as law enforcers were speeding to the scene… And it had been none other than Max who convinced him to get up and shake off the self-pity… Because she needed him. She needed the Flock together…

And where was she now? Dead? Captured? Iggy couldn't decide which would be worse…

But how could he keep the Flock together and lead them as she had? And how would he know where to go next? What to do? Would the task of saving the world be passed to him, the next in line? He couldn't know the answers to those questions. He didn't have a freaking Voice in his head like Max! Oh, God, he thought. Would he be getting a Voice of his own now?!

As if by some cruel irony, Iggy suddenly noticed the massive headache that had manifested sometime in the past two hours. He resisted the urge to groan in discomfort as he remembered the sleeping Angel in his lap, resting carelessly against him.

But it was almost like he was sitting on thorns now. He had to get up, had to move… With careful motions, he stood, cautiously easing Angel from her position, and placed the girl on the bed next to her snoring brother.

He tiredly shuffled to the window and opened it halfway, taking in a few deep breaths that calmed his nerves considerably. A half-hearted chuckled escaped as he considered his thoughts from just a moment ago. He realized how ridiculous he would have sounded if someone had heard all of his jittery pessimism…

Attempting to find something light to think about, an idea popped into his head. It could prove to be a cruel disappointment, but Iggy considered the possibility that Max and Fang had already returned and gone straight to their room. He admitted to himself that it would be highly unlikely, but regardless, he left the room with a surge of renewed energy.

Iggy stepped quietly down the hallway until he reached Max and Fang's room, barely brushing his fingers along the wall as guidance, and he scornfully mumbled random words and phrases on the way…

"…overreacting…stupid…just fine…together…irrational…"

Taking a deep breath, he pressed his ear to the cool surface of their door, listening for the sound of… anything, really. Light footsteps. Even breathing. The playful banter the two often engaged in… But there was nothing. No comforting sounds were coming from the other side of the door, except for the quiet hum of the compact refrigerator and a rippling gurgle that Iggy could only assume was the hot tub – he let his mind slip, only briefly, into curious thoughts.

But they weren't in there. He knew they wouldn't be, yet this confirmation left him with an empty sensation echoing mercilessly in the pit of his stomach.

As he walked back to the room where the other three bird-kids were asleep, part of him just wanted to crawl under a blanket, close his eyes, and hope for the best – that Max and Fang would be in their room when he woke up. That he worried for nothing. That he nearly lost his freaking mind for no reason.

But even as drowsiness began to plague him, he refused to sleep. He would only have nightmares…

He tried to focus on anything else, but the silence was intolerably irksome. After a few moments, he stood in front of the television and turned it on.

A female's voice, laden with a serious tone, chimed from the speakers, "…on the rise. Let's head over to Ted."

There was a short pause and Iggy automatically recognized it as some sort of news broadcast. He could even imagine what was happening during that little pause… The woman probably plastered on a fake smile as the camera was panning away from her and then the screen would quickly switch to a view of Ted – whoever that was - who would be fidgeting absently with his earpiece to make sure it was correctly in place. Gazzy had described news broadcasts to him many times before; they were always the same…

"Thanks, Cynthia. I'm here with Dr. Ives of the National Medical Center for Advanced Treatment," a man's hearty voice announced. Ted, Iggy assumed. "It's that time of year again. Flu season. Dr. Ives urges that everyone goes and gets themselves vaccinated. Influenza is a contagious illness that can cause high fevers, extreme tiredness, aches and pains, coughing, congestion, vomiting, headaches, and a sore throat. In some cases, complications arise, causing infection of the central nervous system, as well as heart failure.

"Although young children and seniors fall into the highest risk category, all age groups are susceptible. That's why Leaders of the Healthy New World is sponsoring a program to make vaccines available free of charge to those in the area. Just call one of the participating medical centers and make an appointment to be Flu-free and happy as can be. Ted Jameson, reporting for WFFC. Back to you, Cynthia," he finished with a light-hearted chuckle. The man probably amused his own self with his less than witty rhyme.

Iggy heard the woman's aged voice once again as she rattled off a short list of other hospitals around the country that were also sponsored with free vaccines.

Outside, he could hear a car backfiring. Once. Twice. He sighed, walking over to the window. It didn't matter that he couldn't see it. He just needed to keep himself busy, and listening to a boring report about Flu season wasn't occupying his mind the way he needed it to.

He heard it again, followed by something else… A distant scream, he thought… Or quite possibly just a cat howling defensively… He felt around on the nightstand and found the remote control, turning off the television to hear the sounds from outside more clearly, before directing his attention back to the window.

His eyes stared unseeingly in the direction of the noise, widening as he heard a sharp, piercing cry resound from the darkness, just after another car backfired – though he was now realizing it wasn't a car at all. It was, without a doubt, gunfire. He tried to swallow, but suddenly his throat felt like it was closing in on itself…

And it wasn't the gunfire or the shriek that caused Iggy's jaw to tighten uncomfortably. It was the frightening familiarity of Max that he heard in it. The sound paralyzed him, all but the trembling hand he laid upon the windowsill, while he silently prayed that it was simply his overworked mind playing tricks on his sanity.

His stomach churned and he almost threw up as the pattern continued for one more round…

It was closer now and it was unmistakably Max. He knew it, even before he heard Fang shout her name with hoarse desperation.

A feeling of dread coursed through Iggy's veins. Pure, griping dread.



25. Chapter 25 Rivals Return

Solace: Chapter Twenty-Five – Rivals Return


That was the last thing I heard before I realized I was gaining speed. Well… 'plummeting towards the earth below' was more like it.

As the roar of the last gunshot filled the air around us, it felt like an explosion had pierced the insides of my head, splitting my skull apart at every angle. As is my body's usual response, I curled into myself, squeezing my eyes shut, trying to numb myself from the painful sensation.

That creep had shot me in the head…

…or had he?

Shouldn't I be dead if I was shot in the head? But then came another round of throbbing pain and I barely registered Fang's presence as my freefall came to an abrupt halt.

My mind filled again with images and sounds. There were dogs – hounds – barking violently. It was clearer than both previous rounds. It was also quite obvious now that they were chasing something, or someone.

I seriously prayed this wasn't some new kind of ability I was developing via help from the Voice. I did not want any part of it. Wasn't I already enough of a freak? Nope. Let's add cryptic visions to the list of things that could get me placed into a nice padded cell… or a sideshow circus ring. I could just imagine the sign they'd put in front of me: The Incredible Maximum Ride – Feed her a cookie and get your fortune!

Another faint image flashed by and was accompanied by a voice frantically calling out Angel's name, causing my chest to tighten…

But as quickly as it had arrived, the piercing pain, or most of it anyway, had ceased. I was suddenly aware of myself again. Alarmingly aware. My eyelids shot open when I realized I wasn't falling, or flying. I was on the ground. Fang was crouching next to me, signs of worry scantily etched across his features.

Assuming he had caught me, since my body didn't feel like it had been shattered from some intense impact upon crashing into the ground, I didn't bother to ask questions. My mind raced right to the fact that there were shooters, including Mr. Speed, that were still tracking us. I leapt to my feet in one swift movement and whipped my wings out, ready to take flight immediately, but Fang stepped in front of me.

"I'm fine. We're outta here," I commanded.

Well, okay, in theory, I commanded. But Fang was back to his usual self, ignoring the simplest of orders, regardless of whether his life depended on it… So he just stood there.

I moved to push past him, but he caught my arm. The calm, though a bit stiff, expression on his face made me wary…

I started to speak, but Fang made a nearly unnoticeable gesture that told me turn around and look.

So after shooting him a sharp glare, I turned…

And I gasped when I saw it – the body, that is.

A body cloaked in a dark, hooded sweatshirt was lying before us, unmoving. Undoubtedly, it was the man who had been chasing us at Olympic-worthy speeds and shooting at us like Quick Draw McGraw.

But when my eyes connected with his face, all of the facts I had convinced myself to be truths loosened from their foundation, leaving me both shocked and utterly confused.

I thought that Axis was a new company…

I thought that Itex was gone…

I thought I'd saved the world from this freaking madness time and time again…

So then why… why, why, why was Omega – yes, the Omega I'd fought in Germany – lying in a shallow crimson puddle in front of me?



26. Chapter 26 Rivals Return part 2

Another short chapter a month later. I know I said it would be longer this time. Unfortunately, I can't find the motivation to work on it recently... I heartily apologize.

Solace: Chapter Twenty-Six – Rivals Return (part 2)

I stared, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, at the lifeless heap in front of me. Why is he here?

I turned my head to glance at Fang's unreadable expression, but my eyes were quickly drawn back to Omega.

"Who shot him?" I wondered aloud.

After briefly scanning the surrounding forest, I took a cautious step closer.

…and I was immediately reminded of the bullet that had clipped my thigh. My muscle tensed and I drew in a quick breath as a concentrated burst of pain flared from the wound.

Of course, I remembered the old motto, Pain is just a message, but, man, did it sting.

Glad you haven't forgotten, said the Voice, and it sounded as if it would've winked, if that's possible.

Not everything is as it seems, it continued. Never forget that, either.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, sighing loudly.

Frustrated, I opened my eyes and took a few swift strides towards Omega, forcefully kicking him in the side with my uninjured leg.

"Is this not what it seems?" I shouted angrily into the quiet woodlands around us, kicking his body again and again. I felt hot tears prickle at the corners of my eyes as I continued to lash out. "Is he not dead? Did he not shoot me? Are we not in danger right now?"

But my outburst had ended just as abruptly as it had manifested when Fang intervened, gripping my shoulders and pulling me back a few feet.

"Shh," he repeated quietly as I struggled against his hold. "We need to leave."

I glared at the inky darkness ahead as he tried to calm me down. A surge of adrenaline was pumping through my body. I felt like I could take out an entire army, just wanting to… hit something. And if Fang didn't let up his grasp on me, I was ready to backhand him.

I barely noticed the warm, wet feeling of my blood escaping the bullet wound on my thigh. Although, the more I considered it, the more I realized that maybe the bullet had done a little more damage than I'd originally thought…

But for now, I didn't care. I just wanted to know what was going on. What was real? Was this all just an elaborate illusion? Was freaking Anne Walker going to walk out of the shadows at any moment and try to tell me again that the past few months or years of my life had been nothing more than a dream simulation?

Seconds later, I almost laughed when I saw a slight movement in the distance. I swear, if Anne Walker really was behind a try somewhere, I would lose it…

Of course, my better instincts took over, thankfully. I froze, focusing my gaze in the direction of the possible threat.

One of the other shooters. They've caught up to us, I thought.

But something didn't seem right about it. Whoever, or whatever, was out there seemed apprehensive about approaching us. They must be making their experimental assassins smarter these days. This one obviously knows not to mess with the Maximum Ride.

Watch yourself, Max. You don't want to be too confident for your own good, the Voice warned.

Right. Great advice. Because you're never full of yourself. Thanks for the tip.

I would have rolled my eyes if not for the wasted effort it would have been.

Fang had stepped next to me now and was peering into the distance. He'd seen it too…

I braced myself, ready to take on the fight or escape to higher altitudes, but nothing could have prepared me for what I was seeing.

No, not Anne Walker.


Yes, you read that correctly.

My eyes flicked quickly back and forth from the boy a few hundred feet away to the identical, but lifeless, boy next to me.

How many freaking Omegas are there?

I settled my gaze on the one that was slowly walking closer. It was strange, though. Something about him was… well, he didn't seem like he was here to harm us. To be honest, he didn't seem threatening at all. His posture, his expression, everything about him seemed almost as lifeless as the body on the ground.

I knew better than to let that fool me, but I was convinced that there was something more to this than just an order to end our lives.

I have a few days off. Perhaps I'll dive into this again and write like a crazy lady to get some more chapters done for you guys. What d'ya think? ;)
That blog I promised like three months ago is coming up soon.

As I ask every time, please review?

27. Chapter 27 I Come In Peace

Good news. That influx of reviews you guys gave for the last chapter, mixed with the helpful input of the ficcers over at Fff, helped get this chapter written in a very short time (compared with the other chapters that took me a month to write), and it's longer than the last one. By the way, Thank You very much for the all of those reviews. I didn't get a chance to reply yet, because I was working on this chapter, but I appreciate them very much. :D (Warning. It's 6AM. There may be some horrible grammatical errors. Please excuse them until tomorrow.)

Solace: Chapter Twenty-Seven – I Come In Peace

I would do some pretty regrettable things for a warm bath and a soft bed right about now…

"U & A?" Fang whispered.

"No. He probably has a gun. And chances are, he was probably told it's birdkid season."

I sent Fang a sideways glance. He was staring at the approaching Omega with narrowed eyes, his jaw tense.

He looked down out of the corner of his eye at my leg.

"You gonna be able to fight with that?" he asked quietly.

To be honest, my thigh was burning, I was feeling dizzy, the pulsating throb from my last brain-attack still lingered in my head, and the icy wind had picked up again, which didn't exactly help anything…

"Of course," I lied.

Before Fang could say anything else, Omega called out to me.

"Max, let me explain. This isn't what it looks like."

Oh, jeez. What, are these people trained to tell me things like that? I rolled my eyes.

"Of course it's not. We're not a bunch of mutants in the middle of a forest with a dead body. No. We're unicorns and fairies, frolicking together in a field of marigolds, and look over there," I pointed up at the canopy, "that rainbow is smiling at us."

"I'm not with the Director anymore, Max," he went on, ignoring my statement. I don't know why I waste my efforts on these freaks…

"No kidding. She's in prison," Fang said.

"What I mean is, I'm not with any of them anymore. As soon as the new successes started rolling in, they didn't see the need to keep me around. They tried to induce my expiration date. Didn't work, so they sent me off for experimentation," he winced saying the last word, and I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

"Get to the point," I snapped.

Omega sighed, then continued, "I escaped and followed Z-2. I shot him and saved your lives."


"Don't worry. I'm not asking for praise."

He reached into his jacket and produced a small handgun…

My immediate reaction was to spring into the air, knowing well enough that sticking around to fight bullets wouldn't have an outcome in our favor.

However, as I started to crouch, to launch myself upwards, pain seared through my leg, causing me to lose my footing and tip forward…

Fang reached out in a haste, grasping my arm, supporting me at the elbow. I clenched my jaw, ignoring the still-bleeding wound as well as I could, straightening myself up again. I really needed to get that cleaned out and wrapped up…

"It's okay. Look," Omega said, drawing my attention back to the gun. He raised his hand and made it a point to let the firearm dangle in an unthreatening manner between two fingers before tossing it by my feet.

"Go ahead. Shoot me if you want. They'll do worse when they find me."

They? I opened my mouth, but quickly shut it, opting to just stare at him, waiting for him to keep talking, while Fang reached down and snatched up the gun with his free hand.

"I'm obsolete. Outdated. Slated for termination and replacement. Don't you understand? I'm useless to them now. Just a liability, if anything."

"What are you doing here then?" I asked, suspicious of his claims.

Omega looked thoughtful for a moment, then furrowed his brow as he drew his eyes to the ground.

"I don't know," he said finally.

Voice, what's this crackpot talking about?

…no answer.

"I just…" he paused to look up at us again, "I know what they're planning. It's their most ludicrous idea yet. You and your flock have stopped them before. You need to do it again. And soon. I couldn't hide out and watch them destroy everything. I needed to help you."

Fang remained as impassive as a statue, patiently waiting to hear more, but I let out a humorless laugh.

"You needed to help us? Jeez, you're more screwed up than the first Omega if you think coming here to shoot us down is going to help us."

He shook his head slowly. "Max, I am the first Omega. The original success. I'm the same kid you fought back in Germany. This new Omega… he's not like me. He looks like me, for the most part, but he's so much different inside. He's enhanced in every way. There isn't much that can stop him. He doesn't even have pain receptors."

"You want us to believe all of this?" Fang chimed in.

"I don't expect you to."

"Then why bother?" I asked.

"Because whether you trust me or not, it's important that you know what you're up against. You remember fighting me, no doubt." I felt Fang grow tense at my side, reminded of when the Flock was split…

"He," Omega paused, pointing to Z-2, "would have been exponentially more difficult to take down. He's not just a hybrid, Max. He's like, part Terminator. Check out his left eye," he suggested, motioning a bit with his hand, when I cocked my eyebrow.

Fang looked at me, silently asking if I was okay for the moment, before he let go of my arm and stepped closer to the body. He kneeled by it's head and cautiously pushed back the left eyelid… revealing a shiny black lens…

I quickly shifted my gaze back to Omega's eyes, noticing how they gleamed sadly, like pearls of silvery blue.

"They were watching us through him?"

"Yes. Again, a service I could never provide for them. Hell, I can't even focus. You're lucky I got that shot in…" he trailed off, turning his head to look behind. "Anyway, if you're going, go. Lickety-split. The CB118's are a little slow, but they weren't that far behind me."

"The wh-" I started, but Omega put his hand up, interrupting me again.

"Max, they weren't sent to kill you, if you know what I mean…"

He didn't need to say more. I figured there would be only one other reason to send them for us; they were meant to bring us back with them. The hideous memories of what they'd done to us at the School rushed back in a torrent. Of course, the School had been condemned, but whoever was connected with Axis surely had labs somewhere…

I nodded.

"Then go. Now."

Again, I opened my mouth, only to close it right away. I wasn't sure if there was anything else to say. I had hundreds of questions for him, finding myself trusting him, the tiniest bit, despite my better judgment.

Instead, I mouthed "U & A" to Fang, wanting to get back to the Flock in one piece. With one leg, I forcefully pushed off the ground, taking to the sky, with Fang tailing me…

I noticed the gun still in his hand. "Throw it in the dumpster when we get back."

I glanced back at Omega… He stood there, lingering amidst the trees like an unwelcome guest. I wasn't sure how I felt about his sudden change for "the good of mankind," but, to be honest, it reminded me of Ari. Not that that meant I trusted Omega enough to take him with us, but still, I felt my chest tighten just a bit as we flew away…

There you have it. Another chapter. Two updates in three days. And I can guarantee you another one will be uploaded tomorrow. I promise. I absolutely promise. XD

Review now? :D

28. Chapter 28 Fly On, Major News

Again, thanks so much for the reviews. It makes me happy that so many of you review just to review, not because I've asked for a certain number of reviews before posting the next chapter. :D

Solace: Chapter Twenty-Eight – Fly On, Major News

You are reading Fang's Blog. Welcome!

You are visitor number: [Error loading]


It's been a while. Sorry about that. We appreciate all of the concerned messages you've been sending. Really, we do. Our lives were calm for a short while and there wasn't very much to let you in on. However, in the past week, everything turned upside down again. We had to leave our home and we've been traveling.

Last night, Max and I were separated from the Flock during a side mission to take care of some business. Didn't turn out as well as it could have.

I was stung by a wasp-man hybrid and had an allergic reaction, Max was shot, Iggy and the others were completely freaked out that we were both probably dead. You know, just another ordinary night for us bird-kids.

We even ran into an experiment Max sparred with years ago. He was the Director's pride and joy, but she's locked up now and this new company (Axis -- if you know anything about it, send us whatever information you can) sent him packing. Actually, they replaced him and tried to have him killed. The point is, he saved our lives last night.

When we finally made it back to our hotel, you'd think we all hadn't seen each other in years. There were tears (not from me, mind you) and hugs and all that other crap. Everyone's okay, thankfully. Max passed out for a few minutes, but she's fine now, just a little sore.

In other news, Angel's turning into a bit of a genius, studying up on the workings of the human brain. Did you know the human brain contains about 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses? That's a crapload of tiny little connections. Anyway, her telepathic abilities seem to be getting more powerful and we're going to try something interesting. More on that later though. We wouldn't want to spoil any surprises, or get our own hopes up too much, for that matter.

Back to the situation at hand. We know there are still mutant experiments running around out there, but we don't know how many or where they're all at. They could be prowling the streets right outside your home, so keep a close eye on your surroundings. We suggest you don't go walking around at night, but if you absolutely must, try to stay in well-lit areas and don't go alone.

-- Fang

jaz719 from Copenhagen writes:

Awesome! If I tell my mom, she won't make me go to school! Thanks for letting us know. And come on! You can't say there's going to be a surprise and then not tell us what the surprise is! Tell us!


Whoa, don't use this as an excuse to skip school. Be grateful you're even in school. I only wrote that as a warning because there are some pretty sick experiments out there. Some of them, you can't even see. I wish I was kidding. As for the surprise, if it works out, believe me, I'll let you all know.

-- Fang

Eyeliner-Vampire from Bar Harbor writes:

Fang and Flock, I was in the hospital a few days ago, and I'm pretty sure I saw a box labeled with 'Axis'. I hope that helps. I'm so happy you're all alive and well. Take care.


Hm. I don't know what that tells us, but it's something, anyway. Thanks for the tip and the well wishes.

-- Fang

pinkprincess332 from Santa Fe

Max was shot? That's awful! Is she going to live? Oh, hey! If she doesn't live, can I join the Flock and be the new leader? You guys could teach me all about being a bird-kid! It'll be so much fun! I know I don't have wings, but, well, you could carry me, right?


As I stated in the blog, Max is fine. She's had much worse injuries in the past. She's the strongest person I know and always bounces back. And being a bird-kid isn't exactly something you can teach. Sorry.

-- Fang

TrippingBillie36 from Stockholm writes:

I've always been curious about something. Did you guys have any birds? It would be cool if you had a parakeet or something.


No, we don't. Why would we want to keep birds locked in cages when that's what our life was like for years?

-- Fang

Saint-Rheims from Montreal writes:

Angel is such a creepfest. She already has… what, 18 different powers? Now she has another one, plus she's studying the human brain? You guys had better watch your backs. She's going to wake up one day and go all Angel of Death on each and every one of you.


I don't know whether to laugh at your idiotic assumption or tell you to watch your own back if we ever meet in person. Either way, don't ever call Angel or anyone else in our flock a creepfest. I'll readily admit that she has moments that are downright creepy, but it gives her a certain charm and we love her for that.

-- Fang

Tin Can McMuffin Pants from Des Moines writes:

Fang, ur aliv! Iv'e bin worried sick abot u! Dont' ever leave 4 so lon again, u here me? Com on now, say u'll marry me. Marry me Fagn!

Tin Can McMuffin Pants,

Like I said, I'm sorry I haven't blogged in a while. There hasn't been much happening. As for your request, I'm gonna have to pass for several reasons.

-- Fang

PeruvianChick from Baton Rouge writes:

You're allergic to wasps? And you never knew? I would have thought all those years living outside, you would've been stung at least once before. Anyway, glad you're all doing well.


Not that I can remember. But you also have to take into account the fact that this dude was a full-grown person..type..thing. I'm sure it had more venom in its stinger than your average wasp. For a human, it may have been fatal. Luckily, bird-kids can sustain more trauma and heal faster. And thanks.

-- Fang

That's all the responses I can write for now. Max is waking up. I'm gonna go see if she needs anything.

Fly on,


So many updates… I need a nap.

Reviews, please? XD

29. Chapter 29 Shoulda Been A Hitman

Chapter 29. Shoulda Been A Hitman

My entire body ached. It seemed like I would have a headache for the rest of my life, however short that might possibly be, and the loud volume of the TV wasn't helping. The pain in my leg would be there for a few days, I figured, assuming the gunshot wound would heal similarly to the one in my shoulder years ago.

And my stomach ached with a dull hollowness. I was starving. I felt like I could eat Total. And I don't mean the cereal.

The food we ordered took ages to be brought to our room, but when it finally arrived, it looked like there was enough to feed a sleuth of hungry grizzlies. But who was I kidding? My band of jolly mutants would polish off every last crumb like vultures on a fresh carcass.

Gazzy and Nudge brought the trays of food over to where I was sitting at the edge of a bed in Iggy and Gazzy's shared room. The whole flock had slept here last night, for safety purposes. After what had happened in the forest, we weren't taking any chances.

Iggy pulled a chair over and Fang took a seat on the desk by the window, while Gazzy sat on the floor against the bed I was on because Angel, Nudge, and Total were spread across the other bed.

"Someone else want to sit here?" I asked, patting the space next to me. "There's enough room. And I don't smell or anything."

I chuckled and ruffled the Gasman's hair. "No offense, Gaz."

But he wasn't paying attention. He was tearing up pieces of food and putting it on a napkin.

"What are you doing, Gazzy?"

"Hm? Oh. Well, Libby needs to eat, too," he told me.

My brow furrowed. "Who's Li-" I started, but then remembered our little rat associate.

"Right. How could I forget about her?" I shot a scornful look at Fang, but he only seemed amused. Jerk.

A few quiet minutes passed while we chowed down on our food, but it didn't last long.

"Eating for two, Max?" Iggy snickered out of nowhere.

I looked up from my plate with widened eyes. "Excuse me?"

"What do you mean, eating for two?" Gazzy asked him with his head tilted to the side like a curious animal.

Iggy's lip was fighting against a smirk.

"He didn't mean anything," I said immediately. "Right, Ig?"

"I just saying, you're eating a lot, Max."

"As if you aren't? How do you even know how much I'm eating?" I asked, annoyed.

"I can hear you stuffing your face. Honestly, it's repulsive."

"You little-"

"Touchie, touchie," he grinned, holding his hands up in mock surrender. "Sheesh. Why so defensive, Maxy? Something you want to tell us?"

I took a deep breath and looked down at the plastic knife in my hand…

I smiled a little inside.

"Iggy, you know what they say about dogs that are neutered?" I asked, trying to sound ominous. "They're better behaved…"

Fang cleared his throat and when I glanced at him, he was giving me a look telling me to relax.

My left eyebrow slowly arched up out of irritation as I stared at him.

Did he really think that just because we were… something… that he could tell me to drop it and I would? Psh.

Taking my time, I put the knife down and eyed the uneaten roll next to my hand.

With every ounce of my willpower, I fought the smug grin that wanted to erupt all over my face as I grabbed the roll and, in one swift motion, whipped it at his head.

I silently congratulated myself as it nailed him right between his eyes, like the work of a master hitman.

As the bread fell to the ground, the room grew so quiet you could practically hear the walls breathing.

Until everyone in the room burst out into laughter. The kind that makes your sides cramp up and brings tears to your eyes.

Well, everyone but Fang, that is.

His face was priceless. His expression, I mean…

He quickly wiped the look away and slid off the desk, taking two small strides over to where I was sitting.

"Oh, come on. You wouldn't do anything to hurt a girl with a hole in her leg, now would you?" I asked, trying to stop laughing so hard.

"Playing the injury card… Good one, Max," Total approved.

I rolled my eyes at the dog, then shifted on the bed, away from Fang's eerily calm gaze.

"'Course not," he grinned. But it was clear he'd get me at a later time for that.

He sat down on the unoccupied space on the bed next to me and returned to eating. Almost the whole flock gave him a funny look, but went back to eating as well.

Just as I figured, we cleared the trays of food off in no time at all.

"Can we have more dessert, Max? It was so good. We might not get another chance for such great pie. Can we get more? And can we get some ice cream, too? With whipped cream? Please, please, please?"

"Sure, Nudge," I sighed. "Go for it."

I didn't know about everyone else, but I was ready for a nap, especially since it would probably be another hour before room service brought the dessert up. I closed my eyes and let myself fall back onto the bed, laying there with my legs hanging over the side still.

Not much time passed -- maybe a minute or two -- before Fang tapped me twice on the arm.

I tilted my neck to see him looking straight ahead at nothing in particular.

"What next?" he asked in a hushed voice, even though everyone else was paying more attention to the TV than anything else.

I thought for a minute before answering. I didn't really know what to do next or where to go. The Voice was telling us when to go and when to stop, like a game of Red Light Green Light. Again. What were we even doing? Avoiding everyone and everything that wanted us, or me specifically, dead.

The only lead we had on Axis from Fang's blog was their label on a box in a hospital. That could mean anything. It doesn't tell us who they are or what their mission is. It made my insides twist, thinking about what they would do to us if we were taken back to their lab.

So I simply said, "We wait."

What other choice did we have?

30. Chapter 30 The End Is Near

Chapter 30: The End is Near

It had been a lazy day. Lazy, but tense and unnerving. Angel figured that was why she started to feel unwell.

Until she noticed she wasn't the only one feeling that way.

I'm gonna be sick, Iggy was thinking. She could also read that he was rather dizzy, but it wasn't like him to ever complain about being under the weather. In fact, it wasn't like him to ever be under the weather at all.

Nor was that the case for Fang or Nudge, but they, too, were feeling the effects of... something.

Angel debated with herself about whether or not to tell Max. She knew Max disapproved of her listening around in the Flock's minds, but thought that maybe this one time would be acceptable.

She gently moved Total off of her legs and scooted off the edge of the bed, feeling more lethargic in motion than lying still and staring up at the ceiling. The dog groaned as he drifted out of his slumber momentarily, but fell back into it just as quickly.

"Max..." Angel started, approaching her leader's semi-conscious form. Fang was lying next to her -- had been since the Flock's last meal -- and appeared to be completely spaced out.

She tried peering into Max's head, wondering if she was also feeling less than peachy, but she wasn't getting anything from her. Angel sighed, disappointed that Max was so terribly good at blocking her out. Ironically, it also made the 10-year-old worry because she couldn't always keep up with all that troubled Max anymore, couldn't always make sure her mother-like figure was doing okay under the stress of leading a flock of mutant bird-kids.

Except for when certain things got to be too distracting for her to remember to block Angel out. Like certain thoughts about a certain bird-kid...

But there were bigger matters at hand now. Something was definitely wrong with the Flock. She knew that. But the achy feeling that was creeping throughout her body made her want to curl up with Celeste and have Max or Iggy, or even Fang, sit by her and stroke her hair and tell her everything was fine and that it was just a stomach ache and...

"Max," she said again, this time successfully grabbing her attention.

However, just as Max was about to ask Angel if it could wait, Gazzy gasped in horror across the room.

Angel spun quickly around, her wide eyes landing on her brother.

Alarmed, Iggy leaped to his feet and braced himself, unsure if there was cause for alarm, but always prepared.

"What's wrong, Gaz?" Max asked, her voice not containing any of the sudden panic she was harboring inside as she nearly launched herself off the bed as well, not thinking of how the swift movement would torture the healing wound on her leg.

Nudge was the first to notice what the Gasman had in his hands. "Did something happen with the rat? Did she bite you? You can get all kinds of diseases that way, you know."

Fang, who had for some reason taken longer to become fully alert, breathed a near-silent sigh of relief on behalf of the Flock. There was no danger. No flyboys. No wasp men. Just a boy and his rat.

Don't scare us like that again, Angel thought at Gazzy. But he looked up from the small animal in his hands with a dejected expression.

"Libby's not breathing. I think… I think she's dead," he said grimly.

No one knew what to say for an awkward few seconds.

Then Iggy finally spoke. "Hey, man, it'll be okay. I'm sure she was, um, happy."

"Filthy vermin aren't blessed with decent life spans anyway," Total added.

"You're getting pretty old yourself!" Gazzy retorted immediately.

The little Scottie dog looked taken aback. Speechless, for once. Almost horrified at the statement.

"Gazzy!" Angel shouted, quickly returning to Total's side to comfort him.

"Well, I hate this! I want to go home! I'm… I just…"

"We know. We all do. But everything will be fine soon. I have a plan," Max said, trying to soothe his outburst as she also tried to ignore Fang's knowing glance.

The boy gave another look at Liberty, just a cold lump in his hands now, and became angrier. All he could think of was how nothing ever went right in their lives. Every little piece of happiness was always taken away.

He started walking purposefully toward the door, intent on leaving. Not that he had a clue where he would go. He just wanted to get away.

"Gazzy, please stay in the room. We don't want any-"

But Max stopped mid-sentence as her breath caught when the Gasman swung the door open.

"Oh my God," Nudge whispered in shock.

There was a gruesome sight outside in the hallway…

This is where I cackle for leaving you with a bit of a cliffhanger.

Now… There are 154 of you with this story on alert. I don't get nearly that many reviews when I post a new chapter, though. Those of you who do review every time, thank you, you're incredibly awesome and you make my day. :)

But it would be nice to know what the rest of you think, too. Why do you keep reading? What do you like about it. What do you hope to see or think will happen in upcoming chapters? Do you have any suggestions for me? I would love to hear what you have to say. :)

I could be really horrible and ask for a horrendous number of reviews before I update again…

I'm going to try to post another new chapter tonight/by morning. I really want to get back in the groove of two chapters a week like I had been doing six months ago. I fully doubt my ability to do that, but we'll see.

OH! And don't forget to vote for your favorite fanfictions and authors in the Maximum Ride Fanfiction Awards!
There's a link on my profile if you need it or you could search on the archive. : )

31. Chapter 31

Hey, guys

For some reason, new readers are still adding this to their alerts and favorites.
I haven't updated in forever, though.
And unfortunately, I don't think I'll update this story again at all.

I'm officially discontinuing Solace.

Sorry to anyone who really did enjoy reading it.
I no longer find enjoyment from writing it, and if I tried forcing another chapter out, it would show.

I'm planning out another 2- or 3-shot story like All That's Left of Yesterday from an idea I got during Christmas dinner.
Don't worry. It's not a Christmas fic. I never finished the last one...

Thanks to everyone who reviewed this story.
I appreciated every one. Even the death threats. ;)

Goodbye. :)