The Twelve Days of Christmas by rootlessdream

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Family, Romance
Published:2008-12-05 23:55:18
Updated:2012-01-18 23:13:25
Packaged:2021-05-07 01:29:24
Summary:The Flock celebrates their first real Christmas. Set after MR3. Fang/Max. Iggy/Ella. Fluff Alert.

Table of Contents

1. The Perfect Tree
2. The Snowball Battle
3. The Caroling Duets
4. The Angels
5. The Secret Santas
6. The Eskimo Way
7. The Message
8. The Missing Skate
9. The Christmas Wishes
10. The Gingerbread Halves
11. The Season of Surprises
12. Chapter 12
13. The Final Chapter

1. The Perfect Tree

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Perfect Tree

I was awake, but hadn't opened my eyes yet. I smiled to myself as I snuggled deeper under the tangle of thick, warm blankets. It was cozy… and I wouldn't mind never leaving my bed again.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Max is in a warm, cozy bed? What happened to the cave floors and tree limbs? Well, the Flock had caught a break recently. Nearly two months passed by with zero attacks by Flyboys, Erasers, or Whitecoats, so I decided to surprise my mom with a visit. She had been elated when we showed up at her doorstep so unexpectedly.

Then she did the unimaginable… She took a six-week leave of absence from work so that she could take seven kids and a talking dog to a log cabin in Montana for Christmas! She said she wanted us to get the full experience of the season, since this would be our first real holiday. And since Arizona wouldn't have offered us the chance to have snowball fights and build snowmen before heading inside to sit in front of a warm fire with some hot cocoa, she decided to take us way north, into the mountains of Montana

So here I am…

To say that we've been enjoying ourselves would be an astronomical understatement. This place is freaking incredible! We've never really played in snow before… When you live as a group of runaway mutants with nothing more than the clothes on your back to keep you warm, you tend to avoid the elements so you don't die from exposure. But with a warm home waiting for you at the end of the day, you take it for all it's worth.

Even though my mom had to fly home two days ago to tend to an emergency, I still couldn't have asked for a better holiday.

I sighed, allowing the rare feeling of tranquility to lull me back to sleep.

Suddenly I felt someone's gaze on me… If Fang was in my room watching me sleep, I was going to kick his skinny little butt into next year.

Reluctantly, I peeked out from behind my lashes and found not one bird-kid, but two…


"I told you she wasn't sleeping."

"Gazzy? Angel? What's going on?" I asked them, blinking away the sleepiness. I knew it was nothing serious because the siblings wore identical merry smiles.

"We need to get ready for Christmas," Gazzy said.

"Ugh. We'll still have like a month for that…" I complained, rolling over and burying my face in the pillow. "Can't we talk about this later?" My question was muffled against the pillowcase, but I knew they heard me.

"No. Christmas is in twelve days, Max!" Angel shouted. I felt her tiny hands shaking my shoulder, forcing me to get up.

I rolled over again and pulled myself up into a sitting position, asking, "Are you sure it's that soon, sweetie?"

Of course, they had expected that question and so they came prepared. Gazzy held up a calendar while Angel pointed at today's date. Sure enough, there were twelve days until Christmas…


"So what do you want to do first, guys?" I asked at breakfast. The three younger kids had just rattled off an endless list of things we needed to do.

"We need to start with the tree," Angel stated matter-of-factly.

"Okay. We'll go get one from back there," I said, gesturing towards the evergreens behind the cabin.

After everyone finished eating, we all went to our rooms to change into warm clothes and put on our boots before meeting at the front door. I was about to say, "Alright, kiddies, let's go get that tree," but Nudge started talking before I could even open my mouth.

"Max, we can't all go to pick a tree. Some of us need to go to the store to buy the lights and tinsel and ornaments and a star so we can decorate it tonight. It'll be so much fun! We'll light the fireplace and Iggy can make hot cocoa again. Then we'll all decorate the tree. And OH! We can sing Christmas carols, too! I'm so excited! I'll look for some Christmas music at the store, too. Okay, Max?"

Oh, jeez. Sing carols? "Um, yeah, I guess that's fine. You're not going alone, though," I told her. "Anyone else want to go to the store for decorations?" I glanced around at the other kids…

"I do! I want to pick out the star," Ella said.

Angel looked up at me with innocent blue eyes and asked, "Can I go with them, too, Max? I want to find us some pretty ornaments."

I smiled and nodded. "Of course you can, sweetie. Make sure you find some red and green Christmas balls… That's what I've always seen in pictures, anyway." She nodded enthusiastically and started zipping up her coat.

I guess that leaves me with the boys…

"I wanna go, too, to make sure they don't pick out girly ornaments." I looked at Gazzy in disbelief after he said that. He's never volunteered to go shopping for anything, much less when it's shopping with Nudge…

Ruffling his hair a little, I said, "That's fine, Gaz, but if you come back with anything that can be used as an explosive, you're getting coal in your stocking." He chuckled in that not-so-innocent way of his as he ducked away from my hand. I gave him a warning glance, but it was half-hearted.

"Guess that leaves Fang, Iggy, and I to get the tree," I said, looking at the two older bird-boys.

"Well, actually, if Ella's going with them, she's going to need someone to fly her there since it's too far to walk and Dr. M took the car…" Iggy started, scratching the back of his head absently.

"Oh, right… I didn't think of that." There was no way Nudge, Gazzy, or Angel could fly to the store carrying Ella, and there was no way I was going shopping today, so that left Fang and Iggy. I looked up at Iggy. I didn't think he'd want to carry my sister all the way to the store and all the way back, considering he complains about carrying Total every time I ask him. But Fang… I shifted my gaze to him and he was already giving me the don't-even-bother-asking look. I expected nothing less, really.

"Would you mind, Ig?" I asked.

"Uh… sure, Max. No problem," he mumbled. Ella glanced at him for a moment and I watched as a blush crept up into her cheeks before she looked away. I wonder what that was about… Whatever. Iggy didn't complain. That's all that mattered.

"Let's go! Let's go!" Nudge commanded everyone, pushing them all out the door.

A few minutes later, the five of them were on their way, but not before Angel called over her shoulder, "Make sure you find the perfect tree!"

I glanced over at Total, who was lying on the couch. "You coming with us?"

"Heck, no. Are you crazy? It's cold out there," Total complained, apparently disgusted by the idea.

I looked at Fang and sighed. "And what about you? Are you at least coming to help me?"

He stared at me for a long moment and it looked like he was considering his options… "No. I'm gonna stay with Total and check my blog."

My brow furrowed and I opened my mouth to object, but Fang grabbed my sleeve and pulled me out the door. "I was kidding," he said, smirking. Jerk…

A frigid breeze pricked at my face as we stepped off the porch and I instantly regretted choosing this task.


"Angel told us to find the perfect tree. This one's missing half of its branches in the back," Fang pointed out for the umpteenth time. We'd been walking around for the past hour, but every time I suggest a tree to cut down, he finds something wrong with it.

"Well, you find one then! Are you even looking?" I retorted sharply.

"I just haven't seen a good one, yet," he shrugged and kept walking.

"Fang, it's cold and it's starting to snow. There are dozens of good trees. Can't we just pick one?" I asked, quickly following him. Seriously, there were spruce, fir, and pine trees all over the place! Why were none of them good enough?

"You can go back to the cabin if you want."

"Yeah, right. Then you would be out here alone until midnight looking for that perfect tree," I scoffed.

"I'm just trying to find the right tree for Angel," he paused and turned to look at me. "Why would you care if I was out here alone until midnight, anyway?"

I opened my mouth to respond with one of my usual sarcastic, witty comments, but couldn't think of one. Crap. And he continued to stand there, staring at me, waiting for a response. So, why weren't my lips moving? Why was I standing there gaping at him like a dead fish? He cocked his eyebrow, still expecting some kind of answer. Well, he was delusional if he expected me to admit that I would be concerned about him.

"I wouldn't care," I snapped, shoving past him to continue looking for a tree. Yeah. How's that for a brilliant answer?

He sighed, but didn't say any more.

A few minutes later, I spoke up again out of irritation from the cold, biting wind. "Why are you so set on finding this one special tree? This is ridiculous."

"Because we never had the chance to celebrate Christmas when we were little. The younger kids deserve this. Angel wants the perfect tree, so that's what we're bringing back. The only thing ridiculous about this is your attitude."

Oh, that did it. Without thinking, I stepped in front of him and shoved him in the chest.

"What is your problem?" he asked with a fierce edge to his voice.

"Don't try to tell me I'm ruining Christmas for them and expect me to take it well," I hissed.

"I'm just stating the obvious. You're always raining on their parade," he said, taking a step toward me. Big mistake, buddy.

I shoved him again, with more force this time, making him lose his balance. The snow crunched beneath his weight as he landed on his back. Needless to say, he wasn't so thrilled about that.

Fang practically leapt at me, knocking me down. He landed on top of me, pinning me to the ground. Well, I wasn't having that…

I thrust my weight upwards while rolling to the side, effectively reversing our positions, with me on top now. We repeated this several times, until I realized how stupid it was that I attacked him like that. I gave up the struggle and allowed Fang to pin me down.

He stared at me for a minute before loosening his grip on my arms, figuring that I was done assaulting him, I guess.

We stayed like that for a few more moments while our heavy breathing settled down. That's when I realized how close he was… I could feel the rise and fall of his chest against mine… his pleasantly warm breath tickling my face… My cheeks suddenly flooded with heat.

At the same time, he must have realized that his body was still pressed to mine because he rolled off of me abruptly and stood. And call me crazy, but I could swear there was a hint of a blush on his own face.

I stood and started walking again, avoiding Fang's gaze. We continued our search in silence, hearing only the faint whir of pine needles being rustled by the light wind… It wasn't the companionable silence that usually existed between us, though. It was more like neither of us wanting to say anything that might agitate the other.

I hated apologizing for anything, but…

"Sorry," I mumbled very quietly.

"S'okay. I provoked you," he said, grinning. "How about we agree to enjoy the rest of the holiday and not fight again, at least until it's over?"

"Fine," I sighed. "But if you say 'perfect tree' one more time, I'm going to beat you up again."

He chuckled and then his gaze shifted to something behind me for a moment. I turned to look… There was a nice looking pine tree. There were no obvious gaping spaces without branches. It was tall and full, but not so large that it would take up the whole living room. I felt Fang step closer to me…

"You know what?" I asked in a whisper. I had no idea why I was whispering…


"It's perfect," I grinned.


After four attempts at stringing the lights evenly around the tree, we were finally satisfied with the results and had moved on to the tinsel. They had bought the kind that comes on little strands that you drape over the branches, instead of the kind that comes in one long rope-like piece. It turned out to be a mess and more than half of it ended up on the floor.

Hanging the Christmas balls and other ornaments proved to be the most fun because it was decidedly the easiest part of decorating the tree. As long as we made sure that the colors were spaced out equally, without too much of one color clumped together, it looked nice. After I complimented their choice of decorations, Angel proudly took credit for finding a bunch of the little ornaments shaped like birds and angels…

When we were finished adorning the tree with all of their purchases, Iggy insisted that he should be the one to plug in the lights, since he didn't get to help much. No one had a problem with it, so he did the honors…

Hundreds of tiny lights sprang to life suddenly, igniting a chorus of ooh's and ahh's.

My head tilted to the side a bit as I stepped back to get a better look… Something seemed to be missing, but I couldn't figure out what it was. I mean, the tree looked amazing, but when I compared it to the Christmas trees I remembered seeing in pictures, something was different…

I sighed. Oh, well. This was our tree and we did a pretty good job with it, considering six of the seven people in the room have never decorated anything before.

Glancing around, I was overjoyed. Everyone was smiling. The Flock was happy. My sister was thrilled. Even Total was complaint-free, if only for a little while. Happiness is exhausting, though, and one by one everyone started heading off to bed. Angel… Nudge… Gazzy…

"I'm really glad I'm here with all of you, even if Mom is stuck at home," Ella said, hugging me before she went to her room for the night.

Iggy took Fang into the kitchen to tell him something and I was left in the living room to continue ogling at the tree and our newly discovered decorating skills.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a bag on the floor and walked over curiously to see what was in it…

The star… I knew something was missing! How could we have forgotten about this?

I took the star out of its package and went back to the tree to put it up. Stretching my arms as far as I could and standing on the tips of my toes, I was still just a few inches too short to reach the top.

I was just about to go grab a kitchen chair to stand on when, out of nowhere, I felt warm hands on my waist and my feet were lifted off the floor. I didn't need to turn my head to know who was attached to those hands. Fang. But what was he doing? My face flushed lightly. Jeez, what's with all the blushing today!?

I kept still, not wanting to squirm and have him drop me. I was about to yell, "Put me down," but I took a glimpse at the shiny plastic star in my hands…

Duh, Max… Duh.

I reached up and placed the star neatly at the top of the tree and Fang lowered my feet back to the ground. I turned around, about to thank him for the boost, but when I met his eyes, he smiled. Fang smiled. Simple as that. And yet, my heart missed a beat… or three. Get a grip!

I tried to return the smile, but it was weak. My concentration was being overpowered by horribly jumbled emotions that I didn't even want to begin to think about.

Not wanting to let something stupid happen, I quickly said, "Night, Fang," and escaped to my bedroom, closing the door behind me.

Review, please? I beg.

Also, any thoughts on what gifts the Flock can give each other? I can't even think of gifts to get for people in real life, much less fictional characters.

One last comment… Has anyone seen Horton Hears A Who? I saw it when it was showing in theaters and now I keep seeing tv commercials for the DVD release… I loved the Mayor's only son. I was like, "Hey! It's Fang!" LOL

2. The Snowball Battle

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Snowball Battle

I stood by the window, watching the last few snowflakes cascade down to the earth. At some point last night, the weather had turned blizzard-like and it had only begun to let up this afternoon, leaving the ground covered by at least a foot of snow.

I turned around to look at the Flock, who were sitting on the two couches in the living room. They all looked pretty bored, probably because we hadn't done anything all day. None of us were used to this laid-back lifestyle, even though we'd been at the cabin for a few weeks now.

"So, who wants to go out and play in the snow?" I asked, hoping to liven everyone up.

Angel perked up right away. "Can we, Max?"

I nodded, smiling, as she jumped from the couch and started pulling her boots on. Nudge and Gazzy weren't far behind. Iggy was taking his time, but I could see that he was excited to get out and do something… do anything, really. Total simply grunted, as if to say, "Yeah, right. Like I'm going outside in the snow." And Fang was…

Fang was not moving.

I walked over to him and lightly kicked his leg. "Get up."

"I'm not going out to play in the snow, Max," he responded, looking at me like I'd just suggested that we should go do the polka with a group of Erasers.

"You don't have to play. You can just watch everyone else enjoying themselves," I said with a smirk.

He didn't say anything, just looked away, shaking his head.

"Oh, come on, Fang. It'll be fun," I promised. I wrapped my fingers around his wrist and started to pull him off the couch. He sighed and stood up of his own free will, but didn't pull his arm out of my grasp.

I let go and took a few steps in the direction of the downstairs bedrooms.

"Let me just check on Ella before we go out. I want to see if she's feeling any better," I said. She had eaten breakfast with us, but went back to bed afterwards, saying she didn't feel well. I figured she was probably coming down with a cold…

"Uh, Max? I'll go check… You know, to see if maybe she wants soup or something," Iggy offered.

I smiled, feeling like Iggy had accepted my sister as one of us and was therefore worthy of his time and effort. "Sure, Ig, just let her know we'll be outside."

A few minutes later, Iggy returned to the living room, where the rest of us were waiting patiently – when I say patiently, I mean that Nudge, Gazzy, and Angel were practically vibrating with excited impatience.

"She said she's feeling a little better, but wants to rest a while longer. I told her if she needs anything, she can tell Total to come and get me… or you or Fang."

Angel giggled and I looked at her curiously. She smiled innocently and asked, "Can we go now, Max?"

Well, it seemed like a good suggestion at the time… But once we were outside, we kinda just stared at each other, unsure of what exactly to do.

"We could make another snowman," Nudge said, displacing the awkward silence.

"We just did that last week," Gazzy complained. "I have a better idea." He reached into the snow, taking a handful up.

Five seconds later…

"Did you seriously just throw a snowball at the blind kid!?" Iggy bellowed.

With lightning-quick speed and precision, Iggy packed a snowball together and whipped it at Gazzy.

It made a splat as it collided with his face.

Everyone looked at Iggy. How did he do that? After that thought started to fade, our attention turned back to Gazzy, who was wiping the slush off of his face, and as if on cue, everyone burst out laughing…

…except for Gazzy. Apparently, it's not so funny when you get blasted in the face with a lump of frigid snow.

His expression turned to that of a madman as he rapidly began making more snowballs and hurling them at the rest of us.

We each took off, running in various directions. There were snowballs whizzing through the air all around us and I realized Gazzy wasn't the only one throwing them now.

I leaned forward clumsily as I was still running, trying to scoop some of the icy fluff into my hand, but I tripped, landing in the snow on my hands and knees. I looked up slowly and saw Fang standing about ten feet in front of me, staring impassively as he shaped a clump of snow in his hands.

"You wouldn't," I jokingly threatened.

His lips quirked into a smirk as he pulled his arm back, aiming the snowball…

I squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for the cold wetness that would accompany the impact…



I heard it, yet I didn't feel anything. Nudge shrieked from behind me and I whirled around to look, immediately assuming a Flyboy was attacking her. I saw nothing unusual, though… except for the remains of Fang's snowball dripping from her forehead.

always got my back, I thought to myself.

"That's not fair!" Nudge yelled. I turned to Fang, grinning, and mouthed, "Let's get her."

He answered with a wicked grin of his own and bent to scoop up another fistful of snow. I followed his lead and started packing snow between my gloved hands.

Nudge must have noticed the mischievous glint in our eyes as we both looked at her because her expression changed and she started running to escape our line of fire, calling out Angel's name for help.

Fang grabbed my sleeve and pulled me when he began chasing after her, but I yanked myself from his grasp, racing ahead of him…

Gazzy saw us in pursuit of Nudge and called out, "Hey! You can't team up!"

I chuckled. "Well, we just did!" I replied. I slowed my pace as I watched him tug at Iggy's arm, saying something very quietly to him. A smirk appeared on his face as he nodded in agreement to the Gasman's request.

I assumed they were now paired up into a team of their own because Iggy shouted in our direction, "Bring it on, you two!"

They immediately started packing together lumpy balls of snow.

"This is war!" Nudge called out, with Angel in tow. So apparently they had both crossed over and joined the evil let's-attack-the-Flock's-leading-members society as well...

Gazzy began cackling like a sadistic maniac, running toward us with a snowball in each hand.

I turned to Fang, laughing, and yelled, "Retreat! Retreat!"

We ran beside each other, laughing as the stampede of bird-kids trailed behind us.

"We'll never surrender," Fang called out over his shoulder, grinning wildly.

"To the trees," I said to him, pouring on as much speed as my genetically-enhanced legs could handle. Fang kept the pace easily…

We hid in a small cluster of evergreens once we thought the others couldn't see us anymore. After we caught our breath and quieted our laughter, Fang looked at me and smiled slightly. "Thanks for making me come out. I haven't had this much fun in… ever, really," he said very quietly.

I couldn't help but smile at that. We spent the next hour-long minute just looking at each other, not saying anything. It was weird… and yet, I didn't mind…

"Ambush!" Nudge and Gazzy shouted simultaneously while barging into our little safety zone, interrupting a moment I wasn't sure I wanted to be having. Then again, I wasn't sure I didn't want to be having it, either. Confusing myself, I pushed the thoughts to the back of my mind to muse over at a later time.

Iggy and Angel soon burst into sight on the opposite side. We were surrounded before we could make a mad dash for a new hiding spot…

Gazzy lifted a snowball and had his eyes locked on me…

"No, Gaz. She's mine," Nudge said with a crooked grin that told me she was having way too much fun with this. Gazzy passed off a large snowball to her and she wasted no time lifting it back, aiming directly at my face…


Fang jumped in front of me at the last second and took the hit. Splat! He dropped to his knees, clutching his chest, and then fell over on his side. He rolled onto his back, pretending to writhe in agony. Honestly, I was impressed that he was putting on the little charade to amuse the younger kids, so I decided to play along…

"Oh, Fang!" I yelled in mock fright, dropping down by his side. "Don't leave me!" A whole new wave of raucous laughter erupted, none of us able to contain ourselves.

Angel composed herself for just long enough to explain the scene to Iggy, who then cried out, "Fang! Don't go! We need you!" This sent Fang over the edge. He was actually laughing so hard that there were tears in his eyes, a sight I'd previously seen only once in my lifetime.

Gasping for a breath, I smiled inside, knowing that even after all we've been through, we still had the ability to just let go and have some fun…

Big thanks to the following people who suggested this chapter:

F0r all The Wr0nG ReAs0ns - sparkleglitz01 - xhatedvampirex

Review, please? And more suggestions are always welcome. :-)

3. The Caroling Duets

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Caroling Duets

After spending the majority of the day outside, building snowmen again, we came in because almost everyone wanted hot cocoa. I was slightly exhausted from all of the fun, so I laid down in my bedroom for a nap.

I don't know how long I had been asleep when I heard a knock on my door, but I decided it wasn't long enough, so I didn't answer…

Of course, why should that stop anyone? I heard the doorknob turn, followed by the creak of hinges… My eyes were still shut, but I assumed that whoever it was had merely peeked their head in, as I hadn't heard any footsteps.


I sighed and opened my eyes, for some reason relieved that the quiet voice seeking me belonged to Fang…

"Angel wanted to sing some Christmas songs from a CD that Nudge found. She wanted to wait for you, though," he told me.

"Oh. Okay, just give me a minute."

Fang nodded and I waited for him to leave and close the door before I crawled out of my blanket cocoon… He didn't need to know that I'd taken off my jeans and climbed straight into bed, too lazy to search for more comfortable sleepwear.

I pulled on a pair of sweatpants and headed out into the living room, where Angel was hovering over a small gray CD player.

"Finally, Max!" Nudge shouted, standing next to Angel with the red and white jewel case of a CD I didn't recognize. "Sit down. Angel and I are going to sing We Wish You A Merry Christmas."

I smiled at her enthusiasm, then took a glimpse around for my seating options. The larger couch was occupied by Gazzy, Iggy, and Ella, who I guess was feeling a bit better. I saw Fang sitting on the smaller couch with a very bored Total. He sent me a cute little half-smile and I took him up on the invite, walking over and plopping down next to him.

Before my brain had time to think 'What!?' and process the fact that I had just thought of Fang with a 'cute little half-smile,' the sound of tinkling bells distractedly poured out of the speakers…

Together, Nudge and Angel began singing in their sweet, girly voices…

We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year

Oh, bring us a figgy pudding
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer
We won't go until we get some
We won't go until we get some
We won't go until we get some, so bring some out here

We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish yo–

"Wait. Hold on… Does anyone know what figgy pudding is?" Nudge asked, interrupting the song. Angel looked annoyed and stopped singing as well.

"Good question. It must be quite a taste sensation if those carolers won't go until they get some," Total said, suddenly looking very interested now that food was being discussed.

"It's Iggy's special pudding recipe," Fang chortled.

"You're very funny, Fnick," Iggy said dryly.

We sat in silence then and looked around at each other.

"Wow. You guys really don't know what it is?" Ella finally asked, clearly unaware of just how sheltered we had been for pretty much our entire lives. I mean, honestly, when you're a bird-kid on the run, you don't have time to stop and learn about pudding

She took the hint to move on and explain it when she noticed that we were all staring at her blankly. "Well, it's really more of a cake than a pudding, kinda like a carrot cake blended with a custard, but it has figs, dates, and some spices in it… And when my mom makes it, she adds rum."

"Mmm… Could you make that for us, Iggy?" Angel asked energetically.

He thought about it for a moment… "I guess if we could find all of the ingredients."

Angel smiled broadly at the blind bird-kid and I had no doubt that she would find a way to get everything he needed for the figgy pudding.

The song started to fade in the background and Gazzy asked, "So, who's going to sing next?"

"Oh! Let's do Baby, It's Cold Outside! That's my favorite one… I need one of the boys to sing with me, though," Ella said, glancing around the room. "Hey, Iggy? Do you want to sing the song with me?"

"Uhh… I don't… Um… Yeah, sure," he decided. I stifled a laugh as I watched his pale cheeks flush. I turned my head slightly and caught Fang's eye. He was smirking.

Angel was bouncing around with excitement as she poked at the buttons on the CD player, trying to find the right song. "Okay, get ready!" she finally shouted.

Ella hopped lazily off the couch and went to stand by Iggy, who looked like he was going to be sick. I didn't really understand why he had agreed to sing with Ella at all… She touched his arm lightly, letting him know she was standing there, and I couldn't help but notice that he visibly relaxed, if only just a little…

The music rang out and Ella started to sway in tune…

"I really can't stay," she sang…

"Iggy, that's your part," she whispered after he missed his cue. "I've got to go away…"

"Baby it's cold outside," he crooned, very quietly…

Ella smiled brightly and continued, "This evening has been…"

"Been hoping that you'd drop in," Iggy sang, a bit more audibly this time.

"So very nice…"

"I'll hold your hands, they're just like ice…"

Soon, they were singing as if they owned the song. I had never realized Iggy had a voice like that…

My mother will start to worry
Beautiful, what's your hurry
My father will be pacing the floor
Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I'd better scurry
Beautiful, please don't hurry
Well, maybe just a half a drink more
Put some music on while I pour

The neighbors might think
Baby, it's bad out there
Say, what's in this drink
No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how
Your eyes are like starlight now
To break this spell
I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell
I ought to say no, no, no, sir
Mind if I move a little closer
At least I'm gonna say that I tried
What's the sense in hurting my pride
I really can't stay
Baby, don't hold out

"Ahh, but it's cooold outsiiiide," they belted out together, harmonizing perfectly. However, holding the long note at the end sent Ella into a coughing fit, concluding their duet prematurely.

"Ella?" Iggy reached his hand out, finding her shoulder and resting his fingers there gently.

"I'm fine," she choked out. "But I think maybe I should just go lie down again."

Iggy nodded and slid his hand to her back. "Come on. I'll make you some soup first," he offered, leading her to the kitchen.

"Ohhh… I wanted them to sing All I Want For Christmas Is You next. They sounded so good together!" Nudge complained.

Everyone was quiet for a moment before Angel leaned up and whispered something to Nudge, making her giggle.

"What's so funny?" Gazzy asked.

"Oh, nothing," an innocent smile playing on her lips. "We just think that Max and Fang should sing it," she clarified.

"Hah! Yeah, that's a real thigh-slapper, Angel," I said, entertained by the thought.

And then I realized she was serious…

"No way," Fang said.

"Pleeease?" the girls begged, plastering on shamelessly pleading expressions.

"Nope," I said, trying to sound firm in my decision, but the looks on their faces…

I turned to Fang and raised an eyebrow, asking for backup.

"It's not gonna happen," he told them. I smiled to myself. Good job, Fang. At least one of us can resist.

But then I felt the sudden urge to say 'Oh, all right. I'll sing it.'

"Angel!" I shrieked, realizing that she was using her mind-controlling abilities on me.

"Sorry, Max," she said, her voice denoting a slight whimper, making me feel guilty, as she had probably intended.

"Ugh… Fine, I will sing this one song, but you have to promise me you won't try to control my mind ever again." She nodded fervently in agreement to my terms, pressing the 'play' button…

Trying to ignore the fact that I was about to mortally embarrass myself, I started singing…

I don't want a lot for Christmas
There's just one thing I need
I don't care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree

I glared at Fang and elbowed him lightly in the ribs. "Sing," I ordered.

He scowled at me, but amazingly, he opened his mouth… and out came the lyrics…

I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas is...

I couldn't stop grinning… Fang was singing!

I don't want a lot for Christmas
There's just one thing I need

I don't care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree
I don't need to hang my stocking
There upon the fireplace
Santa Claus won't make me happy
With a toy on Christmas day
I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas is you
You, baby

I tried not to dwell on how awkward it was for us to be singing this song to each other… Surely, I should not be feeling a twinge of heartache knowing that the lyrics he's singing could never be his real feelings… Oh, jeez. Stupid, stupid Max. Why am I even thinking like that?

I pushed away my lamebrain, irrational thoughts as we started singing the next verse together…

I won't ask for much this Christmas
I don't even wish for snow
I'm just gonna keep on waiting
Underneath the mistletoe
I won't make a list and send it
To the North Pole for Saint Nick
I won't even stay awake to
Hear those magic reindeers click
'Cause I just want you here tonight
Holding on to me so tight
What more can I doooo–

"Please stop. My sensitive ears are bleeding…" Iggy complained, waving his hands in disgust as he strolled into the living room again.

"Hey! We don't sound that bad," I protested. "And we didn't tease you."

"Well, Ella and I sounded magnificent together," he said with a cheeky smile.

Fang snorted in response.

Iggy added, "It sounded like puppies and kittens were being eaten alive by morphed Erasers in here…"

Nudge gasped and everyone froze for a moment…

"Run, Iggy! Run!" Gazzy warned as he watched Fang and I exchange a glance before we sprang off the couch.

Big thanks to the following people who suggested this chapter:

ShyNotScared13 – up and coming writer

Review, please?

And if you are reading this and haven't been reading my other fic, Solace, you should... I think it's better than this... It has a real plot (and Fax, of course). :-)

4. The Angels

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Angels

I stared blankly at the recipe in my hand, taking a deep breath. Angel wanted cookies? Well, Angel was going to get cookies then. Too bad Mr. Pyro Chef decided to play Dr. Medicine Man for Ella today…

Everyone else was crowded around the TV, watching some movie about a giant elf that was adopted by Santa and now has to save Christmas. Maybe if he lost the yellow tights and the pointy green hat…

Focus, Max. If the blind kid can do it, so can I. I looked down again at the list of ingredients for 'The Ultimate Christmas Sugar Cookie.' I can do this, I told myself. How hard could it be?

I started meandering around the kitchen, collecting the ingredients I would need and bringing them back to the counter.

I searched the cabinets…

Butter-flavored Crisco, check. Granulated sugar, check. All-purpose flour, check. Vanilla, check. Baking powder… I picked up a container that said baking soda. Hmm. I figured it was close enough and placed it on the counter with the other ingredients.

I couldn't remember why I had been so intimidated before. This baking stuff is going to be pretty easy…

I glided over to the refrigerator to get the eggs with my newfound confidence.

After double-checking the list, I noticed I had forgotten only the salt… Ew. I didn't want salty cookies, so I made the decision to leave that out of the recipe.

I pulled out a mixing bowl and some measuring cups from a different cabinet and set it down with the other items. Looking at everything in front of me, I smiled.

Let the cookie-making commence…

I realized I may have overestimated my abilities the moment I experienced problems just trying to open the bag of flour. I pulled at the flaps gently, attempting to open the bag carefully, but it soon turned into a struggle… and then I saw white.

I coughed violently as the flour exploded upwards into my face…

After I regained control of the situation at hand, I looked at the fragile eggs, hoping I could crack them without getting any shells into the batter. I picked one up, holding it firmly… It made a crack as I tapped it against the counter to open it.

"Easy enough," I said out loud, pleased with myself after I successfully dropped the contents of the egg into the bowl. "Just one more."

Again, my confidence backfired as I smashed the egg down with slightly too much force. Egg yolk spat out, adhering to my shirt…

I sighed. Not wanting to screw up the cookies any further, I very cautiously proceeded to add the other ingredients into the mixing bowl, following the remaining instructions carefully.

Until I came to the vanilla…

Mmm… vanilla. The recipe only called for one teaspoon, but that didn't sound like enough. Glancing around the room in a sneaky manner to make sure no one was watching, I poured about a quarter of the bottle into the mixing bowl. I was sure everyone would thank me for it later when they tasted how delicious the cookies were.

Using a big wooden spoon, I mixed everything together until it formed a creamy, light brown blend of stickiness. Then I dumped the mixture out onto the countertop and started pressing it into a flat sheet so I could use the cookie cutters Angel bought.

You can probably guess what shapes she picked out…

When I was satisfied with the thickness of the dough, I pressed the forms into it, creating little angel and santa-shaped cookies.

Okay, so they turned out slightly deformed, but they made it onto the cookie sheets in one piece, which was really all I could have hoped for.

Sliding the trays into the warm oven, I felt someone's gaze on me…

"Wow, Max," Fang said as I turned around and walked back to the table to start cleaning up the disaster zone.

I smiled slightly. "Yeah. See? I can bake if I try," I said, feeling proud of my newest achievement…

"No, I meant you're less capable than I thought," he chuckled. "You're covered in… what is that?" he asked, walking closer until he was standing next to me, picking at something in my hair.

I scowled, then looked at the finger he was holding up… Crisco. Somehow, a messy glob of the greasy shortening had taken up residence in my hair…

Taking in my appearance, I grimaced. The sticky remnants of the eggy mishap still remained on my shirt and there was dough stuck to my arms, not to mention the flour…

Fang went to the sink, grabbing a dishcloth from the counter. He dampened it with warm water before walking back to me with an amused expression. Instead of handing it to me so I could remove the flour from my face and the doughy bits from my arms, he took the liberty of doing it himself…

He ignored my expression and brought the warm cloth to my cheek, stroking it gently against my skin to remove the dusting of flour. He lingered when he came to my chin, and I couldn't help but wonder why I hadn't swatted his hand away yet. My face suddenly grew very warm… and it wasn't from the warm washcloth, either.

His face was unreadable as he moved on to my arm, wiping off the mess. His light touch made me shiver and I couldn't take it anymore.

"What are you doing?" I asked, snatching the cloth from him to quickly brush everything else off, while I refused to make eye contact.

"Cleaning you up, so that we can go outside," he answered.

"For what?"

He hesitated for a second and curiosity drew my eyes up to meet his. "I want to show you something."

He hastily left the room for barely a few seconds and tossed me my coat when he returned. I raised an eyebrow questioningly, but didn't get any more answers from him, so I shoved my arms into the coat and pulled it on.

Outside, we walked about twenty feet from the cabin before he told me to stop. I did as he said, but watched with interest as he took a few extra steps before turning around to face me… With a slight grin, he whipped his wings out halfway and flopped backwards into the snow.

"Fang, what are you doing?"

He slowly sat up, the grin still in place, and climbed carefully out of the Fang-shaped depression in the snow.

He walked back to where I was standing, shaking the snow off of his wings…

"Now you try."

I stared at him, unsure of why I should dump myself into the snow willingly.

As if he had read my thoughts, he said, "It's a snow angel, Max."

Ohh. A look of understanding crossed my face as I nodded.

I imitated his actions and unfurled my wings partially, then collapsed on my back into the snow. I flinched slightly, as the frosty chill bit at my wings, and started to push myself up immediately…

"Careful," Fang said quietly, holding both of his hands out. "If you move around too much, you'll mess it up."

"Yeah, well, I mess up everything these days," I muttered, reaching forward. I took his hands as he gently pulled me up from the snow.

"Well, it looks better than those angel cookies you made anyway," he said, brushing the snow from my wings. I wasn't complaining… His hands were warm…

"They were that bad, huh?" I asked, scrunching my nose up a bit.

"Well, they were only slightly contorted," he grinned. "I'm sure they'll taste fine, though."

I sighed, smiling at this new, sweet side of Fang exposed by the Christmas spirit. We stood together for a few minutes in companionable silence, gazing at our snow angels, mine appearing a bit more lopsided than his.

I turned my head to look at him and smiled again. His expression seemed peaceful as he stared at the ground in front of us… Something about it seemed to sum up this whole holiday – my new favorite holiday, by the way. We were safe, if only for a short while, and the whole Flock was relaxing. It was blissful…

I found myself leaning closer to Fang, but by the time I'd realized what I was doing, it was already too late…

What are you doing, Max? No, stop. Don't. Don't do it!

Oh. My. God.

I kissed Fang on the cheek.

Crap. Crap. Crap.

I had to get away…

"I'm… um… the cookies…" I stammered lamely, before racing back into the cabin, leaving behind a very dumbfounded Fang, frozen in place…

Big thanks to the following people who suggested this chapter:

RiRiana - xhatedvampirex - jenfan456

I think I'm really happy with this chapter. I don't know if you guys liked it, but I had fun writing it. ;-)

Now, please, please, please review? I only got three reviews for the last chapter… I know it wasn't amazing or anything, but really… Maybe you can help get my reviews up to 55 this time? I hate doing that, but I still want to know what you guys think and make sure it's worth continuing this. Thank you, those of you who reviewed! :-)

5. The Secret Santas

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Secret Santas

;; Max POV ;;

It had to have been a dream, I told myself for the hundredth time. I had to have been dreaming that I kissed Fang's cheek yesterday. There was no other explanation as to why he came back into the cabin a few minutes after me, acting completely normal. If I had really kissed him, he would've been looking at me strangely or saying we needed to talk. But he wasn't. He was just being Fang.

So why did that bother me?

I sighed… I am so messed up. What did I expect? That he'd come bolting through the front door, scoop me into his arms, and kiss me passionately until we were both gasping for a breath? Why was I even considering that scenario!? You'd think I wanted it to happen…

Did I?

Shaking my head, I brought myself back into reality. I was standing in front of a metal clothing rack, looking for a gift for the one person I was assigned to buy for.

This had been Ella's idea, of course. She woke up this morning feeling much better and said that we needed to go Christmas gift shopping. I explained to her that us bird-kids have a limited amount of room in our packs, so she suggested Secret Santa. It wasn't a bad idea, I have to admit.

We all wrote our names on pieces of paper, before folding them up and tossing them in a pot. Then we each picked out a name, at random, which gave us the person we secretly had to buy a gift for, leaving each person to receive just one gift. Brilliantly efficient. The only drawback, which is leading me to freak out more than just a bit, is that we all had to split up in the mall, so that no one saw what their Secret Santa was buying for them…

I took a deep breath, pushing away all of the horrible images that sprang into my mind, and focused on the articles of clothing in front of me.

Hmm. She'd probably like the light blue one, I thought to myself.

With one other thing I had set out to buy, I hurried to my next destination…


;;Iggy POV ;;

Ugh. Why did I have to pick him? I asked myself.

The smell in this store was overpowering and the shrieking and yapping was drowning out the sound of everything else; it was a sensory overload.

"I'll take the gray one, please, the one with the extra padding," I explained to the saleswoman. If Fang were here, I could ask him what she looked like. At least that could have made this experience a little less vile.

Then again, I think I preferred my current shopping escort just fine.


;; Angel POV ;;

Well, there's one thing I've learned about Christmas from all this shopping… People that are 100 Percent human take the holiday for granted. I mean, it's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, so why is everyone so miserable inside?

"I wish we could all just skip Christmas this year. I have to find a way to get out of that party. There's no way I'm sitting with them all night. What a downer that'd be…" a teenage girl was musing about.

"Janet can't seriously think I'm buying her that nine-thousand dollar necklace…" some tall man in a business suit thought.

If they only knew how lucky they were…

"I wish Grandma would get run over by a reindeer."

"I hate snow!"

"John had better not stop by Christmas Eve after that stunt he pulled last year. There's no way I'm buying him anything."

The thoughts were all negative, coming from every direction, too many for me to keep track of. I wished that Max was here to give me a hug. All of these people are making me uncomfortable.

And sad…

"Mommy thinks I still believe in Santa, but I know it's just Uncle Seagram dressing up in a red suit. I hope I was a good enough boy to get that game I really want. She doesn't look happy, though. Maybe she doesn't think I'm a good boy…" thought a little brown-haired child as he looked up at his Mommy…

I snuck a peek into her mind and she was thinking, "Waste of money, this damn holid–" Oops. Max wouldn't want me to hear that.

Tugging on Nudge's sleeve, I said, "Let's get out of here."

"Aren't you going to buy one of these?" she asked, pointing to the shelves in front of us.

"Yeah. The one with the pirates. That one looks warm enough."


;; Gazzy POV ;;

"I hope these are the right size…" I wished out loud, looking at the box in my hands.

"Can we just pay for them and go already?" Total grumbled for the eighth time in six minutes. I don't know how Angel puts up with him all the time.

I sighed. "Total, the only reason you were even allowed in here is because we lied and said I was volunteering with the animal shelter to train you to become a seeing-eye dog, so stop complaining. Would you rather have been stuck waiting for us in the woods behind the building, alone?"

"Point taken, my son."

"My son?" Who does this dog think he is?

"It's just a phrase," he sighed. "Why couldn't I have acted as a true seeing-eye dog for the blind boy?"

I rolled my eyes. "You can be so dumb sometimes."

"I resent that."

"Whatever. Just pick a color," I said, waving my hand toward his choices.

"Black, of course. Now who's being dumb?"

I frowned at him before picking up one of the items in black.


;; Total ;;

We stood by the mall entrance, ahead of our scheduled meeting time, the first ones waiting. I glanced around at the Christmas shoppers, bags in hands, screaming children trudging along at their sides, frowns marring all of their faces.

And suddenly, in quite the uncouth manner, the Gasman expelled a fetid wind from his hindquarters, living up to his name.

"Oh, honestly. Was that necessary?"

He appeared thoughtful for a moment before answering, "Yes. Yes, it was."


;; Nudge POV ;;

At first, I had no idea what I should get for her. I mean I could get her anything, really. It's not like she would need a size constraint. I could get her a big screen TV if I wanted to, except that Max didn't give me enough money for that, so I guess something small will do just fine. I was leaning towards a really cute scarf and hat set…

But then Angel suggested I get her something useful that she could enjoy, like something luxurious. I wish we could use things that we could call luxurious. Maybe one day, when we aren't running for our lives from the School. That would be pretty sweet. We could wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, use some luxurious things, eat lunch, use some more luxurious things–


"Yeah, Angel?"

"Can we just pretend that Iggy is here to clamp a mental hand down over you mental mouth?"


;; Fang POV ;;

Looking through a rack of brightly-colored fabrics to find a gift for my Secret Santa recipient, something began to seem familiar about the store. It wasn't the store itself; I had never been here before. It didn't smell familiar or even feel familiar, for that matter. No, it was the soft sound that filled my ears. A rhythmic, yet lengthy cycle of airy resonance. Someone's… breathing?

I glanced up and found the source… Max was standing about ten feet in front of me and, reflexively, I almost walked over to her. But I thought better of it, not knowing if she was my Secret Santa or not. She'd get mad if I saw what she picked out for me.

I was about to turn and leave, so that she wouldn't even know I had been there, but I realized she wasn't paying attention anyway. A low throaty chuckle escaped me as I watched her movements. She was holding something small and dark in her hands. It looked soft as she ran her fingertips over it, ever so delicately.

But it was the expression on her face that kept my gaze affixed with amusement. Her lips were slightly parted as her eyes rested on the object with an inexplicable longing, yet I couldn't understand why. It was a useless little thing, but to Max it seemed invaluable. I watched as she sighed and put it down almost against her will, before leaving quickly and determinedly.

When she was out of sight, I walked over to where she had been standing and picked up the object of her fascination. I sighed and brought it to the checkout counter, hoping she would appreciate the gesture. If I'm lucky, maybe it'll earn me another kiss on the cheek… or, dare I say, something more…

Big thanks to the following people who suggested this chapter:

jaz719 – xthehatedvampirex – jenfan456

And now do you see what happens when I get flooded with lovely reviews? The chapters get written and posted as quickly as I can write them… Yay! LOL Getting to 55 reviews took all of like 20 minutes because you guys rock. Maybe we'll get to the big Seven-Five this time? ;-)

That said, I apologize greatly for this chapter. I had high hopes, but I think I failed miserably with their POVs. *hangs head in shame* So, yeah. I'm sorry.

Faxy cuteness in the next chapter, 'cause I need some more good ole fluff! :-)

6. The Eskimo Way

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Eskimo Way

"Breakfast was delicious. Thanks, Ig," I said, giving his arm an appreciative squeeze before I walked out of the kitchen.

I glanced at Ella and Angel, who were sitting together in the living room. Angel caught my eye and sent a gleaming smile my way.

"Ella said we should go play with tabloogahans," she said hopefully.

"No, no. Toboggans. Sleds," Ella corrected, getting up from the couch. I smiled at the idea and called the rest of the Flock into the living room…

Much to my delight, it was easy enough to convince everyone to participate in sledding this morning… Well, everyone but Total, who still refuses to step a single paw into the snow. Heaven forbid he should endure such a hardship.

We walked around outside for a while until we finally came to the top of a steep slope that would be perfect for hurtling down on a sled at full speed. There was just one problem…

We only found two sleds at the cabin, so we'd need to take turns. As the selfless leader, I volunteered to wait for everyone else to have a turn… which left six other kids and still only two sleds.

Finally, we agreed that we would play Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine the order.

"I win!" Angel shouted in a glee-filled voice, explaining to Iggy that she threw her hand out flat to symbolize paper.

Iggy, who had kept his hand balled into a fist for rock, complained, "How can a piece of paper beat anything?"

"That's the rule. Sorry, Ig," I said.

"No, I understand how the scissors can cut the paper and the rock can smash the scissors, but can someone please explain to me how in the world a sheet of paper can afflict damage upon a rock? Please, someone enlighten me," he continued.

I rolled my eyes. "Just deal with it, okay?"

He grumbled, but didn't say anything else.

Two by two, everyone was racing each other down the slope, peals of laughter and pure joy ringing out in the open expanses around us. Angel won against Ella, and then against Nudge, both of which I am convinced she used her mind-control over to make them slow themselves down, but I refused to say anything and 'rain on their parade,' as Fang so often accuses me of.

Gazzy won against Iggy, which set off a string of complaints revolving around the fact that he's blind and couldn't possibly have been able to steer the sled properly…

Eventually, I played Rock, Paper, Scissors against Fang to see who would race Gazzy.

"I should have known you'd throw rock," I teased, after throwing out two fingers as the scissors.

He positioned the sled and I watched, waiting for him to slide down the side of the hill, but he didn't… Instead he said to me, "Sit down," pointing to the sled.

"It's your turn. Just go," I insisted, waving my hands in dismissal.

He didn't listen, though. He stood there with his arms crossed, waiting for me to give in. I smirked… he'd have to wait a while then.

"Would one of you please just sit on the sled?" Gazzy asked, impatiently. The boy just wanted to race…

Stupid Fang.

I sighed and stepped over to the sled, gingerly sitting down in the center of it with my legs straight out in front of me. I tried to relax, casting my gaze on the panorama of evergreens along the horizon.

Just as I was about to push off, I felt something against my back… Long legs slid out from behind me on either side of my own legs and a familiar arm snaked itself around my torso. Before I had time to turn around and berate him, Fang used his free hand to push against the snow, sending us feet-first down the frosty white slope.

"Fang!" I shrieked, clutching his arm. The cold air whipped at my face, my eyes widening as we accelerated much more rapidly than I'd been expecting.

He fastened his other arm around me, holding me securely to his chest, and I could feel the soft vibrations against my back as he laughed quietly to himself.

A second later, I found myself laughing with him. This was a whole different kind of speed than you feel when you're flying. It was alarming, not having control over the velocity as we continued to ride to the bottom, but it was also an adrenaline rush like no other.

As we were gliding to a halt, I turned my body halfway to face Fang.

"Let's go again," I whispered, unable to keep my eager smile from taking over my entire face.

He smiled back for just a second, a hint of surprise obvious in his expression. We helped each other up and began trudging back to the top of the incline with our sled.

"So what was that? You can fly at speeds of over 200 miles an hour, yet you get scared sledding down a small hill?" he grinned.

"This isn't a small hill… And I wasn't scared," I said, scowling half-heartedly at him as we reached the others.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Gazzy running up the slope just a short distance behind us. I had been completely oblivious to the fact that he had even gone down at the same time as us.

"That was awesome!" he shouted, looking excitedly between Fang and me. "You were going so fast!"

"Yeah. You two beat Gazzy to the bottom by, like, an entire half a minute," Ella told us. "I don't think it was fair," she continued in a matter-of-fact kind of tone. "There were two of you, so obviously there was more weight propelling you forward. You should have a rematch, but against two people this time."

I stared at her, trying to figure out if she was serious or not. I didn't mind either way, to be honest, so I figured I'd go along with it. "So then, who wants to try?" I asked, defiantly scanning the faces in front of me…

"Well, Ella," Nudge started with an impish grin, "if you want to be fair, then the two people closest to Max and Fang's sizes need to go. So then… that would be you and Iggy."

Angel giggled beside her brother, who was holding the sled out for one of them to grab.

Ella's cheeks flushed slightly. "Uh… okay. I don't mind."

Iggy cleared his throat and said, "I won't be able to steer. I'm kinda blind, as you may have noticed."

"Fine. To keep it fair, we'll all close our eyes," I suggested. "Is that okay with everyone?"

Ella nodded. Fang just shrugged like he couldn't care less.

Minutes later, Angel was waiting at the bottom of the hill to declare a winner and Fang was behind me on the sled again, this time keeping his hands at my waist instead of wrapping his arms around my stomach. I felt like I needed a hold on something as well, so I used his legs as an anchor…

I closed my eyes…

"Three… Two… ONE!" Gazzy signaled…

"May the best couple win!" Nudge shouted as soon as we pushed off, causing my breath to catch…

Fang and I were most certainly not a couple! The mere thought had knocked me off-balance… Literally.

My whole body leaned over to one side, causing the other side of the sled to tip upwards, launching Fang and me into a rolling heap…

Somehow, he managed to hook an arm around my ribs, keeping me close while we clumsily rolled over one another the entire way down the slope.

And as we came to a complete stop, Fang was on top of me for the second time this week…

I took a deep breath, ignoring my miserable discomfort, and asked, "You okay?"

He nodded. "You?"

"Yeah," I assured, locking my eyes with his. Big mistake…

I really don't know how long we stayed like that, seconds, minutes, but I was pulled from my trance when his face appeared to be getting closer. Without warning, he touched his nose to mine. What was he doing now? I thought to myself, fighting back a shiver.

I became paralyzed. I felt his warm breath on my lips as his eyes softened and he brushed our noses together ever so slightly. His skin was cold… So how did it make sense that his touch felt so warm? Oh, jeez, Fang…

My heart was wildly thumping out of my chest and he started to look very uncomfortable suddenly. "Max, you don't need to hold on anymore. We stopped rolling a while ago."

I stared at him blankly for a moment… Didn't need to hold on anymore? He can't really expect me to make any sense of that right now, can he?

And then I became aware of my arms, the realization of what I'd done sending a burst of color to my face. While we were tumbling together, my arms must have found their way around his torso to hang on because they were still firmly locked in place…

I laughed nervously, freeing him from my grip.

He pulled me up as soon as he was standing, but quickly took off to get our sled.

As I watched him walk away, I wondered, What just happened? I was slightly bewildered by the whole experience, unsure of how to even think straight, for the moment.

Awww! Max, he just gave you an Eskimo kiss! Angel whispered in my head.

I shifted my gaze in her direction. What's an Eskimo ki– He what?!

I whipped my head around to look at Fang back at the top of the hill again, handing the sled over to Nudge, who grabbed at it enthusiastically. I watched as she flung her body onto it, hurling down the slope, but my eyes found their way back to Fang.

His expression was as impassive as ever, or so it would seem. I was sure that no one else noticed the slightest hint of a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth. And to think, I'd been freaking out two days ago because I kissed his cheek, thinking I'd destroyed my most valuable friendship, and then he goes and gives me an Eskimo kiss? I didn't even know there was such a thing until now… And if Angel hadn't said it, I probably still wouldn't have known he'd even done it… How dare he try to go around kissing me without my knowledge…

Angel sighed, shaking her head, before scurrying over to where Iggy and Ella's ride ended, leaving me alone to ponder this new quandary…

If Fang was going to be sneaky with his new displays of affection… well then, so was I…

Big thanks to the following people who suggested this chapter:

up and coming writer – jenfan456

Make of that last sentence what you will. ;-)

Reviews are like big fat sweet potatoes (and, wow, do I love sweet potatoes!)

7. The Message

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Message

"Maaaax!" the voice called for the third time.

"I said, 'Give me a minute,' Nudge!" I called back. I was in my bedroom upstairs looking for my hoodie. The heating system in the cabin decided to die this afternoon. We don't know why; it just stopped working. So now at 8pm, it was freezing in here! And I would just snuggle under the warmth of my blankets and go to sleep, but Nudge and Angel found a movie on TV called Elf and they suggested we have a movie night, all of us…

I chose to abandon the search for my missing hoodie and head back downstairs before Nudge decided to come up and drag me back down by my hair.

"Why is it so dark in here?" I asked, walking into the living room, where the only source of light was coming from the TV.

"It's about time. You missed the first ten minutes," Nudge scolded. I chuckled at her tone and she scowled at me.

Gazzy put his finger to his lips. "Shh!"

I shot him an apologetic smile, then quickly glanced around for a place to sit.

Gazzy was sitting on the bigger couch next to Iggy and–

I had to blink a few times, not believing the sight in front of my eyes…

Ella was on the couch next to Iggy… And by next to him, I mean practically sitting on his lap. She was sitting with her knees pulled up on the couch, leaning against him, her head nestled near his collarbone. Iggy seemed to be quite fine with the closeness, encouraging her with his lanky arm draped around her waist, his free hand holding hers…

I blinked again…

Nope. Still real.

When she noticed me staring, I raised my eyebrows questioningly and she answered with a sheepish grin.

What the hell did I miss? I wasn't in my room that long… I go away for a few minutes and suddenly my bird-brother and half-sister are… what are they? Together now?

I shook my head, still in disbelief. I wasn't sure how I felt about that…

Max, sit down. You're missing the movie, Angel insisted in my head. She was sitting next to Nudge and Total on the floor, a bag of microwave popcorn resting in the space between them.

I glanced at Fang, sitting alone on the smaller couch, yet again. His eyes were set on the TV, but they were distant. He wasn't really watching… Probably just thinking about his blog…

I could go sit next to him. But after yesterday's incident, I decided my best bet would be to sit on the floor with the girls. I still wasn't sure I was okay with Fang and me doing anything more than best friends should do. So if he's going to sit there and be sneaky about things, I'd rather just not have to deal with it.

Only moments later, I was regretting not searching harder for my hoodie. It was wintry cold and I was foolishly wearing nothing more than a t-shirt. I rubbed my hands together, but it was a futile attempt at creating heat. Jeez. A few weeks of not sleeping outdoors and I can't handle the cold anymore?

I thought about running up to my bedroom for a minute to grab a blanket… but then I had a much better idea…

We'll see who's being sneaky now

I casually stood up, showing no sign of my latest plan… Scheming? Me? Nooo…

Warmth, here I come.

I nonchalantly made my way over to the smaller couch and plopped down next to Fang. Too close. I scooted away a few inches, putting a comfortable space between us… And yet, that worked to my disadvantage… I scooted a few inches closer again… Oh, now he's just going to think I'm being weird… I scooted away–

"What are doing?" Fang whispered, knowing that he would get shushed if he were too loud. I couldn't tell if I had annoyed him or if he was really just wondering what my problem was.

What was I doing? I couldn't even answer the question myself. I didn't even know what my plan had been, to be honest. I only knew its purpose: to get warm. And Fang was warm. Wasn't he always, though? I should have just taken a blanket from my room. How had I planned to be sneaky? Why did I even want to be sneaky? More importantly, why am I asking myself so many questions? I must be losing it.

"Nothing," I sighed. Oh, like he was going to accept that as an answer…

"Are you okay?" he persisted, searching my face with scrutinizing eyes.

"I'm fine. Just watch the movie." He wasn't satisfied, but he turned back to the TV.

Minutes later, a shiver coursed through me… and it hadn't gone unnoticed by Fang. He lifted his hand and started rubbing my arm, immediately bringing a surge of warmth to every cell he touched. I fought against another threatening shiver, one that wasn't caused by the chill in the air.

As if that wasn't enough, his hand roamed up my arm, over my shoulders, and started working on my other arm… and as much as it freaks me out to admit it, it drove me insane…

"What ar–"

"Helping you warm up," he answered before I finished my question. Yeah. If you only knew, I thought to myself.

"I'm fine," I whispered curtly, shrugging his hand away, not knowing how much more of his unsolicited touch I could deal with.

He rolled his eyes. "You're so stubborn."

Halfway through the movie, the actress on the screen started to sing a song that I recognized… "I really can't stay, I've got to go away, This evening has been…"

I shifted my gaze over to Ella, remembering that it was the song she and Iggy had sang together a few nights ago. Again, I found myself looking at the sight before my eyes incredulously. Ella wasn't even watching the movie; she was looking down at Iggy's hand, where she was slowly tracing the lines on his palm, something he, again, obviously didn't mind. His eyes were closed and there was an expression of repose on his face… It was disturbing.

No, no, it was slightly more than disturbing. I had to avert my eyes from their lovefest…

But then I thought, At least they're warm…

I risked a glance at Fang out of the corner of my eye. He was looking straight ahead.

My eyes focused back on the TV and as subtly as I could manage, I slid closer, inch by monumental inch… and then our legs were touching. And suddenly, it became my duty to keep my gaze set in front of me… Heaven forbid I caught a glimpse of his reaction to what I just did.

Then again, Heaven forbid he even had a reaction.

My heart was jumping erratically out of place while I waited for him to do something, anything. He just sat there, unmoving. C'mon Fang. Put you arm around me or push me away. Do something…

As if he'd heard my plea, his arm slid behind me, hesitantly taking its hold on my waist. I relaxed a tiny bit and leaned into Fang's side…

Mission accomplished. His body heat rolled onto me like waves as I sighed quietly with contentment.

If not for the occasional rounds of laughter that filled the dark room, I wouldn't have known the others were even there… The only thing going through my mind was Fang and it made me want to kick myself. I wondered if he really didn't mind me being so close or if he was perhaps just being polite. Every time I felt his eyes on me, I felt heat rise to my cheeks…

And then, all too soon, Buddy saved Christmas and the movie ended.

I looked around the room and saw Gazzy yawning…

"Bedtime, guys," I announced.

"Aw, but Max, It's A Wonderful Life is coming on next and it looks really good," Nudge grumbled in protest.

I sighed. "Well, I have something really fun planned for tomorrow and you're going to need to be rested up… But hey, if you'd rather not go…"

"Night, Max!" was the synchronized response I received from Nudge, Gazzy, and Angel, before they hopped up and hurried to their bedrooms.

"That's what I thought," I chuckled.

"I think I'm gonna stay and watch the movie," Iggy said.

"Hate to be the one to tell you this, Ig, but you can't watch the movie," I said with mock tenderness.

"You know what I mean," he frowned. Ella smiled up at him and gave his hand a squeeze, something he seemed to appreciate. It took quite a bit of willpower to keep myself from springing over there and pushing the two far, far apart.


I turned my head to see Fang looking at me. "Hm?"

"You staying up to watch the movie, too?"

I considered going to bed, but thought, Hey, I'm just getting comfortable…

"Yeah, I think I will," I smiled.

After a few more seconds of studying my face, Fang nodded before he pulled his arm away from me and stood up, quietly leaving the room… I heard the old steps creak softly as he ascended…

I hoped Ella hadn't been watching me at that moment or she would have seen my face drop like an anvil thrown from a cliff.

I felt a pang of… something… some emotion I couldn't put my finger on…

Was it really that horrible to be sitting next to me that he couldn't last through another movie?

I berated myself for letting him make me feel this way…

Before I could start to feel too deflated over it, I heard Fang's nearly silent footsteps again as he returned to the living room and sauntered over towards the couch, a dark fabric in his hands…

He wordlessly reclaimed his seat beside me and wrapped a blanket around both of us, keeping one arm around me as he shifted into a more comfortable position.

Oh, Fang. I easily resisted the urge to make some kind of girly-girl squeal, but couldn't hold back the grin that erupted over my lips. Whoa. What's happening to me?

I tried to conceal my expression, but Fang caught it and, to my surprise, grinned right back. I felt a wild flutter in my stomach and quickly turned my head to the TV, blushing furiously.

It's A Wonderful Life started and I tried my best to pay attention, really, I did. But I couldn't help taking the occasional peek at Fang, his features defined in the dim glow of the old black-and-white movie. Somehow I knew he had risked a few similar glances my way as well.

Feeling extremely bold, I carefully lifted his free hand from his lap and, mimicking Ella's actions, I turned it over and gingerly traced along the lines of his outstretched palm. I paused for a second to see if he would pull away… When he didn't, I continued brushing my fingertip delicately against his skin, finding an M at the center of his palm, following its pattern with the slightest touch. And you won't believe what Mr. Rock did… He shivered… Fang shivered because of something I did!

I wondered what else I could do to make him shiver…

Great. I've turned into a pig.

I ignored my sudden change of heart on the matter, instead reveling over my newest discovery – that I could have this kind of effect on Fang. I felt like I'd just been let in on some kind of secret… and I was once again grinning like a madman. I snuck a look at his face, only to make another shocking discovery… Even in the darkness of the room, I could make out the slight pink hue that radiated on his cheeks. And, let's face it; if I'm going to abandon all of my qualms about this whole thing, I might as well admit it… Fang looked pretty darn adorable right now.

After a few minutes of trying to compose my thoughts, I was able to bring myself back into reality and focus on the movie, although that didn't stop me from relaxing against the blushing bird-boy's side, resting my head on his shoulder. My chest gave a little squeeze when he returned the gesture, tightening his arm around me.

Eventually, the movie was coming to a close…

"George Bailey's an idiot," I muttered to myself.

With a sideways glance, I saw Fang looking at me questioningly.

"He's got everything and he wants to just throw it all away. Just look at what he's doing to his wife, running off and leaving her and the kids like that. He's an idiot," I whispered, trying to not distract Iggy and Ella from the movie. "And then that angel… All he needs to do is help George Bailey and he'll magically get his wings? As if it's really that simple… It's a shame these stupid people don't know how you really get wings."

"Max, you're missing the message," Fang whispered back. I tried to ignore the way his warm breath tickled my ear.

"What message would that be? To–"

"To not take anyone for granted. Because whether he realizes it or not, he's touched the lives of so many people in an irreversible way, so much that they're not the same people without him and he's not the same person without them."

"Took him long enough to see that," I scoffed quietly.

"You should give him some credit. He knows he screwed up, but he went back to fix it." Something in his voice gave me the feeling we weren't talking about George Bailey anymore…

I turned my head to look at him, feeling guilty about what he said. Did he really think I still blamed him for leaving a few months ago? I opened my mouth to say something, but when I couldn't find the words, I closed it, opting to continue studying his eyes…

"What are you thinking about?" he quietly asked a moment later.

I sighed and shook my head, turning back to the movie.

"You're so stubborn," he told me again.

"Would you quit saying that?" I chided, bringing my gaze to look him square in the eyes again.

"Well, you are," he whispered, staring back defiantly.

"And you're arrogant. Are we done now?" I asked, lifting my chin.

"You're bossy, too," he added, bowing his head toward me slightly.

"You're…" I trailed off, unable to think clearly now that his breath danced dangerously close to my parted lips.

"You're… impossible." His features were completely softened as he said it in a hushed breath, leaning his face even closer to mine.

"You're…" mine, I stopped myself from saying.

My eyes flicked down to his chest… What was my hand doing there? I didn't put it there, did I? But he wasn't moving it, so neither was I.

My breath came heavier as his eyes penetrated my very being.

And this time, it was me that closed the space between us… My bottom lip brushed his…


My head whipped in the direction of the obnoxious giggle and I silently prayed Angel wasn't awake to hear the slew of curses flooding through my mind, all aimed at that heinous disruption.

Iggy's face was buried in Ella's hair, obviously whispering something ridiculous if it caused her to trill out that most unwelcome sound.

And then with a flash, I realized I had been that close to kissing Fang and we weren't even alone…

I sighed and turned to Fang once more…

He was looking at the TV, his expression as impassive as stone. If he was feeling anything from that moment, his face betrayed no sign of it.

I stared at him, but he wouldn't even look at me.

Wasn't he always the one telling me that there was something going on? That we shouldn't ignore it and pretend there was nothing there?

"Hypocrit," I muttered under my breath. He cast a glance at me and looked blankly into my eyes.

I sighed, shaking my head as I freed myself from Fang and the blanket.

"I'm going to bed," I told him.

I felt him watch me as I left the room. He didn't try to stop me, though…

Big thanks to the following people who gave suggestions for this chapter:

maximumcullenxxx - up and coming writer – jenfan456

and to everyone who voted for the movies.

I dare you to review.

"You smell like beef and cheese! You don't smell like Santa!"

8. The Missing Skate

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Missing Skate

I breathed a sigh of relief as I spotted a frozen lake. We'd been flying for close to 45 minutes looking for a place to ice skate and I was sure that Iggy's arms were about to fall off from carrying Ella. I motioned to the Flock and started descending with the others not far behind.

The lake appeared untouched, not surprisingly, since we were in the middle of nowhere. There was a light breeze rustling the sprays of evergreen needles, making them whisper amongst themselves as we landed.

"It's so pretty, Max!" Angel shouted, running over to my side.

I smiled at her and I had to agree. The ice was blanketed with a thin dusting of snow that almost glistened, even under the overcast skies above. There was a small cluster of apple trees near the northern bank, devoid of leaves, but still holding its own amongst the green and white landscape. Total, who was wearing Angel's socks on his paws, went springing through the fluffy snow and it looked like the scene could have been a postcard photo. All it needed was a small farmhouse and a white picket fence…

I turned around to find that Gazzy already had his boots off and was slipping his feet into ice skates, Nudge rushing to do the same right beside him.

My gaze shifted over to Iggy, who was reaching into his pack.

"You sure you'll be okay, Ig?" I asked cautiously.

It was Ella who responded to my concern. "Don't worry, Max. I won't let him fall," she giggled, lacing up her own skates. I sent her a weak smile, still unsure about whether or not I should be allowing… whatever it is that's going on between them.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Fang standing off to the side, his arms folded across his chest, eyes distant again as he stared ahead. I wondered if he was thinking about the exchange that almost occurred last night. I had pushed all of those thoughts to the back of my mind, willing myself to just have fun today.

As I unzipped my pack, I looked in and felt utterly disappointed.

"I'm missing one of my skates," I frowned. I must have dropped one when I was putting them in… I sighed.

"Go back to the cabin and get it. We'll be fine here," Iggy said.

I looked around. Nudge, Gazzy, and Angel were already gliding on the ice, quite gracefully for three kids who've never skated in their lives. Total was curled up on top of Angel's pack, already taking a nap. Ella was guiding Iggy to the lake, their hands entwined as one.

"Iggy's in charge. Do what he says," I told them.

I turned to face the direction of the cabin and saw Fang standing a few feet in front of me, wings unfurled.

"I'm going alone. It'll be faster," I said, knowing he wanted to follow.

"S'not safe to go alone," he reasoned, giving me a look that said, 'Don't bother arguing.'

I sighed, still annoyed about the previous night, but what he said was true; if Itex has attackers searching for us and I was discovered alone, they might easily be able to capture me – although not without a hell of a fight.

"Hope you can keep up," I called to him over my shoulder before taking to the skies.


I couldn't find the skate anywhere. I had searched my bedroom, the others' bedrooms, the kitchen… I even looked under the Christmas tree. Yet the skate remained misplaced.

Fang was standing at the bottom of the steps finishing off a candy cane, like a useless lump of coal.

"Help me look!" I said every time I passed him.

"Calm down and maybe you could remember where you left it," he would say.

The longer we were in the cabin, the more paranoid I was becoming. Why did I leave the Flock alone?

"We've gotta get back to the Flock. Help me find the skate, Fang."

I felt my heart start to race in a panic as I rushed through the rooms…

The only other place I could think to check was the hallway closet. I prayed the stupid missing ice skate would be in there so I could get back to the Flock…

If I lose Angel again… Maybe I shouldn't have left the blind kid in charge… They might not be prepared for an attack… My mom would be devastated if something happens to Ella…

I was practically sprinting through the hall to get to the closet, but I didn't make it there. Out of nowhere, I was pressed against the wall, Fang's firm hands restraining me.

"Let go," I struggled. His grip only tightened on my arms as his eyes bored deep into mine.

"Relax," he said calmly.

"What are you doing, Fang?" I asked, attempting one more time to free myself from his hold. "You know what? Let's forget the skate and get back to the Flock," I pleaded.

"The Flock is fine, Max."

"You don't know that," I muttered. They could all be dead right now. Or worse… in dog crates.

His fingers loosened on my arms as he slowly traced them from my shoulders down to my elbows… down to my wrists… He bowed his head toward me… What was he going to do? Try to kiss me and make it all better? Yeah, as if I'm going to let that happen now and then watch as that uncaring mask of detached feeling reappears two seconds later…

But he didn't kiss me… His cheek brushed mine as he leaned further, lowering his lips to my neck. The warm electrical feeling of it was enough to drive me crazy.

My breath was caught in my throat… I couldn't even swallow… And I forgot what I'd been so worried about…

How does he do that?

"Found it," he breathed.

"Mhm," I murmured senselessly.

He chuckled very softly and his breathy current swept across my neck, sending a tingle down my spine.

Found it. It had taken me almost ten full seconds to comprehend what he said. I snapped out of fantasy land when he straightened himself away from me, holding up a single ice skate in his left hand. His face was tainted with a horrible smirk.

I told myself to punch him, but I couldn't do it.

I told myself to walk away, but I couldn't do that, either.

He had reeled me in too far. Fight or flight wasn't going to cut it this time.

I told myself, Don't you dare kiss him… but I did it anyway.

In one abrupt movement, I moved forward and leaned up on the tips of my toes, urgently pressing my lips to his, abandoning my inhibitions with one of my spur of the moment decisions that I would come to regret later on.

Fang froze where he stood, again not doing anything at a time when I really needed some hint of acknowledgement for my actions. We need to quit this game of cat and mouse, Fang. Tell me what you want from me, I wanted to yell.

Trying to get some kind of reaction, I took a fistful of fabric from his chest and pulled his body closer, bringing my other hand to the back of his neck to hold him there.

I heard a clank as he lost his grip on the ice skate in his hand, letting it drop to the wooden floor.

The sound must have roused him from his state of immobility because his lips finally began responding to mine with a haste that paralleled my own.

Both of his hands came to my hips as I grinned against his mouth.

I was surfing a tidal wave of emotion, yet I had no thoughts… only sensations… the feel of his warm skin grazing mine, sending bursts of heat through my body… his breath on my face, on my lips… his soft, clean hair draped between my fingers… the sound of only our labored breathing and the occasional vocalizations uttered accidentally… the lively scent of peppermint from the candy cane he'd eaten…

My lips moved of their own volition with his as Leader Max stepped out the backdoor of sanity for a few moments…

When I was satisfied, I pulled back to catch my breath…

Oh, but Fang wasn't done…

The sound of my own heartbeat pounded in my ears as his mouth moved rhythmically along my jaw, leaving tiny fiery pecks in its wake. Embarrassingly, I think my wings may have quivered. I could feel him smirk as he continued.

Looking for his weakness, I trailed a hand slowly down his spine and my fingers tickled at the hem of his shirt, lingering for a moment before they slid underneath, forcing contact with his heated skin.

He exhaled heavily and drew his lips back to my own smirking mouth.

As the kiss continued to intensify, I started… shaking? Why was I shaking?

"Max?" I heard. I knew it was Fang, yet his voice held concern. Why? What's going on? Am I having a seizure?

"Max, they're fine. Open your eyes," he said quietly. I realized then that his hand was on my shoulder, shaking me more gently than I had first perceived.

"Fang? What's…" I opened my eyes to see him leaning over me and felt my eyebrows furrow in confusion…

I took in my surroundings and realized with wide eyes that I was in my bed

"You kept yelling, 'Gotta get back… Flock's alone.' They're fine, Max. They're downstairs eating breakfast."

Holy crap. It was a dream…

"They all want to know what you had planned for today."

I hesitated, but told him, "Uh… Ice skating. Figured we could find a frozen lake around here somewhere."

He nodded slowly. "They'll like that," he paused to offer his hand, "Come on. Breakfast is almost gone."

I blushed suddenly as I took his hand, not able to look directly at him without seeing an image of myself pressed against him. He didn't say anything, but I was sure he noticed my expression.

I followed him downstairs, making a mental note to double-check the contents of my pack before we left, to make sure that there were indeed two ice skates inside…

Big thanks to the following people who gave suggestions for this chapter:

maximumcullenxxx - up and coming writer - F0r all The Wr0nG ReAs0ns - jenfan456

I dare you to review again. You know you want to. How was it?

9. The Christmas Wishes

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Christmas Wishes

We had just returned from eating dinner in a small town, a few miles away, and I watched as the younger kids awkwardly went to their separate rooms without a single word uttered. I realized I must have really freaked them out today with my little "episode."

Ella pulled Iggy along to her room down the hall… I don't even want to think about the reason why…

And Fang didn't even come into the cabin; he settled for a seat on the porch, gazing at half-melted remnants of the snow angels we made last week. He'd been quieter than usual on the flight home…

This day just keeps getting better…

Excuse me for a moment while I go get a mop; I've spilled sarcasm all over the floor.

Two hours earlier…

We had officially run out of things to do at the cabin and the heater was still out of commission, so we decided to go find someplace to eat out.

When we landed in front of the small diner, I sighed. "Looks like there's a long wait, guys. You wait here and I'll see if they have a table for seven," I told them.

I walked in, trying to look casual, and stepped up to the seating attendant, who had his gaze focused down at a chart he was scribbling on. "Excuse me, how long is the wait for seven people?"

"Thirty-five to fifty minutes, ma'am," he replied automatically. I nodded, even though he didn't lift his eyes. When he did look up, he did a double take, giving me a once-over. I immediately felt violated by his scrutinizing gaze, but before I had time to snap at him with something witty, he said, "But for you, five minutes." He winked after he spoke, making my skin crawl. Who did this creep think he was?

Out of nowhere, Fang appeared beside me, scowling at McCreepy.

I shot him an I-can-handle-it-myself kind of glare.

"Hey fella, I don't think the little lady needs you here right now," the attendant said, a smug look marring his already foul appearance.

I clenched my fist at my side, ready to throw him a blow if he tried anything frisky. Fang, of course, noticed and took my hand in his, probably figuring I'd cause quite a scene if I punched this guy… Or maybe he just wanted to do it himself…

"And who are you anyway?" he asked Fang snidely.

"Her br–oyfriend," he answered, calmly smirking. I cocked an eyebrow at him, but let his comment slide because the attendant looked like he finally got the hint to back off.

Unfortunately, we had to wait the thirty-five minutes like he had originally projected, so when we were finally seated, we all ordered our food immediately. We waited impatiently for the servers to deliver it to out table and when it all arrived, we dug in like cannibals… with the exception of Ella, who had slightly better manners than us.

"Max, if you could get anything in the world for Christmas, what would you want?" Angel asked suddenly.

I thought about it. Hm… Anything? "I–"

"I'd want a video game system and a huge TV!" Gazzy interrupted, wild excitement sparkling in his eyes.

I smiled at his enthusiasm, unwilling to burst his bubble by telling him there was no way we could carry something of that magnitude with us, not to mention the fact that we usually don't even have electricity readily available…

"Make-up! I want to make myself look older than eleven years," Nudge said, while trying to catch her reflection in the shiny butter knife she held in front of her face.

"Nudge, you already look older than most eleven-year-olds," I reminded her. "Besides, you don't need make-up. You're a very pretty girl."

She beamed at my statement and I was glad that even if I couldn't give her all of the tangible things she wanted, I could still make her smile.

"I think I'd like a new iPod. I dropped the one Dr. Martinez gave me a few months ago sometime when we were flying," Iggy frowned. At least he wanted something of a more sensible size than Gazzy did.

I then watched as Ella slid her fingers over the hand Iggy rested on the table. "You can borrow mine, Ig, if you'd like," she smiled. His unseeing eyes somehow found hers and he smiled back.

I sighed and turned my gaze to Angel. "What would you want for Christmas, sweetie?" I asked her.

She appeared to be deep in thought for a moment, but then she just shrugged…

"C'mon. There has to be something you'd like," I paused, thinking for a second. "A new friend for Celeste, maybe?"

Angel glanced down at her plate and poked at her food absently, before she spoke in a quiet, shy voice. "I want us to not have to run anymore. I want it to always be just like these last few weeks, sleeping in beds and laughing together. I know that's a lot to ask for and I know it won't happen anytime soon… but that's what I want."

A split second after she finished, I felt a lump in my throat. When she looked up, I tried to smile at her, but it was tight and forced.

Silence had befallen our table with everyone unsure of how to respond to Angel's Christmas wish. Even Fang looked uncomfortable.

What was I supposed to say to that? I felt tears surfacing, knowing I couldn't promise her that we would be completely safe one day and able to live as a family in a stable home… Oh God, how I wished I could promise her that, but we didn't even know when we might be attacked next or when our expiration dates might arrive…

Most little girls ask for dolls or a puppy, don't they? And here, all that our little girl wanted was to be safe

The dam was cracking and I had to escape before the Flock bore witness to the flood. I wordlessly excused myself from the table, carefully assuring that I made eye contact with no one, and left the diner.

I made it three steps beyond the entryway before the tears overflowed… I kept walking, wanting to get as far away as possible from the windows I could be seen from. I noticed there was a large oak tree just past the edge of the parking lot, so I walked over to it and slumped against the side facing away from the diner.

I hate this, I kept thinking to myself as I silently sobbed, covering my face with my hands.

Not even a minute later, I was startled by someone's touch… a hand rested lightly on my arm and I peeked out from behind my fingers. Through tear-blurred vision, I saw Fang standing in front of me, watching me break down for – what was it, the fourth time in the past six months?

He barely hesitated before enclosing me in a very un-Fang like embrace. He tried to ease the tears away by gently rubbing my back, but even though it was comforting, they continued to spill out, leaving a salty wet patch where my face was pressed against him.

Eventually, I was reduced to dry sobs…

"No six-year-old should ever have to want that for Christmas. She should have it without having to ask for it," I whispered into his shirt, thinking my voice would break if I spoke with any volume.

Fang said nothing in response, but I knew he understood. I drew in a ragged, snuffly breath and continued to lean into him, not wanting to go back into that diner and face Angel… or the other kids, for that matter.

"I can't give her that. I wish I could…"

"It's okay, Max. She knows," Fang said in a quiet voice, still rubbing my back soothingly. I felt him kiss my hair.

A moment later, I pulled away from him, feeling embarrassed…

"I'm sor–" I started, but was cut off when he pressed his finger to my lips, shaking his head.

"It's not your fault," he assured me, letting his hand fall back to his side when he was certain I wouldn't argue.

I took a deep breath and we stayed there for a moment, enjoying a peaceful silence…

"Thanks, broyfriend," I smiled half-heartedly, wiping away any traces of moisture from my face.

Fang shrugged, chuckling softly at my comment, before we started walking back into the diner. I plastered on a brave, happy face as we approached our table and returned to our seats.

The younger kids looked at me nervously, wondering if they'd upset me if they said anything, I'm sure… I instantly regretted walking off like that, with no explanation… I could have at least lied and said I needed to use the bathroom…

"Max, can we go back to the cabin now?" she asked, clutching Celeste in her lap.

I smiled sadly at her. "Whatever you want, sweetie. Whatever you want."

Big thanks to the following people who gave suggestions for this chapter:

maximumcullenxxx (If anyone else suggested this, too, you can yell at me for forgetting.)

So… sorry this took so long. Not sure if it was worth the wait. What say you?

Three more chapters… until the END. Although I honestly might not get another three chapters out of my head...

New chapter of Solace coming up first, though… I think…

10. The Gingerbread Halves

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Gingerbread Halves

A knock at the door woke me the next morning.

"Hey, Max?" Ella called.

I stretched my limbs and pulled myself into a sitting position, still hugging the blankets to my chin. "You can come in…"

She opened the door slowly and peeked her head in.

"How are you?" she asked with a nervous smile on her face. "You seemed a little… upset at dinner last night."

I motioned with my hand for her to come in and sit by me, which she did, looking almost relieved.

I took a deep breath. "I'm fine. I just wasn't expecting Angel to say that. The others, I could give them what they want for Christmas. I could go out right now and buy an enormous television and the newest video game system, an iPod, make-up, anything. I still have that bank card… But Angel wants something I can't buy her. I can't give it to her, as much as I want to. I can't even promise her she'll get it in the future…" I blurted out quickly.

Ella was gazing at me with a surprised expression. It was obvious she hadn't expected me to just spill my feelings to her. Heck, I hadn't even expected to do that, but she was my sister and it felt good to share my thoughts with her.

"Don't talk like that. I mean, hasn't it already been two months since you've seen or heard anything from those people? What if it's over and you just don't realize it?" she asked, trying to sound encouraging.

I laughed humorlessly. "Two months doesn't mean anything. Actually, no, it probably means something big. Terribly big… As in, they're building an army to track us down and bring us back, dead or alive."

The slightly horrified look I'd put on her face alerted me that I probably shouldn't have chosen those words… I thought about saying, "Just kidding! Didn't really mean that," but I didn't want to lie to her. She deserved to know what her half-sister was up against.

"Sorry, Ella," I sighed. "That's the truth."

She swallowed loudly, then opened her mouth to say something, but closed it when nothing came out.

"It's okay," I smiled, trying to lighten the mood. "Let's talk about something else." She visibly relaxed a bit, so I continued, "So how's it going with you and Iggy?"

Apparently I'd suggested the right topic because she beamed at the mention of his name. Seeing her this happy, I couldn't help but shrug off the apprehension I'd felt about the situation before.

"I kissed him last night, Max!" she squealed. "And it was perfect! We were just sitting together for a while, talking about how you guys never get to do this kind of stuff and how this is your first Christmas. He's really a lot more excited about it than he's letting on. Oh, and then I started to fall asleep in his arms, so he said he'd leave so I could get rested. I don't know what came over me, but right as he was saying goodnight, I kissed him, right on the lips! It was short and sweet and felt like… microwave popcorn," she concluded.

"Like microwave popcorn?" I chuckled, trying to figure out whether that was a good thing or not.

"You know, the little bursts of popping… like tiny little fireworks." Good thing, I decided. "Is that what it's like for you, too?"

"What?" I asked, slightly taken aback. "I've never kissed Iggy. Why would you think that?"

Ella laughed as though I'd missed some hilarious joke. "No, Max! I meant with Fang, silly!"

With wide eyes, I stared at her. "I… I wouldn't know, actually," I finally managed to say. I wasn't going to let her know that we had kissed before, even if she was my sister.

"But… Wait… The other night… I thought…" she stammered, finding it hard to form coherent sentences suddenly. She looked genuinely confused.

"You thought…?" I pressed.

"You and Fang. I thought maybe you were finally together. You're not? You were all over him the other night…"

"I was not," I quickly defended myself. "Besides, I don't think he was okay with that whole thing anyway. He pretty much just ignored me afterwards," I added, remembering how annoyed I'd been because of that.

She rolled her eyes. "Don't be stupid, Max. That boy is crazy about you."

It was my turn to roll my eyes now. "Yeah. The voice in my head tells me the same thing. I'm sorry, but I don't believe either one of you," I snorted. Luckily, because she was my well-informed sister, I didn't have to explain why there's a voice in my head, much less why it's giving me relationship advice.

Ella sighed and stood up, grabbing my blankets and yanking them off of me.

"Get up and go talk to Fang," she commanded.

I shooed her with my hands hoping she'd drop the subject, but of course she wouldn't.

"Come on. I already thought you were together. That's saying something, isn't it?" she continued.

"That's only saying that you assume too much," I replied, smirking.

"He's sitting on the porch again. Go. Talk," she continued, completely ignoring my comment.

I stared at her relentlessly, determined to not give in. "Ella, why do you even care if I go talk to him?"

"Because I know you want to," she grinned. "You were mad when Iggy and I distracted you from… well… you know."

"Speaking of Iggy," I tried to change the subject, not wanting to address the almost-kiss with her. "Why don't you go wake him up?"

I gave her a light push towards the door and she scowled, but obligingly left my room.

After a few minutes of unsuccessfully trying desperately to fall back to sleep under the confines of my cozy blanket pile, I went downstairs to find some breakfast. Before I got there, though, I was stopped by Iggy.


"What's cookin', Ig?" I noticed Ella standing behind him with a contented smile, holding a bag of flour.

"I know how to cheer Angel up," he said matter-of-factly. I stood in the doorway, staring at him and waiting for him to continue… "We'll build a house."

His expression and tone both made him look like he was being serious, but I chuckled at him. "Good one, Iggy," I said, patting his arm as I brushed past him into the kitchen.

"I mean a gingerbread house," he quickly added. "We could build a gingerbread house and decorate it with candy and frosting and stuff."

Once I understood what he meant, a smile crept over my face. Angel would love that, and so would the other kids.

"Oh, and Max, you can help us decorate, but… we don't really need any help with the baking part," Iggy joked. I was sure he was referring to the sugar cookies I made last week. They reeked of vanilla when I took them out of the oven, and after one bite, they were declared hazardous waste.

I smacked his arm, with just enough force to say, "Don't make fun of your leader," then headed back up to the girls' rooms to wake them and tell them about today's plans.


Iggy was setting up all of the ingredients on the table, all measured out to the precise requirement of the recipe Ella provided. Okay, so I had to give him credit. He was much more organized than I had been, which never ceases to amaze me, considering he's blind.

Gazzy, Nudge, and Ella were working on the task of whipping together some sticky frosting that would hold the pieces of gingerbread together, while Angel and I had been given the duty of separating the candy into piles based on the different shapes, sizes, and colors. Total was curled up at Angel's feet, snatching any of the candy that she accidentally dropped. And Fang… was still outside. I had asked him if he wanted to help and he just shrugged… I figured that meant he would be in soon, but we were still without Fang in the kitchen.

He's just thinking, I heard Angel in my head.

Thinking about what? I instantly replied, knowing I shouldn't have given her an ounce of permission to listen to any of the Flock's thoughts, but I really wanted to know what was going on with him. He hadn't said a word to me since yesterday at the diner…


My eyes quickly flicked to Angel.

I was just about to ask her why he was thinking about me – was he mad at me? – when I noticed Ella leaning over the table to reach the bag of sugar…

"Ella, watch…" I warned too late, "… your hair."

Her hair drooped right into the measuring cup full of molasses. She grimaced as she leaned back and saw the thick brown glob dripping from the end of her hair. I know I shouldn't feel like laughing, but that's exactly what I did. I burst into a fit of near hysterics and soon, everyone else joined me, except for Ella, who was simply glaring at all of us, Iggy in particular.

My laughter halted abruptly when I felt someone behind me…

"What's so funny?" Fang asked, placing a hand on my back.

"Uh… Ella's hair," I filled him in, pointing at my sister and stifling another round of laughter.

"Why are you laughing? Do you not remember the Crisco?" he chuckled.

I rolled my eyes. "Shut up and help us sort the candy."

An hour later, we were constructing the gingerbread house, quite poorly I might add, but it was fun and Angel had a huge smile on her face the entire time. We also ended up making gingerbread people that we made from all the leftover dough.


Later that night, I couldn't sleep, so I crept down the stairs for a late night snack – gingerbread.

We had decorated each other's gingerbread person because we thought it would be funnier that way. I had picked Fang's… I gave him two little black licorice eyes, a chocolate chip nose… and that's it. No mouth. I thought it resembled his personality quite well, although he wasn't very amused by it.

I scanned my eyes over the others. Angel had picked mine to decorate. She made me look so cute… But I now noticed something that wasn't there before. In the center of my gingerbread person was a big heart drawn in red frosting. She must have come back and added it after we'd finished… My little girl certainly knew how to make me smile.

I took the cookie and broke it straight down the middle, putting half back on the plate to save for tomorrow, and taking the other half to the fridge with me to get some milk. I took a bite as I was reaching in to grab the container… Mmm

I heard a quiet noise behind me and nearly dropped the milk and the cookie. I spun around, but saw no one.

"Someone there?" I whispered, my eyes searching every inch of the room. There was no answer, so I shrugged it off, but… the plate of cookies caught my eye.

I had just broken my cookie in half, yet it was whole again… I walked closer and my eyes widened in surprise when I saw that it was still broken, but had appeared whole because another cookie half was next to it… Fang's…

What the…?

Big thanks to the people who gave suggestions for this chapter:

I'm in a big rush to get somewhere right now and don't have time to see who suggested gingerbread… But you know who you are, so Thanks!

Do you see now what I mean when I say I'm running out of material? lol It's not even edited, but I've gotta gooooo...

Please review. :-) I love hearing everything, whether you love it or wish I would just stop writing and set my laptop on fire.

Two more chapters… until the END. You'll probably get them after Christmas day, though. Still want them?

Speaking of which, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!!!!!

11. The Season of Surprises

With the help of reviews, the Fff Wall, and my two favorite men (no, not Ben & Jerry, lol), I present you with the long-awaited next chapter… finally…

The Twelve Days of Christmas
The Season of Surprises

"Max! Max!"

My eyes whipped open as I flung the sheets and blankets off of my body. Looking around, half-dazed with a mixture of sleep and anxiety, I found Angel, Celeste, and Total looking up at me with humored expressions. Yes… even the bear…

"What happened, sweetie?" I asked her, wondering where the crazed wolf-men were that I expected to see…

"It's Christmas Eve," she announced with a winning smile.

"We must rejoice," Total added.

I stared at them both with a new sense of irritation. Sure, I wanted them to enjoy themselves, but was it so much to ask that I be left to sleep in until noon just once?

"But it's already half past noon," Angel said, hearing my thoughts.

I stared at her incredulously for a moment. Not possible…

"It really is, Max. You must have been having your favorite dream again."

My brow furrowed. "What are you talking about? I don't remember having any dreams at all last night."

"Just because you don't remember it, doesn't mean you didn't dream it," she giggled, prancing out of the room, like a small, happy woodland creature.

I sighed, rubbing the sleep from my eyes, as the momentary adrenaline-produced high faded away.

Total was still in the room, looking up at me with a spark of curiosity in his expression.

"Get going, ya silly mutt."

Of course, he looked appalled at my statement… but he turned and strutted out the door, muttering something like, "Can't get any respect from the kids these days."

I rolled my eyes.

Minutes later, I was dressed in my usual sweatshirt and jeans as I walked out to the living room.

I found Angel playing around with the cardboard tube left over from the wrapping paper roll, pretending it was a telescope, while Total napped lazily beside her.

I smiled at her. If this six-year-old girl could spend the majority of her life being hunted by mad scientists' experiments, living in caves, eating from dumpsters, and then be able to find enjoyable entertainment from recyclable garbage like a normal little girl would, maybe we all still had the chance to find normality somewhere down the road.

Nudge was chatting up Ella about some holiday special that was on the TV, and Fang was on a different couch with his laptop balanced on his knees. I looked around and listened for the others…

"Sweetie, where did Iggy and Gazzy go?" I asked Angel.

"They went outside. I think they took some knives with them."

My eyes grew wide when I processed her statement. Oh, God. They're going to make something explode with knives…

"Thanks, Ange," I said, quickly darting to the front door and out to the porch.

"Gazzy!" I shouted, but didn't hear any reply. "Ig, where are you guys?" I tried again.

I still didn't hear an answer, so I cautiously walked around to the side of the cabin.

Oh, they are so dead…

Relax, Max. Let them be kids, the Voice suggested.

Do you let your kids play with explosives and sharp objects?

It didn't say anything else…

Yeah, that's what I thought, I chided.

And then I saw them, both with their backs facing me. Gazzy was holding up a knife in each hand, looking like a ninja turtle, minus the shell.

Iggy was standing suspiciously close to a tree, doing… something…

I walked over to the two boys gingerly, not wanting to spook Gazzy and have him whip a knife at my skull. How would they explain that one to my mom?

"What are you doing?" I asked, slowly and quietly.

I flinched when both of their heads turned to me. But the knives remained firmly gripped in the Gasman's hands, thankfully.

"We're leaving our mark," Iggy said.

I stared at him momentarily, then peered closer at the tree he was standing near.

There, in sloppily carved letters, read the words: THE FLO

"Iggy, what is the flo? Some kind of new dance craze?"

Gazzy laughed and answered for him, "No, Max. You're so weird. We're writing 'The Flock Was Here' to leave behind proof that we spent the greatest Christmas ever here."

I sighed. "Do we really want to let everyone know we were here? They might track us down somehow," I suggested.

Iggy looked like he was going to counter the argument, but quickly changed his expression and sighed.

"Yeah. I guess," he said.

"Let's go back inside then, before you both freeze and turn into birdcicles," I told them.

As I turned to walk back to the cabin, I tripped over my own feet, but caught myself before I face-planted in the snow.

Of course, it didn't go unnoticed… Gazzy cackled with insane laughter and I felt my cheeks grow hot.

"That looked like some kind of stupid dance move, Max," he choked out.

Iggy snickered. "We can call it the flo."

"Ooh! Montana… Birthplace of The Flo," Gazzy said.

"Thanks, guys. I'm glad I humor you," I muttered, walking off alone and annoyed…

That night, Iggy was in the kitchen making figgy pudding. Ella stood by, watching with an awed expression as he created a mixture of perfectly measured ingredients.

The two of them made me want to barf up rainbows.

"You know, if Santa was real, Nudge could totally hack into his computer and change his naughty and nice list," Iggy mused.

"He's not real though…" Angel said, sounding bored.

"But if he was, Nudge could put all of the Whitecoats on the naughty list if they weren't there already."

"If Santa was real, he'd put a big angry lobster in your stocking on Christmas morning," Angel said, gently petting Total's fur as the dog sat in her lap.

Before dinner, Iggy had tried to use all of the leftover wrapping paper to gift-wrap Total for amusement. It didn't go over so well when Angel found out and she still hadn't forgotten about the incident.

"Hey, everyone, do you realize we get to open presents tomorrow?" Nudge asked, elated and enthusiastic. "I can't wait. Really, I can't. We've never had Christmas before! This is going to be the happiest day ever. And we're all together! It wouldn't be the happiest day ever if we weren't. I love you guys! I'm so excited! Oh, my God!"

"Nudge, you freak, calm down," I chuckled softly.

On the table, there was a sprig of mistletoe with a small bell attached by a festive ribbon.

"Hey, where did we get mistletoe?" I asked, picking it up. I shook it in my hand and listened to it jingle.

"No, Max!" Gazzy warned, lunging at me.

He grabbed the plant from me and streaked to the door, hurling it outside in a haste. I watched, dumbfounded, as the mistletoe burst into pieces midair.

"Someone better give me an explanation. Now," I said.

Iggy chortled next to me and I elbowed him.

"Ow. What, did the Grinch come steal all your holly jolly feelings?" he asked, rubbing his arm.

"Just because you can make something explode, doesn't mean you need to."

"Sorry, Max," Gazzy said. "If it makes you feel any better, you wouldn't have died. You probably only would have lost a finger or two."

I took a deep breath.

It's Christmas, I reminded myself. Just let it go…

I got up and turned around, only to see Fang standing there with a smirk.

I let out a frustrated sigh for the umpteenth time today…

"Alright, everyone to bed, now, or no presents in the morning," I said, ready for this day to be over.

After a set of grumbles and complaints, the kids, Iggy, and my half-sister were off to their rooms.

I was about to ask Fang why he wasn't going to bed, but Angel came bursting back into the room, bearing a grin wider than the Pacific Ocean. Suspicion sparked when I noticed her holding something behind her back.

She made eye contact with me and, impossibly, her grin grew even more prominent.

"Ange, you need to get some sleep. What are you-"

"I think Fang should wear this," she said, revealing a bright red Santa hat.

I looked over at Fang and couldn't bite back my chuckle. Fang… in a Christmas hat…

Now this, I had to see.

"Sure, maybe tomorrow," he told her, probably trying to buy time to find some way to make the hat suddenly disappear…

She frowned and looked up at him with big, blue, pleading eyes, sure to make even the hardest stone turn to complete mush.

"Okay. Fine," he sighed.

Angel's face lit up and Fang crouched down to her level, making a face as she stuffed the hat over his head.

"Thanks, Fang," she said, giving him an Angel-sized hug before turning to me again.

"Max, can you tuck me and Celeste in?"

I smiled at her.

"Of course, Ange," I said, taking her hand and leading her to her room.

Walking down the hall, back to the living room, I yawned. Tucking Angel in had meant making up bedtime stories about Christmas for 45 minutes…

Standing in the entryway was Fang, the red Santa hat still sitting atop his head, black hair escaping in tufts from under the white cuff.

"Hey there, Saint Nick," I teased.

He offered me a half smile as I approached and stopped in front of him. It was like the Christmas spirit had spread like malaria. Er… in a good way, of course. I smiled back.

"Did you know that mistletoe is a poisonous, parasitic plant?" he asked.

"Yeah?" I raised my eyebrows, wondering why he felt the need to tell me that and why he knew that little fact at all.

"Mhm. And it's sometimes called a vampire plant because it sucks the water out of the tree it's living on," he continued.

"And why are you telling me this?"

"Saw it on a TV show last week."

"Okay… So then, why are you spouting me the facts now?"

"Because…" he mumbled, looking innocently towards the ceiling.

Oh Lord. We were standing right under a piece of mistletoe.

Here's a question to ponder… Who hung the explosive mistletoe?!

"It's the real stuff," he said with the corner of his lips curving up a small bit, most likely amused by my expression.

I took a more scrutinizing look at it and noticed that, yes, it was, in fact, real. There were no wires protruding from the edges, no deceptive plastic-y pieces… Which meant…



See that? That's eloquent bird-kid talk right there.

My eyes locked with his and, immediately, I wanted to high-tail it out of there. But before I could make any snap decisions, he was already leaning in towards me. My heart raced in my chest like a young bird's after being pushed out of its nest, trying to fly for the first time.

He hesitated as his face drew close to mine, still not breaking eye contact, almost as if he was wordlessly asking my permission… which would be a first…

Should friends really be doing this? I didn't think so.

Then again…

Just a peck wouldn't hurt, would it? Not really, I figured…

But this is FANG! I argued with myself, as the battle of teenage hormones ensued within me.

He was waiting for me to make a decision, hovering in front of me with his dark eyes and that silly hat.

And for some inexplicable reason, it seemed okay. Maybe it wasn't as much of a big deal as I had always made it… It was just a kiss… A small, paralyzingly terrifying kiss…

"Merry Christmas," I whispered before I could change my mind again, though my words seemed to boom in the silence.

He took that as approval, closing the remaining distance, gently touching his lips to mine.

My sensible thoughts flailed and screamed, Run away! Run aw-

But… actually, it was… kinda nice…

I found myself about to lean into the kiss, but Fang's mouth was leaving mine as abruptly as it had approached.

All that inner turmoil just for that?

Almost as if I'd lost control of my actions, I tilted my chin up, catching his lips again for barely a second.

I laughed nervously, embarrassed and thrilled at the same time, before Fang stole another short, sweet kiss from me. Oh, God, this was so much better than that dream I'd had a few nights ago. His hands found mine, interlacing our fingers carefully as this back and forth affection continued.

It was like… playing kiss tag…

Oh, jeez. I quickly shooed that stupid thought away.

…just in time to hear Angel's youthful, sing-song voice in my head.

"I saw Mommy kissing Santa Clause…"


So that was a strange chapter, huh? That's what happens when I wait four freaking months to update… I am so sorry about that. Really, I am. That said, I can't promise the next chapter will be written any time soon, but there's the slightest possibility. Just don't get your hopes up. Actually, after this spastic chapter, I'd be surprised if any of you stuck around for the next one. XD

Review, please? Please? Please?

12. Chapter 12


Don't get mad that this isn't a real chapter. Lol. I just realized that since I deleted the Chapter 11 A/N and replaced it with the real Chapter 11 a few hours ago, anyone who already reviewed on the A/N can't review again on the real chapter. If that's the case, you can leave your review for the chapter on this one if you want to.


Have a beautiful day. XD

13. The Final Chapter

The Twelve Days of Christmas
The Final Chapter

Finally. Christmas morning.

I knew it was Christmas morning because Nudge reminded me, "It's Christmas, Max!" no less than 87 times before I even got out of my bed.

Most of the flock was already in the family room spread out on the couches. I plopped down next to Nudge and Ella, both buzzing with holiday spirit.

Then Fang came strolling in with that goofy Santa hat on again, much to Angel's delight.

Iggy was the last to join us in the living room. I was surprised to see a somber expression on his face instead of his usual sparkle of mischief.

"Everything okay, Ig?" Ella asked, noticing the same thing.

His eyes moved toward the sound of her voice, but settled just left of where she was sitting. "I had the strangest dream."

"Did you blow someone up?" Gazzy asked. Iggy frowned and shook his head. The Gasman was visibly disappointed.

Angel hopped off the couch and bounced over to Iggy. She grabbed his hand and brought him back over to sit with her, saying, "Tell us about it and then we can open our gifts!" The thrill in her voice made me smile. I guess that was part the whole "Christmas magic" thing.

"Okay." He settled into the couch and put his hands in his lap, looking unsure of where to start. "First of all, I could see everything. Really see it. I wasn't blind."

"Whoa. Cool!" Gazzy said. "What was it like?"

Iggy shrugged. "Weird, but that's not the strange part."

"Was I in your dream? You could see me, right? What was I wearing? Was it city chic? Please tell me I wa-"

"Nudge. Let him tell the story," I said. And I immediately felt like a big, annoying cankerworm. All of us were always doing that, interrupting her to shut her up. I thought about making it a New Years resolution to stop doing that. Maybe just let her spill out all the words until she ran out of breath.

"We were at a party," Iggy started. "It was fo shizzle the best party I've ever been to." I was tempted to point out that he didn't have many parties under his belt to compare it to. "But you all wanted to go home. I told you I was having too much fun and that I'd meet you at home later. Then you all left."

A full minute passed before anyone said anything. Fang spoke up first, a tiny smirk forming at the corner of his mouth. "Great story, Ig."

"I wasn't finished." He shot an annoyed glance in Fang's direction. "I went in the bathroom after you left. After I closed the door, I saw some weird chick sitting on the toilet. She wasn't doing her business; she was just sitting there. But she wasn't there when I walked in." He smiled a little to himself. "She told me she was sent to me."

"Where are you going with this, Iggy?" I asked.

"She was a ghost. Or at least that's what she told me. I guess I believed her."

I felt relieved. There could be worse types of girls sent to you in a bathroom than dead ones.

"Then she snapped her fingers and we were in the woods somewhere. Literally with the snap of her fingers. Now here's where it gets weirder. You were all there. Except you were all younger. A younger me was there, too. Max was getting pissed off at me for something I said. She told Fang he was in charge and took off into the trees." I looked over at Fang. I had done that many times in the past.

"I tried to ask her what this was about, but she was gone. There was some guy standing where she had been and before I could do anything, he snapped his fingers and we were inside Dr. M's house. Just like that. And we were all there again, but this time, we were the same ages as we are now. Max wanted me to start cooking dinner, a turkey, but I was busy with Gazzy. We were working on a new project." He paused to grin in the Gasman's direction, then continued.

"Max went back to the kitchen, where Angel, Fang, and her mom were. She told them, 'If he's not going to make himself useful, he should go find another flock.' Then she shoved the turkey into the oven herself. She didn't hear me when I told her she forgot to take the gizzard out." He chuckled. "No one could hear me. They couldn't see me, either, I guess. It was so weird..."

I noticed Gazzy starting to get antsy in his seat, probably itching to start opening gifts.

"The guy that was with me said she - you," Iggy turned his head toward me, "were serious, that I should think about being more helpful. And then he disintegrated right into thin air. Right after that, Dr. M's house started falling apart, too, like it was raining away or something. I don't know how to explain it. Maybe that's what tripping on acid feels like."

I scowled at him, but he didn't feel it.

"Everything turned really dark and I was up on a rooftop. There was another me again, but this time I looked dirty and old. The other me was standing at the edge of the roof, staring out at nothing. There was no one else around... But then I felt a hand on my shoulder. I was creeped out before I even turned to look. I could feel that the person's fingers were really long and cold. And I was right to be creeped out. She was totally freaky. It was a bony, old woman with long, black hair down to her knees, the palest white skin you can imagine, and her eyes... her eyes weren't there. She had black holes where her eyes should have been!" Iggy ran a hand through his hair.

"She took her hand off my shoulder and pointed at the other me. I didn't know why. I was just standing there alone, not doing anything exciting... Until I - the other me - started leaning forward over the edge. I watched myself lean so far that my feet left the roof and I disappeared over the side... And then poof, I woke up. Just like that." He shrugged again.

Ella was staring wide-eyed at him.

"I think the woman was trying to let me know I could end up by myself if I don't do something now," Iggy continued. He looked mildly uncomfortable. "So, anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is..." he trailed off, turning his head slowly around the room.

I jumped in to help him finish. "That you love us and you'll be more helpful when I ask for something and-"

"No. No, I think... We need to go buy a turkey."

His face was dead serious.

The whole flock was mute for a few seconds, but Fang was again the one to break the silence when he burst into laughter. It may have taken a few of us by surprise, but we all soon joined with our own peals of laughter until the room was a mess of hilarity.

Total began to say, "I'm not sure you understand what really happened," but no one was listening.

"A turkey!" Nudged wheezed, slapping her knee with a demented silent cackle.

"Oh, Iggy, that was golden!" Ella said. Like the rest of us, she was wiping the tears from her eyes.

After another round of this, after we could all breathe again, I suggested we open the gifts.

Everyone's face lit up. Angel hopped off the couch again. "Can I help hand them out?"

"Of course, Angel." I smiled at her as she hurried over to the tree and the pile of gifts. My heart was swelling in my chest. This was it. It was really happening. A real Christmas for my flock had never seemed possible in the past, yet now here we were, all together and happy and SAFE. We had a fireplace and stockings and snow and hot cocoa and a tree with presents underneath, covered in ribbons and bows. We had Christmas.

"Max." Angel, with a toothy grin, was standing in front of me, holding out a red box. "Merry Christmas."

"Thank you, sweetie."

She dove right back to the pile and continued to distribute the gifts around the room. We were going to open them one at a time, but everyone was so eager that we all tore into the paper at once. Nudge found a glittery scarf set in one of her boxes and squealed a little. Angel pulled out a new dress for Celeste. Iggy unwrapped a box and Angel let him know it was bacon-flavored envelopes, which thrilled him. Fang... Fang was kinda staring at me. He had a box on his lap, but the wrappings were untouched. He gave me a little lopsided smile that reminded me of the night before.

I took my presents and walked over to where he was sitting. I took a seat on the floor nearby. "Why aren't you opening anything?" I asked quietly.

"Just wanted to see if everyone else liked their gifts first. Looks like you were doing the same." He gestured toward my untouched packages.

"Is anyone going to help me here?" Total bellowed. He'd been so quiet all morning, I'd almost forgotten about him.

"You've got teeth. Use 'em," Iggy said.

Total stared at him, aghast. "I am not taking that paper apart with my mouth. What if the ink seeps into my bloodstream and causes renal failure? What if I choke on the paper? You can't get the paramedics out here! I would asphyxiate! Is that what you want?"

Angel was already on her way over to him, ever willing to help the little furball. He rubbed his head against her leg in thanks and sent one more scowl at Iggy, who was rolling his eyes.

I turned back to Fang, who was sliding down off the couch and settling on the floor next to me. "Open," I said.

He shook his head. "You first." He picked up a small box with a little green stick-on bow and put it in my hand. "Here, this one."

I looked at the package, then back at Fang. "Is this from Santa?" I asked and swatted at the white ball on his Santa hat. Any other day, I might have felt the awkwardness and bolted, but all I could do was grin like an idiot while the little voice in my head sounded like a 4-year-old going, "Christmasssss!"

He didn't answer, which I took as a yes. I looked down at the gift again and started peeling up the corners of the wrapping. I pulled it all off and took the top off the box. Whatever was inside was covered in tissue paper. I carefully spread open a few layers of it and finally got to the gift.

A small stuffed animal. A raven. It was the one I'd seen in the mall.

It was silly, but - and I won't say I'm not morbidly embarrassed to admit this - it had reminded me of Fang. My best friend, always there for me. Always helping me with our little family. He could be a major pain in the butt sometimes and maddeningly stubborn, but who's perfect? Certainly not me...

I started to laugh at myself, getting all sappy and ridiculous. I didn't want him to think I was laughing at his gift to me, so I gave him an almost-hug and said, "Thanks, Fang," still chuckling to myself.

He leaned toward me and kissed my forehead. "Merry Christmas, Max."

"What's going on?" Iggy asked.

I pulled away and sat straight up, frozen. "Nothing. Just saying thank y-"

"Shhh. I meant outside. I heard something." The volume in the room cut to silence in an instant. We listened and, sure enough, there were footsteps outside.

Max the Leader found her way back to my brain immediately and I was in a crouched warrior position faster than you could say the word 'potato'. They'd found us. I knew it had been too good to be true.

"Everyone get ready. Plan X," I whispered.

I heard the footsteps, a pair a heavy boots perhaps, slowly getting closer until they were right outside the door. Then it was quiet. But not for long. There were keys rattling, being jammed at the lock a few times, until one slipped in... turned smoothly... splonk. The lock was open.

But I was ready.

Or so I thought I was.

The doorknob turned and the door swung open with ease.

Whatever I expected, it was not what stood in the doorway.

I stood up, feeling shaky.

"Mom!" I ran to her. She had a stack of presents in her arms. I took them from her and shoved them at Nudge, who had appeared behind me. I gave her the best hug I could manage.

She laughed and put her arms around me. "I'm happy to see you, too, Max."

"How did you get back? I thought you couldn't make it?"

"Plans changed. I'm sorry I couldn't get here earl-"

"It's fine. It's more than fine." I stood back at arm's length. My face was beginning to hurt from smiling so much. "Thank you for being here, Mom." She returned that warm smile of hers that touched her eyes.

"Stop hogging my mother," Ella said, playfully pushing me out of the way.

I looked around at the flock, at my mother and my sister...

I had everything a teenage mutant birdgirl could ever ask for. And I was loving every minute of it.

Merry Christmas, indeed.