Crash by Tokoloshe Monster

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Humor, Romance
Characters:Fang, Max
Published:2011-07-01 14:34:10
Updated:2012-08-17 14:24:19
Packaged:2021-04-04 13:21:19
Summary:Max has a best friend; a person that she knows online. He's funny, caring, kind and sweet – unlike the ridiculously hot jerk at her school that won't leave her alone. But maybe the two boys have more in common than she thinks... Fax. AU, but not AH. Complete.

Table of Contents

1. The Prologue
2. The Chest
3. The Train
4. The Boyfriend
5. The Variable
6. The Team
7. The Closet
8. The Attack
9. The Car
10. The Naked
11. The Chocolate
12. The Washing
13. The Ex
14. The Museum
15. The Cracks
16. The Question
17. The Kiss
18. The Offer
19. The Escape
20. The Dye
21. The Hijack
22. The Cage
23. The Bracelet
24. The Van
25. The Room
26. The Reunion
27. The Needles
28. The Maze
29. The Proposition
30. The Choice
31. The Start
32. The Fakes
33. The Elevator
34. The Blood
35. The End

1. The Prologue

A:/N: Since I don't like excessively long A/Ns at the beginning of prologues, I'll do the formal introduction in Chapter 1.

The Prologue

Listen, I don't like introductions or prologues. I think they're boring. Hopping straight into the action is far better, I reckon. Prologues are like being stuck in a waiting room: you can practically feel the story, it's right within reach, but for some reason the author wants to build up the anticipation to make you even more anxious before you go in.

So sorry about this. I want to set the facts straight before you make any assumptions. To tell you where the story really starts, because at the time I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Wow, I really sound melodramatic. But it's still true. Here's the beginning.

-Personal Messaging Sequence:

Starting at 8.35 PM, 10 April 2010-

RedConverse: Hey, I checked out your blog the other day, and it was awesome. I was wondering about that one band you featured last week? I can't find their information anywhere.

GetOutWindow: I'm glad you liked it.

The band's name is Steel People (not to be confused with Steal People, because that's a pedophile site that I never intend on revisiting ever).

RedConverse: I'll make a note of that. On the bright side, I now know that you're probably not a creeper.

GetOutWindow: Or I'm just using reverse psychology, you'll never know...

RedConverse: I'm terrified. Don't expect a Facebook invite from me any time soon.

GetOutWindow: Pssh, like I'd want you on Facebook. Either way, I'm still extremely lovable, if you don't count the fact that I watch people sleeping and have children locked in my basement.

RedConverse: Awesome, so you're basically Edward Cullen then?

GetOutWindow: Oh please, I've never touched a tube of body glitter before in my life.

RedConverse: Denial is said to be an ugly emotion, you know.

GetOutWindow: I think I'd know if I've ever had the urge to bedazzle myself.

RedConverse: Even the manliest of men have, at some point in their lives, wanted to rock the bedazzled look. You don't have to hide it from me.

GetOutWindow: Fine, there was this one time when I was five. I found this really awesome green glitter in my mom's crafts shelf and I accidentally spilled it all in my hair.

RedConverse: Accidentally?

GetOutWindow: That's what I told my mom. :3

RedConverse: And she believed you?

GetOutWindow: Of course she did! Lying is one of my many gifts.

RedConverse: Along with sneaking unnoticed into people's bedrooms and getting glitter in your hair. I'm jealous already...

Yeah, I know. Its a crappy place for a story to start. Just a kid messaging a guy about a band he featured on his blog, who wants to read about that? Not some badass shootout, or with an epic car chase scene. No emotional moments to grab the attention of the reader or some foreshadowing event.

Nope, it started with me being bored one night. Yes, protagonists do sometimes do less interesting things than killing the bad guy or finding some holy trinket. Shocking, I know. Sorry if I just threw your childhood out of the window, but it's about time you found out.

But I'm getting sidetracked, as per usual.

Right now I'm hoping that you're at least a bit curious about this mysterious GetOutWindow, who happens to be my best friend. So I'll tell you all that I know about him.


He's a sixteen-year-old boy that's in my time zone, and has black hair.

… Yes, that is really how much I know about his real life persona. I'm not kidding. Sorry for the dramatic build-up.

And no, neither of us are paranoid. What actually happened was that we made a deal not to tell each other anything about who we were, because we wanted to outlast the other before letting something slip. It was the only rule we had. We could talk to each other about anything at all, but personal information never allowed.

I didn't even know my best friend's first name, and neither of us thought it was weird. It was comfortable and mysterious; no strings attached. We were two strangers that had a friendship – and maybe a little bit of hope – in each other.

Contrary to popular belief, I don't have a friendship with a person called Marco 'Fang' Novia. Trust me, he's not the type of person anyone want on speed-dial... unless you happen to have an underwear-modelling emergency, but that's besides the point. For now all you need to know is that I don't like him.

So this is a story about me. And a stranger for a best friend, a jackass for an enemy, a pyro for a partner in crime, maybe some illegal stunts, and the death of someone. (Which might just be me if my mom ever finds about the illegal things that I may or may not have done.)

Oh, I nearly left something off the list. Nearly dying also features here a lot. I guess I did give death quite a few punches in the face in my lifetime, and I hope you will put up a fight too one day.

But like I said, none of this is too important for now. You know where this story starts, which is all you need for now. I don't like to ruin endings (or the face of death, that bastard likes to hold a grudge about a couple of teensy right hooks) so I guess all that is left to say is that this is only the beginning.

Welcome. I hope you'll enjoy reading this story almost as much as I did living it.

No pressure.

2. The Chest

A/N: Holy crap, everyone! Thanks for all the reviews, alerts and favourites. *beams*

I will be posting every Friday, hopefully without fail. (Gotta post fics on Friday...)

This story is going to be an attempt at an original cliché. Patience, young grasshoppers. The story starts out fairly typically, but I hope you'll stick it out to the good stuff.

Thanks to Axe09. If Crash was my baby, and writing it was giving birth, she'd be the midwife holding my hand, telling me to breathe and making sure the kid doesn't come out as a deformed monkey.

Chapter 1: The Chest

"Will you quit that?"

"Quit what? Breathing?"

"You can't just sneak up on people like that! It's creepy."

"It's nice to see you too, Ride. And you're just jealous that you can't walk silently like I do."

I rubbed my nose in indignation, trying to soothe some of my battered nerve endings. We were both in the library, using out whisper-yell voices. (Well, at least I was. Fang always talks in a tone close a whisper, so I guess this could be his actual yelling voice.)

I had been putting away Hitler's Regime away on one of the shelves, when BAM! – I turned around and walked straight into the very hard chest of the school hottie, Marco 'Fang' Novia. He usually acted like a shadow in the school; silent and dark, trying to be sexy and blend into the shadows at the same time. Which, according to most girls, worked.

"I do not see how walking silently and breathing down people's necks can be a talent I should be jealous of." I replied, crossing my arms. "Why are you here anyways?"

Fang smiled – a grin that any sane girl would be driven crazy by, and yes, it drove me crazy as well, but more of the I want to loom over your dead body laughing-crazy than the usual I want to have a party in your pants-crazy that most girls are. Some of these said crazies were looking anxiously at me from their tables where they were 'studying'.

"I was trying to put away my book." He held up The Nazi Invasion, smiling smugly.

I scowled. Of course he would have a perfectly sensible and innocent answer. "Why were you right next to me then?"

He indicated to the name printed on the cover of his book – it was the same author who wrote The Regime of Hitler. "I was waiting for you to finish up so I could put mine away as well. It's not my fault you spun around and practically ran into me."

"I didn't run!"

"Well then you walk with more force than an angry elephant. It's a good thing my muscles are so toned or you might've crushed a rib."

"Wouldn't that be a tragedy," I said dryly. "And I nearly broke my nose, you know; your chest is like a freaking wall. It's a miracle I don't have a nosebleed."

He shrugged, his long overlong hair falling in front of his face. I couldn't really see why so many girls found him so ridiculously attractive, especially with that mane that reminded my of a shaggy dog's.

"Don't look so sour, Ride. I know that you wish you could've stayed longer with your body pressed up against mine, but really, there are easier methods. I know you want me and my chiseled jaw, my defined biceps, not to mention my heart-stopping smile – "

" – It's a miracle that your head hasn't exploded from your ego yet, you know that, right? The next time you get a compliment from someone, the little brain you have might end up splattered on the walls."

Naturally, the comment didn't fase him.

"Since that wasn't an outright refusal, I'll take that as a yes." He spread his arms wide, still with that cheeky glint in his eye, inviting me into his arms. "I know you want me." For a second his shirt lifted to reveal his belly button. My eyes flickered down at that bare skin for a second, and I wasn't surprised to see the hard ridges of the beginning of his six pack. Of course he has to work out a lot too. He can't be a sexy beanpole, now can he?

He noticed my eyes flicker downwards. I scowled at him, just to show that I wasn't going to swoon.

"What I want, Novia," I said dryly, looking back up at his face, "Is for you to leave me alone and let me work in the library in peace. I also have an important History assignment and I really have better things to do than talk to you. Shocking, I know."

He crossed his arms, still grinning. There was no rejection or sadness on his face. "Not many women – and come to think of it, not that many men – would've have denied such a fine offer to be in my arms."

"You forgot to add the 'with an IQ below sixty' to that group of people," I pointed out. "Now excuse me, I'm going to do something fun, like bash my head against a wall."

"If you do that, then you'll lose enough brain cells to definitely be in the group of people with an IQ below sixty, and we both know what that means." He leered suggestively at me, wriggling his one eyebrow slightly.


Great comeback, I know.

So I decided to leave with some dignity. I spun on my heel and left the library before I would take the heaviest book from one of the shelves and throw it at Fang's big head.

"Are you kidding me!"

"Why would I? It's just him being stupid."

"I can't believe you. The hottest guy in school that everyone is after offered you his studly chest and manly arms to snuggle in and you said no."

"I told you! I don't like him. He just wants to annoy me, not seduce me. And I already have a boyfriend, remember?"

"Yeah, whatever. Once you two are done with your lover's spat maybe you'll see that you're perfect for each other."

"And what is Dylan then? Chopped liver?"

Simone shot me a look through her intense grey eyes, and I swear that kittens died somewhere in Africa. "No, but he's just too sweet. Too perfect. Too safe. Fang is sexy and dangerous."

I snorted. "I've known him for at least three years, remember? He's about as sexy as a middle-aged drunk pedophile with a 'stache."

Simone shot me another look, this time worried. "That was disturbingly specific."

I rolled my eyes at her. "You know what I mean."

"Really, Max. Practically any girl in the entire school would kill for Fang to talk to them – "

"And I'd kill for Fang to stop talking to me."

Simone sighed, defeated. She was one of my best friends at school. She was fun to talk with; except for when we spoke about Fang. Then she was persistent and seemed convinced that Fang and I would make a beautiful couple.

Ha. We could barely stand being in the same room with each other for more than five minutes, and that was stretching it. 'Sexual tension' my ass, this was mutual dislike.

"So," I said, trying to change the topic onto safer grounds. I really didn't want an in-depth analysis of Fang's abs. (That was one conversation I really wished I never had any part in.) "Are you pumped for the field trip next week?"

The distraction worked perfectly.

Simone's eyes brightened. "Yeah, I can't wait to have a legitimate school day that's actually interesting, with no homework included."

"We're going to the planetarium, I wouldn't really call it interesting." I rolled my eyes. Simone was a closet nerd. Even though she had a lean tanned figure, short and spiky brown hair, she loved to read science fiction and watch documentaries on the Science and History channels. Her idea of an awesome day out was hitting a couple of museums and stopping at the library.

"Yeah, of course the planetarium is interesting! They completely revamped it in the past six months so I can't wait to see what new stuff they have, especially since there have been so many breakthroughs, like photons that..."

I stopped listening to Simone. As much as I loved hanging out with her, when she started talking Science none of the words she used were remotely English, so I had no clue what she was saying, even if I did pay attention.

Thankfully the bell rang a few minutes later. I said my goodbyes to Simone and headed off to Biology, one of my favourite lessons. Well, the subject was interesting at least.

The classroom was only a few minutes' walk away. My school was huge; with at about a thousand students in it. No one really knew anyone outside their clique, except for popular and hot kids.

I strolled into the classroom and took a desk near the back of the class. Just as I sat down, a small group of girls walked into the classroom nattering about either make up or boys; I couldn't really tell over the giggling. Biology was no doubt their favourite lesson of the day, mainly because they shared a class with me.

(That was sarcasm, just in case you didn't catch it. By now I guess you know who else is my Biology class. And no, they're not excited about our teacher, Mr. Jones, unless they all have a thing for old balding men. But for some reason I doubt that, call me crazy.)

The girls took their seats, sitting in the front of the classroom, leaving one desk open in the middle of their crowd.

I looked down as I heard the footsteps. I know I shouldn't have been able to hear that quiet stepping, lighter than someone lightly tapping on their desk, but I did. I heard it over the chattering of kids in class and the giggling of a select few of girls.

I listened harder. The person was entering the class and walking to his seat. There was an excited rush of whispers. I forced myself to keep looking down, even though I was desperate to see his scowl. On his first day at school, all he sat down in the most unpopulated area of the classroom – the front row. The moment he had sat down a horde of girls instantly joined him.

He'd just glared at them – unfortunately for him, his 'smouldering' gaze just seemed to drive them even crazier.

I listened as he sat down. I knew it was safe to look up – I didn't want Fang to ever catch me with my eyes following him, ever. Call it keeping an eye out for you enemies. I went to great lengths so that he wouldn't find out – I could already imagine the endless teasing that would come with that.

He was already convinced that I secretly wanted to stick my tongue down his throat, which is just gross. Who knows what sort of diseases I could get from him?

The lesson began, but unfortunately it was just revision work. So what I did instead of rereading through an old textbook was stare out one of the windows, looking at the perfectly blue sky up ahead.

For a while I wondered what it would be like to just soar over the earth, to go wherever I wanted to go and see all the places I wanted to see; to have no one to tell you where you must be and what you must do and how you must act.

To just be completely and totally free.

Even in my wildest hopes and fantasies, It never even crossed my mind that I would one day get my dream to live in the sky, or what the nightmare of the price would be.

I didn't know much of what would happen as I gazed out of that window on that really insignificant day. Heck, I didn't even know what I'd be having for dinner.

A/N2: So, this week's question: Would you want to be pushed up against Fang's manly chest? Why or why not? ('EEEW! Cooties' is a valid answer, just by the way.)

Unrelated: Is it just me or is the quality of this fandom going down? I would like to recommend Rainbowstrike's Amazing Clichés to anyone who hasn't read it yet.

3. The Train

A/N: Some people asked about Fang's OOCness. Remember that the Fang here has never been in the School (to the best of his knowledge, at least). Being in the School for ten years will traumatise someone to the point that it alters their personality. Hope that clears everything up.

Chapter 2: The Train

The train station was bustling.

I absent-mindedly weaved my way between the people; trying to make my way through so that I could finally find some peace. The place smelled of smoke and a bit like rotten food.

It was gross, but it was my only route home. I lived right on the other side of town; my mom had insisted that I went to her old high school – even though there were schools just as good near our suburb.

Eventually I made it to my designated train just as its doors hissed open. I was the first one to climb on board. I automatically headed towards the last seat in the compartment.

I usually sat in a corner at the very back of the train. The seats were high so almost nobody could see me, but I had a clear view of them. There was a piece of shiny metal attached to the painted wall; I think it used to be some kind of huge coat hanger or something, but I couldn't really tell since there was a chunk of it missing. It wasn't very big or clean, but it let me to see exactly was happening behind me with no one being any wiser.

I liked riding the train after school. In summer it was hot and sticky and just plain uncomfortable, but since the weather was cooling down into something that was pleasantly warm instead of unbearably hot, I could just plug in my earphones and clear my head before I had to start worrying about homework or have to think about anything important.

This was my little haven. A stinky haven with rowdy kids, a couple of sketchy men in trenchcoats and sometimes a few drug dealers, but still, it was mine.

Until today, of course. I wouldn't be telling you about this train ride unless something actually interesting happened. I'll skip the rest of the boring details about everyone else filing into the train. You probably don't want to read about that.

Just as I plugged in my earphones and glanced at the platform, waiting for the giant machine to start its journey, I saw him running towards the slowly closing doors.

Things seemed to slow down as my heart beat faster and my horror escalated. He pumped his hands faster at his sides and leaped gracefully into the air, sailing through four feet of open space and disappearing from my window view.

I whipped my head to look at metal mirror I so often used, where I could see the reflection of the doors perfectly. He rolled through the hissing entryway and sprang gracefully to his feet, as if he had just been lazing in the cool shade during a summer afternoon, not as if he'd sprinted at an almost inhuman speed to catch this – my – train in time.

He grinned to himself. I almost slid off my seat when I saw that smile; I'd never seen that expression on his face before. I was used to see him smile with arrogance and seeping confidence in his own sexuality, or grinning at me as if I was some kind of prey.

This was different.

It was a self-satisfied, determined grin. One that barely moved his lips, but was completely in the eyes. He was proud that he had managed to get on the train on time, not proud that he'd done it while looking so good.

The train jolted into motion, Fang lost his balance and grabbed onto one of the steel poles. The moment was gone.

"Did you see that! I wish my boyfriend was so awesome."

"Pfft, I wish he was my boyfriend!"

Yeah, he's a real charmer – on any day that doesn't end with a y.

The girls were sitting about a dozen seats away from me; practically right where Fang was. He smiled at them, a smile that said I know you want me, but I don't really want you, so I'll just smile and pretend that you actually have a chance. Or maybe it said Hmmm... You're hot. My Fang-code isn't very great. But I'm guessing it was the first one, since he walked right past those two girls and headed towards the back of the train.

And then he spotted my reflection in that shiny metal, staring back at him.

And his expression changed completely. That quiet self confidence was gone, along with that determination I'd seen seconds earlier. It melted off his features smoothly and was replaced by his usual I'm so hot grin which I hated so much.

I scowled as Marco 'Fang' Novia slid gracefully onto the seat facing me and said those words I learned to hate.

"Hey, Ride."

"Any reason why you chose here, of all places to sit, Novia?" I asked coldly, keeping my arms crossed.

"You seem to be good at chasing everyone else away," he said and indicated to the rest of the train. Every other seat was taken, except for the ones in little compartment.

"How do you manage to have a perfectly logical explanation for every little thing that you do to annoy me?"

He shrugged. "It's a gift. Logical and level-headed is what I do best. Add some quick-thinking and razor sharp wit and you get a beautiful Fangcake."

"Fangcake?" I said in surprise. Fang, sugary and sweet?

An eyebrow disappeared into his too-long hair. "Yes, a Fangcake. The recipe is a bit complicated and its high in demand, but it's definitely worth it."

"Let me guess the ingredients. Annoying and arrogant, with a dash of cocky?"

Fang smiled, and I knew that he had some beautiful comeback ready to be shot at me. "Why yes, I am cocky. Very, very cocky. If you would be so kind to spend a couple of hours in my bedroom, you could experience it firsthand."

Okay, so that wasn't really a beautiful comeback – well, maybe he thought it was good.

"A couple of hours!" I gasped. "You wouldn't last longer than five minutes at best."

"And yet they would be the best five minutes of your life, that no mortal man could ever top." Fang leaned back into his seat, flipping some of his dark hair away from his eyes.

"Oh, sorry," I apologised. "I didn't realise that you were immortal. Which is a real pity, seeing the world that could do without you."

"You forgot 'with the looks of a Greek god' part," he said, sounding offended. "Never forget the Greek god part."

"Like Lord Pan?" I asked.

Fang raised his eyebrows a fraction of an inch. "Lord of the Wildlife? That one with a goat's rear-end?"

I'll admit it; I was totally floored. Fang didn't stike me as the type of guy to know anything about Greek Mythology... Well, not including Aphrodite, at least.

"The very same," I replied, trying to take this revelation in my stride.

He nodded thoughtfully. "I can definitely see why you'd think that. I can be pretty wild when I want to be... Although my butt and legs are more pleasant to look at than a goat's."

I decided to change the topic. If I hear one more innuendo from him I might just shoot myself. "So, Novia, what are you doing on this train? I haven't really seen you here before."

The corners of his eyes crinkled. "Are you asking me if I come here often?"

"No, I'm asking if you'll be annoying me for an extra twenty minutes of each day. I figured the asylum would want a heads-up."

"I don't believe you just want to know that I would be annoying –"

" – Before you go on about your defined biceps again," I interrupted. "Can you please tell me what you're doing here?"
"You think my biceps are defined?"

I rolled my eyes. "Oh, of course! How could anyone in their right mind thing that your sinewy muscles are not the best thing on this planet?"

"No, they're certainly not the best things are this planet." He agreed with me, for once in my life. Hope started to bloom in me that maybe Fang's ego was finally becoming smaller than Saturn –

" – My face, however, is an entirely different matter."

… Nevermind. I guess some things will never change.

"Really, can you answer my question now? Will you be here or not?"

"I'm just on this train on Wednesdays."

I exhaled a breath of air I didn't even know I was holding. He wasn't going to be here for most of the week! Somewhere angels are singing, I'm sure of it.

"You don't have to be so relieved, you know. Most ladies would be very happy to be talking to me right at this very moment."

I thought of those two girls sitting near the train's door. "So then why are you talking to me instead?"

"Because," Fang replied as he stretched languidly over his seat. "Watching you get angry over what I say is so much more fun than watching girls blush when I talk to them."

"Huh, I always thought that getting girls was far more important to you than annoying girls."

His eyes locked on mine. "I suppose it's far more fun to get the stubborn ones than settling for someone who is running after you like a puppy." His eyes held mine for a second more, and I swear he used his 'dark and smouldering' gaze on me.

It quickly disappeared and was replaced by his grin that basically meant 'Don't take anything I just said seriously. Like always, crap is pouring from my mouth.'

For a second, a small part of my mind – the part that thinks that hiding under the covers at night time will protect you against the monsters under your bed, or that your Hogwarts letter is just lost in the mail – told me that maybe there was a chance that Marco Novia was actually attracted to me.

The rest of my brain – the logical part that says that two plus two equals four, or that Fang is an idiot – laughed at the idea. It was ridiculous. Fang would never, ever ever want to date me. He went out of his way so much to annoy me, to infuriate me and make me scream (in frustration, not whatever your dirty mind is thinking). He wouldn't want me. His flirting was just one more way to make me scowl or yell obscenities at him.

Because Marco 'Fang' Novia is so arrogant that it's a miracle that anyone can get within eight feet of him without hitting the solid wall of his ego.

I decided to tackle the problem head-on. "So you're admitting that you're trying to seduce me?" I asked, trying to make my expression open and curious.

Fang shrugged. "Hardly. I seduced you long ago, you just haven't realised it yet, Ride."

I shot him a glare. "You really do have a lot of faith in yourself, don't you?"

"It's not faith, it's tried and tested facts."

"Fine, then I'm the variable."

Fang ran a hand through his dark hair, rumpling it even more than it already was. The train jolted slightly. "Well played, Ride. But excuse me, I have some better things to do now than talk to a girl who has no interest in me at all. I'd rather go chat to someone interested in my sinewy biceps."

I stared at him in disbelief as he stood up gracefully from his seat and sauntered over to those girls. They giggled like mad as he slid into their seat.

I decided that I wouldn't mind sticking my boot up his butt and watch him fly all the way to Africa.

What the hell? I couldn't help but stare in wonder even though my mind was screaming in frustration. He couldn't have contradicted himself more if he told me that he was really an intelligent and insecure person that loved My Little Pony and caring about others.

I sighed as I looked down at my iPod. I pressed 'play' and leaned against the window. I winced as I heard a laughter pierced through the wall of my music.

That idiot, I thought to myself as I turned my music up even louder. I knew he was just flirting with those girls to annoy me – and he was doing a fantastic job of it too.

As per usual.

A/N2: For today's question, I'd like to you ask you about what you want to see happen in this story. I have a lot of this planned, but I'd love to hear your opinions.

And for a recommendation, I'd like to suggest After, by kikofreako. What a lovely and beautiful oneshot. (It's post-FANG.)

4. The Boyfriend

A/N: A lot of people want more online action, so I apologise that there isn't some yet. But I'm working through Max's day chronologically (except for a flashback) so once she finally gets home there'll be online interactions.

The Boyfriend

- 12 July 2007 -

"Could you pass the butter, please?"

Those were the very first words that Marco Novia ever uttered to May-Alex Ride.

The first words May-Alex Ride uttered to Marco Novia was something along the lines of;

"Get it yourself. I'm busy."

And that's precisely where a very long feud started. Admittedly, Max wasn't in the best mood possible, (she was running off three hours of sleep, had a killer headache, was feeling nauseous from all the junk she ate last night, and that might be PMS looming over the horizon), and she was certainly not ready to look at bright lights or even keep her eyes open, let alone make idle breakfast conversation.

The boy sitting across the table from her raised an eyebrow, but reached over the table and took the butter from its place next to Max.

"You know, manners won't kill you." He muttered to himself, not intending for her to hear him.

But since Max's hearing was above average, she did hear the words. She glared at him through her haze of tiredness, trying to look threatening even though she was still wearing a rumpled shirt she had slept in and her hair looked better suited for a bird's nest, unlike his perfectly sleek hair that looked like it was professionally done.

He shrugged and carried on eating his toast, looking slightly thoughtful and well-rested. There are no bags underneath his eyes, she noted with jealousy.

Max sighed into her bowl of cereal, wishing that wasn't chocolate flavoured. She wasn't sure if she could handle another mouthful of sugar.

It was the second week of a summer camp that she was beginning to regret signing onto. Not only were her roommates quite possibly louder than a set of jet engines, and she had no privacy, and was also required to get up at seven each morning, which was a total horror in itself.

Max looked around the breakfast cafeteria, wishing that her friend, Shelly, would actually join her at the table. The dark presence opposite her was making Max slightly uncomfortable.

She chewed more of her cereal, trying to fight a gag reflex.

And that was May-Alex Ride's very first interaction with Marco Novia, soon to be named Fang. At the time of the conversation, May-Alex did indeed know who Marco was simply because of her roommate obsessing over him.

And since her roommate had bad taste in guys – Greg and Damon, both relationships lasted two days – Max didn't make an effort to know any of her romantic interests.

But as it turns out, Max didn't need to make an effort at all. Some things just happen, a series coincidences that change the little things in our lives.

And in this case, that little incident would be a big sport played by tiny teams.


That was the activity for their morning.


The last time Max had played soccer was when she was eight, and although she had good stamina she wasn't exactly good at dribbling a ball.

Thanks to being placed on a team of six, she was asked to play on attack. None of her friends were in her team, although she recognised Archie from rock-climing yesterday and Marco from the breakfast table.

She massaged her pounding temples as the referee blew his whistle to start the game. She leaped into action, sticking to the right side of the field, watching carefully as the ball made its way down the left side. A girl in yellow dribbled the ball gracefully towards the goal box and took a shot. Their goalie deflected the ball and it went hurtling straight at Max.

She ran forward, ready to receive. Her breath pounded in her ears and her headache was just tugging lightly at the corners of her mind. She was three feet away when –


"What the hell, asshole?"

"Not my fault you're blind!"

Max jumped to her feet again, wiping off the grass from her legs and assessing the burn on her knees.

"That was my ball!" she said angrily. "Why the hell did you bump into me like that? We could've gotten a goal!"

Marco sighed in annoyance. "It was clearly on my side of the field. And you were going to overshoot, I could see that. So I decided to aim the ball right after you kicked, but then you changed direction for no reason and hit me!"

"Don't blame me!"

"Marco and Max, cool it." the referee said. The entire game had stopped as the other kids were looking at the pair in amusement and confusion.

Marco raised his hands defensively in the air. "She started it."
Max opened her mouth in indignation, but before she could reply, the referee blew his whistle and the game continued.

Max sighed in irritation and ran towards the goals, trying to get the ball and score a goal just to prove that she was in the right.

She didn't score a goal, of course.

And much to her irritation, she found out very quickly who their main player was.

At the end of the game, the other players slapped Marco on the back and congratulated him on their 23-2 smash of a win.

"That was awesome, Fang! That one when Kayla intercepted you and you just kicked it right next to her foot and scored? Poetry, man. Poetry."

Max stopped to stare at the boy talking to Marco and blurted out the first thing she said since the referee told her to not argue.


Marco looked at her in surprise. "It's my nickname."

The other boy grinned. "Don't ask how he got it, you really don't want to know."

"What kind of name is Fang? It sounds like something I'd call I dog."

-14 October 2010 (present) -

I practically ran out of the train.

I couldn't stand it. No matter how loud I turned up my iPod I could still hear Fang talk to those girls. I've always had pretty decent hearing my whole life; but this was just insane. Well, it was driving me insane, but that's not the point. I hated him so much. I wanted to punch him and kick him until I could wipe off that cheeky grin on his face with my foot.

Instead I walked past him and headed straight for the train door. I was on the platform before the doors had even finished hissing open.

Freedom, I though as I smelled the smoke mixed with pine trees that was the signature sent of the platform. A sweet, Fangless freedom.

I slung my backpack over my shoulder as I headed away from the station. I saw a glimpse of dark hair in my peripheral vision and swore mentally. What does he want now?

"Ride," he said. It wasn't a question for my attention. It was a bland statement.

I whipped my head around furiously. "What," I hissed, "Do you want now?"

He put his hands up the universal 'Whoa, Nelly' sign. "Yeesh, if I knew you were in such a bad mood I wouldn't have said anything."

"And whose fault is that?" Rage still bubbled inside me. I could practically feel it eating in my stomach.

"The bad mood or me not saying anything?"


Fang sighed. "Whatever, Ride. You dropped this on the train." he opened his hand, showing me a small piece of paper about about half the size of standard sheets. It had a doodle on it. I recognised it – I'd drawn it in Math earlier today. It was a bunch of abstract shapes with a smiley in the corner.

"Where did you find it?" I asked incredulously. How the hell did he get hold of it?

"We covered this," he replied. "You dropped it while you were running off the train like a bat from hell."

"Bats fly."

I saw a bit of my own irritation flash behind Fang's eyes. "This is the part where you say; 'Oh, Fang! Thank you so much for being so amazing and handsome!'"

"Do you really want me to say that?"

"Do you want your paper back?"


"Do you want me?"


"Eh, it was worth a shot. Better luck next time, you'll come to your senses." He shrugged casually and shoved his hands into his pockets.

And it was settled then. I spun on my heel (and nearly lost my balance with my bag weighing on my back) and sauntered off.

I could feel the heat on my cheeks – I never blushed when I was embarrassed, the only time my cheeks went red was when I was angry. I didn't even pay attention to where I was going until I found myself in a local park. Then I spotted him and my anger and frustration faded away like the red in my cheeks.

He spotted me. "Hey," he said once I was in hearing distance.

I grinned. "Hey. I missed you,"

"Hmm, I missed you too," he wrapped his arms around my waist and leaned in for a quick kiss. Shivers went down my spine as his fingertips grazed my arm lightly. Dylan always walked me to my house every day after school. His school was just five minutes away from the train station so we always met up in one of the local parks and walked home together. Dylan's house was only a ten minutes' walk away from mine.

Dylan kissed my cheek, so softly I could barely feel it. But I knew it was happening, I could smell his clean and spicy scent that was the best smell in the world for me.

He was just teasing me with these light pecks on soft touches. He knew it drove me crazy.

He smiled down at me. He was about a half a head taller than me, which is an achievement for pretty much anyone. I'm really lanky.

"Are you ready to go?" he asked. His expression was open and curious, expectant for an answer.

I swung my schoolbag over my shoulder, wincing as a corner hit me between the shoulders. "Yeah, let's rock."

"Do you want me to carry your schoolbag?"

I shook my head. Every day Dylan asked me if he should carry some of my stuff. Every day I said no. But he never stopped asking.

"You sure? It won't be much trouble."

"No, I'm fine. Don't worry about it."

We casually linked hands as we walked down the streets. We told each other about how our days went, and Dylan patiently listened as I told him about Fang's and his stupid fan girls and his way of outsmarting everyone and just his general way of annoying me.

Dylan occasionally shook his head or said "What an idiot!" and sometimes, when I was just about to explode from whatever anger, Dylan would just wrap his arms around my waist, and that would calm me down so completely it was like I was suddenly a completely different person.

I felt so calm I wondered if Dylan was somehow slipping me sedative drugs, but I knew that wasn't the case. I was a raging fire, and Dylan was my water to cool me off before I burnt myself to smithereens.

"He's on the train now, you know. Every Wednesday he will annoy me for an extra twenty of minutes of each day," I sighed dramatically, as if the whole world was resting on my shoulders.

Dylan laughed. "Make the most of it. It can't be that bad."

"Oh, but it is," I said darkly. "How can I make the most of it?"

Dylan paused to consider. "Well, you could always work on your BB-gun shooting accuracy."

I laughed. "I guess. Twenty points if I hit him on the forehead, eighty points if it messes up his hair?"

It was Dylan's turn to laugh. "Sounds about right. So see, you'll survive." Dylan smiled down at me. "And if you feel like you can't handle it any more, think about the amazing me and you'll be alright."

"I'll do my best," I promised.

I knew that I wouldn't think of him when I was with Fang; it's hard to focus on anything else when having a battle of the wits with him.

But I think a small part of me, even then, knew it wasn't just anger or snarky comments that would keep me from thinking about Dylan. It was just that they were so completely and totally different that cross-referencing the pair would just be weird. Wrong, even.

A/N2: Which flock member do you think you're most like? (Dylan does count, 'cause he's a sexy man beast.)

I suggest that everyone should read Lacking Stealth's Achieving Peace, in Five Simple Steps.

5. The Variable

A/N: And yes, Max's full name is May-Alex Ride.

The Variable

"Afternoon, Mrs Wilkins," Fang nodded politely at the elderly woman behind the counter. Mrs Wilkins was a slightly plump woman with brown hair that was slowly greying, and wore thick glasses that completely distorted her eyes. Although she was certainly no picture, warmth seemed to radiate from her.

"You're so sweet, Marco," she smiled at the teen in front of her. "You're going to grow up to be a strapping young man."

Fang didn't know what to say to that, so he just smiled faintly. A fine young man? Who the hell still says 'a strapping young man'?

He turned on his heel and left the building, enjoying the feeling of the last weak rays of sun hit his face. He chalked it up to the generation gap. After all, what would his grand kids say when Fang would say things like 'awesome' and 'cool'?

He tried to picture himself as an old man with mini-Fangs running around the house. The picture just didn't seem to fit him at all. Would he really grow up to have a wife and kids or would he end up becoming an old and wrinkled spinster?

Wait, aren't spinsters only used to describe old unmarried ladies?

Fine then, he reasoned with himself. He would definitely be an old spinster. One that would probably call teenage boys strapping young men and hit them with knitting needles.

Yes, Marco Novia had a nasty habit of getting sidetracked very, very easily when left alone with his thoughts. He could stay perfectly on topic when talking to a (mostly) rational person, but when his mind wandered he couldn't really think about one thing for more than a minute at a time. On some days he'd start wondering about chopping trees and the next minute he'd be thinking about an illegal underground ninja society.

Fang sighed as he looked around him. He'd just spent the last four blocks thinking about absolutely nothing important at all! He shoved his hands into his pockets and looked down at the pavement, putting a scowl on his face.

Although he sent out a pretty decent 'Prince of Doom' vibe, he learned quite quickly that it was a bad idea to look down and scowl when he walked into a tree, hitting his face.


Well, first he hit his forehead against one of the lower branches. He automatically crouched forward to cradle his head, slamming his face into the trunk.

"Arg," Fang muttered to himself. "Stupid, stupid, stupid!" His fingers assessed the damage tentatively.

Fang carried on walking down the road, nursing a swollen lip, a nasty bump on the head a bruised ego.

What a fine young man I am, he thought sourly as he traced the bark pattern that had formed on his chin. Stupidity at it's finest.

He covered the last three blocks to his house pretty quickly, trying hard not to scowl too much. He fished his keys from out of his pocket – which was a mission, seeing how tight his jeans were.

Once he made it inside he first raided the kitchen. Fang had always eaten a freakish amount of food since he was a kid, but now that he was a teenager (or a strapping young man,) he practically cleaned out the kitchen on a daily basis.

Once he finished his admittedly hearty snack, he trudged upstairs.

He flopped onto his bed the moment he was in his room. His job always drained him, even though it really wasn't that exerting. He felt like he could sleep an age. And then some more. Sleep was sounding pretty good to him, especially since he was already lying on his bed, but he knew he had more pressing matters to get on with. The afternoon was practically gone and he hadn't even started on his homework yet.

He sighed as he stood up again – his inner Fang cried a bit as he parted with the bed – and cleared a space for himself on his already messy desk.

He decided to be a good little student by doing his homework, staring with Math because that was the easiest. Well, for him, at least. He could cope with numbers and facts and things that had only one definite answer, an solution that wasn't memorized from a textbook, rather the answer was something that could be figured out if he thought it through. And even if you were done with a problem, you could go back and change it if you needed to.

It wasn't like life, where there were thousands of options and different solutions to the same problem. Life could throw a complete curveball at the last possible second and he would have to think on his feet. There were hundreds of unforeseen chain reactions to one choice and that if you made a mistake, you couldn't just erase it and start again. Life had far too many variables.


He thought back to the train ride, and Max stating the obvious.

"Fine, then I'm the variable."

He smiled wryly to himself. He'd never heard her say something so true and logical before. Even though Fang didn't like to socialize much, he did understand people.

He understood them exceptionally well, actually. He knew what kind of hair-flick or smile he had to give to a girl to make her fall for him. He knew it when people told the truth or lied, and he could tell if someone was just pretending to be his friend or not.

But Max was certainly the variable. No matter how he tried, he couldn't figure out what was going on in her mind. Sure, he knew exactly how to annoy her, but that was different. He was good at annoying people if he wanted to. It was his gift - grating people the wrong way.

What a talent.

And yes, he loved to see her get pissed or yell at him – it gave him a strange satisfaction that he knew how to push her buttons. But he just couldn't figure her out. And it frustrated him to no end.

Fang pressed his head against the cool glass of his window. He was good at calculating people's next moves, but it was impossible with Max.

And he guessed it would be a while before he could guess what she would do or say next.

"Max?" Would you pass the potatoes?"

I passed the potatoes.

I glanced anxiously at the wall clock.

"How was your day, Max?" My father asked.

"It was okay, I guess." Aside from the fact that I had to share breathings space with him. "Nothing really happened." He was ON MY FREAKING TRAIN! "School was pretty boring." He annoyed me in the library! WHY ME?

"Oh," Mom's face fell a bit. She brushed a strand of her blonde hair out of her face. Truth be told, I've never really liked my Mom all that much; she's overbearing and we have a common ground of zero, but I get on pretty well with my dad.

Maybe it's because he loves teaching me new things, like last year he showed me how to throw knives, and has been giving me sparring lessons since I was kid. Sure, it wasn't the normal father-daughter bonding activity, but it was definitely interesting to say the least.

"Did you write any tests today?" My mom asked.

"No," I said. "We usually only do assessments later in the year."

"Oh," Mom replied. "You'll study well for them, right?"

"I always do." I said. Yes, I do study for tests. Usually so that Fang can't always be smug about doing better than me in a paper.

There was a moment of silence as we all chewed our food. I had a second helping of potatoes.

My mom frowned. "May-Alex," she said. "You've already had your maximum starch intake for the day. Rather balance it out with proteins."

Yeah, my mom's a nutritionist. I've lived my whole life hearing about what bad food would do to my body – and it wasn't a pretty picture, let me tell you. Mom carefully mapped out all the meals that we eat as a family so I was fit as a fiddle. (Who made up that saying anyways? How can fiddles be fit? They're instruments.)

"I know Mom," I replied. "I did actually get quite a lot of exercise this afternoon. I lied. Screw it, I was hungry and I wanted more potatoes.

"Fine, Max, do what you want."

Seconds of silence stretched into minutes, only broken by the sound of the occasional fork clanking against a plate.

I finished eating. "Can I go now?" I asked.

Mom's face fell slightly. "Sure, honey. Let us know if you need anything."

I stood up from the table.

-October 14th, 20:15-

RedConverse: Fancy meeting you here. :)

GetOutWindow: … Fancy meeting you here? Who the hell still says that?

RedConverse: *mumblegrumble* My day was great, thanks for asking. How was yours?

GetOutWindow: Mine was fine. I'm wondering what would happen if I started taking naps during classes. I'm not sure if the teachers would notice or not.

RedConverse: Take the nap, I reckon. You probably won't miss out on anything too important, and you get extra z's so you should be fine.

GetOutWindow: Nah, I'm too much of a good student to ever sleep a learning experience away! :D

RedConverse: Your sarcasm isn't needed.

GetOutWindow: There's always a need for sarcasm. Never underestimate the power of it.

RedConverse: Isn't sarcasm the weakest form of wit or something like that?

GetOutWindow: Not if I'm using it, duh.

RedConverse: Oh yes, I forgot. Anything that comes from your mouth is instantly more intelligent than if it comes from anyone else.

GetOutWindow: Damn straight. XD You catch on fast.

RedConverse: Thank you. *bows* I try my best.

GetOutWindow: So, onto more important topics. How was your day?

RedConverse: Meh, pretty dull. My mom is now convinced that we need to eat a meal as a family at least twice a week.

GetOutWindow: Don't worry, Red. I eat dinner with the folks daily. You'll toughen up, eventually...

RedConverse: Humph. Whatever. What happened to you today?

GetOutWindow: It was pretty tame as well, except for one shining moment of intelligence but I won't mention it to preserve my dignity.

RedConverse: What dignity?

GetOutWindow: That's cold, Red. How do you think I'm supposed to feel about that...

"Hey, Simone," I said casually as I sank into the desk next to her. It was the first lesson of the day – History.

She didn't look up from her paper. "Hmm."

"Don't be so happy to see me! Really, you'd think that I haven't seen you in years!" I replied sarcastically as I unpacked my books. Our teacher wasn't in our classroom yet so all of the students were basically just chilling, and as teenagers, we did it pretty well.

She rolled her eyes. "How was yesterday?"

I sighed. "It was okay, except that Fang decided to make an appearance on my train." I said, twirling a frayed thread from my jacket around my finger.

"Oh, you poor darling! How did you ever survive that? I mean, wow, being stuck in the same space with the most popular boy in our school? Your life must really suck."

I shot her a glare. "Actually, it was bearable. He actually left me alone after a while."

Simone seemed a bit disappointed. "Really? So no sneaky quickies in the train bathroom; no secret romping under the seats?"

I was spared from answering that when we were interrupted by the third addition to our little gang.

"Hey, my two darling sugarlumps!" Cameron – also known as Iggy – said in a songsong voice as he sat on our desk – crushing one of Simone's homework papers.

"Hey, our beloved jailbird!" Simone said as she pried one of the sheet away from Iggy.

"Where have you been? I haven't seen you since Monday." I said, taking in Iggy's appearance. There were no notable injuries, so hat ruled out a hospital visit. (Although Iggy was, for some bizarre reason, also an expert at make-up application. Not bad for a kid that can only see with one eye.)

Iggy waved his hand dismissively. "A court case here, an explosion there," his voice was casual. "Nothing out of the ordinary."

That's the thing with hanging out with Iggy. There was always some trouble brewing. The only reason the school allowed him to stay enrolled was because of his solid ninety-eight percent average he managed to maintain, thanks to his near-perfect memory. He usually wasn't in school because of suspensions or because he was working on some huge new project.

I raised an eyebrow. "What charges are they pressing?"

Iggy shrugged again. "Just something about damaging property. Didn't pay too much attention to the details."

"So nothing out of the ordinary then," Simone said, sounding slightly relieved.

Iggy smiled. "No, nothing too bad. What happened while I was gone?"

Simone shrugged. "Well, the sexual tension between Max and Fang is getting pretty crazy. They were practically humping in the library yesterday."

Colour flooded to my cheeks. "No we did not! What don't you understand by 'I already have a boyfriend,' Simone?"

"I don't understand the 'it's not Fang' part."

Iggy sighed dramatically. "Really, girls. There are more important things than Max's sex life. So excuse me, I must leave before Mr. Hendricks comes in. I believe he has a bone to pick with me about my History paper that mysteriously caught alight last week."

I gasped. "There's nothing mysterious about accidentally leaving your backpack in a flaming warehouse, Iggy."

He shrugged as he leapt gracefully off our desk. "If you must know, it was a minor explosion in the woods. It's not my fault I keep my gasoline and my homework in the same place."

"Actually, it is," Simone pointed out, a faint smile playing on her lips.

Iggy winked at her. "Of course it is, babe. That doesn't mean I'm going to tell Mr. Hendricks about it."

Simone flushed.

I poked her side as Iggy strolled away. "Chill your beans," I teased. "You looked like had some of my mom's hot sauce."

Simone groaned as she let her head sink onto the desk, hiding her face. "Really, Max. That was only one time. And I've never eaten anything else your Mom has put in front of me since then."

"Class!" Mr. Hendricks called as he entered the classroom, using a the dramatic entrance he seemed to love.

Iggy swore under his breath. He was caught halfway to the doorway; he would definitely need a legitimate excuse for his paper now.

Mr. Hendricks calmly unpacked his briefcase and looked through a few of his notes.

"Oh, and before our lesson begins, I want to remind Max and Cameron that there's a meeting this afternoon – it'll only be half an hour – for the annual Decathlon. Don't be late."

A/N: Herpderp, I don't have a question for this week. Um, what's your favourite MR book?

I suggest that everyone should read Replaced, by supernerdy. The plotting is fantastic and interesting; you'll never know what's coming next. It's a really old story, but still pretty good.

On a final note, I made myself a twitter account for fanfic! (Link on profile.) I'll answer questions there, as well as post a few previews. I also do followbacks on request. So yeah, check me out.

6. The Team

A/N: Thanks to Axe09 for the Decathlon idea. I know what a terrible cliché this might be, but I'm hoping to work an original angle.

Chapter 5: The Team

So maybe you're wondering what the Decathlon is.

No, it isn'tsome badass spy organisation or a secret society. Sorry conspiracy-theory lovers.

Not even a competition to fight to the death. My school isn't that badass, unfortunately.

And it definitely doesn't have any kinky meaning behind it, no matter what Iggy says.

So you ready to find out what it is?

Drumroll, please.

It's a multi-school competition that focuses on academics.

… Yeah, I know how anticlimatic that was.

Sorry everyone, I hate to disappoint.

I know what you're all thinking. 'May-Alex Ride in an academic competition? I thought she was too cool for that type of thing!'

I know that I seem not to really care about school, but I'm actually decent at studying for tests. I have a good memory so I don't have to work that hard to get good marks. Although I wasn't quite as good as Iggy when it came to memorising stuff; that kid remembers every tiny detail of everything. It's freaky –

Okay, I'm rambling now. Let's move onto the present, shall we?

I walked down the hallway, fighting my way through all the students going in the opposite direction. I got a few smiles from the people I knew. The voices were loud and happy; making plans for their afternoons and talking with friends.

Eventually I made it to the History classroom. Mr. Hendricks, our school's organiser for the Decathlon stood in front of his desk. He smiled slightly at me as I sat down in a desk, leaving a space open for Iggy. I pulled out a notepad and paper. I settled in, waiting for the talk to start.

"Hey, Ride."

Okay, I'll admit it. I jumped up a foot when I heard that voice right next to my ear. It was low and patronising. I spun around in my seat and looked behind me to see Fang with his elbows propped up on his desk and leaning forward. He had a lazy smile playing at the corners of his lips.

"What the hell are you doing here?" I asked, trying to keep my voice even, trying to recover. I let my unamused scowl shine freely.

"I just thought I'd get remedial History lessons." He replied, as if explaining to a five year old. "What do you think, Ride?"

"I think that you'd get much better remedial lessons with Mrs. Kruger." Play the sarcasm game with me and you'll always loose, Novia.

Fang rolled his eyes and leaned back into his desk in a fluid movement.

"How do you pop up like that?" I asked suddenly, before I realised what I was saying.


"I didn't even see you when I walked in. How do you just materialise like that?" How did he manage to evade my Fang-dar? That thing has never failed me before.

"Do you want to die today, Novia?"

"Max!" Iggy said as he sank into the seat next to me. "My darling!"

"Darling?" I asked, feeling thoroughly confused. The last time Iggy called me darling was when he needed me to convince a teacher that no, what Iggy was doing wasn't illegal at all. (It didn't work, just in case you're wondering. It resulted in a detention for me and a suspension for Iggy.)

Iggy nodded. "Or do you prefer Snookums?"

I saw Fang grin slightly in my peripheral vision. "I never knew we had an option about what to call Ride. I'm definitely going with Snookums from now on."

"Iggy, you turd! Look what you made him do!" Great insult, I know. But the horror of Fang calling me Snookums was just too much for me to come up with anything good for me to call him.

We were dragged out of our little bubble of insults when Mr. Hendricks stood up and demanded our attention.

"Okay, can we begin?" he said as one of the last kids trickled in through the door. There were a grand total of eight of us. Everyone formed little cliques in the classroom, sitting in little clumps in their desks.

Mr. Hendricks stood up from his seat and walked to the front of the classroom.

"Right," he said. "Some of you have already done the Decathlon before, but I think I'll explain everything to the newer kids.

"As you all know, the Decathlon challenge is aimed at students, designed to stretch your thinking and creativity. There are ten categories that you will all take part in, helping each other to finish all the tasks. I can see that you all specified the tasks you want to help with on the signup sheet."

He read out some names. I zoned out until I heard my name being read. eventually getting to mine. "Max Ride," he said. "You're doing the Art and Poetry, Science and Engineering, correct?"

"Yeah, that's right," I replied. Okay, I'll admit it – I was excited to take part in this. I do have a geeky side, shocking as it is.

"Okay, Marco Novia, I see you're also doing Art and Poetry, Science and Code Breaking."

I blinked in surprise.

Then I tried not to show my disappointment and anger.

I clenched my fists together and turned around in my desk and Mr. Hendricks droned on. "You did that on purpose, didn't you!" I hissed.

Fang looked at me in surprise. "Of course not, Ride," he replied smoothly. "Did it ever occur to you that I might also want to take part in those categories?"

"I signed up first," I insisted. "You knew that we would have to be a team." I was just about ready to punch his face in. And damn, I'd enjoy it. Immensely.

Fang shrugged. "I thought that being in a team with you would be a sacrifice I'm willing to take for the good of our school."

I glanced over at Iggy desperately, silently begging him to do something. He looked as if he was thoroughly enjoying this. He shrugged guiltily at me.

"You three at the back," Mr Hendricks said. "Can you please be quiet while I finish this?"

I silently thanked him for the distraction. I twisted back in my seat to face the front and pretended to listen earnestly about what categories Erin Andrews was taking part in.

Once the categories were done, we watched a video about past decathlons. Who knew that over forty schools in each state took part in it each year? Eventually the video came to a stop and the date for the Decathlon was announced – the 30th of this month.

We were dismissed. I pulled my bag over my shoulder and strode purposefully towards the door, ignoring Fang as best as I could.

"Max? And Marco?" Mr Hendricks said. He readjusted his glasses as he looked at his list. "It seems that you're the only two on the science category. You'll have to do some research for it, preferably together. We need to work well as a team for this competition. You're going to have to memorise as much as you can about the composition of stars, as well as how they're made – "

"But, sir!" I interrupted. "I can't work with – with him!" I threw my hand out and indicated at Fang, who was leaning on the doorway, waiting to leave. He sighed at me and shook his head slightly. "I mean, it's Novia! He's going to drive me insane!"

Mr Hendricks looked at me with pity in his eyes. "I know, Max, but we can't change the rules. And look at this is a team building effort. Worst case scenario is that you'll spend an afternoon with him, it won't be that bad."

I looked at Fang again, at a loss for words. Hopelessness began to settle in my stomach. How could we be a team? It was impossible.

"Yeah, Ride," Fang said. "It'll just be an afternoon. It really won't kill you."

"But I just might kill him," I muttered under my breath, so low that Mr Hendricks, who was standing right next to me, didn't hear. Fang raised an eyebrow at me and I knew that he knew.

"Sorry, Max," Mr Hendricks said sympathetically. "But there isn't a way around this."

I sighed. "Fine," I said. "But don't expect me to spend any more time with him than I have to."

Mr Hendricks nodded and I left the classroom, muttering angrily to myself. This competition had just went from 'could be fun' to 'absolutely pants' in a couple of minutes.

I pulled my cellphone out of my pocket and checked the time. I missed my train home, but I could catch another one, which would arrive in half an hour.

"You should've seen you face, Max! It was hilarious."

I didn't turn around. "You're such a caring friend, Iggy. Always so sympathetic."

"Sympathy's overrated." he replied casually and fell into step next to me, his trainers squeaking slightly on the polished floor.

I pushed a glass door open and we were outside. I smiled slightly as the cool air hit my lungs. Iggy stalked off to the back parking lot, where his car was waiting. He didn't say goodbye.

I sighed as I realised that I left a my Biology book in my locker. I spun around and walked back into the school, saying my farewell to freedom. I walked around anxiously, trying my hardest not to look behind me. It kind of freaked me out how empty the school was; there wasn't a soul in sight. It was eerily serene. A school wasn't supposed to be quiet and calm, dammit.

I sighed. The sound seemed to bounce off the walls along with squeak of my Converse on the floor. I looked at one of the lockers anxiously, expecting some demon monster or something to jump out. So maybe my imagination is a bit overactive, so sue me.

I eventually got to my locker with a sigh of relief. After I punched in my code it popped open. I jumped back instinctively as a bottle of apple juice fell and splattered all over the floor.

I swore.

Iggy liked driving his car. It was one of his favourite pass times. He could think and breathe and relax and just focus on the tar sliding under his wheels and the roar of his engine. He didn't have to think, he just had to be.

(And maybe scare off a few pedestrians with a couple of hair-raising stunts, but that's unimportant.)

When he finally got home, both his parents were out. He frowned slightly. His mom was usually on her break when arrived at home. Not that he missed her, it was just out of the ordinary.

He helped himself to a huge serving of food before wandering around the house, not quite focusing on what he wanted to do next. All he knew that it certainly wasn't going to be homework.

He eventually strolled past his mother's computer. An icon at the bottom of the screen caught his eye. In small letters, the words Alien Wars displayed neatly next to spreadsheets and documents.

He couldn't help but sit down and open the computer programme.

But alas, Iggy's attention span is not exactly what one would call great. The cursor wandered over to a minimized email that had the words Delete after reading as the subject title.

What could get more interesting than that?

He opened the email in mild interest while shovelling pasta into his mouth, failing to multitask.

Subject: Delete after reading

Time Sent: 12:14 PM,


Sender: Unknown


As you know, the project will go ahead as planned, the subject will be collected before the 20th of December. Failure to comply will lead to several unwanted repercussions, however regrettable they may be.

Please continue to co-operate and the final payment will be given as previously agreed.

C.R.A.S.H Project Consultant,

C.A. Carter

Iggy stared at the message for a moment before minimising the window again.

So what that his mom had an overly secretive client? Se was a pharmacist after all, and many people liked to keep their drug life private. Maybe some were a bit overdramatic, but that wasn't his problem.

What a waste of his time.

A/N: FINALLY! *fistbump into the air* A trace of a plot!

So, if you could be a genetic hybrid, what animal would you like to be crossed with?

This week's rec is Twenty Years by Axe09. Lovely, lovely story.

7. The Closet

A/N: There was a slight error with last week's chapter with the line breaks. It's fixed now.

Chapter 6: The Closet

I checked my watch. I had twenty minutes before the second train would leave. Muttering darkly to myself, I shoved my hands into my pockets and started walking away from the spilled juice in front of my locker.

I hated cleaning messes. Sure, I could make them like you wouldn't believe, (our kitchen never recovered from October 2006, let me tell you) but cleaning up? No, I hated it. Although Mom is extremely strict when it comes to our clean my room is, I've gotten into the habit of keeping it clean instead of doing mass tidy-ups.

I started to walk down the hallway, trying to remember why I decided to bring apple juice to school.

Eventually I made it to the Janitor's closet, just as our school's most popular Janitor, Janitor James, emerged from it pushing a trolley fulled with bright chemicals and mops and well... Janitor-y stuff.

"Hey," I said, using my best polite/I-want-something-from-you voice. I'd spoken to the Janitor a few times before, thanks to several after-school incidents and messes that I'd rather not talk about. "I sort of spilled some apple juice a couple of minutes ago near my locker, so I was wondering if I could get some stuff to clean it up with?"

Janitor James turned towards me. As far as Janitors go, he was decent; still fairly young with dirty blonde hair and a stocky build. His eyes crinkled as he looked at me.

"Really, Max." Yes, I'm on a first-name basis with the school Janitor. Please don't ask why or how. "You should learn that juice must go into your mouth, not all over the floor. It's not too difficult to understand."

"It wasn't my fault," I argued. "It fell out of my locker and the cap wasn't screwed on properly – "

"Well, don't worry about it, I'm sure I'll get around to it eventually."

Never let someone else clean up after your own mess! My mom's words echoed in my head. I sighed as my upbringing overrode my laziness. "No, I'll do it. It's my fault anyways."

James' eyes crinkled even more. "I'm glad to see that not all kids your age all lazy buggers. Good on you." he handed me a cloth, some detergent and a bucket, as well as some spare keys to the closet. "I'm not going to be here when you come back, so just slide the keys under the door once you're done." Smiling faintly, I thanked him for being so nice and took the equipment. I walked back to my locker.

On my way back to my locker, I bumped into someone just as I turned a corner. His name is Alan, I think. He's known in the school for being a huge Math geek. I was mildly surprised to see him lurking around after school.

"Sorry," I said, sidestepping him.

"No worries," he replied, looking down at his shoes. They were Converse; surprisingly trendy for him. He noticed me glancing at my shoes and he smiled slightly. "I love these red Converse, they're the best shoes ever." he said, smiling faintly. As if he was in on some joke.

"What?" I asked, feeling a bit like a fish out of water. What just happened?

He shrugged mysteriously and strolled off in the opposite direction, grinning to himself.

Okay, that was weird. I tried to shake of the sense of foreshadowing and walked back to my locker. I cleaned up the apple juice pretty well, if I do say so myself. There's now a lovely shiny spot on the floor which I'm very proud of.

Things picked up again when I made it back to the closet door, putting the supplies away. I locked the closet just as I heard shoes squeal on the tiled floor – I whipped my head in the direction of the sound as saw, to my surprise, Fang sprinting at full speed down the hallway.

Of course. Life just hates me. Sometimes I feel like someone is pulling the strings with everything I do so that somehow I'll end up talking to Fang. But that's crazy, right?

He skidded to a halt just in front of me.

"What the hell – " I started to ask, knowing already that this wasn't going to end well at all.

" – I need you to hide me." He cut me off, gasping. When he looked at me I saw an unmistakable desperation in his eyes.

"Why?" I asked, crossing my arms over my chest. No way was he getting any help from me.

"No time to explain. Any plan?"

I sighed as I heard a second pair of footsteps a few hallways away from us. We had a minute at most. "Fine. But there are conditions." I said as I unlocked the door again. "Get in."

I smiled to myself slightly. Finally, I had a bargaining chip with him! I tried not to think of the all the implication of it – I could get him to leave me alone for a full week if I played my cards right. Hell freaking yes!

Fang stepped darted into the small space as the footsteps came closer. I heard a distinctly feminine person call out.

"Fang?" her voice was nasal and curious. In a couple of more seconds she would be be in our hallway.

I started to close the door from the outside when Fang's hand darted out and pulled me inside as well. The door slammed shut and we were in total darkness.

I'm in a closet with Fang.


I backed away from him and gave an involuntary yelp as my hip hit a shelf. Fang's hand was instantly at my lips, cutting of my surprised squeak halfway through. He pushed with a bit too much force, sending my back painfully into the wall. On the bright side, by the time I get out of here, my skin will be a multicoloured rainbow by tomorrow morning.

"Shut up or she'll hear us," Fang whispered into my ear, so quietly could barely make out his words.

I tried fight off my repulsion to Fang touching me. But right now there were more pressing matters – the girl outside in the hallway.

We both held our breaths, trying to be as quiet as possible as those footsteps slowed just inches away from the door. My fingers unconsciously clutched the loose fabric of Fang's t-shirt as we both stood like rigid status, not daring to even move.

The footsteps stopped in front the door. "Fang?" a voice asked.

My fingers gripped the back of Fang's shirt tighter as we both stood in the dark, waiting to be caught. I could feel his heart pounding away in his chest. Why was he so scared of a stupid fan girl? The silence seemed to drag on forever as the girl on the other side tried to determine if there actually was anyone inside the storage supplies closet or not. She knows.

The seconds ticked by slowly and painfully, and finally, after I was convinced that the girl knew we hiding in the dark, she started to walk away again. Neither of us dared move. Once her footsteps faded away I could feel all of Fang's muscles relax as we both let out our breaths we didn't even know we were holding. It took me a second to realize that some time between Fang telling me to shut up and the girl stopping at the door, Fang had pushed his body against mine and both my arms were wrapped around him.

A split second after I noticed this, Fang's hand was away from my mouth – along with the rest of him.

"Single most terrifying moment of my life," I said, trying to sound unruffled by the whole experience. "I won't even flinch next time I watch a Saw movie."

Fang chuckled darkly. "I guess you want to know what just happened."

"Yeah, that would be good, Novia. So start talking or I'll just assume that this was all a plot to get me in a closet with you."

"Crazy fan-girl on the loose," he said stiffly. I tried to make out his expression and failed – I usually had really good night vision, but there was only enough light for me to make out his general shape – which was leaning against the wall opposite mine.

"I thought you could handle fangirls? You've had plenty of practice."

"No, this one's different. She's crazy crazy. Totally off her rocker. She tried to jump me in History."

"How did that work out for you?" The darkness seemed to press against my eyeballs as I tried to fight against it. I felt sort of naked. I had to trust Fang in this tiny space, which was impossible. Fang acted like he was totally comfortable though.

"It was so creepy. One minute I'm bending down over my schoolbag and the next moment I'm being spooned and there's a hand up my shirt."

I snorted. On the inside, I was thinking, that was an attractive snort. On the outside all I said was; "Wow, that's so creepy!"

"Oh, please. I bet that you secretly want to spoon me and put your hands up my shirt as well." he said, as if casually bantering with girls in dark small spaces was something he did every day.

"Ew!" I retorted. "Of course not!" I suddenly had a mental picture of me spooning Fang. I shuddered slightly.

"Ah, you're right." Fang agreed reasonably. "You'd want your hands in my pants."

"That depends. Do I get to hold a can of pepper spray?" I asked, trying to keep my voice innocent and curious.

Fang gasped. "You'd never be so cruel! I wouldn't be able to have sex for days after that!"

I rolled my eyes. "It's not like you're getting any action anyways." I mean, really, who would want to go for you?"

"Uh, just about everyone? Really, you're so uninformed, Ride." there was only slight indignation in his voice.

"Whatever. I still don't believe you're getting any. Let's face it, you're still in the closet."

"I'm not! Sure, I do occasionally turn a man gay – "

"No, dumbass, you're literally hiding in a closet, instead of facing up against a crazy fangirl that tried to a pull a rape-and-escape. That just screams cowardice." I crossed my arms over my chest, trying to avoid my instinct to protect my jugular against the enemy.

"I'm no dumba – wait, what the hell is a rape-and-escape?"

"It's when you assault someone and then run before they actually realise on to what just happened." I explained, using my best Are you really this slow? voice. "I saw it on TV."

Fang ignored my patronising voice. "You have a simply charming vocabulary, Ride. It's so pleasant to be around you."

"At least if anyone touches me I can work up enough nerve to hit them, unlike you."

Fang froze. There were footsteps again, with the occasional call of "Fang!" I knew that she was still a couple of minutes away from the closet, but if I yelled, she would definitely hear me.

This time I grinned evilly. Fang somehow picked up on my sudden mood change.

"Oh crap, what's your plan now?"

"Well, I was thinking that maybe it would be good for you to face your fears." I made a beeline for the door – ready to run out and kindly direct this creeper of a fan girl into the closet with Fang and lock the door.

Sweet revenge.

Just as my hand touched the doorknob Fang's arm snaked around my waist and pulled me back into the darkness. I struggled against him, trying to worm my way out. His grip was like iron; I could be trying get out of a steel rope for all the leeway Fang was giving me. Since when was he so strong? Usually I can out-muscle any guy. I never had any troubles with beanpoles like Fang!

"Let go!" I hissed as I tried again to get out, sending a few mad kicks flying, one hitting his shin. He didn't even gasp in pain.

"Nuh-uh," Fang replied and yanked me backwards, causing both to fall, Fang taking the brunt of our combinded weight. I heard an 'oof!' come from Fang as the air left his lungs. Grabbing the opportunity, I instantly rolled off him and sprinted for the door again, when Fang's leg hooked around my ankle and I went sprawling, I was a miracle that neither of us had hit any of the cleaning supplies yet. Well, I might've thrown a Windex bottle at him, but it didn't slow him down at all.

"Bastard!" I yelled as Fang's hands gripped my arms. Again.

"My heart bleeds," Fang replied coolly. "Now could you please just shut your face? It's not like I'm trying to kill you in here."

"How do I know that?"

"You would've died months ago if I wanted you dead."

"Oh wow, I feel so reassured." I stopped struggling as a new plan formed in my mind. There was one really easy way I could get out of Fang's grip of steel, and it would take next to no effort on my part. I grinned as I turned my head to where I guessed his face was.

I needed to surprise him enough so that he would let me go.

Gathering all the courage I could muster, I brought my lips to closer to his. Even with only the faint crack of light that came from underneath the door, I could see his surprised expression as my face came closer to his. His lips formed a slight '0' of surprise. The only sounds I could hear was the frantic pounding of my heart and Fang's jagged breathing. I tried hard not to think too much of what I was going to do next as I parted my lips slightly and closed that last distance between us.

A/N: I won't be able to post on Friday next week, unfortunately. I can either post on Thursday or Saturday. I guess I'll use reviews as an indicator to see when I should post... *review whoring*If you want something else of mine to read while you're waiting, try out Gravity. Hope you enjoy it.

This week's question: Who is your favourite FFN author?

This week's rec: Ten Ways to Know You're Alive by Kimsa Ki-Lurria. Screw Fax, Miggy is where it's at.

8. The Attack

A/N: Suckaaaas.

Chapter 7: The Attack

I tried to fight off a gag reflex as opened my mouth and pressed my tongue flat against Fang's cheek.

"Uuurgh!" Fang yelled in disgust and and instantly let go of me. I wiped my tongue off against my shirt, trying to get as many Fang Germs out of my mouth as possible. I couldn't believe I actually just did that – my mind was chanting ew, ew, ew! over and over again.

I couldn't help but remember the time I'd been dared to eat a grasshopper when I was twelve. That was a thousand times better than this.

"Ew, ew, ew!" Fang echoed my thoughts and lifted his shirt to clean off his cheek. "You're repulsive, Ride."

I ignored his jibe. "I am never doing that again. Do you reckon there's any detergent in here?" I asked when I was hopeful my mouth was clean. "I don't think I got all your muck out of my mouth."

Fang quickly regained his composure, even though I could still hear his frantic rubbing of his cheek. "You know, that's certainly not the first time a girl has said that to me."

"You're so disgusting!"

"Says the one who just licked my freaking face."

"I could've sneezed on it," I reasoned. "Count yourself lucky."

Fang sighed dramatically. "I think what you just did could count as a rape-and-escape."

"You're just disappointed that it wasn't your mouth that got all the action." I replied. My tongue felt like it was burning. Did he put acid on his face?

"There are so many things wrong with that statement."

"That doesn't make it any less true."

"I know you want me Ride, but you are getting a teeny bit desperate."

"That's no fair! You're the one who pulled me into a dark closet with no space, then you shoved up your whole body against mine while trying to keep me me quiet! Most people know what a hint looks like."

"Guilty is charged. But don't say you didn't enjoy every moment of it."

"Oh, yes! I carefully arranged this whole thing because I can't resist you, and now you're locked in a closet with your biggest fan." I used my best horror-movie voice for the last bit of the sentence.

"I'm quaking in my boots," Fang replied coolly. "I can't wait to see what you'd do with me. Give me your best shot at seduction."

I opened my mouth to protest when the door finally burst open. How did I miss that! I stared in horror as a huge figure stood in the doorway, half-illuminated. I nearly kicked myself. I should have seen this coming from a mile away, but instead I was so absorbed with Fang and his freaking face cooties in my mouth, I didn't really notice much else.

The three of us stood there, frozen in shock, staring at each other. For a second, no one did anything as we all absorbed this sudden turn of events.

The figure sighed as he lifted a hand to flick on the light switch. I squinted at in the sudden brightness of the room. After my eyes adjusted, I saw who was in the doorway.

It was Janitor James.

Fang and I let out our breaths simultaneously. Janitor James tutted at us.

"You know, Max, next time I lend you my keys, at least tell me what exactly you're going to do with my supplies closet," His face broke out into a grin, his blue eyes sparkling at us. "Now get out, before one of the teachers finds you."

He ushered us out of the closet with a wink, and then he disappeared into the supplies room.

We stared in stunned silence at the door labeled 'Janitor's Room'. After a moment or two, I broke the silence.

"Okay, I give up. Do you have any more surprises for me? Any dark and enclosed spaces you want to have me locked in? Any crazy spooning fangirls on the loose?"

Fang shrugged. "Nah, I got enough kicks for one day. See you around, Ride."

He stalked off.

That idiot.

That total freaking dumbass.

I sighed as I left the school building. It was a bit chillier now than it was Iggy left. I zipped up my jacket and started to walk towards the train station.

I made it just in time. I nearly had to pull a Fang and jump onto the train just as the doors were hissing closed, but I made it with a second to spare. I reveled in my badassness for a moment before I sat down on one of the seats. (Someone had taken my seat at the back of the train, I noted with irritation. But that's what I get for being late.)

I closed my eyes and rested my head against the back of the seat. I couldn't help but feel like I forgot something, but I couldn't remember what. I pushed it to the back of my mind let my mind wander.

I woke up with a start as my cellphone started singing. I gave a tiny yelp of surprise and jumped in my seat for the second time today.

That's it, I need to change my ringtone.

I pulled my cellphone out of my pocket and saw that I had a text message from Dylan.


Oh, crap. I completely forgot about him. I'm a totally sucky girlfriend.

I kicked myself as I opened the message, feeling like a complete idiot.

Where are u? Did u get detention again? :P Can't wait to hear why.

How did I manage to forget about Dylan? I never forgot about him, ever.

… This is all Fang's fault, I know it. Damn him.

I hastily typed out a reply.

No, had an aftr-school meet about an academic comp. Had to take the late train. Sorry for not texting, things got a bit hectic.

My phone buzzed again a few moments later. No worries. C u tomorrow. xxx

I smiled faintly. Dylan was always understanding; I didn't deserve a boyfriend like him. I smiled in relief and replied with a smiley face and shoved my cellphone back into my pocket.

Since my iPod was dead, I decided that maybe I should listen to the conversation of people around me. Creepy, I know, but it's amazing what interesting stories you can hear.

"Hey, did you hear about the new Alex Pettyfer movie?"

"Marge is always telling me to shut up! I can't handle it any more, Beth. I can't."

"Did you hear? Stacey's pregnant! She and her husband are so happy!"

"Can we really risk the crash? It might kill them."

"I don't believe it! Alex Pettyfer is sooo hot!"

I sniggered to myself. Alex Pettyfer is such a prettyboy. Why would someone actually like him? He can't act at all.

I settled back into my seat and got comfortable, enjoying my Fangless freedom.

Eventually the train came to a stop. I jumped up from my seat (an old guy in a trenchcoat sat down next to me and I really didn't want to make any more conversation than I had to) and I walked to the already crowded exit. I apologised to a man as I bumped into his hard chest. He said it was fine, using a sugary sweet voice an artificial smile.

I walked on.

What I didn't know back then what was strange about that man. I just knew that there was something unsettling about him. I eventually found out what he was, and let me tell you now, it's not pretty.

… I'm getting ahead of myself. Sorry. I really shouldn't be telling you about the man on the train right now. Just remember that he was there, okay? That's all you need to do. Because he will come back and play a more important role.

But for now he's unimportant. How badly I wish that he could've stayed that way, but life has other plans for me.

So I left the train.

I walked home quickly, not taking the usual leisurely stroll I had with Dylan.

When I finally made it home I realised something was... off.



I looked around anxiously as I put my keys into the door. I slowly pried it open and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that no-one was on the other side.

I was just being stupid.

I took a step forward.

And then hastily jumped backwards again, ducking.

Why did I jump back?

Because someone had just leaped behind from behind the door and threw a flying kick at my head, that would've given me a concussion if it had hit me.

And that's something I'd never take in my stride.

"You are so dead." I hissed as a I swung a punch straight at the face of my opponent. A strong hand gripped my wrist, stopping my momentum almost entirely. A slight jerk back of the head was all they needed to miss my fist entirely. A feral grin appeared and so did a second kick. I jumped backwards off the porch and landed in the grass below, somehow leaping across six feet of open space backwards.

I felt badass. I know I should be more focused on the fact that someone was trying to kill me but I couldn't help but think; 'Wow, that must've looked awesome'.

I straightened out of my crouch and stared at the person in front of me, who also jumped from the doorway to the grass in an even more impressive way than I did. How could I win?

I flung a wild punch, aiming for the stomach. I was blocked, naturally, with a palm closing around my own hand. I locked fingers and tugged the arm towards me. I then hooked my foot around an ankle and the body went tumbling onto the grass.

I grinned.

The girl quickly jumped onto her feet almost the same moment her back touched the greenery. She looked at me and mock-pouted. "No fair, Max. You're a filthy cheater."

"I'm not! That was a fair win. And you had the element of surprise."

Nudge put her hand on her hip. "Whatever, Max."

And no, Nudge is not some random mugger that tried to attack me. She's pretty sweet, actually.

The only time she's not sweet is when she has you in a an arm lock and makes you sing a Christmas Carol at full blast, while substituting every few words with 'horny'. (Explaining .?docid=23862288 the neighbours why I sang Horny Night and' Tis a Season to be Horny in the middle of July was not my idea fun. I haven't forgiven her for that yet.)

She plucked a piece of grass from the back of her head. How she knew it was there, I don't know. She ran a hand through her curls, checking for any more stray pieces of dirt. Nudge was the type that always looked good, no matter if she had just ran through fifty feet of mud or came out of a beauty salon. I was kind of jealous of her ability to keep her hair perfect, no matter what happens.

"Can we go inside?" I asked. "I need to go put my bag down. And your mom would probably appreciate it if I said hi."

We both went inside. Our moms were sitting on the couch laughing at some joke. Every Thursday and Tuesday the two Andrews would come over for the afternoon. My dad had taught us both how to fight at an early age and we sparred against each other for practice and fun. We were a pretty even match, even though she was two years younger than me.

Nudge's mom, Helena, smiled at me. She was a pretty woman, with dark chocolate skin and had the stature of a dancer. I've known her since forever, and she felt more like a second mom than a family friend.

She had broken her back when she was twenty and that ended her career hopes of dancing doctors said that she would never walk again and had no hopes of having children.

She did both.

A/N2: This week's question is very general: What questions do you have involving this story? I want to do a blog post answering all the questions I've received since Crash started, to it'd be aces if you submit all your queries.

Today I suggest that you read; A Maximum Ride Guide to Mary Sues by theweirdperson. It's great for anyone doing an original flock story.

9. The Car

A/N: Thank you so much for all the reviews! It's hugely appreciated and loved.

Chapter 8: The Car

-29 July 2006-

"Max, listen to me." the tall figure of a man bended down so that he is eye-height with his eight-year-old daughter. "You should only fight Nudge or me. No-one else."

"Why, Dad?"

"Because, bee, you're far too strong for other people. You mustn't fight the boys in the playground. Even if they take your things or are mean to you."

"But what if they fight me first?"

"Then you defend yourself, you don't attack. The only time you should attack someone else is when that person is far older than you and is about to seriously hurt you."

Max looked into dark blue eyes so unlike her own.

She nodded slowly and certain understanding started to bloom in her chest. She was special; and she couldn't use that against other people. (Although she had no idea exactly how special she really was.)
"I won't hurt people, Dad. Can you show me that block again?"

He nodded and stood up. "Turn your foot more inwards, dear. It'll give you better balance."

She turns her foot inwards. "Like that?"

"Yeah, bee. That's perfect."

"Max, are you even listening to me?"

"Sorry, what?"

"... You didn't hear a word I said, did you?"

"There was something about homework? Sorry, I'm a bit spaced out today."

"Nevermind. Where did you disappear to, anyways?"

"Just stressing about tomorrow. I'm going to be stuck with Fang for a whole afternoon."

"So you were thinking about him?"

"Yeah, Dylan, I was."

"... Okay, Max."


At my high school there are three fool-proof ways to start rumours flying. Here's a quick list of them:

Method 1: Tell Sheila Goodall, the networker extraordinaire about whatever you want the school to not know. Give it ten minutes and suddenly everyone knows what happened.

Method 2: Climb into a member of the opposite sex's car. Generally someone sexy. Make sure there's some 'unresolved sexual tension' involved.

Method 3: Socialise with Marco Fang Novia.

So, you can imagine what happened when on Friday afternoon when Fang's black (of course) Ford Focus rolled up into the front of the school's parking lot, which was a rarity in itself because he usually parks at the back of the school.

Naturally, to add to my problems, the previously mentioned Sheila Goodall had to be standing in front of the school steps with a gaggle of girls surrounding her.

"Yo Ride," Fang called from his tinted windows. "The sooner you get in here, the sooner we get to my place and get to know each other more personally."

I. Will. Kill. Him.

And you can bet your ass I will enjoy it.

Somewhere on my left I heard a collective gasp from Sheila's clique. Sure, it wasn't a secret that Fang and I knew each other when we were kids, but it wasn't as if we spent enough time with each other to start gossip. (Thank goodness for that. There's only so much of Novia I can handle on a daily basis, and he usually likes to push that limit.)

I looked over to the group to see them all simultaneously whip out their phones. Three seconds later my pocket started buzzing along with at least five other cellphones on the kids surrounding me.

How do they do that! Seriously. It's creepy.

Swallowing down my anger and trying to hide the furious blood that was playing peek-a-boo on my cheeks I walked over to the car, opening the door and flopping down in the seat. Of course the entire furnishing had to be black, I noted.

"Do you enjoy publicly humiliating me? I bet that your Facebook profile says 'annoying May-Alex Ride' under interests and activities."

He shrugged as he revved in the engine. "Sorry, Ride. I hate to disappoint you on that. But if you want to mess with the rest of the school body you can list me as your boyfriend on Facebook. That will definitely cause a stir."

We were leaving the school gates. I tried not to think of the horror of being listed as Fang's girlfriend.

"I do have a boyfriend, you know." I said, letting only a bit of irritation show in my voice.

A tendon in his hand lifted a fraction. "I feel sorry for him."

"For having to deal with me?"

"No," the corners of his eyes crinkled and I knew that I had just fallen into a Fang-trap. "I feel sorry for him because he has a girlfriend that is obviously in love with the artwork which is myself."

"Jealously doesn't suit you, you know."

"You know the old saying; 'Jealously makes you nasty'?"

"What about it?"

"I can be very, very nasty."

Cue groans of that was the worst innuendo ever.

"I can't believe I'm stuck with you for the next few hours," I said as I hit my head against the dashboard. (Note to self: Fang has a freakishly hard dashboard. With a checkered pattern on it that just so happened to stamp onto my forehead.)

"Don't be such a party-pooper, Ride. We're going to have blast. We're going to braid each other's hair, share makeup tips and talk about boys! How great does that, like, sound?" Fang's voice changed into a more falsetto valley-girl version of his own. Trust me, it's not something you ever want to hear.

"Like, omigosh! That sounds awesome!" I said, imitating Fang. "I'll start. There's this one boy I know – "

"Is he hot?"

I flipped my hair and giggled. "Like, ew! No. He's totally annoying!"

Fang slipped out of persona. "I'm hurt. I don't mind you thinking I'm annoying, but saying I'm not hot is like saying Taylor Lautner is weedy or that McDonalds is only slightly unhealthy."

I rolled my eyes at him.

"Yup, you think I'm hot." he sounded triumphant. "It's written all over your face."

"No it isn't!"

"Perhaps you're right. Either way, I know that you don't have a mental disorder that prevents you from appreciating fine young men like myself."

"Fine young man?" I asked. On the outside, I thought You'd be damn sexy if you weren't so ugly on the inside.

He nodded, his shaggy hair rippling slightly. I couldn't help but notice how his hair refracted the afternoon rays.

… Stupid glossy emo hair. Seriously, how does he get it so shiny? Does he use shoe-polish or something?

"I'm definitely a fine young man," Fang confirmed. "Synonymous with 'hottie extraordinaire' and 'Greek god'."

"At least we know you'll never have self-esteem issues when you're older," I muttered under my breath, so softly that I barely heard it.

Fang raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything.

He was nervous.

And he was never nervous. Ever. Not when he had to dance at his Uncle's wedding in front of four hundred guests (he was never betting ever again) or even when he had to sing karaoke at a bar (he was never ever ever having more than three glasses of wine again, most definitely.)

He shouldn't be nervous. Many girls had seen the inside of his house before.

So how was Max different? It wasn't like she could hate him anymore than she already does. It wasn't as if his living space could repel her further away.

But there he sat, driving his car a bit above the speed limit and bantering. Just as they always did.

Of course he didn't show his nerves.

Maybe if she knew him better, she would notice his rigid posture or how he leaned a fraction of an inch away from her, as if Max would infest him with cooties or something.

They were nearing his house.

He still smirked, flirted and chatted just like he normally did.

Why was he so nervous?

"We're here," Fang said cutting me off in mid-insult. The car slid into a halt and I looked out my window to the house where helived.

I was surprised. It was just so... Ordinary. I'd expected Fang to live in some kind of Prince of Dark castle or something that fit in with his designer jeans and fancy car.

I heard Fang's door open. I took that as my cue to push open mine as well. I stepped outside. We were just in a normal suburb. It could've been anywhere, it could've been any stranger's driveway.

"Welcome to the Novia's humble abode, Ride." Fang said. "Try not to mess up any of the furniture. Only sit on the things I tell you can sit on and don't step on any of the rugs. We don't usually let riffraff like you come inside that often."

I shot him a glare. "Fine, then. You lead the way. And just so you know, my boots are extra muddy today. My treat."

Fang rolled his eyes and stepped onto the front porch, crushing a few dried leaves underfoot. I followed him, feeling a bit anxious.

"We'll have the house to ourselves until five," Fang said as he unlocked the front door. "But the neighbours might hear us if we get too wild, so let's keep all the fun in my bedroom, because I got it soundproofed two years ago."

"That was a waste of money."

"No, what is a waste of money is me wearing clothes. The world is so deprived of my loveliness. Now if you would be so kind to step inside, that would be great."

I felt like I walked into some alternate reality. Almost everything in the house was white. The walls, the ceiling, the rugs, and even the coffee table. The couches were pristine; as if no-one ever actually sat on them. The only variations of colour was the occasional black streak on a vase or a grey stone on the kitchen counter, which borderlined the living room and foyer.

I couldn't immediately see that this wasn't a family's home, it was just a house.

"I see why you like black so much," I said dryly.

Fang shrugged. "Mom likes everything neat. So yeah, please don't touch anything. I still get yelled at whenever there's a butt imprint on any of the seats."

"We are we gonna work?" I asked.

"My bedroom – "

I opened my mouth to say something about taking advantage of young innocent girls.

" – and that's only because it's the only place I'm allowed to mess up, okay? Nothing dirty about it."

"Wow, for once you say something isn't dirty? I'm impressed."

A wry smile appeared. "I don't think in this house I can really say something is dirty. Everything is so friggin' clean."'

"So you take out all your innuendos on unsuspecting people when you're at school."

"Holy crap, it's like you can see straight into my soul."

So we went upstairs, past a study which was crammed with books. I saw a family picture of Fang with his two parents. He was only smiling faintly. I wanted to go inside and look at the other photos that were hanging against the pristine walls.

… I feel like such a stalker. Next thing you know I'll be taking hair samples from his hairbrush or something.

Anyways, at the end of the passage was Fang's room. The door was white and was right at the edge of the wall; it looked like it was trying to be stowed away where no one could see it.

Fang opened his door, giving me enough space to walk past him.

I did, brushing my should against his chest. He followed.

It was like stepping into a second alternate reality. A reality within a reality. (Dammit, why did I watch Inception again over the weekend?) Everything was dark. The carpet was just as fluffy as all the other rugs in the house, but it was a navy blue. The walls were covered in posters, with the occasional dark purple of the wall shining out.. There was also a huge shelf full of books and CDs that took up practically an entire wall, right next to where his computer was.

"I never pegged you for a bookworm," I said, indicating to the books.

Fang shrugged, his movement slightly jerky. "It kills time."

I put down my school bag in one corner, right at the foot of Fang's bed. The sheets matched the carpet perfectly.

I felt tense.

"How many girls have you conquered in this bed?" I asked, trying to get over the awkwardness.

Fang ran a hand through his hair. "I lost count after a while. Do two girls at once count as one or two conquerings?"

The ice started to melt, but it wasn't broken yet. The phone rang somewhere downstairs, echoing through the empty spaces of the house.

"Sorry –" when did Fang apologise! "–I'd better get that. Take a seat. I'll be right back."

And so he left.

I looked around. The chair at his computer was stacked up with books. The one in the far corner had a pile of jeans on it (and I was certainly not handling anything his butt had touched) so I sat down on Fang's bed.

So there I was.

In his house.

On his bed.



A/N: What's your favourite book series?

Rec: Forever and Always, by Krrimarte. If you're in the mood for a real tear-jerker, read it.

10. The Naked

A/N: Uurrrg... I'm losing motivation to write this. (I promise I will finish it though!) Reviews are loved and help me write; just throwing that out there.

Chapter 9 The Naked

So I know what you're all hoping for right now.

You're all hoping that Fang re entered the bedroom shirtless in all his sexy studly glory and how my heart totally melted once I saw his toned abs, and how I immediately jumped him as soon as he walked back into the room. And how passionately I made out with him and proceeded to deflower his precious family jewels.

Ready for disappointment?

Fang didn't walk into the room shirtless. He was quite fully clothed, in fact. Okay, maybe he took off his hoodie so he was just wearing a very tight navy shirt that showed off his six pack quite nicely, but I didn't notice that as he walked in. I didn't even notice him walk in, period.

Because, being the freaking idiot that I am, managed to fall asleep in three minutes.

Three minutes. Yes, I know that's crazy. But let me explain.

The moment I sat on Fang's bed, it was like there was a magnet on his pillow and a steel plate in my head.

I'm serious. He has the comfiest bed ever. For the first time in my life, I could understand why a girl would want to end up in Fang's bedroom.

So when I sat down, I couldn't help but think to myself, damn, this bed is so deliciously comfortable. I wonder what it would be like to lie down on it.

… Wait, that's a lie. When I sat down, it felt like there were angels singing. That previously-mentioned thought came several seconds later.

So I just leaned back and stared at the ceiling, enjoying the totally awesome comfiness.

At that moment I think I knew what it was like to be in love. And legitimate, this-could-be-forever, you're-my-soulmate love, this-is-better-than-sex love.

So my eyes just drifted shut.

And within a minute I was dozing on my one true soulmate.

Then I woke up three minutes later with Fang cuddling up next me. It was so romantic all the teenaged girls in the world threw away any dream about Edward Cullen and just went 'aaaaw' about how cute we were.


Yeah, right.

What actually happened was something more along the lines of this:

"Snuggling the real thing is far better, Ride."

I woke up from my doze with a start, looking around in confusion. It was a double nightmare; waking up in a strange place and to the sound of Fang's voice. And my total humilation was added to that, which made it triple the terror.


So I looked around and saw that somehow I'd managed to flip onto my stomach and wrap my arms around Fang's pillow. (Which smelled like Lavender. I'm really hoping it's fabric softener or something. I'm not sure if I could handle it if I found out that he uses floral shampoo.)

I immediately sat up, straightening my spine and feeling humiliated.

"Here's a hint: Try to get the guy into the bed first before you hop in yourself. And don't fall asleep. Drool isn't sexy."

I wiped away the strand of drool at the corner of my mouth, failing to feel embarrassed about that tiny detail . "It's not my fault!" I complained, trying not to think too much about the fact that Fang's pillow had my drool on it.

"What? Did you trip and fall into my bed and spontaneously pass out?"

Fang was leaning casually against the doorway, wearing that stupid tight top. If there was anything that screamed man-whore, this was it.

"No," I said, climbing off Fang's bed (sadly parting with my lover, our romance was so tragically short, we could probably rival Romeo and Juliet) "I just sat down on your bed."

Fang raised an eyebrow. "And an asteroid flew threw the window and hit your head, knocking you out completely?"

I blushed, realising how stupid I was about to sound. "Actually, it's just that your bed is ridiculously comfortable. I sort of just... passed out on it."

Fang nodded, as if it was completely reasonable. "Megan, Kayla and Taryn all said the exact same thing. It made Megan so comfortable we actually ended up doing it on the carpet to keep things exciting."

"Eeeew, I can't believe I touched that!" I said, glaring in horror at the bed.

"Hey," Fang said, sounding offended. "Megan, Kayla and Taryn are all lovely people."

"No, it's because you've been in there."

Fang raised an eyebrow. "So, what did you think before you found out that little tidbit? That I just slept on my desk or something?"

"No, but nakedness is something else entirely."

Fang grinned. "I sleep naked every night, dear. Always be prepared is my motto."

Fang had been surprised when he walked into his bedroom after taking a message from one of his father's business associates. He hadn't expected Max to make herself so comfortable on his bed so quickly; usually she was wound up like something... wound up around him. It was strange to see her looking so unguarded and relaxed, just so calm and peaceful. He's never seen that look on her face before.

And yeah, maybe Fang did notice the way her shirt rode up just enough so that he could see her tanned hip slope down into the protective covering of her jeans and how that same shirt was pulled tightly over her body, but that wasn't important at all.

Most of the guys at their school thought that Max was pretty hot; her lean figure curved in all the right places, and not mention the tough girl attitude made most guys' eyes linger a bit too long on her.

She certainly wasn't on any A-list when it came to looks, but her biting sarcasm and way that she carried herself certainly did attract attention. Not that Max noticed, of course. She was usually too preoccupied to notice how someone would lean back in the chair as she sauntered past or hold her gaze a second too long,

And Fang wasn't ashamed to agree with the boys that thought she was hot. He wouldn't exactly say no if Max suddenly cornered him and forced her lips upon his – any single sixteen year old straight guy with an ounce of common sense wouldn't say no to that.

But he didn't have feelings for her. Definitely not; that would be weird.

He never had feelings for any girl. Max wasn't any different. And it didn't matter either way. She already had a boyfriend, apparently... Why did that bother him so much?

He just got a kick out of annoying her, which was ridiculously easy. It was comfortable; he liked to think of it as some backwards friendship, even they weren't even on a first name basis yet.

Just conversation and a few laughs. Maybe they didn't really spend time with each other the way normal people did, but it wasn't like they hated each other, was it?

Maybe she did hate him. It wasn't like he made it difficult for her to dislike him. Not at all.

He grinned wryly as he thought of what his best friend might say about this whole situation. She would probably whack him around the head and tell him to stop perving on an innocent girl sleeping.

So he stopped.

Fang leaned casually against the door fame, ignoring the tense muscles in his neck and back. Then juggled some responses in his head. He went for something egotistical and witty.

She woke up.

She looked frantically around the room, desperately trying to gather her bearings. Then she saw him and that relaxed posture disappeared as she sat straight up and her shields reappeared. In a second, he was completely shut out.

And then they began to banter, just as they always did. He said something dirty. She was grossed out.

Nothing unusual.

"Do you seriously sleep naked? What if you wake up to find your house burning down or something?" I asked. It was repulsive and engrossing at the same time. Was he BS'ing me? Or did he really sleep in his birthday suit?

Fang shrugged. "Come to my bedroom in the middle of night and find out," he winked. "And for the house burning down thing, let's just say that the fire fighters will explore their gay side for that night."

I was so freaked out right then. I had just found out that my lover slash one true soulmate of a bed turned out to have herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea – the works.

And to think that I actually touched that bed.

The horror.

The pure and absolute horror that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

And the worst part is that I'd never know if it's true or not, unless I do actually come to his house in the middle of the night, but the mental scarring of seeing Fang sleeping naked would probably put me in an asylum for the rest of my existence.

I crossed my arms over my chest. "As many questions as I have now, I'm not going to ask. Can we please just start with the information?"

Fang straightened up from the doorway and strolled into the room as if he owned the place.

… Wait. Forget I said that.

Fang walked over to his school bag and bent over, giving me a fantastic view of ass (a view that I could have gone my whole life without seeing, thank you very much). I couldn't help but wonder if he could fit his cellphone in his jeans pocket, would it snap when he bent over?

It probably would. Those jeans were tight.

Like, I'm-wearing-my-sisters-skinny-jeans-two-sizes-too-small-for-her, my-skin-is-going-to-have-this-pattern-engraved-into-it, I-can't-fit-a-piece-of-paper-into-my-pocket tight.

Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating just a little bit.

But only a bit.

He looked over his shoulder as he pulled out his Biology books. "Like what you see, Ride?" he asked as he stood up.

Anger flushed my cheeks. "No," I said unconvincingly.

"Admiring my jeans?"

"I was, actually, Novia. I think it's a miracle that you can actually fit into something that puny. Can you even sit down without ripping something?"

He smiled wryly.

"Yeah, they're pretty comfy, actually. They're fifty percent elastic, so I can still move around and look at the same time." he grinned even more. "And they're still pretty easy to take off. Want to try?"

"Vanity is not an attractive trait, Novia."

"It's not vanity if everyone else agrees with your hotness."

"I don't."

"Denial is also said to be an ugly emotion, Ride."

I frowned slightly at his echoed words. "Why is it totally inconceivable to you that a girl is not willing to fall at your feet and worship the ground you walk on?"

Fang shrugged as he casually cleared his desk, setting his Biology books in the center. "I choose not believe such a woman exists."

I rolled my eyes. Is just me or do I do a lot eye rolling when I'm around Fang? "Do you don't believe I exist then?"

"No, I just believe that you're repressing your attraction towards me. For someone that has a ninety-percent average, you're pretty thick."

I'm not sure if I should be insulted or take that as a back-handed compliment.

"I see you would never, even for a second, doubt your hotness? Or think that someone would actually see past your face and see the gaping void of a soul within?"

He shrugged. "Perhaps. But there's nothing wrong with enjoying a painting, even though you don't like the artist." He took a step away from the desk, indicating to it with a hand flourish. "Our project awaits! So could you please stop going on about how much you love me so that we can start working?"

I had to swallow down my frustration and stop the rapidly building scream in the back of my throat. There's no point in arguing with Fang; he drags you down to his level of stupidity and then beats you with experience. Which was a lot, apparently. Of experience, I mean. Not the dragging part.

I pulled out some papers from my school bag; I'd printed off some information last about what we must memorise for the Decathlon.

I sauntered over to Fang's desk, while skimming through a page. I already knew what that sheet said, I just didn't want to have to look a Fang's grin.

"Okay, so where do we start?" I asked.

"Well, usually there's some foreplay, like flirting, music and the removal of the top layer of clothing."

A/N: What's your favourite colour?

This week's rec is Not so Normal by Biteoutoflife. It's a really enjoyable highschool fic.

11. The Chocolate

A/N: Sorry for not updating yesterday, but it was my birthday and I was a bit busy... The joys of being finally being fifteen.

Chapter 10: The Chocolate

As it turns out, Fang was pretty organised about the whole thing. Apparently Fang was an astronomy dork, which is pretty surprising. He explained to me in a low, rough voice that I wasn't used to hearing and recited the definitions we would need to know for the Decathlon.

"So we're going to need to know about the Sun's composition, which is mainly hydrogen. There are some heavier elements, however..."

It was weird to just sit and listen to Fang talk without him insulting me or just being a pain. It was like he was in a completely different mode; he didn't even seem to be aware of me. Even his voice was completely different. He took no arrogance or pride in the fact that he knew all this information.

He was just explaining. Sometimes he would look up at me and say, 'This is what you must memorise,' or 'You do know what gas that does, right?' and if I didn't know, he'd explain that too, with no mirth.

It was weird, simply put. It was like he was a completely different person. He didn't make snide remarks or insult me at every turn. Maybe Fang should become a teacher. He'd probably abuse the position.

Heck, he didn't even make one innuendo. And if that doesn't say something I don't know what does.

We were done by four o' clock. By that time we were both lying on our stomachs with our elbows touching, staring a the textbook that Mr. Hendricks gave us, too bored to actually open it again.

There was silence. It borderlined on uncomfortable, but it wasn't quite awkward.

"We'll need to entertain ourselves the next few hours," Fang said, breaking out quiet. "What ever could two teenagers in a bedroom do to possibly pass the time?"

"I'm hungry, personally." I said, ignoring Fang. "Is there anything to eat in here?"

Fang rolled onto his back and put stretched his arms out behind his head, arching his back as he did so, striking a porn star pose. "Gorge all you want, babe."

"I don't want food poising, but thanks for the offer."

Unperturbed by my rejection, Fang gracefully sprung to his feet in one fluid movement. Huh. I never noticed how skinny Fang actually is. Even though is toned, he's not muscular. I wonder how much he does actually eat. He left the room, saying that he'd get some eats.

Several minutes later, I was once again lying on Fang's carpet, this time with a can of Coke and a a slab of chocolate. It felt surreal to be in Fang's house, eating his food and lying on his carpet and listening to his music.

Yeah, I decided to raid his iPod while he went downstairs to get some food. I was surprised that there was so little Screamo music on it, though. I'd always pictured Fang to jam to heavy metal and stuff.

I recognized some of the stuff, like The Killers, Muse and The Automatic. Apparently Fang was hectically into alternative and Indie, because those were the only few things I recognized. But then again, I don't pay much attention to the music scene, so that could also explain it.

Fang made it back to the room the moment I found something interesting in his library.

"Kesha?" I asked incredulously. "Do you seriously listen to Kesha? And Taylor Swift is your top played? What is this?"

Fang flopped down next to me, snatching the iPod away from me, clutching it protectively to his chest. "Don't judge."

"I can't believe that you, Mr Prince of Darkness, has Kesha on his iPod. The fangirls are simply going to love that."

His eyes widened a fraction. "I swear, if you tell a soul about it you will die a very painful death. And trust me, I can get very creative when it comes to killing."

I ignored his threat. "And how exactly are you going to stop me?"

Then Fang did the unspeakable act.

He his hand darted out and stole the chocolate slab from my hand.

That's cold, man.

I screeched and made a mad lunge for the brown gold, springing over Fang's back, grabbing the slab, finishing off with a tuck 'n roll as I landed back on the carpet on Fang's right.

Fortunately for me, the carpet was about three inches thick, saving me from making a loud noisy bang as my shoulder hit the floor.

I squealed with mock joy and held the chocolate to my chest, as if I was holding a pile of cash.

And so that's how it started.

It ended with me pinned down, gasping for air, laughing, while Fang sat on my stomach and ate the whole slab in front of me, chowing down six blocks at a time.

"So, Ride, what would you do for these last three blocks?" he asked, waving the chocolate in front of my face. I snapped at it but Fang jerked his hand away too fast. Damn.

Fang ended up putting the chocolate in my one hand, but since he had his own hand gripping my wrist, I couldn't actually eat the chocolate. I tried to push him off me, but since he's so damn heavy, it was like forcing a truck off my arm.

I squirmed for what felt like a long time, trying to get the chocolate to my mouth while Fang just laughed at my attempts. The chocolate quickly melted against my warm skin.

And then I spotted my gap. Fang was laughing so hard that he let my other, chocolate free hand go. I quickly elbowed his chest – ow! that thing is made out of rocks, I'm telling you – and in a moment of surprise, his center of gravity tipped backwards just enough so that I could pull myself into a sitting position and take my chocolate smeared hand and rake it through Fang's ridiculously smooth and glossy hair.

Fang instantly rolled off me and sprang to his feet, his face a mask of horror as he tenderly felt his ruined locks.

"My hair!" he said in bewilderment. "You got chocolate in my hair!"

I, however, was merciless. I spotted the half full Coke can within arm's reach.

Thirty seconds later Fang was drenched in a combination of melted chocolate and Coke.

Point to May-Alex Ride and her awesomeness.

"Ride," he said, stretching out his arms, the Coke dripping onto his shoulders. "I think you deserve a big hug."

I backed up against the desk. "No, no... You're not touching me with your cooties and your Coke. Stay away!"

Fang flicked his hair out of his face, showering me with a fine spray soda. He kept on advancing. I planted my hands firmly on his chest and pushed, but it slowed him down for a second.

A second later his arm were around me, I couldn't breathe.

Not the omigosh-he's-so-hot-I-can't-breathe, but it was more of the he's-crushing-my-ribs-I-might-just-die I can't breathe. And he made sure that I was soaked too by giving me a good ol' bear hug and nuzzling his soaked hair onto my shoulder, which made me yell even more.

"Ew, ew, ew!" I yelled. "Get off of me!"

Fang let go. I fell to the floor, my stomach convulsing in silent laughter.

"Don't mess with the best," he warned as he crossed his arms, still managing to be threatening even though he looked like a drowned cat.

I shakily stood up again. I took one look at bedraggled Fang and I started laughing. He joined in; probably laughing and how ridiculous I looked.

And we stayed like that a long time, just clutching our sides, trying not to fall over, grinning like idiots.

But eventually the laughter became small chuckles and faded into gidddy grins.

"We should probably get cleaned up," I suggested.

Fang nodded, shaking a bit more Coke everywhere.

I couldn't help it, I didn't even think I put my hand up and ran my hands through Fang's hair, making my hand even stickier. "Sorry about that," I said. "I know how you like to keep your hair looking fantastic at all times." A second later I realised what I was doing and pulled my hand away as if I'd accidentally touched a hotplate on an oven.

Fang shrugged, acting as if the unexpected contact was something totally natural. "It happens."

He walked off to the side of his room, right next to his closet was an opened a door that blended in almost perfectly with the wall. I was surprised to find a miniature bathroom. It was compact; just with a basin, shower and toilet and a cupboard on the wall. Where did he keep all his hair products! He probably had a secret compartment or something in his shower.

Fang ducked his head into the sink and turned on the faucet, rinsing out his hair.

"If you want, you can borrow a shirt of mine. We can rinse out yours and put it through the dryer and no-one will ever know this happened."

I nodded. And then I realised that Fang couldn't see me. "Yeah, I can feel the soda drying on me already," I said.

His response was drowned out by the water. He lifted his head and squeezed out some droplets, and the pulled his shirt off, making a point of facing me.


"Ride, can you help me out? I think I got some chocolate smeared into the back of my skull that doesn't want to come out."

"Sure," I said, swallowing. I approached Fang carefully, as if fleas would jump onto me if I got any closer. Once I was in the bathroom, he turned to face the mirror and crouched slightly, so that I could reach him. I had to stand on my toes anyways. His hair smelled of Coke. How unexpected.

I carefully parted it while I was hyper-aware of every move that he made, trying my hardest not to touch any part of his body except for his scalp.

I eventually found the matted clump of chocolate that had hardened into place. I gently started working it out of the strands.

We stood like that for only about two minutes while pulled and pried chocolate away, trying my best not to tug painfully at his wet hair.

I couldn't help but watch a droplet of water run down his smooth back and disappear into his jeans. I then noticed the jagged scar that ran down the right side of Fang's back. Forgetting my job completely, I ran two fingers over it.

"I got that when I fell out of a tree," Fang said unexpectedly. My hand jolted away as he spoke. My hands moved up to Fang's hairline again and I picked out the last piece of chocolate.

"All done," I said. My voice wasn't half as shaky as I felt. "There are still some nits, but I didn't really want to touch those."

Fang turned around. He took a towel and started trying his hair, bending over forwards so the water droplets wouldn't hit the floor.

"How did falling out of a tree make such a huge scar?" I asked, trying to get over how awkward this was and what a shameless man-slut Fang is.

Fang looked up from under his towel. "It was incredibly bad luck," he explained. "I hit every branch on the way down and my head on a root."

I winced.

He shrugged nonchalantly. "It was fine," he said. "I had to spend a few days in hospital so souped up on meds I don't really remember what happened." he indicated to another another scar on his hip that sunk below the hemline of the jeans. "I got that one too," he said. "And a hectic concussion," he added as an afterthought.

"I'm sorry," I said, trying to imagine a younger Fang sporting all the jagged cuts and head injury, but I couldn't. "How old were you?"


I couldn't help but eye that scar on his hip. It really unsettled me; the way it stood, slightly raised compared to the rest of his skin and was several shades lighter, and how it curved to my left. There was something sinister to it, as it had been obtained at a far pricier cost than a fall from a tree.

I finally looked up and saw Fang staring at me. "No, Ride." he said, smiling slightly. "You may have gotten away with touching the scar on my back, but you're definitely not getting close to this one."

I gaped at him and his audacity and for once didn't have a comeback.

"Now it's your turn take of your shirt, Ride," he said.

"In most circles that's considered sexual harassment."

Fang shrugged, the muscles in his neck stood bulged slightly as he did so. He turned his back on me and started to rummage in his closet, eventually throwing a shirt behind him. I automatically reached out and caught it. It had the batman logo on it.

"Change in the bathroom if you like," Fang said as he stood up, pulling a shirt over his head. To my surprise, I was disappointed to see the skin and muscle disappear.

I grabbed the shirt and walked straight to the bathroom, closing the door behind me.

A/N: Ah, so finally we get some action and a slight indicator of a plot-point. No cookies for guesses, but you're welcome to review opinions.

Question: What turns you off a a fanfiction?

Rec: A Little Place Called Home by Miss Fish. It's a fanfic legend, but I suggest that all the newbs that aren't familiar with it should go and read it.

12. The Washing

A/N: To people that complain that there isn't enough chat in this story: Yes, I know. But bear with me. These past ten chapters have taken place over the space of roughly three days. And since RedConverse and GetOutWindow only really talk to each other once a day, there's only so much that can be fit in.

Apologies for lateness.

The Machine

Fang sat down on his swivel chair, allowing himself to spin in two and a half circles. He stopped turning as the chair faced his bathroom door.

Right now, Max was changing in his bathroom.

... That was definitely a sentence he'd never think would become a reality.

He swiveled away so that his back was facing the door, trying to force the image of Max peeling a sticky shirt off her out of his mind. Water was running. Was she wearing his batman top now or was she still focused on cleaning her own shirt first before getting changed?

Fang swiveled in his chair again, this time ending up facing his study desk. He ran a hand through his wet hair, hating the way the water felt as it ran down his back and made his shirt stick down.

He rested his head against the wood and sighed.

May-Alex Ride was incredibly annoying, with the way she teased and how she invaded his personal space, with her soft touch tracing his scars and urgh.

The water stopped running.

So maybe I spent a little extra time washing my shirt than I should have. I couldn't help but look around his bathroom, to be honest. The little things jumped out at me; the fact that he used a kiwi shampoo that sat in the corner of the shower, the checkered curtains and the white towel that hung over the shower door.

I stared at the mirror, looking into my own relfection, wondering how long Fang had spent staring into this same glass. Probably an obscenely long time.

I shut the water off (my shirt now smelled of coconut, according to one of Fang's soap containers) and shrugged on Fang's Batman shirt. It hung ridiculously loosely on me, but I guess it was better than going without a shirt. Maybe some people would disagree, but whatever. Modesty and all that.

I opened the bathroom door and saw Fang slowly turning to and fro in his swivel chair, looking bored. He looked at up me and ran a hand through his hair, flecking his shirt with water. Why did he keep touching his hair, as if he was making sure that it was still there? It wasn't as if it would disappear if he didn't constantly check on it.

"Let's go put that in the dryer," Fang said. "Wouldn't want there to be any evidence of this, now do we?"

So that's what we did.


I was sitting on the drying machine, enjoying the warmth tickling at my legs. Their machine was located in the garage, making it the coldest place in the house, temperature-wise. Since I didn't bring a warm hoodie or jumper so I just ignored the chilled air that was grabbing my arms.

"Are you cold, Ride?" Fang asked after a moment of silence.


I shook my head.

"Then I'd love to know why there are goosebumps on your arms." He was leaning against the bricked wall with his arms crossed. His jeans had a few specks of the Coke on it, barely visible against the dark fabric.

"Fine," I admitted. "Your garage is freezing,"

"Do you want a hoodie? There should be one of mine over there," he indicated to the laundry basket that sat a few feet from the machines. It was was all black clothing. How shocking. Where is the rainbow underwear and the secret pink tank tops?

I shook my head. "I'm fine, really."

Why were we being so polite? This was downright creepy.

Fang walked over to where I was sitting. "Scooch up," he said as he lifted himself onto the platform.

I moved to the side as Fang sat down. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" I asked.

"We're sitting on a drying machine. It's not a lifetime commitment."

"But what if it breaks?"

Fang shrugged. "It probably won't; this thing is pretty tough."

"Fine, but I won't cop the blame though if it does break."

Fang shrugged. "It's fine, Ride. Worst comes to worst I'll just say that I ended up making out with a girl on top the machine and things got a bit wild, I'll leave out your name completely."

"Oh wow, thanks," I said, sarcasm dripping off my voice. "It's great to know that you'll be honest about it."

"Well, do you want to make that a true story or not?"

I wrinkled my nose in disgust. "I'd rather make out with a squid, thank you very much."

"You hurt my feelings, Ride." He replied coolly, sounding very unoffended. "Should I blame this sudden swing to bestiality... But that wouldn't quite explain everything, seeing that I can be quite the animal when I want to be."

What an asshole. The comment barely flustered me, though. Fang's getting too typical these days.

"Point A, Novia," I said. "I definitely do not have an ounce of bestiality in me, and Point B, I think when most people meet you they swing over to asexuality just because you're such a poor example of the human race."

I relaxed a bit as I said that. We weren't doing our weird polite thing any more. This was conversation I could handle; it was just Fang and I grating our wits together. This was far better than the awkward bathroom conversation and anything that remotely discussed my feelings. This was easy, natural and safe.

"And are you asexual, Ride?"

"No, I know some redeeming people that overrides your general failure that brings shame to humankind."

Fang sighed dramatically and muttered something about 'denial being the first step in both mourning the dead and the beginning of a relationship' at a tone that was definitely meant for my ears.

The dryer's soft whirring slowly died down and silence crept into the room, finding its way through the cracks in the walls and from under the storage boxes.

I jumped off the machine. My side that Fang had been touching was cool. Part of me was temped t get back on and and stay warm, but I squashed that feeling a second after I felt it.

"The stuff's done," I said.

Fang's eyes widened. "Are you sure!" he asked in surprise. "How could I not have noticed that?" he slid off the dryer too, opening the door of the machine. My legs were hit with a blast of warm air.

"Yeah," I said. "You should really learn how to be more observant. Next time you're not paying attention someone could sneak up and kidnap you and take you California or something."

Fang ignored my comment, pulling out my shirt and handing it to me. My hands clasped around it, enjoying the warm material. "Thanks," I said.

Fang shrugged. "It's just a shirt, not gold."

"Sorry for being polite, Captain Sarcasm."

Fang wrinkled his nose. "Captain Sarcasm? Isn't that old saying Captain Obvious or something?"

"Technicalities," I replied and tried to change the subject. "I'm going to get changed again, and then I probably should get going."

Something flickered in Fang's eyes. "Yeah, you probably should. You need a lift, right?"

I nodded. "That would be great, thanks."

Crap, we're back to this weird-ass polite thing again.

Fang's convertible's roof was rolled down, but the breeze didn't bother me that much. It was warmer than his garage, which was a blessing I didn't let slide.

I settled back on my seat, enjoying the last warm rays of the sun as it hit my skin. The whole town was bathed in the golden light and I couldn't help but notice the long shadows it cast.

"Do you actually know where to go?" I asked.

Fang shot me a look. "How stupid do you think I am?" it was true, I'd given him directions just before we got into the car.

"Do you want me to answer that?" I asked.

"Is your answer going to be sarcastic, spiteful or otherwise generally hurtful and insulting?"

"You know me too well, Novia."

The corner of his mouth twitched. "Of course I do. It's one of my many fantastic traits."

I leaned back in my seat, putting my feet on the otherwise immaculate dashboard. He eyed my shoes cautiously.

"Don't get your nits everywhere, I just had this thing cleaned."

"My heart bleeds," I responded coolly, adjusting my one leg to add emphasis. "It's not like this car is worth much anyways." Which was a total lie; although this car was not by far one of the most expensive seen at school, although it was one of the best looked after. The inside was also a testament to Fang's love for it.

His knuckles tightened slightly on the wheel. "Don't diss the car."

Realising I'd gone a bit too far, I retracted my feet from the dashboard. It only left a slightly imprint on the smooth black.

"Better?" I asked.

He nodded. "A bit. Although things will only properly shape up once you're gone."

Ouch. "Wow, I feel so appreciated now,"

He shrugged. "I do what I can."

I didn't respond, but instead looked out the window. We were roughly five minutes away from my house.

The conversation died down after as we both just watched the world outside go by. The silence was more comfortable than forced. We probably reached our maximum quota of insults for the day. I loved the feeling of the wind whirling through my hair, sucking my breath out of my lungs by force rather than choice.

It was stupid, but I did pretend for a few moments that I could fly.

And it felt good.

But all too soon, the car slowed down as it rolled into my street and eventually pulled to a stop. I looked at my house for a few moments, wondering why I didn't want to see it .

"We're here, Ride. Just in case you didn't notice."

I shot him a Death Stare and opened my car door, slinging my school bag over my shoulder.

"Do you want me to walk you to the door?" Fang asked, a faint mocking grin splayed over his lips.

"What is this, a bad date?" I asked. "I think I'll manage to not get eaten by a wild boar between here and the porch."

"I'm was just being polite. But if I'm too embarrassing to meet your parents, that's fine."

"Of course you are!"

Fang smirked. "Good evening, Ride."

"Later, Fang."

I walked away from the car and opened the house up for myself. Only when I heard his car drive off, my bag was in my bedroom, and I was in the kitchen I realised what I'd said.

I groaned, leaning my head on the counter.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. If he dares even think we're now on first name basis I might just have to rip out his brain and play basketball with it so that he forgets that I ever called him Fang.

Fang sat down on his bed. It was a weird afternoon, to say the least. And one that he would have trouble forgetting for a while. His mind automatically replayed the best parts – the small moments when Max had let her guard down, even the tiniest bit. Those precious seconds when she forgot that she was supposed to be hostile and rude and to him felt far too intimate to him.

And there were other good parts of the afternoon – the few minutes her had her pinned down and he could feel her warmth... and not to mention that great feeling when her hips pressed against his thigh.

Yes, Fang was hopelessly horny guy. But he could ignore his hormones.

Especially since Max had a boyfriend. Was that jealousy he felt stirring? He pushed it down firmly, trying to forget it.

And should he start calling her Max now? She called him Fang at the end of the day, but girls were confusing and weird, and he guessed that this was just some test to make him so confused his brains just might fall out.

Fang sighed and stood up, deciding to take a shower. He probably enjoyed showers far too much than any sane man should. After all, men shouldn't enjoy warm massaging water and getting clean. They were supposed to yell and flaunt their man stink.

Once he was in the shower and watching the last remains of Coke that had stuck to his back and stomach whirl down into the drain, taking the last few physical reminders of the day with it.

He sighed and dipped his head under the spray of water and started working his Kiwi shampoo in.

Eventually he stepped out of the cubicle and dried off, wrapping the towel around his waist. He walked into his bedroom and saw his Batman shirt, thrown over his swivel chair. He picked it up and without even thinking, pulled it over his head, pretending he wasn't creepy at all.

A/N: What's your favourite thing about fanfiction?

This week's rec is a bit different. I am suggesting that you all go check out the Maximum Writing Awards forum, where you can nominate your favourite stories in categories like Best Fax Oneshot or Best Multichapter in Progress, amongst many others. It's still a small group, but let's spread the word about good fics, yeah? GO NOMINATE NOW.

13. The Ex

A/N: The Irresistible Chef is a legit title.

Yes, there is a field-trip in this chapter. In case you think that I pulled this out of my ass, go back to chapter one. There's a mention there.

Chapter 12: The Ex

-October 16 2011 09:34 PM-

GetOutWindow: Hi.

RedConverse: Please, don't be so enthusiastic to see me!

GetOutWindow: *rolls eyes* Sorry, I could barely contain my inner joy there. Don't worry, I'm back under control now.

RedConverse: XPI do understand your awe of my amazingness, though.

GetOutWindow: Oh please, I am about as in awe of you as I am over trashy romance novels.

RedConverse: You must really like trashy romance novels then. :D

GetOutWindow: Of course I do! The Irresistible Chef and Summer Nights of Rose? Sign me up.

RedConverse: My personal favourite has to be The Bowels of Love, it was about a nurse and patient that suffered from unpredictable bowel movement. It was inspiring.

GetOutWindow: You should lend that to me sometime, and I'll send The Irresistible Chef over. It has a naked guy with a six pack on the front so you'll love it.

RedConverse: You know me too well. Is there any forbidden kitchen romping in it?

GetOutWindow: Of course there is. There's nothing but kitchen romping in there, dear.

RedConverse: Excellent. I can't wait.

GetOutWindow: I know.

RedConverse: So how was your day?

GetOutWindow: Not too bad, and yours?

RedConverse: I did some stupid things, but I'm sooo glad it's weekend now...




"I understood that the first time you said it, Iggy."

"Do you want me to yell it? Don't think the teachers will stop me."

"That fine. It's not like you haven't yelled it in public before."

"Several times, actually."

"I was there, remember?"

"Touché, my dear May-Alex. I believe your memory serves you exceptionally well."

"I do have startlingly fantastic memory. And for some reason, most of the ones involving brushes with mortality along with sarcastic and somewhat dirty humour involves you."

"Hm, a total conundrum methinks."

"Methinks? What kind of teenaged boy are you?"

"A well read one?"

I rolled my eyes at Iggy. It was Monday morning – the day that our year was sent out on a field trip and left to battle the forces of education outside of school. Naturally, most of us were pretty excited to have a legit excuse to skive of school and actually learn something that we could maybe use in the future.

I boarded the bus with Simone and Iggy and the three of us managed to get a one of the last spots with three seats. I made sure that Iggy and Simone sat next to each other and that I got a window seat. (Clever Max and the art of subtlety! ...Well, I actually just told them that I called dibs on the window seat, but whatever. I can be subtle every now end then, believe it or not.)

The trip was uninteresting, for the most part. The only thing of note that happened was when Iggy decided it would be fun to see how many kids he could spitball before they realised what was happening. He managed to hit a whopping five people before anyone actually cottoned on, amazingly. To be fair, Iggy managed to hit five people in four seconds, so they weren't completely inobservant.

After an hour or so of chilling in the bus, while Iggy made constant Friday references, we finally pulled to a stop and we filed out to join up with the other kids.

I was surprised by the cold in the air as I stepped off the vehicle. The teachers were herding us, trying to get order. Eventually the finally sorted us into five groups, all arranged by surname. I was in the P-S section; I thanked my lucky stars that my surname wasn't near to Novia. (Although Iggy's was; poor thing. I was pretty sure they'd be paired up, because life just hates us.)

"Right," the teacher called. "You'll be divided into groups of two," He started. "Harriet Pinpoint will be with Rina Truter..." he started reeling off names. After a while my head jerked up as he called out my name.

"May-Alex Ride, you'll be paired with Lissa Stickler." he said.

Oh, great.

Out of all the people in our school, I had to be paired with Lissa. Not that I had a problem with her, it was just that, well...

Everyone in the school knew her. She had been Fang's girlfriend for two months, in which her popularity sky-rocketed. They'd broken up a month ago for some or other reason. I can't say I pay enough attention to school gossip to know anymore about Lissa than that.

"Hey," she said to me, after working her way through the throng of kids. "So I guess we're a team for the rest of the day, right?" she brushed some of her hair out of her eyes – another reason why everyone knew her; she had flaming red hair that looked almost unnatural. Which was impossible, since her eyebrows and eyelashes were only a shade darker.

"Hi," I said. I was spared from saying more by one of the teachers interrupting our attempts at conversation by giving out instructions to us. We had three hours to find all the information from the Planetarium; by twelve o' clock we all had to be back at this area so that we could move over to the Natural History Museum, which was just across the road. We were quickly ushered into the foyer.

I looked down at the paper. There was a total of forty questions. There were several versions of the papers so that everyone wouldn't bundle at one area of the museum or work in teams larger than two. The first question was about Jupiter's moons.

"So, I guess we should find the exhibit for Jupiter then," I said. "Any ideas where that could be? Because if we don't find it, then we're screwed before we even begin."

Lissa shrugged. "I guess checking the map over there would help us. Just an idea." she pointed to a colourful series of blocks pasted to one of the walls.

"Oh, I knew that," I said, trying to cover up my momentary lapse of stupidity. "I was just testing you, of course,"

Lissa nodded in all seriousness. "I passed, right?"

"Yeah, well done. You now have permission to hang around me."

She laughed lightly, probably more for my benefit than her actually thinking it was funny. It wasn't one of those giggly squeaks that most girls had; it was more natural. Reserved.

We joked and made small talk while we walked to the planetary exhibit, which happened to be on the opposite end of the museum. I was surprised at how nice Lissa was; I'd heard a lot of rumours about her; most of them extremely unflattering.

"I can see why Fang likes you," she said just after I told her the story about how I managed to not die after getting involved in one of Iggy's schemes.

"What?" I asked, dumbfounded. "Fang doesn't like me."

Lissa's freckles scrunched together. "Of course he does. How many people do you see him willingly talk to?"

"Um? I don't know. It's not like I follow him around to see who he socialises with."

Lissa grinned. "You're so oblivious, it's hilarious. Of course he likes you."

Okay, so maybe he did like me in his own twisted way. But definitely not like that. "Why would you think that?"

Lissa shrugged. "I just know, okay? It's the way he looks at you."

"He gives me his I'm-so-hot stare most of the time."

"Like this?" Lissa crossed her arms and gave a half grin, her eyebrows raised slightly.

My jaw dropped. It was an exact clone of Fang's expression on someone else's face.

"How do you do that!" I asked. "That's just freaky. You look exactly like he does."

"It's a talent," Lissa replied as she fell back into her normal persona. "And you should go for him. He's a really sweet guy, once you learn that a lot of his d-bag qualities are all talk."

"No, I think that ego is pretty real."

"Well, some of it. But I'm serious, Max. I was idiot to let him go, don't do the same thing that I did. And he's a fantastic kisser – "

"Okay," I interrupted, putting my hand up to motion her to stop speaking. "I really don't need to know the details of your steamy romance. And I do have a boyfriend myself, you know."

Her eyes widened, so much that I could see white all around her brown irises. "You do? How come know one at school knows about him then?"

"He goes to Oakridge High School," I said. "I try not to make it a big deal."

"Is he cute?" she asked.

I smiled; we were on safer waters. "Hotter than a supermodel sitting in an oven in the middle of summer."

"I'll only believe you if you have pictures..."

"So, I hear you're popular with the ladies."


"Yeah, I hear you also don't talk a lot. Do you not speak so that people will leave you alone?"


"Or do you just not talk to people you don't like?"


"I also hear that you think Max is pretty hot. Is that true?"


"Yeah, but she's taken. Don't even think about trying to go up against Dylan."


"I'm glad we're clear. Good talking to you, Marco. I'm happy we had this chat."


"So, do you want to answer some the questions?"


"Why not?"

"School work sucks."

"But this is interesting stuff!"

"No it isn't."

"How do you know what?"

"I do. Go away, whatserface."

"Argh! You're a total bonehead. And my name is Simone, you know."


"Finished!" I said triumphantly, holding the paper over my head as if it was a trophy.

Lissa rolled her eyes as she grabbed the answer sheet from me and glanced over it, as if checking to see if I hadn't messed it up somehow.

"Your handwriting looks like a blindfolded monkey was trying to write while being electrocuted and was holding the pen with a deformed foot."

"That was oddly specific," I said, pulling the paper closer to my chest. "Do you speak from experience?"

Lissa nodded. "Yeah, one of my hobbies is testing monkeys' writing skills while put under pressure," she shrugged carelessly. "But your handwriting is a new kind of awful. No offense."

"None taken." I said and rolled my eyes. Lissa had filled in the first twenty questions and her handwriting looked like it was typed out neatly while mine looked like... well, a monkey's.

Before she could continue insulting me, I heard a very distinct chatter come from one of the hallways. Iggy emerged, arguing loudly and indicating to his paper, while Fang had his arms firmly crossed over his chest. I'm pretty sure I saw his lips mouth the word 'moron'.

I smirked to myself. They were having the typical 'I'm the manliest' argument. It didn't really matter what exactly they were talking about, but I could practically feel the air around them charged with testosterone. Fang's eyes flickered over to where I was standing, his face completely impassive as he saw me. Iggy somehow picked up on it as well and swivelled his head to see where I was standing.

"Max!" Iggy called. "You're right! This guy is a total idiot!"

Point to Iggy.

I heard Lissa let out a small sigh of longing next to me. I looked over to her and saw a flicker of sadness on her face. It was quickly covered by a mask of indifference that matched Fang's almost perfectly.

I felt a twitch of sympathy for both Iggy and Lissa – I felt sorry for Iggy for having to deal with Fang's crap for the whole day and Lissa for falling for his crap.

As they approached, I heard Fang let out a contemptuous huff, as if blaming Iggy for everything that was going wrong.

"Do you guys know where to find the Black Holes exhibit?" Iggy asked. "Dumbass over here reckons its in the East Wing."

A small grin danced on Lissa's lips. "Sorry to break it to you, but it is in the East Wing. Right at the back."

Iggy groaned and Fang let a small smile of victory escape.

"Way to help shrink his ego," I said as the boys walked away.

She shrugged guiltily. "Sorry, I panicked. I have no idea where the Black Holes exhibit is." she broke into a grin. "Although that should keep them confused for a while."

A/N: What's your favourite fandom to be in?

This week's rec is The Tiger and the Fairy by pinkcatheaven. It's simply adorable, and any Fax lover should go read it.

Oh, and GO NOMINATE FOR THE MAXIMUM RIDE AWARDS, YOU SILLY PEOPLE. There's a link on my profile and everything. Just go. Do it now.

14. The Museum

A/N: From this week onwards, I can now honestly say that I have done the macarena while lying across four school desks. (I can also say that I have been dragged across the Geography floor on my stomach, but that's not half as cool and a lot more dusty.)

Just a note to an anonymous reviewer: Yes, I have read Diary of a Lovesick Mutant. It's one of my favourite fanfics. The reason I don't rec it is because everyone knows about it already. Pity Flash was unofficially discontinued. Sigh.

Chapter 13: The Museum

The Natural History Museum wasn't half as interesting as the Planetarium. Sure they had cool fossils and stuff, but I'm more of a meteorite girl, for some reason. Maybe I just prefer what's in the sky to what's on the ground. After all, we spend out whole lives living on it, so why do we want to know about soil content? Asteroids are far cooler.

There was one pretty sweet bonus about the Museum though. It was several stories high and overlooked most of the city that was so unlike the suburb I lived in. There were huge windows on most of the floors, that made you feel like you were going to fall out of the building at any given moment.

In short, it was awesome.

Lissa and I were standing in front of one of these windows. I kept on looking at the view, sucking in the tall buildings – not tall enough to be skyscrapers, but still far bigger than anything near where I lived – and the occasional veil of smoke that made some buildings look fuzzy. In the far edge of my eyesight, I could see the beginnings of flat houses and suburbs – my town.

I looked over at Lissa. She stood five feet away from the window, her pale face even whiter than normal. Her arms were crossed over each other so tightly it looked like she was hugging her own body, trying to keep herself steady.

"Come check out the view," I said. "It's awesome."

She shook her head. "I'm fine here." her finger started tapping against her arm nervously, drumming a quick and uneasy pattern.

I raised an eyebrow. "You're not going to die," I argued. "It's just a window."

Lissa rolled her eyes and took a couple more steps forward so that she was in line with me. She blanched as her eyes flickered to the to the underlying city.

"I guess it's okay," she said uncertainly, with the faintest quiver at the back of her throat.

I pointed to where the beginnings of our town was. "Do you see our town over there?" I asked.

She squinted her eyes slightly and shook her head, still looking faintly sick. "Max, you're crazy. There's only grass and farms over there."

"Look further," I urged. I could practically see the outlines of the first few buildings. How could she not see it?

She shook her head again. "No," she said. "It's too far away to see from here, Max. You're probably imagining it."

I bristled with irritation. This wasn't the first time I had this problem. I'd often find myself seeing things that other people couldn't see. My mom was also far-sighted, so I guess it's just genetic.



"You know we must get back onto the buses now, right?"

I tore my eyes away from the poster. It was one of those missing kid notices. The boy smiling down at me had curly hair with freckles along with a cheeky glint in his eye. He could've been my brother – he could've been anyone's brother, actually. The perfect example of a kid from a happy family.

Except that he was gone, and there were people worried sick about him, a family filled with anxious glances and chewed nails.

I turned my head to Lissa just as her eyes flicked over to the telephone pole where the poster was taped to. Concern flashed across her face for a second before she looked at me again.

"Mr. Jones is going to kill us if we're not on bus three in the next two minutes," she said, jerking her thumb behind her to indicate towards the bay of buses.

I nodded and pushed the smiling blonde boy out of my head. Why was I such a softie? Thousands of kids went missing every year and there was nothing I could do about it at all. We walked at a brisk pace down the pavement until we arrived at the buses.

I sighed and followed her until we were seated near the back of the bus. Lissa anxiously fingered the hem of her skirt before smoothing out the crinkles in it.

"You look like you've seen The Grim," she said.

"Was that a Harry Potter reference?"

She nodded guiltily. "Nerdy is charged. I like Lord of the Rings more, though."

Huh. Who would've guessed that Lissa would be into Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings?

"But seriously, Max," she continued. "You did look freaked out back there." Her fingers were again playing with the hem of skirt. One of her fingers caught a frayed end and twisted it around her freckled pinky.

I shrugged. "I dunno, really. I just thought about how someone is worried sick about their child. And how low the chances are of him ever being found," I said, my eyes focused on Lissa's fidgety hands. I didn't want to have a heart-to-heart. Gross.

She shrugged – I heard the fabric of her jersey rustle as her arms jerked up and down. "That's life, I guess."

"Yeah," I said. "It's just life."

What I didn't know then was that no parent did actually care about that boy on the missing poster, there were no sleepless nights of a worried mother. The only person that did give a damn about him was his little sister.

What I also didn't know that his name was David, although everyone called him Gazzy. And even more, I didn't know that I would scream for his name while running through smoking remains and consoling a crying six year old.

...Sorry, I keep on getting ahead of myself here. I won't tell you what else happened to him for now. You'll find out later in this story, when stuff like burning buildings and screaming children will make more sense in my world. I hate to spoil endings of stories to people, sorry for getting sidetracked.

So, let's get back to where I was. The bus jerked into motion and I sat I sank into my seat, feeling grateful that I was finally on my way home. I quickly scanned the bus, checking to see if Simone and Iggy were on it too. I smiled when I saw them in one of the two seaters. Simone let out a ringing laugh and Iggy smiled as he heard it. He had to turn his almost completely to his right to see her, seeing that he was blind in his one eye.

I grinned to myself as I looked over the rest of the bus and saw considerably dark hair somewhere in one of the front rows.

One of his friends sitting next to him grinned and yelled "Noogie!" before trying to wrap his warm around Fang's neck and take a fist to his scalp.

Oooh. Bad move.

Fang insantly jerked away and grabbed both of the other boy's hands, throwing him off him forcefully into the isle. Some of his friends around him laughed.

Lissa snorted. "Fang has a total complex about his hair." she said as Fang ran his hand through it, as if checking to see if everything was still in place even though his friend hadn't even came close to it. "I touched his hair once when we were making out and he totally freaked out. It was hilarious; I never knew anyone could be so vain about their hair until I met him."

I looked at her in amazement.

"What, don't you think that he's obsessed with his hair?" she asked, misinterpreting my shock.

"No," I said, hastily scrambling to cover myself up. "He just seems to love every part of his body, not just his hair."

I thought back to Friday. He could've easily fought off my melted chocolate attack if he really didn't want me to touch his head, and he asked me to help him with getting the chocolate bits out again.

He didn't even let his girlfriendtouch his hair with perfectly clean hands. Why would he let me get near it, when I could've ruined his perfect locks forever with my chocolately goodness?

Lissa seemed oblivious to my inner turmoil. "Yeah, I guess you're right. But he definitely doesn't have a problem with anyone touching those areas – "

"Lissa, please. I can barely handle the thought of you having hots for Fang. Don't even begin to describe your love life at all or I will be forced to shoot you in the middle of the night."

She wasn't worried about my threat at all. "Why not shoot me during the day? Much less fuss."

I rolled my eyes. "Because," I said with exaggerated patience, "then there will be witnesses. And I don't know about you, but there's something more poetic about being murdered in the dead of night than on a bus full of school kids."

"I've got to agree with you there. It would definitely make for an awkward conversation in the afterlife explaining that I was shot by a schoolgirl that gets queasy over details about a hot guy's adventures in the land of love."

"Did you seriously just use the term land of love?" I asked.

Lissa's freckles scrunched together. "It's either that or 'Aea of Adventures and Forbidden Romping,' so take your pick."

I felt faintly queasy.

Lissa nodded. "Land of Love doesn't sound half as bad anymore, does it?"

I nodded, trying to get the words to stop swirling in my head.

"You know, Max, you're a shameful teenage girl. You're about as romantic as an eight year old boy." There weren't any hidden intentions on her face. It was an openly honest statement, she wasn't trying to belittle me or push me down.

"Of course I'm not romantic," I said. "Have you seen the ways guys act at our school? No thanks, I don't want to date someone with the same mental age as a three year old."

"Why, would you rather date girls then?"
I pulled a face. "Err, not really. Most girls seem to be boy obsessed."

Lissa shrugged."I wouldn't want to date them either. Much too crazy I guess you're right, Max."

"Whatever I say is the truth, don't you forget it."

"I believe that was one big fat lie."

I shruged. "Yeah," I agreed. "It was a lie."

She smiled. "I know you all too well," she said. "And your ways of manipulation,"

I gasped in mock-horror. "I've never manipulated someone in my entire life! How dare you!"

"... That was another lie, wasn't it?"


"Geez, Fang. It was just a noogie!"

"You nearly messed up my hair."

"Oh yeah, sorry, Princess. I forgot about mortals not being allowed to access your holiest of holies."

"...We are still talking about my hair, right?"

"Of course."


"So can I give you a noogie now?"

"Come near my head with your germ infested hands and I swear on my life you will find yourself flying out of that window and a speed that will damage your face beyond recognition when it hits the tar."

"Your hair is like your soul, I think."

"Beautiful and lustrous?"

"... I hope you're kidding. If you weren't, you don't deserve a man card."

"You should know by now my wit is my defining trait."

"Whatever. Do you want to know why your soul and hair is the same now?"

"Go ahead."

"They're both completely black."

"How lame. So not shiny then? Or that they both have great volume and stuns people with its awesomeness?"

"What! No! Geez, what's wrong with you! Go share your makeup tips with some of the girls, and then at the slumber party you can borrow a hair straightener and swap shampoos!"

"...That is so wrong."

"You started this."

"Whatever, Dustin. Don't touch my hair, okay?"



"Shot a spitwad at your head. Chill your beans, Fang. It's not life threatening."

"That's it, come closer. Just give me a second to open the window..."


"Don't ever touch my hair again."


"Okay, I believe you."

"...Geez, you nearly killed me. That truck nearly took my head off, Fang!"

"Go write a letter to the United Nations."



"Is is just me or did Fang just stick a guys' head out the window?"

A/N: What's your favourite band at the moment?

This week's rec Not so Normal by biteoutoflife. Haven't read it in ages, but it's a pretty decent highschool Fax fic.

Thanks to all my lovely reviewers. You guys are so fantastic, it's just crazy. I love you all!

15. The Cracks

A/N: If someone would like to write them a drabblefic, check out my new story, A Hundred Ways to Soar.

Chapter 14: The Cracks

Dawn wasn't really one to listen to news reports. She thought they were depressing; they only talked about the bad things in the world. Murder, crime, stealing, corrupt governments. She hated listening to people go on about how dire the world's situation was.

Like many kids, she avoided hearing about the mean and terrible things. Instead, she surrounded herself with the the bits of sunshine that she could – her favourite stuffed teddy bear, painting pictures for her mom (which usually found itself in the trash three days later) and talking to her older brother, David.

News reports were for adults. For mature people that had to handle the world. She was too young to know all the gritty details and how not right the world was, so news reports weren't for her.

But still, Dawn 's little bubble had to pop at some point. No-one could stay young and innocent forever; everyone had to grow up eventually.

Dawn's growing up came with the disappearance of her brother. She was far too young to lose her childhood, but alas. The world seldom takes one's age into consideration when tragedies strike. '

David had disappeared exactly one month ago. The pair had been playing in a park as nighttime began to settle in. They'd both been on swings, trying to get as high as they possibly could. Just what normal children did.

What they were supposed to do. Typical kid stuff.

Then Dawn jumped off at the height of her arc, landing on the ground awkwardly, injuring her ankle with a painful twist on impact, her light body causing a too much strain on her ligaments. She cried out and David instantly said that he'd quickly run home to get mom.

His feet slapped the tar road as he ran down the three blocks, his footsteps fading into the late afternoon.

He never came back for Dawn. She waited for ten minutes before limping home herself, and that's when the true horror began.

That was the moment that Dawn learned about the real world. The black and white tragedies that were bound in dry words, as well as bland reporting, were not just fabrications. They happened to living, breathing people with blood pumping in their veins and air filling their lungs.

People like Dawn, really.

But Dawn did have one special trait about her. She was determined and headstrong, stubborn.

She would find her brother again, even if it killed her.

Okay, so far this story has been a pretty happy one. Maybe you even found it funny, or cute or oh-so-amazing. I don't know. But the good things can't last forever, especially if you live in the same world as I do.

This is the part of the story where things start to go wrong. Where this stops being a little high school comedy and the bigger events start to play a role.

No, no-one died. Don't panic just yet.

Okay, so maybe this will seem a bit anticlimatic now, but I promise you that things will kick up.

So, I got sick that afternoon after our field trip.

Okay, so not a that big of a deal. But this is just the start. Looking back on it, some warning bells should've rang in my mind.

But it was impossible for me to predict what the future would hold. Because let's face it, making the connection between a week-long illness and what was about to happen to me would be like going from point A to point Z, but having to guess exactly where every single other letter was located.

So I wasn't suspicious. I had no way of guessing.

Not when I was finally lucid about a week later and could barely remember anything about what happened. My mom told me was I was so souped up on meds that I was unconscious for most of the time. But there were little flashes; bright lights, vomiting, abdominal pain. But if I tried to picture myself lying in my own bed clutching my stomach or breaking out into old sweats while my mom gave me some medicine, I just couldn't.

That was the first clue.

The second clue was when I properly woke up, pain free. It felt like I had a twenty four hour bug at the worst. I'd been horrified to find out that I'd missed an entire week. I couldn't believe how screwed up my perception of time was.

When I finally got back to school, Simone told me that she had tried to get my homework to me, but my mom had told her I was highly contagious. Even though my mom was completely unaffected, and so were the doctors that she'd apparently called in to see me.

I became suspicious then, but blamed it on my blinding headache at the time. I thought that things would make sense once I was completely healthy again. My back ached and my legs felt shaky, but I blamed that on my muscles being out of use for so long.

A couple of days later, I noticed a fine layer of dust on my window ledge, which was impossible. The only times dust ever gathered there was when my entire room was unoccupied for days on end, especially since I always dumped little bits and pieces on that sill, no matter how sick I was. And my windows were always a crack open, no matter how sick I was.

That was strike three.

But I still didn't want to make the connections. At that stage, I was still a normal kid living a normal life. Nothing crazy or insane could happen to me. Those were reserved for heroes of novels, and I definitely wasn't one.

So I carried on with my life, not realising that these were the first few cracks in the wall that surrounded me, and in the very near future, it would be broken down.

-23 October 2010


GetOutWindow: Hey, I haven't seen you around for a while. Where were you?

RedConverse: Oh, just the usual. Sailing though the North Atlantic, defeating Death Eaters, ninjas and the forces of general darkness.

GetOutWindow: Hmm... Makes perfect sense. Invite me along next time, that way we can have a party while at sea or something.

RedConverse: Do I get to throw you overboard?

GetOutWindow: That'll be awkward to explain to my parents, just sayin'.

RedConverse: I'll just tell them that you died a hero's death while killing a giant squid or something.

GetOutWindow: Because they're totally gonna buy that story.

RedConverse: Of course they are! I am a talented liar, I'll have you know.

GetOutWindow: And I'm a Care Bear. xP

RedConverse: I knew there was something weird about you...

GetOutWindow: Now you know my secret shame, can we move on with our lives?

RedConverse: I just found out that you're really a Care Bear, and you expect me just to drop it!

GetOutWindow: Of course I do. That's how I roll.

RedConverse: You suck. I'm never speaking to you again.

GetOutWindow: Bye bye.

GetOutWindow: … Wait, were you serious!

GetOutWindow: Hmph. I feel rejected. Way to suck, Red. Way to suck.

The next Monday morning I was back at school. I was still a bit shaky, but I was mostly fine. Occasionally I'd have a muscle spasm, sometimes in my arms or legs, but mostly in my back. I blamed it on being on my back for almost an entire week.

"Are you okay!" Simone asked the moment after she gave me a huge hug. I winced in pain as my spine bent as she crushed her arms around me.

"I'm fine, Simone," I said. "Really, it was just the flu or something. I was so high on medication I can barely remember what happened."

She sighed in relief. "Your mom was really worried about you, you know. I came over your house a few times and every time she looked like she was about to have a breakdown."

I smiled slightly, feeling appreciation towards my mom. She was overbearing, but she could never be accused of not caring about me.

Iggy spoke to me shortly after that. He seemed pretty unworried about the whole experience, even when I told him I could hardly remember what had happened. He told me that he had a pretty similar sickness last year and he was perfectly fine after that.

"Really, Max, it's not a big deal. Drugs can do that to you," he told me. "And they're good for you. When that happened to me last year, I found out that I was actually stronger. How cool is that?"

I grinned wryly to myself. "Technology these days," I said. "It's so fancy. Next thing you know they'll be growing an extra pair of limbs on us for experimentation."

Iggy grinned as well. "Yeah, that sounds like so much fun!" The mock-enthusiasm radiated off of him.

Fang was the next person to ask me about it. He spoke to me in Biology.

"Where were you?" he asked, sounding completely unworried."

"Just had a bit of a sick week," I said breezily. "I'm not dying, so don't get your hopes up."

"Damnations," he muttered, grinning. "I actually thought that you probably had an overload of awesomeness after Friday."

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure I caught some disease at your house," I replied brightly. "I bet it was your cooties."

"Careful, Ride, you wouldn't want to stab someone with that sharp tongue of yours."

"Jealous of my wit?"

"The exact same way I'm jealous when I see someone wearing ugg-boots. Which is never."

I rolled my eyes.

Even Lissa caught me after school. Seriously, I wasn't dying. I don't get why so many people were trying to find out how I was doing.

"I was beginning to think I scared you off," she said when she saw me.

I shrugged. "Nah, I just got my ass whooped by some sickness or disease or something. The name my mom gave me was far too long to remember."

Lissa smiled at me. "It's been boring here without you. Even Iggy is feeling lonely without someone to cover his back, and Fang's been moping around like a lost puppy–"

"Lying is a sin." I said to her before turning on my heel and leaving the school parking lot, getting ready to catch my train.

And naturally, Dylan also wanted to talk. I felt exhausted, my legs weren't used to walking and it seemed that everyone wanted to talk to me about every stupid little thing that happened in the past week. (Which wasn't that much, apparently. Some girl told me excitedly that Fang had a new pair of jeans, which was about the creepiest thing I've ever heard.)

I was walking through the park, determined to get home and just flop back down on my bed and just be alone. You'd think that after a week of being alone, I'd want to be with friends, but right now I don't think I could deal.

"Max?" I heard a voice from behind me. I turned and saw Dylan standing there, looking worried. His eyebrows were pulled together in confusion. "I thought you were still sick."

I swore; I'd completely forgotten about telling him.

"I'm not," I said. "I was lucid again on Friday. Fit as a fiddle on Saturday."

"I missed you," he said, sounding resigned. "You didn't call."

"I was sick," I said. "I barely remember anything, I was so drugged up."

He looked down at the grass. The blades lost were bright green from the rain. "I had to find out from your mom. She said she'd remind you to call me."

I opened my mouth to protest, but it was true. My mom did remind me about it. I just didn't bother.

He reached his hand forward to touch mine.

I couldn't help it; I flinched, shrinking my hand away. His hand was pleasantly warm as it always was. I had no idea where that instinct came from.

"I'm sorry, it's just – " I started but let the words die. I had no way to finish that sentence; the damage was done.

Just as always, the emotion was grafted into his face, his hurt shining out and hitting me in the chest. "You didn't call," he said, his eyes avoiding mine.

"I meant to – "

"For a week and a half. Not a single text. Not even a damned 'I'm okay'."

Okay, I was totally guilty here. I saw his missed calls and texts, but I couldn't bring myself to answer them. And the days stretched out and my silence got bigger and it just became more difficult to reply to his messages.

"I tried to, but – "

The words hung in the air, clinging at my lips, for seconds while he waited for me to finish. His brown eyes looked defeated. I fiddled with a charm bracelet on my wrist and looked down.

Dylan shoved his hands in his pockets. "Look, Max. I don't want to be that guy that's chasing after a girl already gone. I never really had you, but I thought I could make it work for a little while. But this last month you're just on and off and it's driving me crazy. I feel like I'm just there when you feel like it, and when you don't need me you just forget that I'm exist."

His eyes briefly met mine before he looked away again, like I was too painful to look at.

I bit my lip as the guilt clawed at my stomach. I could practically feel the acid seeping into my blood system, burning away at my veins and arteries.

He leaned forward, covering the three feet between us and kissed my lips lightly, like the way an old couple does when they've run out of passion. When they know that their time is short and there is no future; only memories. He pulled away and looked into my eyes trying to find some fire, maybe even a spark.

I sighed. He didn't find what he was searching for.

His hand dropped away from my face and stayed loosely at his side. He gave me one last fleeting look – and turned his back on me.

He walked away, his feet crushing the bright glass blades and his disappeared as he walked around another block away from the park and disappeared from my life.

I sank down onto a bench, feeling like my body was suddenly too heavy to carry – or my legs were just too tired.

I messed up completely. I royally screwed up the easiest and most laid-back thing in my life, just because I was too damned lazy not to call.

I wish right now I can told you that I felt awful and terrible and bad.

But I didn't.

I felt relieved.

A/N: Who's doing NaNoWriMo? I'm probably gonna do it so I can finish up Crash. Anyone else doing it next month? (If you don't know what it is, Google is your friend.)

This week's rec is 57 Falling Feathers by Faded Classic. Simply adorable.

16. The Question

A/N: If you squint, you'll see some Nulan beginnings here. (Which is one of my favourite pairings in the entire world.) Seriously, if anyone knows of some good Nulan fics for me, rec away.

Warning: Multiple POV switches. Hope it isn't too disorientating.

Chapter 15: The Question

Ellen Ride wasn't a woman that backed down from things. She was strong and powerful and usually got her way. She was forceful and intimidating and could convince almost anyone that her point of view was the correct one; anyone that challenged her was thinking about the situation in the wrong way.

She'd started her career as a fresh student out of college as an intern in a place called Itex, where she was assigned to make dietary plans for young children with special conditions and needs. For her first year, she never met any of the kids she was feeding. The only things she learned about them was the fact that they were experiments, and that their metabolism was totally different from a normal person's. She was fine with that; surely they would be treated well.

She'd heard some whisperings of abuse at her workplace as she carefully composed hundreds of sheets filled with nutritional information. She ignored the mutterings from her co-workers about illegal experimentation. She had a steady and well-paid job in a respected company, this wasn't some shady science fiction movie.

She started to notice how some of the people would disappear from her charts. She only had to figure out how to feed someone for a few months, and then they usually moved somewhere else, although she didn't have the foggiest where. It was ridiculous to think that so many would die off regularly.

About a year later after filling in sheets and crunching data, she was called into the main Itex branch. She was trembling with excitement, like anyone about to get their big break. She was meeting the head supervisor of her project, along with the hundreds of kids she'd been feeding correctly.

The main Itex branch was a huge metallic building, streaked by elegance and money. Ellen could not believe that she had actually been asked to be there, to meet the head of her project. She had been doing her job the best that she could; but was that enough to actually earn whatever reward she would receive?

She sat in a shiny office on an overly cushy couch with too expensive artworks around her, as a cruel-looking man in a business suit told her what she was wanted for.

They wanted her to raise someone else's child.

Raise a carefully orchestrated experiment.

Naturally, she said no. Ellen was only twenty-four, there was no way she could ever possibly even think about supporting someone else. She still had a life to live; things to do. Settling down was a ridiculous thought.

Then there was the blackmail.

Ellen could only say yes.

A month later, she became a tear-stained woman standing next to her 'husband', holding a tiny child that was impossibly light.

Robert, her apparent beloved, assured her that things would be okay. As if it would be perfectly fine to spend the next eighteen years of their lives raising someone else's child in a faux-marriage was fine. As if being blackmailed by one of the most powerful companies in the world was totally acceptable.

The two were seated at the dining table, sitting and staring, but not seeing anything.

Ellen broke the silence. "She might die."

Robert looked at his wife, as if seeing her for the first time. "That'll happen if we're lucky."

"We have to warn her."

"But then they'll kill us too. They're everywhere. We can't escape this and we never will."

-Texting sequence

17.09, 25 October 2010-

I'm sorry, Dyl.

It's too late, Max.

I just thought you'd like 2 know that.

I know you're sorry. But lets end things here, and we can still walk away as friends.

I did love you, Dylan.

But not anymore, not in the way I want.

I'm so sorry it ended this way.

Goodbye, Max. It's been fun.

Dylan ran a hand through his hair, staring at his cellphone screen. A little pop-up box told him that his final message was successfully sent.

He felt really, really tired. There was no real other way to put it. Not that he was actually fatigued – sure, his calves hurt a bit from his Gym class, but it wasn't as if he was ready to pass out. No, it was definitely Max that made him feel as if he'd just lived a hundred extra years.

But in a way, he was glad that it was over. He'd seen the distant look on her face when he talked to her and the way they stopped connecting emotionally ages ago. He had her for a while, but in the end Max was a free spirit that could not be held down by someone as grounded as him.

He looked down at his cellphone screen again, flicking through his contacts, trying his hardest to keep his face blank; he could mourn later.

"Dylan?" a voice behind him asked in mild surprise.

He spun his head around to see a girl standing awkwardly. He was surprised to see her then, but he reminded himself that he was sitting in a mall's food court. It wasn't as if he'd not see a single person he knew here.

"Oh. Hi, Nudge." he said and gestured to the seat in front of him. "Wanna sit?"

She nodded and slid into the seat. Dylan didn't know Nudge very well; they'd had a few laughs at Max's place a few times in the past, but it was hardly as if they were close.

She assessed him closely. "Frick, you broke up with Max, right?"

His eyebrows shot into his wavy hair. "How did you know?"

She shrugged. "It's a gift."

Dylan looked down at his cellphone again and looked down at the prompt.

Delete the contact, Max? Y/N.

He pressed 'Yes'.

-Personal Messaging Sequence:

20.02, 25 October 2010-

RedConverse: I can't say how happy I am to see you right now.

GetOutWindow: Technically, there's no sight involved with this conversation.

RedConverse: Aaaw, shaddup. I've had a bad day. .

GetOutWindow: Do you want a hug?

RedConverse: But you're so far away...

GetOutWindow: I'm right over here, dork. I'm here for you.

RedConverse: I'd rather not talk about it. I just feel like I completely missed the bus and really hurt someone.

GetOutWindow: It happens to the best of us, Red. There was this one time...

RedConverse: Will I roll my eyes at the end of this story?

GetOutWindow: You know me too well.

RedConverse: Of course I do. Except, you know, technically, I know nothing about you.

GetOutWindow: Technicalities are overrated, dear.

That was the night Dawn Derrier's life was changed in an instant, like a flick of a switch or that moment when someone is desperately trying to balance themselves on a chair, teetering for a second, before gravity beats them.

Dawn stopped leaving her house after her bother was kidnapped. It made her uncomfortable, the thought that her brother's captives could still be lurking outside, waiting for her. She told herself that it was an irrational feeling and she should get over herself, but she just couldn't shake the feeling.

She was right, of course. Dawn had a gift for being correct.

Dawn's mother left the apartment, saying she had to go buy milk, and that she should stay exactly where she was. She watched with wide eyes as her mother left the apartment.

She was alone.

The kitchen clock ticked the seconds away, counting them each separately, letting the sound resonate in Dawn's skull.

She knew something bad was about to happen. She could feel it in her bones, beating in her chest, tingling her fingertips. Call it paranoia, call it premonition, call it fate. Either way, Dawn was terrified.

She rose up from the couch and walked towards a baseball bat that was leaning behind the couch, were she kept it since her brother disappeared. She tested its weight in her hands, letting is swing to the left.

She held her grip steady. The main door creaked open – how did they have a key! – and a man in a suit with dark glasses strolled into the house.

"Hello. Your mother sent me to come pick you up, there's been an accident."

"How stupid do you think I am?" She hissed at the intruder, her words braver than her. She tried to look threatening, but that was near impossible for someone of her age, stature and looks.

He stepped closer.

She jumped into the air and swung her bat, blindingly fast. It crunched his nose, making his head flick backwards. Dawn smiled in glee as the bat followed through and she landed on the floor again, ready for another shot.

The man sneered through the blood spurting from his nose. He pulled a piece of material from his pocket, grabbing Dawn around her small neck and forcing the material onto her nose.

Dawn fought for a few seconds before her need for oxygen beat everything else. She inhaled.

Then her world disappeared from under her feet and she fell forward.

The guilt was eating me up. And I really, really, really hate guilt of any kind, so I decided to the best thing I could do to take my mind off of things.

I went for a walk.

Truth be told, I hate walking. It's just so slow. But I couldn't bring myself to go on a run, I felt too drained for that. But I had too much on my mind to really care about how I was moving, I just needed to keep going.

I didn't really know where I was heading, but I scribbled a note for mom and just...left.

GetOutWindow had told me that he had to leave our chat early because of his job, so I had no distractions at all, no friends that I wanted to talk to right now. I didn't want to be alone, but I didn't want to be with people either.

The chilled breeze hit me as soon as stepped a foot of the door, but I didn't care. It was going to be dark in about half an hour, and the thought didn't bother me. Crime was low in our area, and it wasn't like I was completely vulnerable. I have a pretty nasty roundhouse kick, if I do say so myself.

I wrapped my jacket around me closer, enjoying the sting of the breeze. It was cool and refreshing, filling my lungs with something better than the dusty insides of my house. My feet moved automatically forwards and I made my way down the suburban roads littered with trees.

Eventually the houses thinned out into small businesses, and finally I was left standing in front of a veterinary clinic. A bell rang faintly in my head – my mom used to have a friend that worked here. Someone with a Hispanic name or something that sounded cool. She moved away a couple of years ago, but I still remembered coming here once and talking to her daughter that was about a year younger than me.

I bit my lip and realised that I was pretty far away from my home. I turned around and started heading back the way I came, when I had one of those moments when life feels like it's orchestrated by higher powers.

"Ride?" A voice asked in confusion.

Yup, you know who it was.

I swiveled around and looked at the boy that had just came through the veterinary doors."Novia?" I echoed his confusion and stared at him. He was wearing a white shirt, for some really weird and bizarre reason. Somewhere there was a huge pig enjoying air under its wings while it soared over mountains right now.

"What are you doing here?" He asked me and made his way down the steps leading down to where I stood.

"I went for a walk," I said. "What are you doing here? Finally went to a doctor to get your fleas checked?"

Fang smiled slightly. "No, I happen to workhere. As in, earn money? You know, that green stuff that you probably don't know how to handle?"

My curiousity got the better of me."Why are you wearing a white shirt?" I asked. No time for sarcasm when Fang was defying the laws of the universe.

"A puppy peed on my other one. She was probably surprised by my total hotness and overexcited herself a bit."

"But it's white." I emphasised. He looked so weird and out of place, like a stripper in a cathedral or a pastor at a strip club.

"No, are you sure!" He asked in mock surprise, looking down at his shirt. "Thanks for pointing that out to me, I'd never realised by myself."

"I know you're reliant on me." I replied. "Without me, you'd be a babbling mess of sexual frustration and inner pain."

Fang shrugged uncaringly. He glanced up at the sky. "Isn't it past your bedtime? It's nearly dark out."

"No, are you sure!" I asked. "Thanks for pointing that out to me."

Fang shrugged again. "It's past seven, that's pretty late for you."

"Seven!" I practically screeched. "Seven! My mom is going to kill me!" Where did the last hour go? Had I really been walking for that long?

Fang looked at me in surprise. "Chill, Ride. You're not going to die. You have my studliness to protect you."

I groaned. "Can I just borrow your cellphone and send a text?"

He rolled his eyes but pulled his phone from his back pocket. I pressed a button and the screen lit up, showing his open browser.

And there it was. His bookmarked pages. I stared down at that computer screen. The lights and pixels winked back at me, letting that little username flicker at the top of the screen.

I felt sick.

"Ride? Are you okay?"

But the air was refusing to go into my lungs. I spun on my heel and walked down a randomly selected road, trying my hardest to focus and not fall over.

No. Nononono. There was a mistake, this couldn't be happening.

A hand grabbed my arm and spun me around. "What the hell is wrong?"

I looked into those eyes that I've seen so many times. I saw the faintest flicker of who he was, not who he was supposed to be.

For a moment, I thought it was like a rubix cube. The multicoloured pieces have been whirring along quite nicely, sometimes clicking together with pieces of colour that it was supposed to be, mostly not. But now they were shifted together, perfect matching colours.

Then Fang saw it too.

"She's you." He said, his voice sounding as amazed as I felt.

"You're him." I replied. My voice shook.

We looked at each other for a while, just absorbing information and letting tiny bits of information click together and stare in horror. There was a new light shining on Fang and no matter what happened, I would never turn it off.

Fang wasn't FangJackass anymore, he was now FangBestFriend. Nothing could change that.

I leaned backwards and my back hit a wall of a closed shop window. I didn't trust my legs to keep me upright any more.

Fang came closer towards me, so close that I could feel his body head rolling off him and his warm breath tickled my face.

It wasn't a bad feeling.

"Max." He said, there was no chiding in his voice. I wasn't Red or Ride, just Max.

I shivered slightly. He was too close, I could see the flecks in his eyes.

"I need to ask you this." His voice sounded slightly pained.

"Shoot." I couldn't help but wince at my tremor.

"Will you push me away if I kissed you?"

I tried reply, but nothing came out.

"Answer me." he demanded.

I tried again.


A/N: Thanks to everyone who has reviewed. Love you all.

So glad that this chapter is finally out inthe open, there might be some sexytime in the next chapter if I'm feeling nice. xD

I can't think of any questions or recs today... Sorry everyone.

17. The Kiss

A/N: Wooooah, I'm totally BLOWN AWAY by the sheer amount if reviews! Thank you all, so, so, much.

Chapter 16: The Kiss

Here's a piece of advice for you.

If Marco Fang Novia ever asks you to kiss him, just say no. Turn around and run away screaming and don't ever look behind you, then make sure you never get close to him ever again.

Because if you do let your lips touch his, you'll never ever go back. You won't want anyone else's mouth against yours, you won't care for a single other person once he touches you.

In short, you'll be hooked. Entirely and completely and utterly.

When he does kiss you, you'll feel like he stabbed you in the chest. It'll let something so much hotter than blood pour out of you, searing your skin and burning your heart. He'll tear something inside of your body, making your legs tremble and your heart go into super-speed.

Don't ever kiss GreenWindow. Don't kiss Fang. Don't kiss Novia.

And definitely don't even kiss a combination of all three.


To be honest, none of these thoughts crossed my mind when this happened. Heck, there was nothing coherent in my mind at all, except for that horrible feeling of nakedness when I realised how close he was to me.

So, so, terrifyingly close.

He was everywhere, even though we were barely touching. His scent was in my nose and his breaths sounded my ears, every nerve just screamed to me that he was there – here. Everything was clouded by Fang; I didn't feel the freezing glass behind me or the drafty breeze; I didn't see the darkening twilight.

When his lips touched mine, stabbing my in the chest, setting my on fire, suffocating and liberating me, the only thing I wanted was more.

I couldn't control it. My fingers slid into his hair and his breathing lost its rhythm for a second, matching my erratic heartbeat. I crushed him closer to me with forceful determination, wanting every piece of him. He responded instantly, pushing his body against mine, molding us together, sealing us perfectly.

I never wanted to let go.

His hands found my waist and trailed down my sides, holding onto my hips, holding onto me. His mouth moved totally in-synch with mine, letting something toxic pour into me, something that burned, what I craved. What I needed.

Some people say that you never truly realise how much you could want something until you finally realise how much better life is once you have it, and I finally understood it. That feeling of happily living in ignorance before someone suddenly ripping off the blind fold. Before today, kissing Fang as a stupid, silly, thought.

And now I understood how awesome it was.

I didn't care that a wall fixture was digging into my leg, I could barely feel it. The only thing I knew was that something inside my body was desperately clawing for more, forcing my heart to pound.

My fingers left his hair, tracing down his spine, achingly slow. He made some sort of pained noise in his throat, and that sound thrilled me way more than it should've. I made him do that.

He pressed me closer, his hand sliding at just the point on my back where my jeans and shirt didn't quite meet, only grazing my skin, sending shocks up my spine.

He muttered my name. He said it to my lips and then traced it down my neck and muttered it into my collarbone, as if trying to reassure himself that I was actually there. It seeped into my pores, drilled into my body.

Not Ride, not RedConverse, not May-Alex.


Who knew that I'd love the sound of my own name so much?

I don't know how long we stayed like that, pressed up against a shop window, with our greedy mouths and ragged breathing. My hand slipped under the back of his shirt, feeling the incredibly smooth and scarred skin.

Finally, my thoughts seemed to catch up with my body.

This is bad. You never wanted this, Max.

I disentangled myself from Fang – that's not a sentence I'd ever thought would apply to my life – silently crying out as my fingers left his hair and a sudden cold spot formed everywhere he used to be.

"That wasn't smart of us, was it?" he asked, his voice rough, but surprisingly calm. He looked steadily at me as I pulled back, as if trying to find some hidden message sitting behind my eyes.

I couldn't help but see that he looked slightly pained. Had I really been that awful?

"N-no, it wasn't our b-best idea." I agreed, my voice shaky. I winced at my slight stutter. May-Alex Ride never stuttered. Ever.

"We should do that again sometime." He replied as he looked away from me, as if the sight of me pained him.

No, I don't want to be part of your harem. "Definitely." My thoughts and words didn't seem to be in synch yet.

"What do we do now?" I asked.

He didn't answer.

And not because of a lack of trying. He did actually open his mouth to respond to my question, but then he fell to the pavement.

No, he didn't trip, stumble or was intoxicated by my presence. In fact, he was actually pushed down. Not by a cute puppy or overactive fangirl.

Trust me, what really happened was a lot worse.





Their small fingers grazed each other's from between the bars as they stretched their arms, Dawn trying blearily to get her bearings.

"I can't believe you're here!" He said, sounding as choked up as Dawn felt.

I can't, either. Dawn thought to herself. She knew nothing about this place except for the fact that it was dark and the cages smelled of death; she'd only woken up just as she'd been thrown into this confinement.

"What have they done to you?" she asked, her fear for her brother overtaking any formalities.

Dawn shrugged. Dawn could only hear the rustle of the fabric of the paper-gown he was wearing. The room was too dark to see anything, apart from a faint chink of light coming from behind the doorway.. "Just some tests. Like seeing how far and fast I can run and stuff," he replied. "But I think things are gonna get worse. Did you see some experiments on your way in?"

Dawn shivered. "I saw a couple. Do ya think they'll make us into amphibians or what?" her voice cracked slightly at the end of the sentence, and she winced inwardly. Fear was crushing her, and the uncertainty was far worse than anything else she had ever felt before.

Where were they?

David shook his head. "No, I think what they're going to do is a lot worse."

There was a moment of silence as they listened to the room of breathing experiments – whistling, rattling, gasping, choking.

"I'm scared." Dawn admitted, deciding to be honest.

"At least we have each other, right?"

"Not for long." Dawn replied.

An experiment next to their cage – one that rattled with each breath – stopped breathing.

So Fang got tackled.

By a half-man, half-wolf that had somehow escaped my watch street pinned Fang down in an epic flying leap.

Let me repeat that for you, just in case you're skim-reading.

A half-man, half-wolf thing cleared eight feet of air and tackled Fang.

For a moment, I was frozen in shock, paralyzed by the pure bizarreness of the situation, but my body was used to reacting even when my mind was still reeling.

I screamed sprang into action, getting ready to launch myself at the wolf-thing.

Fang, however, had other ideas. Just as I crouched, getting ready to fight, Fang rolled onto his feet gracefully and punched the wolf-thing in the face, making the thing snarl at him. The thing stumbled backwards a few steps and swore at Fang before pulling a stungun from its belt.

"FANG!" I warned.

Fang already knew, but it as too late. Sixteen-year-olds aren't much of a match for stunguns, no matter how amazing said sixteen-year-olds think they are.

I tried to step forward, to do something – anything – that would make this situation better. Anxiety and adrenaline clawed at my insides. The past thrill of kissing him was gone, replaced by dread.

But I was too slow, too late. The thing shot Fang straight in the chest, the wire going taunt as Fang was paralyzed for a moment, held in air for a second before falling.

He fell down, slamming against the cement, his loose body thudding.

Blood trickled into his hair.

I turned away from Fang, pushing down my blinding fury and flung a wild kick at the wolf-thing, letting myself soar through open space.

To my shock, the thing just caught my foot in mid-air and threw me like a rag-doll, letting me sail and hit the pavement as well, grazing my arm and my stomach. Pain exploded my nerves as my skin tore like tissue paper and my knees slapped concrete with a jarring thud.

No-one has ever caught one of my kicks before. Not even Nudge.

Not only was this thing not human, but it was freakishly strong, fast and agile.

What the hell was I dealing with?

I tried to recover from my shock by rolling onto my back, trying to regain the air that was knocked out of my lungs. Using the momentum from the roll, I place my feet firmly on the pavement and sprang back up, ignoring the pain.

In my two seconds on the ground, another wolf-man appeared. In my peripheral vision, I noticed a white van rolling onto the street.

There was no way I could win. I was outnumbered, outmached, out-whatever.

The second wolf thing ignored my completely, striding to where a limp Fang lay.

He picked Fang up like a doll and slung him over his shoulder, his limbs moving freakishly limply. He looked at Wolf 1 and asked, "Do we take the girl?"

"You gotta be kidding me." I said, trying to edge closer to them. My anxiety had been replaced by resolution. If I was going down, at least I'd go down fighting. Wolf 1 just held out a stungun at me, daring me to come closer.

I was a stalemate –if I got Fang, I'd get stunned. If I didn't do anything, I might get stunned, but Fang would be gone anyways.

Wolf 2 shrugged. "We have our orders. Don't piss off Dictator."

The Wolf 1 flicked his gun onto a low setting and prodded me, covering the three feet of distance between us in a split-second. I jolted in pain, trying my hardest not to cry out as my muscles locked together by the current.

I was helpless as they disappeared into the van. I gasped for air and tried to stay upright.

It didn't work. I fell again.

I pulled myself together, trying to ignore the warm blood running down my arm and bleeding onto the concrete, coupled with the ache in my muscles and throbbing knees. I wobbled for a moment as I stood up, but grit my teeth.

I could do this.

It was only a minor injury. I could recover quick enough; I always did.

The van was getting away.

I started jogging down the road, trying to keep up with the van, just as it turned a corner. My feet pounded the tar and my heart thudded in my chest, forcing more blood to ooze down my arm, but I didn't care. Flecking blood onto the road and on my jeans was the least of my worries.

They have Fang.

I tried not to think too hard about who 'they' were, or why they kidnapped a kid.

I was catching up to the van now. My arms pumped by my sides and I reached forwards, so, so close –

– the van sped up, shooting exhaust smoke at me, adding insult to injury. I slowed down, knowing that there was no way in hell I was going to catch up with that. I looked back behind me, checking the distance I covered.

How did I manage to run so fast anyways?

Even more questions whirled in my head as I watched the van turn to the left and fall into traffic in the highway. Why was this entire street completely abandoned? Where are the people? Why did no-one help?

Of course, this was planned. Pedestrians had already been taken care of, whatever that meant.

I knew what I needed.

A plan.

I turned around and set off at a steady jogging pace, something that didn't hurt my knees too much, so that I could keep going for quite some time. My muscles screamed, but I put up with it. Pain was something I was used to.

It seemed to take ages to get home. Trees and houses blurred together and I realised that I had no idea how to even get back to my neighbourhood. Maybe my internal sense of direction is better than I thought, since I made it back in fairly good time.

"Max!" My mom cried the moment I was across the threshold. She leaped from the couch and ran up to where I stood and hugged my tightly against her, bending my spine painfully.

My blood stained her floral dress, the crimson matching the pattern.

"What?" I asked; it was the only word I could manage right now. My hair was windswept and I was slightly sticky, but Mom held fast. Her shoulders started shaking slightly and it was all I could do to not wriggle out of her terrified grasp. "Mom, I'm fine."

She whimpered slightly and pushed her hair out of her eyes. "Max, I was so scared..."

I pulled out of our hug and looked down at myself, and I realised what I total mess I was. My right arm had rivulets of blood that ended at my fingertips, where droplets formed at the tips and fell down to the carpet. My shirt and jeans were dirty and torn, and the wild look in my eyes probably didn't help my cause much either.

"Did something happen while I was gone?" Apart from, you know, my newly discovered best friend being kidnapped by huge hulking wolves. I was surprised at how calm I felt.

She drew a jerky breath. "Your father will be home in a minute. We'll tell you everything we can." her voice was laced with worry.

"Mom! I don't have a minute," I said, trying to make this as quick as possible. "Things are happening, now, and I can't wait!"

My mom froze while pacing around in the living room. "It's too late, Max."

"No – wait. What?"

My mom sighed and looked around our house, as if trying to see anyone watching us. "The thing is, I'm not your real mother. Dad's not your real father–"

"–Now is the time for you to tell me that I'm adopted!" This could wait, it really could. I couldn't care about who my real parents are right now. I needed to get out of here, now.

"No, that's not what I mean! Yes, you're adopted, but that's not important–"

"–you suck at springing things like this on people at the right time–"

"–listen, Max! I know what happened with the Novia boy today."

I stopped short. "You're in on this?" I asked, my voice incredulous.

Mom looked like she was ready to cry. "Yes, I am. I hate it, I really do. But you're not going to stay with us, they're going to take you away–" she just seemed to break then, little pieces of her falling to the floor, losing herself in our fluffy carpet. She slumped onto the couch and aged fifty years in a second. "They'll kill me if I tell you much more."

"They! – wait, we can't go to the police with this. No-one will believe it."

"No, we can't. But I still can't tell you where he's going, either, or they'll kill me. But don't go looking for him, Max. Don't."

"Why not?"

"Because if you do find him, you'll wish that you never did."

My mom stood up from the couch and gave me a long, hard, searching look. She sighed and pulled me closer. "I can't tell you where he is. I know I can't stop you, either. But I know that you have all the tools to find the place." Her hand grazed my arm, and for a moment it settled on my charm bracelet. "I guess I'll never give you your sixteenth charm..." He muttered almost to herself, anxiety threaded into her voice.

My eyes hardened. "I'll come home, Mom. I'll be gone a week, tops. I'll get the information, and then we'll take it from there." I don't know who I'm up against or why, but I was certain as hell that I was going to stop them.

"Good. The only clue I can give you is California." Her eyes searched mine, as if she was trying desperately to give me another clue. You're looking for a big corporation that does experiments on animals and humans. You'll find it."

I nodded numbly.

"I can't stop you," Mom said. "And you're going to be gone anyways, so you might as well get going already. You can handle yourself."

I nodded again. I didn't trust myself to speak.

"I'll get you the backpack. There's enough cash in there to last you two weeks, several phone numbers of friends across the country, and a fake passport."

A/N: This is the end of Arc 1.


Crash will be taking a break.

I know how much I suck for leaving the fic at this point, but NaNoWriMo is starting in little over a week's time. November is just too hectic for me (Nano and finals) to be worrying about fanfic deadlines.

However, I plan to post two deleted scenes sometime during online sometime in mid-November. (Both Max and Fang orientated.) There'll be a link on my profile once the two scenes go up.

Crash will be back, better and badasser than ever, on December the 2nd. Until then, alerts are appreciated, PMs are awesome, and reviews are loved.

Thanks for understanding,


18. The Offer

A/N: I'm back. ^_^ The first draft of Crash has been written and completed, and I finished NaNo with three days to spare. I didn't write exclusively for Crash in the last month, but I do have some upcoming oneshots/stories up my sleeve...

Also, I'd like to say that there will be some cursing in here from this point onwards. I'm personally not very comfortable with swearing – especially in writing – but I feel it's what the characters would do in the situation. So my apologies.

Chapter 17: The Offer

Okay, I'll admit: I really didn't think this through at all. It sounded like a good plan in theory; Get to California, find Fang. Kill anyone who gets in the way.

Sp so maybe not a good plan, but an effective and simple one. Pretty straightforward in theory, right?

Let me tell you; it's not that simple at all. I realised this as I left my house with only a backpack stuffed with cash and a couple of changes of clothes. My dad had taught me a lot about urban tracking and survival last year, which I finally realised why he taught me that. It was kind of strange to know how far they thought ahead. How much had my parents known?

I looked back at my house. It was the place I grew up in, the home where I learned pretty much everything that made me, well, me. It was the only place I felt truly safe.

And I just knew somewhere in the back of my gut, that the next time I saw this place – if I saw it again – that I would be completely different. A door in my life closed. I was facing the real world now, where there were no restart buttons.

But the real world also had McDonalds, so maybe it wouldn't be so bad.

I looked at the paint peeling a tiny bit at the windows, the porch with the faded varnish, the wind chime hanging from the ceiling. I left a part of me in the house – my compassion, my fear, my weakness. From now on I'd probably be sleeping in motels while I did research and scouted the land, trying to get by and stay alive.

I turned away from that house, wondering when I'd see it again. I pushed the thought out of my head and decided to only think forwards from now on.

...Maybe that wasn't such a good idea, either. It would be easier just to think day by day. The future was probably unpleasant and the past too enticing.

So I pushed thoughts out of my head and now headed for the train station. The walk out of my neighbourhood was lonely. The wind was cold and I knew I had no allies for this trip. I was walking away from everything and into the big, big world. The sky would be the roof over my head from now on, and probably my only familiarity.

I then realised how screwed over I am. It truly hit me what a dumbass I was being.

I'm crazy. What fifteen year old girl – that could pass for eighteen easily – does this kind of thing? The only thing I knew is that whatever I'm up against is highly illegal and stronger than me, and that getting Fang out would be practically impossible. Had I only decided to leave because of shock?

I swallowed my despair and thought that if I feel screwed over right now, it must be nothing compared to what Fang must be feeling. I grabbed my backpack tighter, the weight reassuring. I couldn't go back now. If there was one thing May-Alex Ride never did, it was chicken out. This was my path and I chose it. Worst comes to worst is that I find out about the company in California and just get the hell out of there before they kill me.

It was becoming dark by the time I got to the station. I walked briskly, trying not to look too suspicious to few people passing by. Maybe the look on my face spoke volumes, I'm not sure. A girl scared out of her mind is probably easy to pick out from a crowd.

I bought a ticket, the cashier raised a curious eyebrow at me. I had about half an hour to wait.

I chewed my nails.

I pretended to read posters.

I checked my chunky cellphone my mom gave me, hoping for some communication, so that I would know that normal life went on. As if there weren't people I was leaving behind.

There weren't any messages. I sighed and tried not to think; I had plenty of time to do that in the train.

I tried to push the memories of Fang being here. A boy that looked shockingly like Dylan strode past, and I blinked in surprise.

"You need a lift?"

I jumped, nearly yelling a curse word as Iggy's face loomed into view. Dread bubbled in my stomach. When Iggy poses anything as a question, you can bet that someone will either end up dead, something might get incinerated or the law might get broken. Possibly all three.

I turned myself to face the the train tracks again. "No," I said. "I'm fine." Like Iggy would understand this situation. Like he wouldn't both get us killed.

"California is pretty far, you know."


"How did you know that?" I asked in raw disbelief, my eyes widening.

"I'm just as involved as this as you and Marco are, apparently." He said vaguely, tucking his hands into his pockets.

I turned and looked into Iggy's one good eye, not trusting his grin one bit. "Who told you?"

"My mom," he replied. "She explained that I should probably go there with you because we're the only ones that won't be killed if we try and get in."

"How can we all be involved? Aren't the chances just a bit too crazy for that?" I asked, trying to process the information. Three kids all in the same vicinity, turning out to be reared up from birth to be part of a science experiment? The odds were too slim.

He raised his eyebrows. "You don't possibly think that us being located in the same town, going to the same school, is a coincidence, do you?"

I sighed, he had a point. It was no coincidence. "This is a terrible plan, Iggy."

"My car's stocked and ready to go."

Relief is a funny thing. We only figure out how stressed and worried we are when we finally find out that we're not totally alone. That we only realise how scared we were once the danger passes.

Marco Fang Novia wasn't one that liked small spaces. As long as he could remember, he always felt uneasy in them. Not scared or claustrophobic, but just unsettled. He preferred having a big blue sky overhead, so that he always knew that there was something bigger than him. Something that would be there even when his world collapsed and still stay steady, even if he was dying.

Something infinite.

But here, in this back of this truck, nothing was steady, nothing never-ending. Everything jolted around and he felt like he could disappear at any second.

The only thing Fang could feel was fear clawing at his insides. Why was he kidnapped, of all people? Fang wasn't anything special. Well, maybe in the looks department, but he doubted he'd been kidnapped so that he could be taken to some sort of secret Kelvin Klein modelling studio.

And why the hell were the wolf-men guarding him? It was like every single bad Sci-Fi movie Fang had ever watched. Except those had been funnily bad, with their plot holes shining and the terrible acting. This was so clearly not that. This was real. It was happening.

Fang tried to adjust the ropes binding his hands behind himself, letting his head lean against the cool metal behind him. Wondering and worrying about things like this wouldn't help him. The only thing he could rely on was a slim hope of escape, which wasn't coming soon. He overheard the guards talking and saying that their next fuel stop would be in three hours. And since they wolf-men didn't seem that intent on killing him, there was nothing he could do. Except for maybe take a nap.

Fang sighed, then swore mentally. Who was he kidding? Sleep would never hit him now. He was too tense, far too panicked, for trivial things like sleep.

Well, at least one thing was certain; he wouldn't be getting a hair-wash any time soon.

And now that was a horrific thought.

"Iggy, is there anything you don't keep in your trunk?"

"A flamethrower. That goes under the back-seat, in a bottom compartment. Much safer, less likely to be found."

"... You're unbelievable."

"But I'm improving our chances of pulling this off, right?"

I nodded and stared at Iggy's trunk. Everything was in innocent containers or bags, but Iggy had pointed out each one and told me what was in them. A rifle, gasoline, a knife, a toolbox, phosphorus , a lock-picking kit; the works. I tried to picture the gun-power hiding in the bag marked as sugar, or the gasoline hiding in a milk box.

"We could blow up the empire building with all this," I said in disbelief.

"Yeah, if we put them in the base, near the main supports." He replied casually, as if discussing the weather.

"If a naked flame gets near this car we're both dead." I said, realising that our only threat wouldn't be crazy wolf-men or Iggy's total insanity.

Iggy shrugged and stuffed my backpack in, probably the most normal thing in his trunk. "It keeps me prepared for any situation. Most things are sealed fairly tightly, though." I tried not to worry that he didn't deny what I said. His grin became almost diabolical. "Are you ready?"

I sighed tiredly. "I guess," I replied. "Might as well start as soon as we can."

"That's the spirit," Iggy replied brightly, as if we were on some kind of roadtrip instead of a rescue mission. I got in the front seat. Being the only qualified driver between the two of us, it's probably better if Iggy took the wheel. I only had my learner's.

And then we set off into the dark blue horizon, not knowing if we would come home alive or not.

…Wow, that really did sound overly dramatic, didn't it? Sorry about it. I'll try not to overplay things like that. Sounds too cheesy. But it is true, we really had no idea about what would happen. Then again, who does know where they'll end up at the end of the day?

I tried to distract myself with the scene rolling by, but right then the only thing I could think of was how unprepared I was. Iggy was a walking arsenal of deadly weapons while I was just a kid with a temper and a nasty roundhouse kick. I would definitely come out second best against him.

Iggy seemed totally in his element, driving on the highway, acting like nothing he was doing was totally illegal. He stayed within the speed-limit to avoid attracting attention from cops or cameras. The last thing we needed was a record of who we are.

"What did your parents tell you?" I asked, trying to sound casual. Iggy might have a death-wish, but he was sneakier than me stealing cookies at midnight.

Iggy shrugged. "Nothing unexpected, I guess. I'm not too surprised."

"A teenaged boy got kidnapped by an elite company and you're not surprised?"

Iggy glanced at me as we changed lanes. It was fully dark now and bright lights of cars kept flashing by, rushing past our windows. "We're special, Max. These people – whoever they are – designed us. We're probably just speeding up the process by trying to get Fang out, but we can't exactly wait to get picked off one by one, can we?"

I chewed on his information. Were we designed? Artificially created or just tweaked? "It does make sense; the whole being stronger with better senses thing. I thought it was a fluke."

A wry grin appeared on Iggy's face. "Yeah, I thought so too. This is pretty crazy, huh?"

I nodded. "I can't believe our parents kept this hidden from us."

Iggy looked thoughtful. "It makes sense, to be honest. Whoever did this mustn't have wanted us to know anything. I bet a lot of blackmail was involved. Possibly bribery."

I tried not to think of my parents living for the last fifteen years of their lives with the constant threat hanging over their heads."So we're dealing with people that haven't got a problem with kidnapping, blackmail, or killing people that don't co-operate?"

"Basically, yeah."

"How do we even find these people?"

Iggy shrugged. "My parents told me that you're the one who should know."

"What?" I tried to think back to everything my parents told me that could be a clue. Nothing leaped to mind. "I have no idea. I mean, my dad trained me pretty well for stuff like this, but never did he say what this company's weaknesses are or what I should know about them. Arizona is pretty much the only solid thing I've got."

He looked disappointed. "Max, this is huge. Are you sure you don't know anything?"

Iggy stayed silent while I thought. And hell, did I think. For three hours. I ran through pretty much every conversation with my parents of importance that I could remember – and I remember a lot – but nothing leaped out.

After a while, Iggy sighed. "It's nearly ten," he said. "We need some gas. We can fuel up and find a place for the night. We'll probably be driving for the whole of tomorrow."

I nodded as the car slowed down to a halt in a roadblock. There was probably maintenance ahead or something.

"Do you know how long we'll be stuck here?" I asked, squinting in the dark and looking up ahead.

"Well – shit." I looked at Iggy in surprise at the curseword. He was the type of guy to only swear when something was seriously wrong.

Then I saw it out of the corner of my eye.

The flash of police lights.

"Iggy, if they so much fart in the direction of this car, there'll be a full-scale explosion." I said, panic building in my stomach.

Iggy pursed his lips. "I heard about a huge drug scandal this afternoon," he muttered to himself. "Can't believe I forgot about it. They're probably tightening security a bit, monitoring what's coming in and out of the city. They'll definitely check our car."

"Iggy," I said in horror. "Please tell me you're kidding. We're two teenagers with more weapons than both the World Wars combined in the back, and you're telling me that police are going to check this!"

"Calm down," Iggy said. "To their best of knowledge, we're two recent graduates from high school going to visit your grandparents in California for a quick, two-night stay. We only have groceries in our trunk and no-one really cares."

"What are we going to do!"

"Well, if you're freaked out, then they'll definitely be suspicious. Act natural. Pretend that I'm your deeply beloved and they'll be so grossed out by our cuteness that they won't even bother to open the shopping bags."

"... If we get arrested, I will kill you."

"Fair enough. Ease up, Max. They're coming over. Try to keep your face out of the lights as much as possible."

A cop greeted us, sounding bored. Iggy made small-talk, pretending to be in awe of policeman duties.

"I think it's really awesome that you get to uphold the law like that, is it fun to arrest people? Man, imagine being in a drug-bust! Is that scary– "

A gushing Iggy was pretty terrifying. Just throwing that out there.

"Sir, we're going to check your trunk for anything suspicious."

Iggy didn't skip a beat. "Oh, sure, officer! Go ahead. My girlfriend and I brought groceries this afternoon, I have the receipt in my pocket somewhere if you need to know that nothing was stolen..." Iggy began to search his pockets frantically, playing the part of the over helpful citizen easily. I could practically see that the cop didn't want to punch him in the face.

"It's fine, sir, we're just going to check the back."

"Well, don't open the milk! It's long-life as long as it's sealed, but I don't want it to go bad before tomorrow. But you can check the eggs and everything else," Iggy said earnestly. Even I knew cops barely bothered with that unless there was a valid reason to suspect the owners of the car.

The officer seemed bored as he opened the trunk and scratched around a bit. He conferred with another in low, worried voice.

"Sir, please step out of your vehicle. We would like to question you."

Well then.

A/N2: I haven't forgotten about Nudge. Just sayin'.

A huge thank you to xXIeatbooksorbreakfastXx for leaving such a wonderful review anonymously. It was really appreciated, and I wanted to thank you.

Who's seen Breaking Dawn? I watched it today, it was...bloody. Any opinions?

19. The Escape

A/N: You know what? I friggin' love writing stuff about Iggy's badassery.

Chapter 18: The Escape

Iggy shot me a meaningful glance and mouthed act natural, his eyes bright. He climbed out of the car, slamming his door. Before he exited, Iggy grabbed onto something just behind his seat and slipped it into his sleeve in a quick, easy moment almost impossible to see.

"Miss, you should exit the vehicle as well." The cop said, looking at me through the window.

I swallowed and opened my car door, stepping outside. I grabbed my backpack and slung it over my shoulder as an afterthought. The cool breeze hit my bare arms, I didn't shiver as I glanced at the indigo sky. The last signs that the daytime was ever here would be gone in about ten minutes.

"Is the a problem, officer?" Iggy asked innocently, his eyes wide. "I know the exhaust engine is a bit funky, but I'll get it fixed to cut down on my emissions, which is why we're getting a solar-panel next week, 'cause we ordered it recently, but my dad doesn't want one though..."

The officer sighed as Iggy rambled on about things that no-one cared about, keeping his clear blue eyes bright and friendly. He was patronizingly overeager, which was of course exactly what he was going for.

While Iggy talked about useless, made up details, I sized up the cops. The fittest one was a young man, probably t twenty-five. I could outrun him on foot easily. The second one was in his late thirties, with a slight belly and caterpillar moustache.

He mercifully interrupted Iggy's ramblings. "–Actually, sir, the situation is more serious than emissions. Do you have a license for the rifle in your trunk?"

Iggy's chest sagged in relief, I would've barely seen it if I didn't know him so well. "Of course, it used to be my dad's–"

"We don't need all the details," the older cop said as he opened one of Iggy's shopping bags absent-mindedly, looking bored.

For your benefit, I'll cut the next few minutes, in which there were quite a few surprised yells and one minor incident involving some smoking device. Things went downhill very quickly.

"We'd like to take you in for questioning," the older police officer said, sounding slightly bewildered at our cargo. I guessed that they found about half the stash so far.

We both knew we were screwed. How the hell would we explain the small arsenal, as well as the fact that we on a rescue mission to find our friend that may potentially be de–no, Fang wasn't. I pushed the thought away. He couldn't be.

Iggy sighed in the way someone might when they've been in the same situation too many times. He leaned over towards me, whispering so quietly that I almost couldn't hear him.

"Run like hell when I say go."

I nodded slightly as the distressed officer carried on looking through the trunk, opening the sugar to find gunpowder and some highly rare and illegal items. There were probably more chemicals in there than in the average Chemistry lab went through in a lifetime.

Iggy pulled a lighter from his pocket, looking contemplative. He glanced to the right, to the side of the road, where the tar melted into the forest. I could practically see the cogs in his brain moving at hyper-speed. It took me a second to click that he wanted us to run into the forest. I could practically see the glee hidden behind his smile.

...I knew that look. It was Iggy's something's gonna burn face.

I bit my lip as he flicked the top of the lighter and it flew into the air, setttling in the branches of the tall pine tree above us.

"Go." He said as the sky turned yellow and embers hit my arms.

"They're on the move, Miss."

She looked to the man in mild interest, wondering what he had done to earn himself a level five security ranking.

"Is it a problem?"

"No. They seem to be heading in this direction. We assume it's to try and rescue the other experiment – five-oh-eight."

The woman smiled. So they had developed a bond, one strong enough to take matters into their own hands. It was not a turn that she was expecting, but initiative meant that the experiments had been a success so far. "Fine. Give them two weeks. That's when we're scheduled to begin with the girl."

The man nodded and left the room, closing the door softly behind him.

In the gloom, he glanced down at his wrist, where his own experimental number was tattooed.

I turned around and ran, jumping over a rock and bolting away from the sudden light streaming down on me. I had no idea what Iggy had done to that lighter, but watching it explode and set fire to the tree was impressive as hell. I could hear Iggy's quick breathing in front of me and yells behind us as pedestrians and the police tried to take in the sudden flaming tree.

We used the illumination of the fire to keep running forward, skipping over roots and dodging thorny plants. While it helped us see the ground, it also made us shine. I kept hot at Iggy's heels, knowing that he probably knew that this wasn't the first time he did something like this.

My heart thudded in my chest and all other sounds became far away, and I only focused on moving forward. I didn't care about the scratch on my cheek or the throbbing of my knees, I could only think about jumping over that root, ducking under a low branch.

Fear is an amazing thing. It propelled me forward as if there was a firm hand on my back pushing me onwards. The ball of terror in my stomach was impossible to ignore, but I could think around it as I ran.
Looking back on it, I wish I could say that I wasn't scared. But I really was terrified, I just pushed it aside.

As the light became dim as we went deeper into the forest, we slowed down, worried about the dark. Twisting an ankle now would mean the end of our mission.

I strained my eyes in the darkness, trying to get grips with my surroundings.

"What do we do now?" I hated being the one having to take orders, the person not knowing what to do next. But Iggy was obviously the more experienced one here, trying to take control would just be stupid.

"We go forward. It won't be long before they come looking for us, and I don't want to be in this forest when they do."

We jogged on, waiting for flashlights to come hunting us down, to be cornered by police dogs and stuck between trees. We had to move slower without light, giving a chance for my pounding heart to recover. There were only a few streaks of moonlight to guide us.

My senses were on hyper-alert as I sucked in every detail around me, aware of every sound, every twitch in the underbrush, the squeak of an animal. Any one of those sounds could be someone lurking in the dark, waiting for us.

We couldn't fail this early into our mission. We couldn't.

Eventually, after what felt like hours, but was probably only twenty minutes or so, lights started to beam through the trees up ahead. They started out as small chinks that barely flashed by. As we got closer, I realised that it there was a highway somewhere up ahead.

"Uh, Iggy? We can't exactly go out into the open looking like this." I indicated to my wild and tangled hair and dirt smudging my clothes. I smelled of ash.

Iggy flicked his head to look at me, still managing to pick a clear path out of the woods. "We'll be fine. The sooner we're out of here, the better."

I sighed the trees thinned out, preparing myself to be cornered by police cars. My heart started beating faster and faster as we walked into the open, without the comforting protection of the trees' shadows.

There was nothing.

Well, there weren't any police or authorities, at least. We were on a fairly deserted highway, with only the occasional car zooming past. It was a beautiful sight.

You know what I said about fear being an amazing thing? Relief is more incredible. It's one of the best feelings ever by far.

"Hitch-hiking would be a bad idea." I said, looking at the road, trying not to grin. We hadn't been caught yet. I had to fight down the urge to yell it.

"Yeah, it won't end well. So we're not gonna do that."

I looked at the other side of the highway. About a half a mile onwards was the beginning of a small suburb, with stereotypical country cottages.

"It's nearly winter," Iggy said, looking at the cottages. "I bet you one of those families only stay here when the weather's good."
"You mean, we're breaking in?" I asked in disbelief.

"Max," Iggy said, sounding irritated. "We just broke the law and outran cops, what's the big deal with some breaking an entering? We'll just disable the alarm system and everything will be fine."

I swallowed. Of course, I was being stupid. Breaking in wasn't very high on our list of things to worry about.

"What if we get caught?" I asked. "It'd kinda suck if we managed to outrun the cops and then get arrested for something like that."

"We won't," Iggy clarified. "Get caught, that is. I've done this enough times to know what I'm doing."

Always so great to know that you're putting all your trust in a criminal. Then again we weren't dead yet, so that probably meant he had more or less an idea about how to avoid the authorities.

We started to hike into the open as Iggy combed twigs out of his hair and wiped off bits of ashes from his hoodie. We looked like teenaged runaways. Which we technically were. It was better than the full story, to be honest.

My stomach clenched at every passing car, waiting for someone to raise their eyebrows and say; "Wait, aren't you doing something illegal?" Every time a driver didn't bother to look at us or passed by, I let out a sigh of relief. We practically sprinted across the two lanes of tar before going through a field to get to the houses, enjoying the cover of dark.

We eventually made it to the streets of the suburb. Iggy led the way, pointing out various houses to me, saying why each one would be a bad idea.

"This one won't work, too many occupied houses surrounding it – maybe that house would've been fine if it wasn't for the bolt system, number seventy-six won't work either, there are dogs."

I looked at number seventy six. "There aren't dogs," I said, looking through the chinks in the fence.

"There's a kennel," Iggy smirked.

"Oh," I replied lamely, feeling stupid. "Never mind then."

I don't know how long we walked through the mostly empty houses before Iggy pointed out the perfect one to me. "See, not many people are on the street, so less witnesses. Easy enough security system, the owners probably won't be back for a while, judging by the dust."

"Okay, so what must I do?" I asked, and chewed at my lip nervously. This could either go really well for us or turn out really badly. Looking at our last misadventure, the odds weren't good.

Iggy walked up to the porch with me trailing behind. He looked at the front door thoughtfully. "I'll disable the alarm, you keep an eye out for any witnesses."

"Oh, give me the easy job. It's good to know you trust me," I said sarcastically, crossing my arms.

"Do you want to disable an alarm system?"

"It was a joke, Iggy."

Iggy smiled grimly. "I guess we won't be hearing a lot of those for a while."

I waited anxiously, looking out on the street as Iggy disabled the alarm, working gently at the door and prying at a small box tucked into a corner of a ceiling. I had no idea what he was doing, but it was working.

"Okay, so we're going to have to be careful when we go in, but that should be about it."

I nodded as Iggy picked at the lock, popping it open after two minutes of anxious waiting. He smiled triumphantly and we had a place to sleep for the night, just like that.

The inside of the house was pretty plain, with not much of a lived-in feel. The decorations were pretty and useless. It was just like any holiday house, really.

"Don't touch too much," Iggy said. "Last thing we need is our DNA spewed everywhere. I have some gloves that will make things easier, but there's not much hope for our hair."
"So they can maybe trace us back to your car?"

Iggy sighed. "Yes, they could, technically. If they even bother with that. And if they do, they'll have – what? Two sets of fingerprints leading from a car to a house. Don't steal anything and don't mess things up, and the owners of this place won't know a thing."

I looked at the wall-clock. "It's eight-thirty," I said. "What do we do now?"

Iggy leered for a second and I couldn't help but giggle a bit, the feeling strange. My body felt too tense for the laughter. "No, Iggy. We can't distract ourselves now," I said playfully, punching his arm.

He smiled lightly, not complaining about the punch. "We should probably be getting to bed now. We're getting up at four tomorrow so we can hit some twenty-four hour stores and get on the road."

I winced internally at the hour. Iggy found some blankets in a wardrobe and we settled on the couches. I tried my hardest not to shake off the feeling of being followed, chased and hunted. It didn't work.

Eventually I fell into a restless sleep, still tense and anxious.

At three-thirty, I woke up with a hand against my mouth the words "Shut up" being hissed into my ear.

A/N: Because some people asked why on EARTH I went to go watch Breaking Dawn, I'll answer that: FOR THE LULZ.

And sorry that I've discontinued with the questions and recs. I've pretty much stopped reading MR fanfic, and I'll ask questions if I feel the need to.

20. The Dye

A/N: Sorry for the delay, but I was away on holiday for the week, and had no internet access. I would like to wish IAmProbablyJustPlotting a very happy (belated) birthday.


Chapter 19: The Dye

I'm not sure if you've ever woken up with a hand over your mouth, pushing against you so that your head sinks deeper into the pillow. Maybe you have, and perhaps at the same time there was a door rattling somewhere downstairs, pretty much moments away from discovering illegal squatters.

If you ever have been in such a situation, I hope it never happens again. If you haven't, then I hope it never does. Honestly.

"Uuurmf," I started to squirm, pulling myself out of my sleepy state. I pushed Iggy's hand away from my mouth.

"We need to move," Iggy said, getting off the couch, grabbing our things. I rolled off as well, stuffing the last few shreds of our possessions into my backpack as Iggy slid the window open.

Something I might've forgotten to mention last night is that we decided to sleep on the second floor, in their TV room. I didn't really notice it as we trudged up the stairs, but now it really hit me that we weren't on ground level. Which was a problem, seeing that we needed to jump out of a window now and into their lawn.

The door downstairs rattled and finally opened. A man's voice said something about delayed flights light flicked on, only faintly illuminating a chink by the door of our room.

"Ladies first," Iggy said. "Jump." He stood back, giving me enough space to climb out.

I swore.

"Go!" Iggy said a bit louder as I climbed onto the sill, trying to swallow the funny feeling building up in my stomach. The grass lurched below me and I couldn't help but shudder.

"Three seconds until I push you," Iggy warned as multiple footsteps came upstairs.

I looked down again and let out a squeak as I pushed off, falling into the dark. I braced myself against the soft grass and landed with a slight thud, the wind knocked from my lungs. After a second of anxious waiting for the pain to kick in, I did a body-check. Nothing was broken, nothing too damaged. There was just a bit of pain in my knee where I'd banged it on some hard soil.

Iggy landed seconds after me, barely missing my elbow by a few inches. We picked ourselves up and dusted off, ducking away from the bottom storey window where we could be seen.

The house was mostly quiet, with only a few lights on.

"The fence," I said, starting to jog towards it. I pulled myself up and slid over, falling into the garden below–


Of course, there had to be a dog. And the bark wasn't a little Jack-Russel squeak. It was the deep roar of a furious, human-eating ferocious dog.

"Shit!" Iggy hissed as he fell over the fence, landing in a bush. I pulled him out and we started running across the lawn, almost completely blind.


"Iggy!" I whisper-yelled, frantic as I heard coughing and some water sloshing around. I stopped running, trying to see with the faint lighting.

That was my error. While I was faster than a dog at a sprint, I was no match for one at a standstill.

Have you ever had a dog sink into the skin of your forearm?


Be glad.

"Aaaargh!" I yelled, falling to the ground and trying to stop the hot tears from springing to my eyes. I grabbed onto the fur, trying to push the teeth away from me.

Thankfully, the dog took out its teeth. Hot blood ran over my bicep and towards my shoulder. I rolled over to my side and pinned the dog down at the ribs, using a move my dad taught me. It snapped at me, trying to take a chunk out of my face. I whipped my head back at the last second so it only caught some of my hair, tearing a few strands out.

"Iggy!" I yelled, looking around for him. He'd finally managed to pull himself out of the pool. A moment later I had to look back at the dog before it bit my other arm. It was a losing battle, and I was not on the winning end. It was still snapping and growing while I tried to clamp its jaws shut.

"Let him go, I've got it," Iggy said right next to me. I nodded and let the thing go, springing away from it. I sighed in relief as I got shakily to my feet. "We have about six seconds," he said as he grabbed the dog by its collar.

There was another splash as he threw the dog into the pool.

I didn't even stop to look at it. I sprinted towards the next fence, swinging myself over as the dog let out a furious bark as it finally got out of the pool.

I landed on a street, with roads stretching out in both directions. The yellow streetlamps were beautiful.

"We're alive," I said, relishing the sound of the word. "The phsyco-dog didn't kill us."

Iggy smiled grimly. "Yeah, but we're both soaking wet, you're bleeding, and we're fresh out of a place to stay the night."

"You're such a killjoy." I said, looking down at my arm. The liquid looked black. The moment I saw it the pain started to kick in. "Ouch," I said, looking closer. The injury stretched over about three inches, but fortunately wasn't too deep.

"Yeah. We'd better get moving – it's nearly four AM, no use in trying to get some more sleep now."

"Is this it?"

"Of course."

"Doesn't look like much."

"We can change that."

Fang slowly dragged himself back into consciousness, blinking against harsh lights and trying to ignore the pain in his chest every time he inhaled. He did a quick scan of his body; everything seemed to dully ache, but no serious harm was done.

He was lying in a heap, his legs and arms tangled, his left foot numb under his weight. Fang lifted his head to look at his captors standing around him. They had shiny silver lines going through them, for some reason.

Oh, wait... Those are bars.

He was in a cage, he realised. He shifted uncomfortably, his foot hitting one of the bars. It was too small for him.

A woman looked at him in curiousity. She had pretty blonde hair – the perfectly curled and coloured type that belonged on super models. As Fang's vision became more focused, he discovered that the rest of her face wasn't half as attractive. She had to be in her late thirties.

"I guess we'll see what he's made of, I guess." She said. Fang could hear the undercurrents of excitement and nervousness at the back of her voice.

A man crouched down at the cage and Fang tried to push himself up. His arms gave out from under him, sliding under the smooth of the cage.

The man smiled sadly. "You're still sedated. And trust me, after what we do to you, you'll be glad that you can't feel all that much."


In one of the small towns of Arizona, the amount of missing children in upper class homes have taken a turn for the worse, with the disappearance of three schoolchildren over the span of only a couple of hours.

Marco Novia (16), May-Alex Ride (15) and Cameron Hale (16) have all been reported as missing by their concerned and baffled parents. The three teenagers all went missing in the early hours of yesterday evening, only a few blocks away from their parents' houses. The three children all attend the same school, and were acquainted with each other.

"I just don't understand it," Eileen Ride, mother of May-Alex said. "She just went out for a walk, saying she wanted to get some fresh air, and she never came back. I know she wouldn't have run away, and I called the police as soon as I could. I have no idea why anyone would want to take them like this, honestly."

There has been a sudden peak in missing children from the ages of eight and up over the past few months, usually being quietly taken away and never being heard from again. Similar cases like these are littered all over the the local areas, with everyone from upper-class children to infants in foster-care disappearing...

"Max, how do you feel about becoming a ginger?"

"I like my soul, thank you very much." I replied, crossing my arms.

"Mocha brown?"

I took the box out of Iggy's hands and examined it mild interest, staring at the woman on the front with dark, tumbling brown hair that looked like cocoa.

"Think it'd work for me?" I asked, lifting the box to next to my face.

"Sure." Iggy replied, picking up a box for himself. It was also a dark brown, but only a few shades away from being black. I tried not think that Fang's hair colour was almost exactly that. "What d'you reckon?"

"It won't look right with your skin tone," I replied. "Maybe blonde?"

"Nah, too close to my natural hair colour." He flicked through some more samples, settling for a golden brown, not too different to my own.

"You know, imitation is said to be the best form of flattery," I said, looking pointedly at the the box.

Iggy shrugged. "What can I say, Max, your locks are to die for." Sarcasm oozed from his voice.

"I really hope you're joking. Dying over some strands of hair would be the suckiest way to go out."

Iggy nodded in agreement, not paying attention as he checked out the prices. "Get some other goods, so we don't look too suspicious. A box of tampons or something."

"Why can't we just get a bar of soap?" I asked, trying to swallow embarrassment. So far I hadn't been worrying about my period, it wasn't due to begin for at least three weeks.

"For one, we don't want you caught unprepared," he replied, keeping his voice businesslike. "And two, there's a young male cashier, they have a tendency to suddenly look away when any girly items are involved. So it's either that or condoms."

"Condoms make things less suspicious?" I asked in bewilderment.

"Of course. If we buy just hair-dye, they'll take note of us buying only the one product. We look a lot like runaways right now," he shrugged. "Maybe I'm just being overly cautious. Tampons are more useful in this situation, anyway."

"Wanna get some condoms too?"

"Geez, Max. We can't be thinking about doing the dirty while trying to rescue a friend." Iggy said. "Although your consideration towards protection is appreciated."

Trust Iggy to assume that it would be for him.

When we went to pay for the items, the cashier looked at the pair of us in slight confusion. After all, Iggy was still damp and I probably had dirt smeared on my face and blood caked onto my shirt; not exactly the most innocent pair of people to come into a store at five-thirty. I'd washed off the worst of the grime in a gas-station bathroom, but I was definitely no picture.

"PMSing women do crazy things," Iggy sighed, sounding resigned. "I mean, this one over here practically killed me in the kitchen this morning, and then demanded chocolates and hair-dye."

The acne-ridden guy smiled sympathetically at Iggy. "It just gets worse from here on out, buddy."

We left the store, the automatic doors wooshing as they slid open.

To spare you the rest of the details, we found ourselves in the McDonald's bathroom. Let's just say it was not the most pleasant experience in the world, especially since I had no idea how to colour my hair. Iggy reassured me that no matter how much I screwed up, the dye would come out in twelve washes or so.

But either way, we did manage to get our hair more or less the same shade as the boxes specified, and we met up outside our respective bathrooms and left the McDonalds, moving over to another fast food joint across the road to get some breakfast. Again, Iggy was probably just being overly careful – but then again, that was the reason he wasn't in juvenile detention yet.

Once we had ordered and sat down, we decided to discuss our next move.

"Should I take an espresso or laté?" I asked, looking down at my menu. "We still need a car, you know."

"Take the espresso. It's going to be a long day." Iggy replied. "We'll get one, don't worry. Even if we have to beg, borrow or steal."

"No-one's gonna lend us a car if we beg, Iggy." I rolled my eyes.

"That cancels out borrowing, too." Iggy's grin became almost feral.

"So we're stealing." I said, the realisation hitting me.

"Damn straight."

A/N: So what's everyone's plans for Christmas?

I'm going away in the next few weeks, and internet access is minimal. Not sure how frequently I'll be able to post.

Lastly, I hate to ask for reviews, but it is the season to give, yeah? I spend several hours on each chapter, so it would be appreciated if you could take five minutes of your time to tell me what you thought of it.

21. The Hijack

Sorry for the delay! I hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas, and got to eats lots of food. :D

A note to review requests – I'm more than happy to read someone's story and give a critique. However, I'll only respond if you ask in a PM. I can't keep track of them in reviews, sorry.

Chapter 20: The Hijack

"Can't we take a train or taxi or something?" I asked, weakly hoping that we could avoid staining our record further.

Iggy thought for a moment as he chewed his meal. "Nah, too obvious. We're criminals, remember?"

"You're a criminal. I'm just the helpless bystander." I objected, just as the waitress set down our plates. She raised an eyebrow at us before sauntering off again. It probably wasn't the weirdest thing she's heard.

"Okay, I'll give you that. But remember those crazy wolf henchmen? Well, they could still be following us. And if we're going to get killed, we might as well not get any other people hurt in the process. Which would most definitely happen if we use public transportation. We'll just grab a car and head to Cali, simple."

He had a point, just like he usually did. "Fine," I said, admitting defeat. "How exactly are we gonna steal a car?"

"It'll be light in about an hour, so we should try and get the ride before then. Also, we'll probably have to keep the original owner of the car so that they can't squeal on us."

"We're taking a hostage!" I whisper-yelled. "You said we were stealing, not hijacking!" Rage bubbled inside of me. We couldn't drag an innocent person into this, it wasn't right.

"If we steal, the person will report the car as missing almost immediately, and then we're screwed. However, if we take the person with us, there won't be that problem." He said shrugging. "It's pretty simple, really. Maybe they'll be fun to have on our road-trip."

"You're kidding." How could he be so blasé about taking a hostage?

"Max, we've outran the police, broken and entered, and run away from home. Adding something like hijacking to our list of achievements is not going to be the worst thing we could do." He said, shrugging casually. "And it's not like we're going to get caught on the last few petty crimes we did, either."

I looked out of the window at the dark sky, it was already beginning to become streaked with tints of pink. "Fine," I said. "What more trouble could we possibly get ourselves into?"

Iggy grinned. "That's my accomplice," he said. "Always willing for a challenge."

Yeah, because a 'hijacking' and 'challenge' were totally in the same league. Next thing he'll probably tell me that exploding a ten-storey office building would be 'minor renovations'.

I looked around the restaurant, checking for any sketchy faces or people that looked like they would whip out a gun on us. There were only some other teenagers in a booth a couple of tables away, and they looked far more interested in each other than anyone else. The bright colours on the walls seemed to be a stark contrast with how dead the place was. "Where do we get a car?"

Iggy smiled one of his absolutely terrifying grins, the type that most people only saw a second before they were murdered by a flaming chainsaw. "I have a plan, Maxie. I always do. Really, I think you would've learned by now."

I sighed and tucked into my food, practically attacking the bacon. I tried to mentally prepare for what we were about to do. It's a good thing nerves didn't affect my appetite at all. Well, pretty much nothing affected my appetite, but that wasn't important.

Once we were done, Iggy picked up our bill and we left the fast food place, trying not to look too conspicuous. I found my hair distracting – it would keep on getting in front of my eyes, and I'd jump at seeing the dark strands instead of my usual blonde-brown streaks. Iggy's new colour looked surprisingly natural on him.

It was still cool outside, with only a few people occupying the streets. A few cars shot by us, lighting ourselves up for second. We weaved our way through the streets, breathing in the slightly muggy air. It was still heavy with the moisture of the night.

We stayed on the constant look-out for any bulking people or cops. We never strayed more than a few blocks away from the highway of the town – which I realised, I couldn't even remember its name. I tried to tell myself that it didn't matter. Who cared what the town's name was? It wouldn't change anything, it would not stop the fact that my best friend-slash-enemy-slash-makeout-buddy was probably being tortured, it wouldn't make me any closer to home, and it would definitely not change the fact that I was about to steal a car.

"This is perfect," Iggy said, looking at a completely random lot. "See the company name? Most people here are just getting off their night-shift."

I nodded thoughtfully, looking at the dusty tarmac and the tall building towering at the edge of the lot. The grey building looked old and rusted, almost forgotten. "And there are lots of bushes," I said, looking at the right edge of the tarmac. "And no cameras that I can see."

"Five points to Slytherin for noticing," Iggy smiled wryly. "The place is poorly guarded too. I say we go for one of the more expensive cars; they're more likely to be insured."

"Okay," I said uncertainly. "So, uh, how exactly do we do this?"

Iggy pulled his backpack from his shoulder and rifled through it, pulling out a handgun. "Take this," he said.

"What! Are you crazy? That thing can kill people." I said in disbelief, backing away from Iggy's outstretched hand.
"Well, so can you with your bare hands, Max. I don't see you trying to boycott them."

"Still! That's a gun."

"It's just for a bit of show, Max. Geez. Protection. Only point and shoot when needed."

I looked at the shiny bit of metal in Iggy's outstretched palm. It glinted in the first few rays of the sun – we didn't have that much time.

My arm shook slightly as I picked it up from Iggy's hand, nearly dropping it. Who knew guns were so heavy? I steadied my grip and aimed it at one of the cars, wondering if this was how all action heroes felt when they were first handed a gun; scared, a bit confused, and exhilarated.

I felt power.

It was awful.

"Okay, Max. I'm going to teach you the golden rule about guns. Do not aim at anything you don't want dead. Safety mode or not. It doesn't matter if it's loaded or empty, defective or functional. If you don't want a hole in it, don't point your gun."

"Okay," I said, filing away the information. "Anything else I should remember?"

"Yeah," Iggy said. "When you do want something dead, aim well. Don't try to be badass about it; use two hands when shooting, stand with your feet firmly planted in the ground. Here, I'll quickly show you how to take it off safety mode."

Iggy showed me how to stand and work the gun. "Cool," I replied, tucking it into my jean pocket, feeling the waistband of my jeans tug down at the sudden extra weight. He dug through his bag again, this time pulling out a cap and huge sunglasses, handing them to me wordlessly. I tucked my dark hair into the hat and fit the sunglasses over my eyes.

Iggy pulled out his own gun and sunglasses, effectively turning him into some form of the teenaged mafia in just a couple of seconds. He grinned at me. "We look so hardass," he said, tucking the gun into his jean pocket.

"Yeah, we hijack in style."

"It's all about presentation. Gotta make an impression," Iggy said cheerily, before shifting his mood slightly. "Now, we wait for someone to come off their shift. Shouldn't be too long."

We sat down on the pavement, only a few feet from the first bay of cars. No-one would be able to see us as they exited the building. Iggy gave me a steady stream of information while we waited.

"So, I want you to get into the front seat. We're going to play good-cop and bad-cop, you being the good cop."

"So, basically, you're basically going to try and scare the pants off our victim, while I try to be the kinder, more understanding hijacker?" I asked.

"Exactly," said Iggy. "At least in that way the person will have at least someone to more or less rely on to not get them killed."

"We're definitely not killing them, right?" I asked, trying to keep the concern out of my voice. I don't think I could handle having blood on my hands.

"Of course not, unless they try to kill us first. And even then, we try to escape before that happens. Basically, it's a last-resort type of deal."

"This plan seems to get worse and worse the more we talk about it." I said, unconvinced. This was a bad idea.

"No, those are called technicalities. Don't be such a pansy, Max."

"I've never been a pansy one day of my l– "

"–Shh. Don't say a word." Iggy's entire body instantly shifted, becoming more tense and alert. His eyebrows furrowed together and his mouth became a thin line.

I listened to my surroundings, instantly switching from banter mode to full on fight. I heard heels come from behind the car we were crouching behind.

Iggy pulled out of his crouch on the pavement and offered his hand to me, my heart pounding. We were actually going to do this. We weren't talking about it, but it was going to happen. I wanted time to stop. One moment it's just something that you're going to do, far off, non-existent. The next moment it's happening and you're wondering what the hell just happened to waiting. My hands suddenly became clammy.

I took Iggy's hand and stood up. He didn't let go of my hand as he turned to face our victim.

It was a woman in a pink dress. Mid-forties. She looked kind of like my mom – they both had the same heart-shaped face. Her heels made crushing sounds against the tarmac.

This is real.

Iggy led me towards the her direction, the woman unaware – or uncaring – of us. By the time she was in her car, we were only a few feet away. She fumbled with her keys, putting her glossy bag onto the passenger seat.

Iggy opened the passenger side door, pulling his gun from his pocket coolly and pointing it at the woman.

"We want your cooperation, not your life." He said, his voice cold. I nearly did a double-take. I'd never heard Iggy speak like that before. It was hard and firm, no warmth in his voice.

The woman squeaked, sounding like a wounded animal. Her knuckles tightened around the wheel, quickly becoming white. I noticed that she had three gold rings on each hand.

He nodded to me and I slid into the passenger seat, pushing the handbag out of my way. "You're going to drive," I said, my voice only slightly shaky.

"If you try to escape, you die." Iggy added.

"But we don't want to kill you," I said hastily. "We just need to get somewhere."

Iggy clicked his gun back onto safety mode, but I doubt the woman knew that. It was a pretty terrifying click in itself.

She whimpered and reversed slowly out of the parking lot, Iggy putting his gun down so that it couldn't be seen from the windows. I put mine in the glove-box and started rifling through her bag, looking for her cellphone.

There was lipstick, tissues, a wallet – just the usual things. Some papers. An ID. I flipped it open to see that her name was Brenda Prescott, aged forty-three.

We are stealing Brenda's car.

I swallowed down the thought and carried on rifling through the bag, finding the cellphone. It was a pretty decent model.

"Is anyone expecting to see you today?" Iggy asked from the back, his elbows on each of the front seats, sitting on the edge of his.

Brenda bit her lip. "Y-yes," she said. "My husband."

Iggy glanced at the cellphone. "Call him. Tell him you're going on a Spa day or something like that. Give him a tip-off, and you'll be a lot more likely to be dead very soon."

Brenda's hands trembled as she took a steadying breath. She was a plump lady, but she hid it well with flattering clothes. She looked graceful. But of course, now she was anything but. She was trembling in her own car, shaking and shivering while two teenagers held guns to her head.

She dialed the number, messing up twice before she got it right. It rang three times.

"Hey, honey." Her voice trembled. "I'm not feeling so great, and Sabrina asked me to go to the Spa with her today. I'll try to be back in the evening."

There was a pause in conversation. "Right," she said. "I love you, Stephen," she added, packing as much meaning into those three words as possible.

My heart broke a bit. I could practically feel it flake down my shirt and pool in my lap.


The conversation ended and Brenda handed the phone to me again. I pulled out the battery and SIM-card.

"Is this insured?" I asked, indicating towards the phone.

Brenda nodded.

"Right," I said, snapping the phone in two, realising how badass I probably looked. I resisted the temptation do some gangsta hand movements. "Wouldn't want anyone tracing you, now would we?" I flinched at my words. I sounded like a bad movie.

Brenda's hands tightened on the steering wheel. "Why are you doing this to me?"

"We need a lift. Get us to the Californian borders," I said. "And as to why it was you; just chalk it up to luck."

"Well, it's the worst luck I've ever had," she replied.

"If you keep doing what we say, it'll just become a bad memory," I said.

"If you don't, this'll be the last memory you'll ever have," Iggy added, right before we hit the highway, picking up speed.

I wondered what Fang would've said if he'd been with us. I tried to ignore the pang in my chest that came along with thinking about him.

We're on our way. Just hold on.

22. The Cage

So, my laptop is broken. It's not impossible for me to write, but it's significantly more problematic. I've also just started a new year at school, and the first term is usually crazy-busy. I'm not sure how often I'll be able to update. I'm going to try my best, but please be patient. Encouragement does help tonnes, though. *winkwink*

So, some people are asking why Max isn't being leadery. Remember that in canon, Max had roughly two years of being a leader before we met her. She still needs to grow into the canon role, and she will.

Chapter 21 – The Cage

Fang groaned as he lifted himself into a rough approximation of a sitting position, rubbing his aching head and trying to make the pain go away. It didn't work, so he decided to ignore it by blinking the blurriness out of his eyes and looking around the room.

It was the same one he had been in before – there were no defining features to it that set it aside from other holding areas, but he knew he'd seen the purple-grey boy before sitting in the cage opposite him, as well as the distinct blood-spatter on one of his bars. Of his cage.


He mentally inspected himself; his head was still aching and he knew he'd have a bruise on his knee tomorrow, but it was fine. He barely felt the puncture marks on his arm anymore, he was so used to the feeling needles left behind.

He ran a hand through his hair again, feeling some blood matted into the small amount left over since they'd shaved his head. He picked at the dried blood, trying to get some of it out. He had been hit by an Eraser when he'd refused to run another four kilometers – because he was too busy throwing up. The thing had taken a swipe at him, much to the distaste of scientists.

A girl in the cage next to him rasped. That was what she always did; her lungs were faulty. Each breath was a struggle for her, and they both knew that she probably wouldn't last many more nights.

Fang was by far the oldest one in cages. This was essentially a storage room, Fang knew. There were about forty cribs in the far right corner filled with children under one year. This present batch seemed to have a problem with their vocal chords, seeing that they almost never screamed. They'd be replaced by another batch soon – babies were the quickest to die and be replaced. Only a select few made it past infancy, and being any older than eight was downright bizarre. Of course, there were experiments like Fang; ones that had been raised normally and then taken in for modification, but they weren't the norm.

In fact, Fang only knew of two other experiments like him.

"Dawn?" Fang asked huskily, trying to urge his body how to use his vocal chords correctly.

There was a pause, a rustle above him – they were put in columns of five cages, secured together so they would not fall. It wasn't unheard of for an experiment to die on the brief ten foot drop to the floor.

"You're awake," A small voice replied, the voice coming from somewhere above his head.

"Did they also take you out to the mazes?" he asked, tilting his face up slightly. As if looking at the ceiling of the cage would help.

She shook her head slightly. "No. They tested endurance."

"Ouch." Fang replied. He'd probably be tested as well very soon, and it would probably be awful.

"I'll live," Dawn replied, sighing.

"Yeah." Fang said, shifting slightly. But for how long?

"Sorry?"Dawn asked.

"Yeah,"Fang repeated. "Let's hope we live."

"Oh,"she said. "I thought you said...something else." She sounded mildly confused.

They fell into a brief silence as Fang tried to ease the throbbing of his head.

"Where's David?" Fang asked, breaking the fragile quiet.

"Surgery, I think," Dawn replied. "They took him in a couple of hours ago," Fang heard her frown – if that was possible. "I think. Maybe more."

That was the thing about the School. Time warped itself in really weird ways. Between never seeing daylight, being unconscious, in excruciating pain or being souped up on meds, there was no real way to estimate how long he'd been here. When he'd asked Dawn about it, she said she had felt the same way.

Fang shifted uncomfortably, trying to get rid of the awful pain in his back. It didn't work.

What was happening at home? The place felt so, so far away. Was his family worried? What did Max think...Where was she now? Does she care about what happened?

He exhaled, thinking about their last encounter, the tiniest bit of heat coming back to his face. Hot damn. It was by far the best kiss he'd ever had, and that was an achievement.

Fang smiled to himself at the distant memory, wondering how long ago it had been since he'd seen her.

He felt something twinge in the back of mind. He missed her. He wanted to see her smile again. He wanted to hear her snarl at him, to know that she was okay.

I'm so whipped.

Dawn rustled above him, choking out a cough.

"Turn over here," Iggy instructed. "Fill up on gas."

Brenda closed her eyes for a second, trying to calm herself. I bit my lip, wanting to reassure her that we would never think of killing her, but fear was our primary advantage at this point.

"Okay," she said, turning the steering wheel, directing the car into the gas station. Iggy's posture changed and he laid back, sprawling himself over the seats. He looked like the perfect bored teenager on a road trip, he didn't have a gun sticking out of his pocket. He took it out and slid it under his seat. The car stopped moving, and in one fluid motion, Iggy opened his car door and swooped out elegantly.

You have to admit, Iggy's got style.

He filled up the engine, shooting me a meaningful look before turning his back on me to lean against a window. I knew what he wanted. He was giving me a moment to talk with our hostage.

"Sorry you got in the middle of this," I said, trying to sound apologetic, and not too much like your average teenage criminal.

She looked confused for a moment. "You must be the only hijacker that's apologised to their victim."

I shrugged. "This wasn't really what we wanted to do, but some things are necessary,"

"What would make two teenagers need to rob a car?" She asked, sounding surprised.

"A lot of things."

Brenda sighed. "Is the other one your boyfriend?" she asked.

I opened my mouth to say no, of course not, but I changed my mind at the last second. I nodded. It made more sense as a cover story. Two teenaged lovers running away would get less raised eyebrows. Doing crazy things for love and all that.

"He's borderline psychotic," she said, looking serious. "You should break up with him."

I swallowed, preparing a whole bag of other lies. "I would,'s hard. You don't understand what he's like."

Yeah, I know how low that was, implying that Iggy was abusive. But I what choice did I have? The pity card was probably the best one I could play in getting Brenda's trust. Although having her be at a sort-of ease wasn't essential for our plan to work, it would make things a lot more simple. This way I'd be a victim along with her.

She nodded. "Yeah, I know that is. Just...try, okay?"

I nodded, feeling guilt ravage my insides. She was being caring, just for me, acting like a mother.

"What's your name, anyway?" she asked.

"M – Jessica," I said.

She raised an eyebrow, knowing I was lying through my teeth. I guess I couldn't win every time I tried to convince someone about my fabricated stories. "I would say it was nice to meet you, Jessica, but to be honest, it hasn't. No offense."
I smiled wryly. "None taken. At all."

I decided that I liked Brenda. Maybe, in a different world, we might've even been sort-of friends, like maybe an aunt-niece relationship or something. But this situation was too messed up to be really thinking along those lines.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Iggy go into the gas station shop, probably buying us a lunch. I realised how long it had been since I'd eaten last, and my stomach growled.

"Oh, and if you think about driving off without I – Adam, I'll shoot you before we get to a main road." I hoped I sounded threatening. By the way she tightened her grip on the steering wheel, I guess it worked.

The rest of our wait for Iggy passed in silence.

When Iggy came back, he had five burgers on him, along with some junk food. "Jessica, I'm sitting in front now," Iggy said to me. I slid out of my seat and we swapped, me sitting in the back. I knew that it probably wasn't good for Brenda's nerves now that she was sitting next to Iggy.

Although he was acting like an asshole, he was acting like the asshole keeping our plan together. Despite his usual uncaring facade, Iggy knew how to keep something in operation, how to be ruthless and how to get what he wanted.

I guess we were similar in that way, although I just needed a bit more practice.

I don't think I could've gotten a better person to join me on an illegal road trip to a different state, looking for a massive company that does experiments on children.

You know, just those everyday activities that I do between homework assignments.

I looked out the window, staring at the perfect blue sky up ahead. It was clean and pure; everything that everyone isn't. That sky seemed untouchable to me, impossible to have – or taint. Us humans did a perfectly good job of that just polluting the earth and making it ugly, but the blue sky up ahead was just what it was. Unreachable. Better than us.

I rolled down my window a fraction, getting some smoke-tinted air into the car. It whirled in my hair and for a second I tried to pretend that the air was clean too, but it didn't work.

Iggy turned on the radio, looking the tiniest bit relaxed under his villain mask. It was a bad country song about going home.

For some reason, it felt a bit too foreshadowing for me.

"We'll probably be at the border by tomorrow, if we drive through the night," Iggy said, looking at a map on his cellphone. Jessica, how's your driving?"

"I have a learner's," I said. I could do a couple hours.

"Great," Iggy replied. "If anyone pulls us over, we'll pull the same procedure as last time."

Ah, the set fire and run like hell procedure. A personal favourite of mine. Pretty soon it'll be part of police training to learn how to deal with young kids that like to blow things up to escape in the confusion.

"But we probably won't get stopped, will we? I mean, it's not that often that the police randomly check cars..."

"Yeah," Iggy said. "And we don't have anything too incriminating, besides the woman." He flicked his eyes towards Brenda. "But she won't squeal on us."

"Let's hope," I said. "I'm not sure if I could handle any more cops on our case."

"What?" Brenda interrupted. "I thought you were pretty criminals!"

I shrugged. "We do what's necessary. Blow up a few things. Break into someone's house. Pickpocket. Nothing major."

"Kill redundant people that talk too much," Iggy added darkly. "Possibly with a machete."

Ouch. Harsh, Iggy.

"Or my bare hands," he added. "Or Jessica's. She's pretty nasty when it comes to snapping necks."

…So maybe telling Iggy that my dad once taught me the best way to kill someone quickly wasn't my best idea.

Brenda gripped the steering wheel tighter, probably realising that she was going to spend the night with two trigger-happy teenagers. And that she would have to sleep in a confined space with said kids.

Well, I could definitely understand her stress. At least she handled it well. I would probably feel even more awful if she was a crier.

I laid back in my seat again, watching the sky fade into indigo. At one stage Iggy and Brenda switched places so that Iggy would drive. Brenda sat in the front passenger seat, where Iggy could still see her clearly.

It was the first time I could relax enough to start thinking about yesterday's events properly – between hijacking, running from the cops, breaking in and nearly getting killed by a rabid dog, I hadn't had much time to think about what had happened.

Fang was GetOutWindow, who was also my best friend.

Fang acted like a jackass.

Fang could be a sweet and caring person, too.

So he was a sweet and caring jackass? That couldn't be right. What were the chances of meeting my online best friend in real life by pure coincidence? I mean, there are seven billion people on the planet, and each person only meets a tiny fraction of that number. And meeting them againonline by pure chance? I couldn't comprehend how that was even possible.


It was too ridiculous to comprehend. The chances were so, so slim.

And of course, there was the kiss. Our boundaries were gone, this whole thing is just so complicated. So now he couldn't be Fang best friend, he had to either be friends with benefits or boyfriend.

That is, if I ever saw him again.

A pang shot through me. It scared me, I hated the thought.

I shook the thought away from me. Of course I'd see him again. I just had to figure out if that was a good or bad thing.

Also, who has tumblr? I got it recently (link on profile) and hot dayum, it's awesome. XD So if you have any questions non-FF related or just feel like creepin', feel free to check it out. I'd love to find some good blogs to follow, so feel free to rec whatever you like. ^_^

23. The Bracelet

A/N: While writing this chapter, I didn't really know what was going to happen in it. It was - and still is - titled; Chapter 22 - The Derp on my computer.
This chapter felt like pulling teeth to edit - and life has been kicking me in the ass. Sorry for the delay, lovelies.

Chapter 22: The Bracelet

David opened his eyes, blinking blearily in the artificial lights. It was sharp, way too bright. It was the constant reminder of where he was, never letting him escape from his reality.

The lights hurt. They were always too bright, too strong, too fake. Unending, burning, his constant reminder of where he was. When he was strapped down to the operation table, he stopped feeling the cold metal on his scarred back or needles in his skin. He just saw those lights searing into him.

Burning, burning, burning. Making his skin too pale and too pasty, his blond hair too white. Sucking the world of colour, bleaching the rooms.

There was no sunshine for David. Windows didn't exist in his new world.

He closed his eyes again for a second, hoping that it would all just go away. Of course, it didn't. He finally had to open them and look above. For once, he didn't see the lights, but instead there was a half-hidden face.

"I don't believe this," said one of the doctors, his voice coming from far away. "He's gaining consciousness! Jones, up his dosage."
He tried to protest, attempting to raise an arm weakly. He couldn't; it was strapped down to the table – wait, they weren't. His limbs just felt so, so heavy. Thankfully, the world of hideous lights blurred out again, letting David sink back into cool darkness.

It was far more beautiful than the light.

I woke up at two AM by Iggy shaking me awake, the car finally still.

"Wha– " I asked blearily, trying to gather my bearings.

"It's your turn to drive," Iggy said, handing me a flask. "Have some coffee. You look like you could use it."

"Thanks," I said, too groggy to think of anything biting to say. "How long must I drive for?"

"Three hours. We don't want the learner driving any more than she has to." The smirk in his voice was unmistakable.

"Fine," I said, pushing Iggy out of the way, making it to the door. Brenda was curled up in the back seat, sleeping restlessly. Iggy took my place in the passenger seat and I climbed in front of the steering wheel, hoping that I wouldn't kill us all with my barely-above mediocre driving.

My system started to wake up again after the coffee. By the time we pulled out of the gas station, I was thinking clearly again. I remembered what Iggy told me, to keep an eye out for any police cars or black SUVs and to keep under the speed limit. Keep the attention to the lowest possible. If someone asked me for my license, I'd just have to make up a story about leaving it at "Aunt Christa's" house.

The road was dark, naturally. The highway was only dotted by the occasional car driving past, illuminating my face for a few seconds in the headlights. I wondered where each car was going. Where do people need to get to at two AM?

Maybe they were like us. Hijackers, criminals. Maybe people that just got off a delayed flight, people leaving clubs. Or maybe drug-runners. I guess I'd never know.

I drove until six, so that I could give Iggy an extra hour of sleep. He looked like he could use it; the dark smudges under his eyes shone like bruises. I couldn't help but hesitate when I finally did wake up, he looked so peaceful. Hardly like your average criminal at all.

To give you a brief summary of the next few hours, Iggy drove, then I did. Brenda only allowed to be behind the wheel when one of us was awake; we're not that stupid.

By midday we had finally made it to the border of California. Which was good and bad. It meant we were getting closer, but it also meant it was time to say our goodbyes to the car and to Brenda. It was relieving and saddening at the same time, we'd become almost comfortable with her around. Even though Iggy and I had to always speak in code, it made me feel a bit more normal.

Naturally, we couldn't keep the car. It was littered with out fingerprints.

We drove five miles offroad, Iggy gritting his teeth as the car jarred and jumped.

"Here's your drop-off point," Iggy said to Brenda. "Five miles to the nearest telephone."

We watched her climb out of the car slowly, standing against trees, looking totally out of place.

"Thanks for the car," I said. "You weren't a bad person to steal from."

Brenda smiled dryly. "You weren't a bad person to be kidnapped by," she replied. "You only held me at gunpoint a once or twice."
And that's the closest we ever came to friendship.

What I didn't know then is that Brenda would return home and tell her crazy story to her shocked husband, and would flip on the news. She'd see a brief story about a sudden amount of kids going missing in Arizona and California, with a brief flash of my face.
She'd be confused and run some Google searches, finding out my name to be May-Alex Ride, along with a brief local article about me. Nothing majorly important.

And that would be the last Brenda heard about me – well, the last she heard about the missing kid, at least.

She didn't tell anyone that her two hijackers were really two kids that had gone missing a couple of days earlier. She could've reported us, she could've plastered our faces everywhere, if she'd wanted to.

But she didn't.

That counts for something, right?

We didn't look behind us as we drove in the opposite direction, assuming that Brenda was heading for the nearest telephone. We made it across the border, no-one tried to kill us. Fortunately. (Hey, it's happened before. We count our blessings, okay?)

And then it was time to burn the car out. Drastic, I know, but Iggy was adamant about not leaving any fingerprints behind.

Personally, I though he just wanted a big fire, but whatever. Iggy's motives aren't too important, right?

To make a long story short, we acquired some gas and a big empty uninhabited sandy area, pretty far off-road. Iggy didn't waste time; he went straight into spreading the gasoline over the seats while I rolled down the windows and pulled out anything valuable from the car. I found a wad of fifties under the front seat, which Iggy was pretty pleased about.

Can I tell you something about burning out cars? It's bright, it's hot, and it's freaking awesome. You should try it sometime.
Wait, I take that back. Do not try burning out a car, kids. Unless you've already stolen it, because you can only go up from that point. However, know that you'll probably burn yourself in quite an painful manner, and just because you happen to have a spare car lying around doesn't mean that you should use it for the pure sake of pyromania.

"Clear," I said, getting out the car with the last dregs of our valuables. "The trunk doesn't have anything valuable in it."

"Great. Stand about fifteen feet away, we don't want any injuries. Let me just put the last finishing touches on this," he said, pulling bottled chemicals from his bag and spreading them over the seats.

"Why are you adding those other things?" I asked, as I backed away from the car, taking our stuff along.
Iggy grinned. "Gasoline burns too fast for most things to catch fire. This will slow it down a bit so we get a nice, steady flame."
I don't think the grin on his face should've been considered healthy.

"Okay, we're just about ready," Iggy said after a while of inspecting the car, his masterpiece. "Would you like to do the honours?"

I shook my head. "This is your baby," I replied. "You should be the one to set it on fire."

Iggy smiled and lit a match. The windows of the car were rolled down –that way the flames would still get oxygenated. He stared at the little stick for a moment with his one good eye and threw it lightly into the car.

For a moment, there was nothing.

Then the colour burst into view, bright and dazzling and strong. The flames licked the inside of the car in a mix of reds, whites and oranges, flickering and dancing. Smoke seemed through the windows.

It was beautiful, it really was.

And then something exploded.

It wasn't a big explosion, to be honest. It wasn't huge, but it was enough to make me duck down and cover my head with my arms.

Once the air was clear again, I stood up and felt a shooting pain on my wrist. I looked down and saw an angry welt on my arm. I guess a few bits of shrapnel flew from one of the windows, one of them still piping hot. I looked closer, muttering some cursewords. The welt was about the size of a large coin. My charm bracelet had apparently also taken a bit of the blow, the one in the shape of the house was charred and a bit of its hollow inside was showing.

"Shit," I said. "That hurt." I looked angrily up at the car, still burning. It looked a lot less pretty now.

"Are you okay?" Iggy asked, holding my wrist delicately. He turned it slightly so it caught the sunlight, assessing the damage. "We'll probably just have to ice it to get the heat out, and maybe a bandage. It'll be fine,"

"Yeah, I know," I replied. "Just glad it didn't happen on my hand, because I still kind of need that."
Iggy smiled, letting go of my arm. "I think you should probably take off the bracelet, though. You wouldn't want that chafing the burn."

I nodded and unhooked the clasp, pulling it off my arm. I inspected the damage it took.

"Huh," I said, frowning. I never knew that the charms were hollow. I picked at the warm metal, trying to pry it open a little bit more. I saw something flicker inside of it. "Iggy?" I asked uncertainly. "Do you have a pin or something? I want to see if I can get something out of this."

"What?" He asked, looming closer to the bracelet. "Where did you get that?"

"My mom gave it to me. I get a new charm on each of my birthdays."

He took the bracelet away from me. "Mind if I pry this open?"

"Might as well," I said. "I hate that charm anyway." I'd gotten it on my eighth birthday, which was pretty much a disaster of a day.
He nodded, and began to pull it open. After a few minutes of some struggling, there was enough space to pull out the tiny roll of paper.

My heart started beating faster. What had my mother given me?

He unrolled the paper. In black letters, the words leaped out at me.


"Max. When did you get this charm?"

"My thirteenth birthday," I replied.

"Right," Iggy said. He pulled his lighter from his pocket, flicking it on. "Fire popped open the first one, so let's see if we can get more info."

"My bracelet..." I protested weakly. I'd had that thing since I was born, and I've been wearing it since I was five. It had a lot of sentimental value.

"Max," Iggy said. "Your mom gave this to you for a reason, probably a very good one. The more we can find out, the better."
I sighed. "Fine," I said. "Just don't... don't completely destroy it, okay?"

"I'll try my best," Iggy replied as he flicked on his lighter. It made a slight popping sound.

"Do you think it'll be enough to crack it open?" I asked.

"We'll see. Give it five minutes. If it doesn't, we'll make a different plan."

He put the charm bracelet – the one I got when I was six – under the flame. We waited for a few minutes anxiously, looking at the flickering flame. For the first time since I got the bracelet, I noticed the neat hinges hidden in its design. After what felt like an an eternity, it popped neatly open.

"Whoa," I said. "I guess this is a lot more effective than the flaming shrapnel method."

"Generally, there are a lot of things better than the flaming shrapnel method." Iggy replied, looking down at the metal. We waited a few more minutes for the metal to cool down. I leaned over Iggy and looked at the inside of the bracelet. A tiny scroll was lodged in the metal.

I took the still-warm bracelet and pulled out the sheet, which was about the size of my thumbnail.

My heart thudded.


"Well, that narrows it down," Iggy said brightly.

I opened my mouth to reply - and then felt the cool metal of a gun press against my temple.

24. The Van

A/N: I suck, I know. Apologies for the shortness of this chapter, but I assure you the next one will be longer. ^_^

Chapter 23: The Van

You know, if there's one experience in the world that I can say truly sucks, it's having a gun againstyour head. Not only does it usually mean that it you'll probably die very soon, but your body also realises it, and your heart starts thudding wildly. You start sweating and breathing fast, like all your organs want to get as much function time in as possible before they stop.

Your whole life just narrows down to that metal against your head, and nothing else really matters.

We whipped around, and person behind us looked surprisingly normal. Like a guy who had just stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine and stood neatly in polished shoes and a business sit, looking as ruffled as Iggy does when he gets caught. And for those of you that don't know, Iggy's "I just got caught" face is identical to his "I don't really care and I'm rather disinterested" expression.

"Don't look so surprised," he said, pulling the gun away from my head – and I let out my breath, feeling like I just got a second chance at life. "The idea that you weren't being traced as you traveled is stupid. So you can come either leave peacefully with me, or I can put a hole in you first."

"Well, we hate to disappoint you," Iggy replied, crossing his arms. "But we don't do that
whole 'come quietly' thing."

My eyes looked around as two more vans rolled into the area, and more attractive men stepped out to come meet us. I looked at Iggy, giving him a barely noticable nod.

We sprang into action.

I whirled in the air. I punched, I hissed, I kicked.

I ducked. I dived. I skidded across gravel.

My fury blinded me, it made me feel raw and savage. These were the bastards that had taken children, the people that would probably kill me. These were the people that took Fang.

They didn't mind killing us.

I bit someone's wrist. Punched a hard stomach, elbowed an exposed neck. Besides me, Iggy fought too. But as you can guess, it wasn't enough. We were too few, them too many. Both of us knew that we were going to lose before we started, but hell, we weren't going to be quiet about it.

I shrieked as a needle found my arm. Instantly, my hand was heavier, and within twenty seconds, my mind started to fog up, and my limbs became heavy. I could barely push one arm forward to protest.

"Can't believe she's still standing," one of the things said. "That should've knocked her cold in a minute." At least we went down fighting.

Then the ground hit me in the face.

Ellen sipped her tea slowly. It was her sanity at this moment; the hot liquid that burnt her tongue and sizzled at her lips.

It was a distraction, really. Hot, scalding tea was far better than focusing too much on what
happened. What was about to happen. What was happening.

Whatever. It was all the same – inevitable, totally and completely real. Nothing could change the hand she had been dealt, no matter how badly she wished she could make this whole thing go away and get her daughter back.

She ran her hand over the porcelain of her teacup, feeling the smooth notches of the pattern under her fingertips. Her elbows were propped up on the wooden table, just like how she always sat.

Except usually there would be a family around her; not exactly a warm, happy and perfect family, but still. They were her family, her carefully composed, scientifically simulated one.

Her husband – her business partner, someone she had been randomly paired up with – sat down at the table as well, not offering useless words of comfort.

She broke the silence. "Do you think she'll survive?"

He sighed. "I hope so."

"And if she doesn't?" she pressed. Ellen had to know.

"We'll move. To Canada or...somewhere." He replied. After all, what more could he say? What more could he do to reassure his wife about something that would most probably happen?

"It won't change the fact that she'd be dead." Her voice was hollow.

Robert sighed "She was never truly ours," he said. "We can't hate people for taking away something that didn't belong to us."

Her hands tightened around her mug. "We raised Max, Robert. We put our lives into her."

"And we gave her everything we could to try and get past this." "We sent her there, Robert. How can we be parents if we practically put a postage stamp on her straight to hell?"

Robert sat down next to his wife, touching her arm gently. Physical comfort didn't mean much to Ellen – it really didn't change their situation much – but it was better than doing nothing.

"We had to, you know it upped her chances." He said. "As an experiment, she now has more initiative. It makes her stronger, so they'll fight harder to keep her alive."

Ellen cracked the tiniest of a smile; a brief flick of the mouth, more of a twitch of a muscle than a sign of happiness.

"I guess that's what it boils down to. They'll do anything to keep their million dollar babies alive."

Neither of them felt any better as the clock ticked on.

I woke up in the truck once, fighting through a haze of exhaustion and sedatives. My eyelids were practically glued together thanks to gunk, and my head pounded.

Thum. Thum. Thum.

Apart from that, I felt mostly fine. Sure, there were scrapes on my arms and there was probably a massive bruise on my thigh flowering, but it was survivable.

Yeah, like getting kidnapped after practically being mauled by a wolf is perfectly survivable.

I struggled into a sitting position, trying to think around my massive headache. It was like trying to think around a rock, to be honest. A big, fat, ridiculously painful rock that wouldn't stop hitting the tender corners of my mind.


I hissed a swearword under my breath, beginning in 'f' and ending in 'uck', and it certainly wasn't 'firetruck', no matter what the internet says.

I looked around the back of the van, trying not to think about how many terrible things have happened in the back of windowless vans.

The interior was mostly bare. There was a crude mat under me, as well as dim lighting coming from a small crack of the window. Iggy was lying in a heap on the other side of the van. I winced at his position, and crawled closer – they didn't bother with restraining us in any way – and moved his arm from under him, letting him lie in his chemically induced sleep a bit more comfortably.

I sighed and rested my head against the wall of the van – cold hard metal. It soothed my headache a tiny bit, but it seemed that the final bits of the sedatives were wearing off, leaving my my mind a bit clearer.

"Urgh." Iggy muttered, finally stirring. "I feel like crap."

I smiled without humour. "Well, toughen up, it's going to get worse."

Iggy looked around the chamber, gathering his bearings. "That's like saying Facebook is used by a couple of people here and there,"

"Yeah," I said.

"This is bad," Iggy said. "Really, really bad."

"That's like saying Word War II was a couple of bullets thrown." I couldn't help it, it was my only defense.

We sat in silence as the vehicle jarred on. After a few minutes of silence we heard gas hissing from somewhere above us. This time, the bottom of the van hit me in the face.

I was right about that whole; "things getting worse" idea.

Fang vomited.

He was surprised he had enough energy left in him to actually puke up anything. He was exhausted, to phrase it plainly. He had spent the last eight hours doing nothing but physical exercises, and he wasn't sure when it would stop.

His muscles cramped.

"Should we give this one a break?" A faceless whitecoat asked. "It's dehydrated."

Yes, yesyes. Please, God, just let them agree.

"Bain doesn't want it too tired when the new arrivals come. He wants to try some of his psychological tests on this one." Another faceless whitecoat. They all stopped being people to Fang; they had no personalities. All they were was one more way that he would be in pain, one more person to harm him.

"Get someone to clean up the vomit," one said. "Rehydrate him. Jones, use serum 84 on it. We'll see how the muscle regeneration goes."

An it. That was all he was – a faceless, genderless thing. A creature. A test subject, an experiment. A remarkable feat of engineering, apparently. But not even worthy of a name or being considered a breathing person.
Just a number.

Fang retched again, trying not to think of the last person to treat him like a human.

A/N: So, Fang and Max will be reunited in the next chapter. Hopefully you guys won't be disappointed.

25. The Room

Hello, again, my lovlies. Fortunately, my major exams are now done for the term, so hopefully updates will start picking up again.

Chapter 24 – The Room

Fang hated being locked up. There was just something about being treated like an animal that grated his nerves, for some strange reason.

It wasn't particularly a step-up to be locked in a white room with a two-way mirror, but it was better treatment than what he was used to – and it left Fang confused.

From what he could determine, he was in an observational room, one usually aimed at interns wanting to watch procedures without disturbing any of the surgeons.

'Surgeons', of course, was a subjective term in this case. Fang preferred the term 'sadists' or 'whitecoats' or sometimes 'the sadistic bastards'. Sometime the names he could hurl at him was his only creative outlet.

At least he was actually sitting on a seat for once. They were plastic fold-up chairs, but they had been specifically designed to make a human comfortable. It was the best accommodations he had in a while, so he embraced sitting down like a human being fully, looking out the window.

In the room below, the scientists seemed to be preparing for a particularly brutal surgery, judging by their vast amount of needles and scalpels. He wondered if it was going to be him going under the knife again today; or maybe the whitecoats were just trying to unhinge him.

There were several people milling around in the room below, which contrasted starkly with the way Fang was currently being treated in his room – there wasn't a soul in sight, but there were suspicious glossy dark pieces of plastic on the ceiling, most likely concealing a camera lens.

Fang looked down at the operating room again. If it was him, he was probably going to be in a lot of pain very soon. He wasn't surprised to feel that he didn't really care all that much; pain had lost its edge a while ago, his body barely registered it anymore. He couldn't really care about anything apart from an hour-to-hour basis.

Thinking about the future was something that Fang seldom did; trying to do so in this hellhole seemed useless. He usually just focused on his breathing or pounding heart. It was the only way he could measure time, and as long as those two things were happening, he was alive.

He couldn't look back, he didn't dare look forward. Both hurt too much to look at.

Some of the other experiments called this place The School, but Fang personally didn't like the title much. People learned things at schools, the worst form of torture there was petty pranks and bullying. And even though Fang had been a victim of bullying when he was younger, he knew that this was a far worse fate than getting his head flushed down a toilet.

He shook himself back to where he was. No use in looking back.

A new movement sparked Fang's interest in the operating room below. The door flew open and a balding man strode into the room. "It's being brought in and is getting disinfected as we speak," the man said, his voice filtering through to Fang via speaker. His eagerness bleeding into his voice was impossible to miss.

Fang's interest piqued slightly. So it wasn't going to be him; which could be a good or bad thing. The procedure would likely be horrendous if they were making him watch – the School was rather fond of psychological warfare with its experiments, just in case being in a top secret facility and having the life slowly drained out of you wasn't enough to satisfy.

Fang sighed. He was still breathing, his heart beating. That what's important.

He closed his eyes for a second, trying to give himself a brief escape from where he was – but he could still feel the cold of the room, slowly seeping through his flimsy paper gown.

In another lifetime, Fang might've been embarrassed about wearing such a stupid thing. It was white, easily stained, and definitely not macho. It was dress that barely rose above his knees, after all. Even though everything at the back was covered, he did often get unpleasant drafts, thanks to everything 'hanging wild and free'. But he wasn't ashamed of it. He didn't give a damn about what he looked like or what he was forced to wear.

Another whitecoat walked into the operating theatre, trying to hide his glee under his mask. Several others walked into the room, smacking on latex and rubbing their plastic hands together. Several interns milled about, making minor preparations. Lining up needles, laying out silver trays.

It was going to be quite the procedure.

A woman rolled in with a cage covered in a cloth, looking as hopeful as the other scientists. The entire room responded, all turning their heads to look at the cage covered in the sheet. Two interns lifted the cloth quickly.

For a moment, time stood still. Fang could sense the anticipation of the whitecoats running high – this was probably a high-profile experiment like himself being handled.

The sheet came off the cage, and there was –

Oh, fuck.


This can't be happening.

Fang froze, his heart skipping a beat and his lungs frozen. His mind went into hyperdrive, trying to put the pieces together and they refused to fit.

She glared fiercely at all the people surrounding her, looking for a moment at the two-way mirror. Obviously she didn't see him; her eyes were fixed on a point about two feet away from him – probably her own reflection.

Fang was stunned. The coincidence was too enormous to be that. His entire life had been carefully orchestrated around this place, so being raised near to other experiments probably was just part of the plan.


Fang frowned, trying to hide his anger. He finally understood the reason for him being in the room – they wanted a reaction from him. Fang was a bit of a stubborn bastard when it came to being an experiment. He liked to not play by the rules, something that pissed of his observers to no end. Now they finally found a way to get him.

Of course, the internal Fang was a lot a more emotional about his reunion with Max. Inside, he was kicking and screaming and yelling at the fucking bastards, but he managed to remain impassive with a Herculean effort – but it was something that Fang had been doing for most of his lifetime; keeping his features smooth.

He watched in horror as they pulled Max out of a cage. She'd been recently captured – her hair wasn't shaved off yet and her skin glowed healthily, like someone who had been in the sun recently.

Why did they wait to capture her? Why not just kill two birds with one stone when they were kidnapping Fang?

To her credit, she fought. She bit one of the whitecoats and snarled at them, looking more like a warrior than a lost girl. She was wearing the same type of white flimsy gown as Fang. Just like him, she was quickly losing her individuality in this place.

An individuality that Fang loved.

He pushed the thoughts away from himself abruptly. He needed to stay calm. He could curse and cry all he pleased when he was alone in the dark, now was the not the time – he could still feel the corners of his eyes prickling, though.

One of the monsters pushed her onto the cold operating gown, another one ripping off the gown in a smooth movement – coldly and precisely. In a second, Max had lost her dignity too.

"Fuck," Fang muttered to himself, trying to keep the anger on his face in check. This was all wrong – he should not be seeing Max naked like this. Sure, he wanted to her naked, but this was just completely wrong. He shouldn't be seeing the slope of her hip or curve of her breast while whitecoats pushed syringes into her arms.

This was wrong.

He focused on one of the corners of the room – he didn't want to give whoever was sitting behind the camera the satisfaction of a physical reaction. He could barely see Max out of the corner of his eye, but just enough to see her go limp. He didn't dare focus on the raised goosebumps of her skin. Just that patch of wall with the brown spot. He put all his concentration in memorising the exact shape of it, the shades and cracks.

He wanted to die.

When I woke up, I was in a cage.

Huh. You know when you read that sentence, you knew nothing good can possibly come out of it.

I was in different clothes, barefoot and wearing a paper nightie. I felt completely naked in it, with the cold bars pressing against my spine and the the freezing metal underneath. It hardly did anything to keep me warm.

I panicked. I knew that I shouldn't, really – I'd been told ahead of time that this was probably where I was going to end up. My mother had warned me specifically about this, but I didn't listen.

It wasn't like she had any control or not. If I'd came to California by myself or been kidnapped, I'd still be in this exact same situation – I don't know if that should've made me feel better or worse.

But I was still scared. The fighter in me wanted to tell me that all hope wasn't lost, but I knew it was lie. The game was up.

What would they do to me in here? I knew there would be experiments conducted, but would it kill me? Would death be the better option?

I wanted to curl up and cry for a good while. I wanted to lie on the floor and sob and just let the hopelessness take over me. What was the point in hoping for something, anyway? Hope was something uglier when wrenched away than never having it all.

And this was definitely a place where no-one had hope.

My cart started moving forward, and I swore silently. This couldn't be good. I'd almost liked the closed space that the cloth had offered – no, not the closed space. It was the privacy. As long as I was in here, I was hidden and unseen. I was safe.

…What a stupid way of thinking. I stopped being safe when an Eraser tackled Fang. I wouldn't be safe until I left this place.

If I left this place, that is. Right now, my chances weren't looking too good. Experiments could easily fail. I could die on the operating table, for all I knew.

I drew my legs up so that I had something to put my arms around, rocking myself forward and backwards slowly. It was a habit I'd dropped when I turned seven, but for now it was strangely comforting.

The cart stopped rolling for a moment, and I heard a room door open. There was a whoosh of air and a sudden chatter of voices. My cart rolled again and came to a stand-still.

"This is it," a woman said. "Five-oh-eight."

There'd been five hundred others before me. Where were they now? How many survived?

Bright light burst into my vision, blinding me for a second. My vision adapted quickly and I looked around the room. My eyes settled on a mirror in the top of the room, and I saw a pathetic little girl squashed in a cage looking up.

The mirror was probably a two-way, I realised. There were probably some more bastards behind that watching my every move, taking down notes.

Fury bubbled inside of me. The moment the cage door swung open, I leaped out – I didn't want any help. I lost my balance for a second, my legs suddenly getting pins and needles. I stayed upright and snarled, biting someone's hand as they put it on my shoulder.

If they were going to treat me like an animal, I might as well act like one.

Another scientist pulled me by my wrist, aided by a second. They pushed me down onto the table and I hissed at the cold. Another hand ripped away my gown, leaving me completely naked.

I was cold, but not ashamed. These weren't people looking at me – they just saw an experiment. It made all the difference of a pet or robot seeing my body – it didn't matter. These people weren't human.

The operating table, however, was freezing. I arched my back to avoid the cold, but another just pushed me down as a needle went into my arm, making my body immobile.

"Damn, she's got balls," one of the scientists said. I would've flipped them off if I could will my arm to move. Every cell in my body seemed strapped down the table, every muscle useless.

"We'll teach her the correct methods," another said as I felt something cover my nose and mouth.

Anesthesia, of course. The injection was to make me less of a problem, but they still probably wanted me uncon–

26. The Reunion

A/N: Has anyone ever really considered the day-to-day life aspects of the School? I mean, sure, we know about the experiments and horrors, but I've never seen a School fic where the mundane aspects are handled – like day-to-day schedules, where they go to the bathroom, etc.

Chapter 25 – The Reunion

When I woke up again, I was in a cage. It took me a second to orientate myself – over the past few days I'd grown used to waking up in moving cars, or with Iggy's voice hissing in my ear. Waking up without a shaking ground left me feeling off balance. I blinked rapidly.

It was dark. I shifted my position slightly, sitting up when I felt that my muscles could handle the strain. I ran my hands down my arms and stopped abruptly, feeling small stitches along my biceps and in the crook of my elbow.

I froze.

They felt alien next to my smooth skin, harshly jutting out, like glass in soil. I ran my hands down the stitches slowly, feeling every notch. Each of them stretched out for about five inches. The muscles below them felt a bit stiff, but I didn't feel crippled.

I leaned forward, stopping abruptly again. Something hooked against the inside of my gown. Hesitantly, I slipped my arm out of my sleeve, letting it rest against my body. I trailed my fingertips over my stomach delicately, scared of what I might find. I had an incision running right from just below my ribs to my bellybutton. I sucked in a quick breath.

A second later, I realised something strange. I turned my head to the side, waiting for the reassuring fall on my hair onto my shoulders.

Nothing happened.

I rain my hand through my hair gently, grimacing. It was cut down to about half an inch. For a moment, I mourned the loss of my brown-blonde hair. A second later, I realised that it would probably be much easier to keep it clean this way.

But the fact that they shaved my head got me thinking. Did it mean that they were intending for me to stay for a long time? Or was it just more practical? It could've been just another way to demoralise me, maybe.

Either way, my hair was gone. There was nothing more I could do about it.

I tried to figure out how long I'd been out for – and I had no idea. I couldn't assess how far along my cuts had been healing for in the dark, as well as the fact that I still felt a bit dizzy. Judging by the mild ache in my muscles, I'd guess about two days. Maybe less, maybe more.

"Urgh," I grumbled. I wondered when my next operation would be. Or experiment. Whatever.

Another question at the back of my mind flickered. How much longer would I live for?

It was kind of weird, in a way. For the first fifteen years of my life, my main problems had been school, homework assignments, dealing with my parents, and people.

Sitting in a cage with my stomach aching, my body feeling bruised and wounded, wondering about how long I had to live really made a Biology assignment or exams look really stupid. The idea that I actually worried about friendships and Fang's bigotry really seemed laughable now – back then, I'd been just existing, just alive. Now I was a ticking timebomb.

It's kind of funny how a few days can change so much. Getting caught by the police didn't seem like a problem any more. A horny teenager really didn't seem like a big deal.

I sighed, resting my head on the back of the cage bars, and I felt some more stitches. I sighed – my neck ached; probably because of a funny sleeping position. I felt an intense longing for my bed, even though I wouldn't sleep for quite a few hours. I felt pretty well-rested right now, border lining on uncomfortable from too much artificially induced sleep.

It was the last time in a long, long while I'd feel too-well rested.

But I didn't know that just then. I just tried to slowly ease out the aches and pains in my body, slowly stretching out my legs in front of me, as far as they could go. I got some pins and needles and ending up messaging an aching thigh, but I slowly started to feel a bit more lively.

"You're awake," a small voice said from beside me, barely louder than a whisper.

I jumped. "Uh, yeah." I said. My voice was croaky.

"Good," the voice replied. "We were starting to get worried about you."

"'We'?" I asked uncertainly.

There was a faint rustle, the girl was probably nodding her head. "Fang, Gazzy and I."

That caught my attention. "You know Fang?"

"Yeah, he's in the cage on your other side. He's out cold, though. I would wake him up, but he probably should get some sleep in."

I snapped my head to the side, looking for the faint outline of Fang. I saw the faintest light against the shadows, illuminating his sleeping form. My heart soared. My mind leaped. My soul did a little jig.

He's here. We're together.

I couldn't help it, I found myself grinning. At least we hadn't gotten the wrong illegal corporation or something.

"Yeah, I figured you'd be pretty relieved to see him. But don't wake him up, let him get some sleep."

I sunk a bit from my happy-high. At least I'd see him soon, right?

"Who are you?" I asked.

"Dawn," the girl replied. "You're Max." It wasn't a question. Just a statement.

"How did you know?" I asked, suspicious.

"Fang saw you on your way in," her voice sounded like she was contemplating adding something else. I waited for her to finish, but she didn't.

"Right," I replied. "How long was I out for?"

"Uh," Dawn sounded confused. "A day. I think. Maybe two. I'm not so good at keeping track of time no more."

I chewed on the information as I worked a kink out of my back. So, Fang was here. My mind wasn't quite processing the information, things felt too surreal in this dark.

"Well, Max," Dawn said. "I'm going to sleep now. If you like, you're welcome to see if you can wake up Fang. I think he'd be happy to see you."

Did I just get permission to talk to my best friend from a kid? This place was getting progressively weirder.

"Okay," I said.

"You're not tired, right?" She asked.

"Not a bit," I said truthfully. My mind and body was fully awake, I was buzzing. I wanted to run somewhere – preferably far away from this place.

"Great," Dawn said, sounding a bit too enthused about guessing correctly. I tried not to think too much about that as Dawn's breathing evened out. I stretched out my hearing a bit more, listening to all the sounds around me. There were dozens of slow breaths in the room, I realised. How big was this room, anyway?

I listened intently to my right. I heard the slow, steady breathing of someone clearly larger than Dawn. My heart sped up the tiniest bit, knowing that it was Fang.

He was alive.

But was he okay?

I bit my lip, hating not knowing. I guessed that he had to be more or less in one piece if he wasn't under observation.

Right. "Fang," I said in a whisper. Nothing. "Fang," I repeated, more loudly.

He let out a faint snore. I rolled my eyes and stuck my hand through the bars, poking his side. "MARCO FANG NOVIA."

A hand grabbed my wrist, tightening its grip.

"Fang! Calm down, it's me. "I said, enjoying his touch a bit more than I should.

"Huh, wha–"

"Max, Captain Slow," I said. Ugh, that didn't really make sense, but whatever. I think he got my point. Hope was blooming in my chest again from just hearing his gruff voice again. Happiness was filling my stomach. He's here. We're together.


"Who else?"

I hear him smile. "I would say it's good to see you, but it's not. No offense."

"None taken," I said, grinning. "I think we've had our better days."

His hand moved from my wrist into my own hand, our fingers automatically interlocking. I instantly felt safer, more secure. Like we'd actually get out of this place.

"What have they done to you?" I asked, my voice cutting through the dark.

He groaned. "Tests. Experiments. Surgeries. Nothing major yet. They seem to enjoy screwing with my mind, though. Although I bet some of them would enjoy screwing more than my mind, if you know what I mean." His voice was laced with innuendo. I squeezed his hand tighter.

We're alive. We're okay. I grinned at his comment, it felt so good to hear his dirty jokes again.

"I missed you," I murmured. And I meant it.

"I missed you like you wouldn't believe," he replied. "But, I'm sorry, I ran fifteen miles today and had some really weird chemicals injected into me. I won't make it through tomorrow unless I get sleep."

I leaned against his side of the cage, holding his hand as tightly as I could.

"Good night," I said.

His lips briefly met my hand. "Hopefully we'll have better ones than this."

It took me two hours to fall asleep, but when I did, I was grinning like crazy.

I was woken by a bright florescent light jamming sharply into my eyeballs, like brutal bright sticks. I blinked, trying to stop the assault to my vision.

I guess that was one more thing I'd have to get used to.

Two people wearing lab jackets walked into the room, looking at various pieces of equipment perched on the walls.

I also realised that I had to be about ten feet up in the air. A jolt of vertigo jolted through me as I carefully scooted to the edge of my cage, looking down. There were seven more cages below me, stretching out in either direction. The place was even more massive than I'd already guessed.

"Pity," one of the women said. I heard another experiment calling them whitecoats last night, which was as good a name for them as anything else. "B ninety-three didn't make it through the night," she observed coolly before moving on. "Grayor, send it to O.R. eighteen. It looks like it died pretty recently. I believe Gabriel was whining about getting a new liver for D twenty-two, so he might be interested in this one."

Grayor, a bulking man that looked ready to rip anything from bazookas to kittens in two nodded numbly and tapped a combination in the cage. The door popped open and the body of a boy – probably no older than eight – was pulled out and put onto a cart.

I winced as I looked at him. He had angry red marks all over his left arm, most likely a rash or nail marks.

"You'll get used to it," Dawn said, sounding unruffled by the death. "Fortunately, we don't have too many deaths in our holding area because everyone here is above eight years old."

"What?" I asked. "What does age have to do with it?"

Dawn sighed. "Well, almost everyone here is strictly an experiment. A lot of the times they go wrong, so anything that ages past five is considered a success."

"Wow," I said, too stunned to say anything. How many children died in this place daily? And how many of those children were actually children, and which ones were more animal than human?

"Oh, fantastic. Our sleeping beauty is awake," the woman said once she saw me. "I bet that Betchelder will be the thrilled to know that you're well, Max."

Okay, it was downright weird that she knew my name, after throwing around codes and numbers like free candy.

"We must have very different ideas of what 'well' is," I replied shortly.

She waved a dismissive hand. "You're alive, you're fed, and you're responding well to the first medication and surgeries. In our books, that is very well. We're thrilled."

"Oh yeah, and being locked in a cage must be totally fine as well? You really outdid yourself with accommodations."

"Despite the fact that Carter is more than pleased to spend as much money on his children as possible, you are still an experiment, and will be treated accordingly."

I pulled an unamused face. The woman seemed unfazed and moved on to inspecting some other cages. After the initial inspection, she worked back in a circle, assigning various people to various rooms. More goons came in and wheeled each experiment to their destination.

"Ah, Carter's favourite," she said, stopping at Dawn's cage. "I believe they're testing your intelligence today, correct? As well as your new-found abilities?"

Dawn hissed. "Where is my brother?"

The woman's face faltered for a moment, but her pleasant smile reappeared a moment later. "I believe that he's recovering from his surgery. He responded just fine to the new organs."

Dawn visibly relaxed. With her so close to the edge of her cage, I could see the back of her night gown. There were two tiny wings settled on either side of her spine. There were a dirty white, catching and reflecting light. They didn't surprise me, truth be told. I'd already seen a boy with scales and men with fur, so wings were hardly the most shocking thing I'd seen so far.

It also made me wonder what they would do to me. Cat ears? Night vision? Super speed?

"Kayre? Take five-oh-eight to room forty, it needs some injections. Take four-eight-nine with you and drop it off at room forty-two."

I perked up at my new name as the man called Kayre got a ladder leaning against one of the walls. He pressed it up against the cages below me, punching in my passcode. It started with an eight, I realised with some smugness.

He picked me up from my cage, grabbing me firmly around the waist, pinning my arms down. I struggled for a moment, trying to get away.

"Wiggle too much and we both fall," said the man, squeezing his arm even tighter around me. His strength was surprising. Was he another genetically modified lackey?

After a few moments we were on the ground again, and then the same procedure was being used on Fang. He didn't thrash while being lowered to the ground at all. Again, I paid attention the pass code. Eight-four-something-three – and then another two digits.

"Well, Max, since you're new to this, we'll give you the lowdown. You can either walk with the other two, or we can drag you along while you wear an electroshock collar."

Fang looked at me. "We might as well have some dignity," he said.

I nodded as we were led out the room, my eyes looking around everywhere, trying to figure out how to escape. The corridor seemed to stretch out endlessly in either direction, gently curving outwards. I couldn't see the end of the passage.

"Fang," I hissed as we walked down the hallway. It was as stark of a white as everything else in this place and brightly lit. Whitecoats milled around, some carting around experiments. "I'm learning the pass code for the cages," I said with some glee. "They're really not subtle about it." I said quietly, hopefully soft enough that the man walking several feet behind us wouldn't hear it.

Fang laughed without much humour. "Max, that's just a precaution so that the youngsters don't accidentally fall out the higher floors. The code is oh-five-two-oh-eight-nine, but it'll help you squat. If you get out, you're still have to get out of the holding room – which is nearly impossible – as well as navigating through this entire building, and somehow managing to get outside undetected."

"So? We'll figure something out."

"There's no way out. Trust me, I know."

A/N2: So, I'm on holiday. :) I can try to update faster, but I'll need some input from your side as well. I've noticed an absolutely crazy gap in the reader to reviewer ratio, so I'd just like to ask for your opinion about this story. A huge amount of effort has gone into this story, so feedback is love.

27. The Needles

A/N: Thanks so much for the response of the last chapter! So here's a gift; speedy updating. I might be able to update more often this week, if there is a demand.

Chapter 26 – The Needles

"What?" I asked, my voice incredulous. "There has to be a way out." There couldn't not be a way out. In every book or movie, there was always the crazy escape route, there for those smart enough to figure it out. We couldn't be shut in here forever.

Fang shook his head. "Trust me, there's no way. Dex – he's an experiment that's been here for two years – said that there's no way. And he's modified to have super-intelligence."

My heart thudded in my chest. This couldn't be right. I knew I was stuck in here, but I'd thought there'd be some way out. Maybe we'd stuck for a couple of months as we figured out a plan, and then we'd break free. But the idea of being stuck in here for an indefinite amount of time – that was more terrifying than any surgery or experiment

"There has to be," I argued "Fang, we can't be stuck in here forever."

He sighed. "We'll die eventually. The experiments they do here are pretty intense; one will probably knock us off. Or maybe we'll be taken out and shown to the world if we're successful."

So our plan was just to wait it out until we died or got pulled out? My breathing picked up as the limited options dawned on me. "I feel sick," I said after a moment.

Fang grabbed my arm reassuringly, his hands just as warm as they've always been. "We'll be fine. Just focus on your breathing." He squeezed my wrist gently, his grip steady and reassuring.

I leaned onto him just for a few moments, focusing on my breathing and waiting for the pit in my stomach to become a bit smaller. I held his hand tightly, telling myself that he was there.

"If it makes you feel any better, you probably won't throw up. You haven't eaten in a while."

"You always have the right words, Fang." I replied as the Eraser in front of us came to an abrupt halt. I looked at the door – room forty. I bit my lip anxiously, this was my first experiment. Fang squeezed my hand one more time and let it go. I suddenly felt naked and cold without it. I sucked in a deep breath and walked into the room.

The room was fairly empty, with only a single whitecoat in it, examining a chart. There was a tray of needles next to a steel table, and I felt my heart sink.

"Sit down," he said, not looking up at me.

"Fuck off," I snarled. This wasn't a visit to the family doctor. No way was I going to sit down like a kid getting their temperature checked.

The man sighed as two men entered the room – they had the same stocky build as the other guards had. Probably off the same experiment line.

He flicked his wrist at the table's direction and hands wrapped around my stomach, lifting me off the floor. I tried to fight, I really did. I hissed, I scratched and swore at them. It was useless; I was eventually strapped down to the table anyway.

I hissed as the first needle punctured my skin. It wasn't that painful, truth be told. They stung my ego more than my skin. After about eight injections, my arm began to swell up. The whitecoat just switched to the other one.

"Good thing this one's body absorbs nutrients so fast," he said, mostly to himself. "It means much faster procedures. Not to mention fantastic healing speed..." His voice was excited, like he was finally getting to play with a new toy.

He smiled at he pressed another needle into my skin. This one burned as it entered my bloodstream. I bit my lip, trying to keep my face angry instead of pained. Some needles went into my thighs, several in my back. He drew some blood and took a muscle sample from my calf. About half an hour later, he pulled out his final blade and I was released. My muscles tingled unpleasantly. I couldn't help but wonder what had been put into my body, but at the same time, I didn't really care that much. If it killed me, he'd be the one that would get into trouble.

After that, I was escorted to another room, just as small and sparse as the first. A woman smiled when she saw me, her face lighting up like a Christmas tree. "So this is the latest," she said. "Has the swelling gone down? I'm here to take your measurements, and we wouldn't want any inaccuracies, now would we?"

I faked delight. "My measurements? Excellent. My current dress is awfully tight around the shoulders." I indicated to my flimsy gown.

She raised a perfect, dark eyebrow and whipped out a tape measurer. I noticed that it used the metric system. "The easier you make this, the sooner you can leave."

I didn't make it easy for her, just by the way.

Fang hated his sessions with Mr. Batchelder. He was one of the calmest people that he had met in the School, and was by far the most irritating. Fang wouldn't mind that much giving him a good punch in the face, just to wipe off that calm expression.

"Afternoon, Marco," said Jeb as Fang sat down in the room. It was standard issue of the functional rooms, with just a table and couple of chairs, with cameras dotting corners.

As far as experiments went, Fang was usually pretty obedient. He preferred sitting down in a chair with his dignity intact, rather than being forced down into it by a hulking beast of a man. Fighting just wasted energy.

"How have you been since our last visit?" Jeb asked, sounding genuinely interested.

Fang crossed his arms. It was hardly as if he had been chasing butterflies for the past few weeks – or was it days? He couldn't remember anymore. "Same as always."

Jeb sighed. "And how do you feel about the new arrival?"

"The girl?" he asked cautiously, his interest piquing. He didn't dare mention Max by name.

"We both know you know her name is Max," he said. That was another annoying thing about the man – he always refered to experiments with their proper pronouns. It made Batchelder more human, more decent. Fang hated that he wasn't just some other whitecoat that just saw him as a number.

"What's your point?" he asked after a heartbeat of silence.

"How do you feel about her treatment?" He asked.

Fang shrugged. "She's been treated like everyone else here. Which is shit."

Jeb nodded, not flinching at the choice of language. "And what about the...display you saw in the O.R.?"

"I've seen the procedure happen before." He kept his face carefully blank.

Jeb frowned slightly at his reply. Was he expecting an emotional response from Fang? As if that would ever happen.

"Very well," he said, sounding tired. "Anything else you'd like to discuss?"

"The food is awful," he said. "I hope you have something better on the menu for this evening, since the crayfish last night was somewhat undercooked," he replied calmly. "And room service really needs to pick up its game. My bed had a crinkle in it this morning. How repulsive."

Jeb pulled a face. "No need for sarcasm, Marco."

"No need to experiment on children," he hissed in reply. "Don't act like this place isn't a fucking prison, or that I give a damn about whatever messed up psychoanalysis you're trying to do on my personality."

Jeb's eyes widened a fraction before jotting down a note. "Well, Fang, I believe it's time we talk about feelings."

Fang groaned on the inside.

Jeb sighed as he looked down at his notes. He was currently trying to assess the bond between the various members of Crash's experiments. As far as he could tell, Marco and May-Alex had a romantic tie, but he had no idea if it was just a teenage romance or ran somewhat deeper than that.

He sighed, looking down at his folder had CRASH; Exp. 483 printed neatly across the front. Jeb took his pen and added some notes to the later pages. Marco was definitely no idiot, and the drugs he was currently on was probably heightening his IQ even further. Gauging it accurately was proving to be extremely difficult – the boy was closed-mouthed, the only way they could test him was through setting up elaborate experiments that utilised problem-solving.

Jeb recalled the video he had seen of Marco seeing May-Alex's first operation. His face had went from 'bored and impasssive' to 'slightly confused frown' throughout the procedure, and when he was free to leave he strolled out the place, as if sauntering through his own home.

Marco was definitely a mystery. But he was strong-minded, and definitely had guts and level-headed thinking.

He only had to learn more about May-Alex to see if his plan could work.

When I finally made it back to my cage at the end of the day, I nearly sobbed in relief. I never knew that something so cold and harsh could be so comforting. I curled up in a corner and tried not to shake too hard. My calves ached from all the running, my feet felt swollen. I got a cut under my eyebrow from a badly placed fall, and all I wanted to do was sleep.

"Max?" A small voice whispered. Dawn.

"Yeah?" I replied, my throat dry.

"Look down," she said. Just as she finished, the door swung open and an Eraser dragged in a tired-looking blond boy. "That's my brother, David."

My heart broke a bit as I heard the tone in Dawn's voice. "He's one of the bravest people here." My heart snapped a bit more. I could practically feel it cracking in my chest. At least I'd had a chance to live a bit – even though I was only fifteen, I knew what it was like to run through the night, my feet slapping on tar as cool air hit my face. I knew what it was like to do a backflip into a swimming pool, or what it was like to go to a school dance or babysit someone ridiculous or jump out a second-story window or face detention–

Memories whirred inside of me, blurring together and bleeding into each other. Laughing with Fang, smearing chocolate in his hair. Saying goodbye to Dylan, fighting with Nudge.

It took me a second to realise that I wouldn't be doing anything like that any time soon, and David would have even fewer chances like that.

David looked about ten, maybe younger. Dawn had to be about seven or eight. You could see they were siblings, with the same big blue eyes and short blonde hair.

I started shaking – I didn't have tears to cry anymore, no-one did. Crying in here was a waste of time. Crying was for people with the time to realise the horrors of their world. I didn't have that luxury.

David was put into the cage below mine.

"Dawn?" I asked after a second. "Do you know a way to get out of here?" I asked. I might as well see how many people knew anything about escape.

Dawn shook her head slightly. I could probably get us out into the corridor, but the corridor and out are two very different things." She said. "There are a lot of obstacles."

"Dawn's your best bet," David said from below. "She's talented."

Dawn blushed. "You don't have to say that, Gazzy."

"She is," the voice from below insisted. "She can sense other people and what they're feeling," he replied. "She can see a whitecoat coming from a mile away."

"But they can't feel anything," Fang countered. I smiled a bit at the sound of his voice – since I'd seen him in the School, he was becoming more and more reclusive. "So I don't see that logic,"

Dawn chuckled darkly as I chewed the information. "Dawn, you can sense other people?" I asked.

"Yeah, it's some freak mutation," she replied. "It keeps on getting stronger."

"So you'll be a mind-reader pretty soon, eh?" David asked, gently teasing.

"I don't think so. It's too sci-fi."

"We're in a secret institution where they experiment on children. I don't think we can really call out anything on being too sci-fi at this point." I pointed out. "You've got wings on your back, in case you didn't notice."

Fang chuckled huskily at that. His voice really didn't sound good – I wondered how much he'd been using it since he had arrived in this hellhole.

Dawn scrunched up her face. "You'll have them soon, too." She said. "We're all part of one project, as far as I can tell."

…So that was their plan? Wings. I blinked in surprise. What was more pointless than that? I looked at Dawn's; they weren't too impressive. I mean, I'd get it if they were trying to make us into assassins or superheroes or whatever, but why being part bird?

We were stuck in a building with absolute maniacs.

"Why?" I spluttered, trying to keep my composure. Fang didn't seem too rattled by the information.

Dawn shrugged. "Don't get me wrong, I they'll probably be a lot bigger than what I have now. I saw a blueprint for Fang, his were about – what? Seventeen feet?"

I tried to picture Fang with pretty white wings several times bigger than Dawn's, which were about three feet from tip-to-tip, and I failed.

"I guess they want to get a good laugh before they send us to hell," I said, trying to use false cheer. "At least we'll have a totally ridiculous story to tell."

I could hear a smile in David's voice as he spoke. "Yeah, I guess we do have a crazy story for the future."

As I dozed off, a thought finally hit me. Where the hell was Iggy?

28. The Maze

A/N: Again, thanks to everyone – 900 reviews is just cray-cray! (Yes, I did just type that.)

So, who's seen the Hunger Games movie? I saw it yesterday (it only just came out in South Africa) and I was pretty impressed; some scenes were meh but overall, it was a pretty fly adaption. What about everyone else?

Chapter 27 – The Maze

The Iggy mystery was solved the next day; I heard a whitecoat mention that he had been in quarantine, apparently he'd picked up some virus. I literally bumped into him while running through a maze. We'd both been turning a corner and SMACK – I ended up with a faceful of Iggy's chest.

"Iggy!" I said, amazed to see him again. He looked terrible. His skin was pasty – not the soft, creamy white it used to be, but his veins were prominent. His hair was as short as mine – his pretty strawberry blond hair that fell just enough to cover his eyes was gone. Rings showed under his eyes, like smudges of bruise.

He smiled when he saw me. "Good to see you again, Max," he said. "But if we don't move, we'll get, I'll see you soon. Also, avoid the door on the North-East side."

I nodded in thanks. With a flash of a grim grin, he started jogging again, disappearing from my view. I sucked in my breath and turned another corner, nearly yelling out when I saw the floor layered in six-inch, needle-thin spikes. I killed my momentum before I could tip into the needle bed. I looked around the corridor, looking for something that would help me. A thin bar ran the length of the needle bed, next to the left wall.

I didn't have time to think about it – I edged my way along the thing, praying that I wouldn't fall down. If I did, I'd probably be spending several days on a metal table while doctors pulled spikes out of my side. Not a pleasant thought.

I made it across and carried on running, turning between points and trying my hardest not to slow down and show signs of weakness. I jumped over huge boxes taller than me, dodged projectiles; the works. The ultimate sin in this place was weakness. If you throw up, you get back on your feet. If you get shocked, you stay quiet. When they make you run until you're puffing and aching, you never ask for a break.

It was an unspoken rule amongst the experiments. The whitecoats seemed more likely to do the more lethal experiments on the ones that were more likely to die soon anyway. It's always good to know you're in safe hands, right? Don't forget that next time you go to the hospital. At least you know that you can leave, or say no to a procedure. Such luxuries you take for granted.

I turned another corner, seeing the very welcome bright lights. The whole maze was lit poorly, and they let a single shaft of light through to let the runner know that they finished the maze. It was the only time I was happy to the fluorescents.

"Shall we send it in again, sir?"

Ugh. No. Not again.

"I believe five-oh-eight has an appointment with the Melior line. Make sure it's rehydrated first, though. Oakland always throws a fit when the experiments aren't in best form."

Dread grew in my stomach. The Melior line was the more official term for the Erasers. An appointment with them either meant that I was going to be shredded alive or I'd have to fight my way out of something pretty grueling.

I didn't fight as someone injected a clear liquid into my arm. It was probably to replace some chemical I lost or something like that. Might as well be in tip top shape for whatever was going to be thrown at me. After a couple of minutes – or maybe it was ten? – someone handed me a water bottle. I drank the water gratefully, still catching my breath. I was sitting in a corner, being as unobtrusive as possible. No point in having someone kick me, now was there?

The water tasted strange. It probably was laced with vitamins...or drugs, most likely. Either way, by the time I was done drinking, my muscles felt stronger and less pained, my breathing more even. My heart started to clear.

Someone took me by the back of my gown and pulled me upright. I straightened myself up, wobbling a bit on my feet. "Oakhill is going to be so pissed when he sees the state it's in."

"Oakhill will just have to suck it up. We have our own jobs to do, too."

"It is a she, okay?" I snapped. "And if Oakhill has a problem with me, I'll just show him in what working order I'm in."

One sneered at me. "He's the one that's going to make you into masterpieces. Be grateful. Millions of people would literally kill to be in yoru position"

"For being put through a maze against my own will, being electroshocked every time I do something wrong, and having people operate on me daily? Oh yeah, I can barely contain my gratitude." I said, my anger bubbling in me. I stared at the whitecoats, waiting for one to retaliate. "And I'd be happy to give up this position for someone else."

"Room fifty-eight," one said after a moment. "Move."

After a couple of minutes of being led (read: dragged) down corridors, I was in front of room fifty-eight. I had a tough time figuring out the architecture of the School, seeing as I almost never saw windows. There were several long, gently curving passages, lined with doors on each side, and the only way to move between the hallways was to move through the rooms, which all had two doors on either side.

Room fifty-eight was a change from what I was used to seeing at the School. Instead of tables lined with whatever hells the place had to offer, there was a springy mat stretching from one side of the room to the other. A moment later, Fang entered through a door on the opposite side of the room.

"Hey," I said. "Fancy meeting you here." I couldn't help but feel some hope bloom in me when I saw him, my heart thudded just a bit. We'd kissed. No, we made out.

Fang nodded at me. "What a coincidence," he said pleasantly. As if we were chatting in a supermarket, talking about the weather. "It seems that I hardly ever see you these days."

"Yes, my schedule has been hectic," I said truthfully. "Getting maimed here, illegal surgery there... Just so many activities filling up my day."

Fang smiled faintly, looking gloomy. "I seem to spend a lot of time being held against my will," he said. "Some bastards keep on making me run mazes and shove me into a cage. Small world, eh?"

"We certainly have been busy, haven't we?" I replied. I knew someone had to be listening to our conversation. Like we'd ever be left alone.

Fang stayed on his side of the room, and for a moment I felt a bit hurt. Was I too vile now to even approach? Was staying away from me part of his revelations he made since we got here? Of course, I didn't call him out on it. Why would I let anyone know there's trouble in lovers' paradise?

"So, Max, what do you think we're doing here?" he asked.

I shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine," I said truthfully.

"Well, my guess is that they're hoping that if they leave two experiments together and alone for long enough, they'll be tempted to try out procreation."

It was good to see that Fang hadn't lost his sense of humour. "And do you want to prove them right?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Well, do you have better ideas to entertain ourselves?"

"Scrabble?" I suggested. "I spy with my little eye is also a timeless classic. We'd probably keep going for three rounds here." I looked pointedly around at the sparseness of the room.

Fang leaned against the wall behind him, wincing slightly. It was barely a twitch of the eye, but I caught it. I crossed the room, feeling naked and exposed, like anything could kill me on the way between the two sides of the room. I slid down next to him, so that we sat side-by-side.

"What do you think the delay is?" he asked.

"They're probably either observing the way we interact with each other, or Iggy uncovered the stash of explosives."

Fang nodded. "Have you seen Iggy yet?"

I nodded. "I saw him this morning, in the maze." I frowned for a second, thinking harder. "Maybe it was this afternoon."

Fang nodded in understanding. Keeping track of time and knowing what happened when was getting increasingly difficult, since we had no natural light. Maybe we just stopped caring. I could see that Fang wanted to say something more. He bit back on his sentence and started with a different train of thought. "I heard Iggy's going in for some pretty serious surgery at the end of the week."

"Eye operation, I think." I replied, looking around the room again. I spotted the black glossy plastic that indicated a camera. I stared at it for a second or two, just letting whoever was watching know that I knew that they were there. Watching me watch them.

I could feel Fang's body heat radiating off him. I reveled in it, wanting to get closer and put my arms around his body, pressing him closer to me so that I knew I had something to hang onto. Of course, I didn't. I didn't dare my rest my head on his shoulder while there were other people watching us, taking down notes of how we interacted. I knew that Fang valued his privacy above most things, and displaying any affection to him here would be something that he hated.

For a moment, Fang's hand reached out towards mine. A second later, it was settled back onto his lap again, wringing the two together. Giving himself something else to focus on. "I was there, you know." He said.

"When?" I asked, letting some confusion creep into my voice.

"The day you...arrived. Your first operation."

I let his implication seep in. Suddenly I felt dirty and exposed. I crossed my arms over my chest automatically, hugging myself. "Sorry you had to see that," I said honestly.

He shrugged. Again, I could see unspoken words dancing in his eyes. He glanced at me, trying to silently communicate. It was his own apology, I think. Him saying sorry for this situation where we in. That we were sitting against a wall wearing paper while people took notes of everything we did.

Fang had seen me naked, I realised.

A month ago – wait, how long had I been away from home? A week? Three? – I would've totally freaked out at the idea, feeling violated and grossed out and disgusted beyond belief. Now, however, I could only just accept that. It was part of being an experiment. A naked body is a just someone without their clothes on, someone that is either being washed or undergoing a messy procedure. Sex and the pathetic state of people here just couldn't be put together here.

I still couldn't hide the slight blush that crept into my cheeks. If it had been anyone else, I guess I could've taken it in my stride. But Fang was another matter entirely. I'd touched him, kissed and held him. I couldn't take that back. It was just so different.

"They let me leave shortly after, though," he tried to reassure me.

I nodded numbly. What else could I say? It's cool, we're both pretty much on our way to grisly deaths, does it really matter about whose junk we might see?

We sat in silence for a bit, enjoying each other's company, knowing that these kind of moments would be rare. There was something steadily reassuring about being with Fang. Maybe it was because this was the first real peace I had since I had gotten here – how many days has it been, anyway? Two weeks? Three days?

I really didn't know. It was something scary, let me tell you, not knowing things like that. I sat in contemplation for a bit, wondering how long it would take me to die.

After a couple of minutes, the door finally opened, and three Erasers stepped in.

"I dibs the girl," one said, before starting to morph.

A/N2: If you're looking for a beta for your Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games or original fiction, I highly recommend that you check out Project Team Beta. (projectteambeta(dot)com) like, it's absolutely awesome. It's an amazing place and the betas there are the shizzz.

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29. The Proposition

Chapter 28 The Proposition

Look, I don't want to go too in-detail about what happened with those Erasers, but a summary is this: I gave one a good, solid kick. Then it pawed right back at my head and I was knocked out.

I'm not kidding. The great, indestructible May-Alex Ride was knocked out from a fight in one, giant, anticlimatic blow. Not my finest moment.

When I woke up, I had a blinding headache and Fang grinned impishly at me. I shot him a dirty look from my cage. "Not funny, Novia."

He couldn't help but grin openly. "You'll appreciate the humour in this in a few days' time," he replied, sounding amused. "Don't worry, I won't tell." Lies.

"Um," Dawn cut in. "Max, Iggy went in for eye-surgery this morning."

I frowned slightly. Our eyesight was well above average, they'd done plenty of tests on our sense already. What would they want to improve?

"Night vision," Dawn added hastily. "That's the plan."

I couldn't help but feel a very sudden pang in my chest.

When we saw his bandages covering his eyes, I couldn't help but wince at them. Iggy's shoulders were drooped and he kept his head down. "Ugh, it feels like I had needles stuck into my eyes," he said, annoyed.

"Well, you probably did," I said, realising a second too late that it probably wasn't my best consolation. "I'm sure you'll be fine."

"Are you alright?" Dawn asked. In the School, "all right" was an entirely relative term. Most of the time when someone asked you if you were okay, the question meant if you had any recent surgeries. If someone said they weren't all right, it either meant they were in serious pain about to die. 'Fine' was used to describe someone who hadn't had any major problems at all.

"I'm fine," Iggy reassured. "Apparently they wanted to fix my one blind eye and hopefully improve my night vision, he said. If the surgery is successful, the rest of you will probably get it done too."

Great. Needles and lasers in my eyes. "Any pain?" I asked.

"A bit of tingling," he said. Nothing too bad. "Maybe I'm just too souped on meds to really know any more."

I nodded thoughtfully. In the past few days, it became apparent that Fang, Iggy, Dawn, David and I were part of a unit. We usually had the same procedures done and went through the same experiments, them only varying according to our ages.

"You nervous about getting super-vision?" I asked, trying to keep the conversation light and casual.

Iggy shook his head. "Nervous about what could happen if I don't get super-vision," he replied. Iggy definitely wasn't one to sugarcoat things.

Of course, it was one of the constant fears of living here. An experiment gone wrong could be worse than an experiment or surgery done correctly. As long as we were successes, we knew that the whitecoats would do anything to keep us alive. If we somehow failed, we'd either die a slow and painful death from starvation or whatever our malfunction was or we'd be used for the very risky surgeries.

Either way, being a success was the better fate. Not by much, but at least we knew that we had some people fighting to keep us alive, which was a lot more than most experiments could say. Being a failure meant a slow and painful death.

"When are the bandages coming off?" I asked in the lull of conversation.

"Next week," he replied.

The end of the week came sooner than I thought, or maybe they had decided to remove Iggy's a few days early. Whenever it was, a whitecoat came into our holding area in the morning as one of the employees were doing the rounds, and let Iggy out of his cage.

Since his bandages were placed, he had been allocated to the first storey of the cages. He crawled out carefully, not hurting himself of any of the cage bars.

The whitecoat started unwrapping the bandages carefully while Iggy stood still. He got jittery as the white layers started pooling in the scientist's hands, and were eventually completely removed.

"Open your eyes," the whitecoat instructed.

Iggy did. Even from where I was, I could see that they were unfocused. A pit started to form in my stomach, and I knew what was coming.

"What do you see?"

Iggy looked around. "Nothing," he said, his voice hollow.

My heart dropped into my stomach, into that awful pit.

Ohno, ohnononono.

"Are the lights turned off or something?" he asked with a shred of hope, even though he knew what the answer would be.

"...No," the whitecoat said. Was that a twinge of pity I heard? "The room is fine."

"Oh," was all Iggy could say. That was his response to losing his primary sense, losing a world of colour and light and shades and shapes. So many things that defined the world, gone. Iggy was lost in a blur of black sounds and colourless objects.

I hated these people even more. I lost a bit of me when Iggy lost his eyes, and I knew neither of us would get that back.

That night, he let out a single, choked sob and I heard his heart break. And the next day, I could see the physical change, his new outer, hardened shell.

Time passed. It always does. Maybe a month passed; maybe more. The amount of operations I had jumped up into the high end of the double digits, and my aches and pains were become more and more severe. Some days crawling out of my cage was a mission, my spine hurting too much to barely keep a jogging pace.

I wasn't the only one that was struggling. The others had similar problems. By the time I woke up from a particularly long surgery and found two, small wings grafted onto my back, I was hardly surprised. I was so drugged that I took them in with a raw acceptance, feeling better balanced than I had in a long time. They were surprisingly easy to get used to; it felt as if they belonged on my back, as if resettling on me after a long time apart.

Then there was a new arrival to our merry band of mutants. I nearly fell over from shock as she walked into our holding area, bound at the wrists. She had cuts up and down her arms and was snarling at her captor, looking spectacular pissed off.


When she saw me, she brightened up a fraction. "I knew you'd be here," she said, as if commenting on the weather. Once she was put into her cage (clipping an Eraser with a pretty nasty right hook; I've never been so proud) she started to talk at her usual speed.

"It was too much of a coincidence that I would be kidnapped by someone totally unrelated to you and Iggy and Fang," she said, acting as if we were having a a family reunion. "Everyone at home was worried sick about you, and all these kids that are disappearing, and wow, you look really skinny. Which I get, seeing that it's been three months since you've been gone - "

"Wait," I said. "Three months?"

Nudge nodded. "New Years' was ages ago."

My body felt shaky. How could so much time have passed? I'd missed three months of my life in here, and I'd barely noticed. Dread trickled into my stomach when I thought of Nudge being here and Iggy being blind and how Fang seemed to never say anything any more.

"Whoa," Nudge said, noticing the tiny, foot-long wings on my back. "They grafted wings onto you!"

I retracted my wings slightly. My muscle movement was hardly controlled and smooth at the moment, unfortunately. I still had a long way to go before they were anything near usable. I was jerky and shaky with them, the muscles still being tuned.

"That's kinda cool," she said. "Do you think they'll do the same to me?"

"Probably," I answered honestly. "But it's not going to be pleasant, trust me."

"Max," she said in mock-seriousness. "They cut off almost all my hair. I think I can handle some operations."

I smiled at Nudge's joke, she was always the one to grit her teeth and deal with things. Trust her to be more phased by losing her hair than being trapped in a top secret organisation that experimented on children. I knew she was just trying to not be scared, but I could tell by her anxious tapping and the way that she chewed her lip that she was really terrified.

"Nudge," I said, my voice soft. "We'll be fine. We'll figure a way to get out of here."

She smiled at me from her cage, just next to Fang's. He was out like a light; I didn't bother waking him up after all those drugs he'd been forced to take. "Thanks, Max."

I could tell she didn't believe me. But that wasn't the point. We were strong.

Three months. That would mean that it was sometime in February. I thought about the implications; I'd missed Christmas, and probably all my friends were gossiping about the sudden spike in missing children. I wondered how many kids Itex stole a year. Did they just pick up homeless kids from the streets or foster homes?

The idea chilled me. So much crime could be committed without anyone ever knowing I could die today or tomorrow or in a week's time, and no-one apart from the five other people here with me would ever be any wiser. There would be no funeral for me, no news stories about children that got experimented on. If this branch of Itex was discovered, I would disappear into a percentage of estimated deaths. I'd be faceless and forgotten.

For the first time since I arrived in the School, I felt a bone-numbing fear. Dying wasn't the worst thing that could happen, but the idea of no-one knowing of what happened to me and the other experiments terrified me more than any experiment or needle. The blood shed would be blood wasted, and I couldn't bear the idea of my life boiling down to '508 reacted badly to medicine line 38DL. Terminated.'

Maybe people remembered me back home, but that was still finite. My school mates would forget about my disappearance and live on their lives, having their own kids. Maybe they'd remember us at a reunion, or when another story of missing children flashed across the news. My mom and dad would probably be the only ones permanently affected, and even they were young enough to maybe have a kid of their own and live a real life.

If we never left this place, this is where we would be completely forgotten and discarded. Just left to be a name in a newspaper archive and a couple of numbers on a lab report.

Statistics and articles. Numbers and letters on white pages, just cold facts.

I curled up in my cage, trying to get comfortable. Since the new grafting, it was practically impossible. I had to sleep on my side with my knees tucked up to my chest, my shins pressed onto the front bars of the cage, giving my wings enough room to not hurt.

I sighed, thinking about my wings. I'd known they were coming for a long time, and having them felt oddly natural, like a perfectly normal extension of me, like a leg or a hand. At this point, so little surprised me that wings were just a common fixture.

Time passed. I'm not sure how much of it trickled by, I really don't. I think it was few months, maybe.

I'll spare you the gory detail about the rest of my surgeries, or my simulated tests with Erasers. My wings grew painfully and quickly, often the bones too fast for the muscle. They were huge. And painful. For the first few weeks after I had them, I could barely move my spine without feeling the muscles tense and all I wanted to do was just sob in a corner while someone injected me with morphine.

Days blurred together. Sometimes I'd be totally surprised when I was thrown into a cage for the night; because I had been expecting it to be only mid afternoon. It started becoming easier and easier to disconnect myself from experiments soon there was a different Max; a more feral, wild and crazy one, that would be living through experiments. I'd only really return when I was talking to someone else. For the most part, I was lost.

I fought Erasers in a courtyard. I had been burned severely up and down my arms. I'd been stitched, bruised, burned, and broken. My body just seemed to bounce back from all the injuries, which delighted the scientists. So did pretty much everything I did, including fighting back or running until I vomited. No matter what I did, I was still their plaything.

The worst thing were my conversations with one of the whitecoats, Jeb Batchelder. I hated him. He was so patient and understanding, listening to me intently. His eyes were kind, which made me loathe him even more. He was a whitecoat, dammit, he was supposed to be a bastard. I hated that he worked in this place but was still sort of human.

It was on one of these visits that Jeb looked particularly worried. He smoothed down his brown hair flecked with white, sighing.

"Max,he said, a statement. The beginning of something important.

"Don't call me Max," I said automatically. "That's reserved for friends."

He ignored me. "Well, I have a proposition to make. How do you feel escaping, five-oh-eight?"

30. The Choice

Chapter 29: The Choice

I tried not to suck in my breath too loudly. I kept calm, not letting my hopes rise by a fraction.

"I'm not leaving without the others," I said, crossing my arms. "If you want this favour done, it's all or none."

Jeb smiled. "Of course. I wouldn't assume that you'd leave this place without your friends." The way he said 'friends' grated against me. It was like he was talking about a bunch of preschoolers, not survivors.

"What do you want in return?" I asked. This was going to be the catch something vitally important, probably something impossible too, like taking tweens seriously when they talk about relationships or something.

Jeb looked down at the table, his side littered with pieces of paper and bits of information. Numbers and charts were scattered everywhere, as long as pages just full with text and jotted down notes. He sighed, aging suddenly.

He had the same look as my mom had the last time I saw her tired beyond belief. Worry was written into his every crevice.

"Do you know my son, Ari?"

I nodded cautiously I'd seen him a few times around the School, usually in the less violent places; the admin areas. He was nine, only a year older than Dawn. I hadn't known that he was Jeb's son, and I hadn't exactly taken note of him either. He had talked to me once or twice, but he was hardly important.

"I want you take him with you." He said.

I nodded cautiously, not trying to get my hopes up but I couldn't help but feel the tiniest bit of it spread inside of me. It was a strange feeling, not one I'd felt in a long, long time. I'd learned that at the School, hope was something deadly and dangerous. Having it was great, but the crushing feeling of despair made it worse when hope was lost.


"Itex wants to experiment on him," he deadpanned.

Ouch. "And you can't bear to see your son go through a process as painful as mine was?" I asked, still not trusting him. "How tragic."

Jeb's eyebrows raised. "You're a success, you know that. The procedure they want to perform on him only has a twenty two percent survival rate. I'm not letting that happen to him."

"Why don't you just refuse? Or quit?"

Jeb smiled ruefully. "I thought you of all people would know how this place functions. There's now way to walk out of here. If you want to get out, you need more balls than a preschool playground, and one hell of a lot of skill."

I smiled wryly. "Let me guess. You've got the skills to get him out of here, but you need someone with the balls?"

"I'm glad there are no misunderstandings," he replied, a true smile forming on his lips.

"When will all this happen?"

Jeb shrugged. "I'm guessing a month, give or take. You need to heal properly from all your surgeries, as well as memorise a lot of building plans and I need to talk to the rest of your sector. Don't tell the others about this, though they are monitoring your room. It took one hell of a lot of manipulating to make me the only one hearing what goes on in this room, you know.""

I raised an eyebrow. We'd have to stage an escape without talking about to each other. Seems doable.

"Glad to know that the demons running this place trust you so much." I said dryly, getting to my feet.

"Good day, May-Alex."

"Good day, Batchelder. I don't think want you to burn in hell as much any more."

"I'm beginning to wonder if you could just sweet-talk your way out of here," he replied, without looking up from his forms.

I left the room, where there was an Eraser standing on the other side. He shoved me forward the moment I was in front of him, and I snarled back.

In that second, I felt joy bloom in my chest again. I wanted to twirl like a ballerina, leap through the air, hug Dawn, kiss the sky.

We were going to get out.

We were going to get out of here.

The next week passed by painfully slowly. I wanted to yell at Dawn that she could cheer up, since by the end of the month we'd probably be with our families again. I wanted to yell it to Iggy. I wanted to squeeze Fang's hand and tell him that everything would be okay.

Of course, I didn't. I knew that if I told them, the plan would be dead before it could be put in action. I became on hyper-alert, trying to figure out the exact layout of the School. I tried not to grin at any whitecoats, I tried not to spit in an Eraser's face.

Observational experiments became much easier too. I knew the end was somewhere in sight, so everything became so much more bearable.

Soon, it was my time to go through a windtunnel. The whitecoats on the other side of the glass were chatting excitedly amongst themselves. If I could fly, I'd be one step closer to freedom.

I stared down the tunnel, seeing the fan roar to life. I didn't really stop to think too much, I let my wings catch air and


I grinned to myself as I put two feet of space between me and the ground, smiling triumphantly. It was the most amazing feeling in the world, being suspended by my wings. I readjusted one slightly


I rubbed my ankle slightly. I had landed awkwardly, stretching some tendons uncomfortably. I got back onto my feet and the fan started up again. I must've spent two hours or more in that tunnel, flying and falling and flying again. It was amazing, but I knew this wasn't really flying. That would only happen on the outside.

My the time the session was over, my wings were aching, but I felt great. I had flown – and I was the first semi-human to do so. My dreams that night were filled with ideas of me jumping off skyscrapers and sailing off into the blue, freeer than any bird.

As always, waking up stung like hell.

"Ah, I heard about your flight," Jeb said the next time I saw him. "Reddy was delighted with the results."

"That's my aim, to make sure the whitecoats are happy," I said as I sat down in my usual wooden seat. I hope he could hear the sarcasm in my voice.

Jeb pushed a piece of paper towards me. It was a floor-plan of the School, I realised. It was built in bizarre way there were five parallel hallways on each floor, separated by a row of rooms, numbered at random. The highest one had to be a hundred. The shape of the actual building was kidney-shaped, slightly curving. At each end, there were two large rooms marked as Admin areas. The only way to get from one hallway to another was either through the rooms or through the administration areas.

"Well, this explains why it's so hard to rememeber where things are," I said. "The passages are all identical, and the number system is completely random. It's designed to mindfuck."

Jeb nodded. "It makes it more difficult for experiments to escape."

"So," I said, looking at the design. "Which window do we jump out of?"

Jeb laughed. "If you jump out of any of these windows, you'll be shot out of the sky before you can even flip off anyone."

"What's the plan, then?"

"You're going to sneak out right through the building. Of course, it's going to be pretty tough. You're the most well-monitored experiments in this building, everyone knows your faces."

"You're not very good at this whole 'reassuring thing', you know."

"I'm a realist."


"Anyway," he continued, "you do know that the School is on the top floor, correct?"

"Um, no." I replied honestly. "How many floors are there?"

"Five," he said. "The first four are purely administration things. Also a greeting card area, I believe Most of it is part of Itex's completely legal sector," he said, sounding bitter. "Hardly any one working in the lower floors even know that the fifth floor holds experiments. Most people assume it's just a giant corporate attic or drug processing factory. Everyone is paid not to ask questions or talk to any authorities."

I tried to process the information. I'd always just assumed that the School was only one floor; I'd never been near any windows to know otherwise. The idea that there were a bunch of bored office workers chilling near around a water cooler while there were children dying over their heads ever second of every day just boggled my mind. Did no-one hear the screams of experiments or the cries? Or did no-one ever bother to listen?

"I don't believe this," I said, running a hand through my unsettingly short and grimy hair. "This whole time I thought this place was completely isolated from society, and you're telling me that there are a bunch of eight-to-five workers downstairs?"

Jeb nodded solemly. "We're only ten minutes out of town." He said. "They got away with building a complex so far off due to a bunch of legal reasons and money," he said.

"So," I said. "Ten minutes, okay. I think I can jog that."

Jeb shook his head. "You won't be staying there. There'll be a rent-out to use."

I sighed. "Let's start at the beginning?"

Jeb smiled again. "The first obstacle is naturally, your cage."

"They're not that hard to pop open," I replied. "If you want to get out between five AM to ten PM," I pointed out. "They're completely locked down during the night."

Jeb nodded. "I'll arrange a window period at about two-thirty between shifts for a window period when no-one is on observation. You'll have about half-an-hour before an alarm is sounded, so you'll have to move fast."

"Great," I said. "But then how do we get out the door? It's password-protected."

Jeb shrugged, a movement that looked bizarre on his usually composed and formal body. "I'll get the password, they're not that hard to get hold of. They're more often used to keep employees without a high enough ranking to get in and out of certain rooms. Not that many experiments are smart enough to figure it out."

"Hey," I said, offended. "Experiments are plenty smart. They're just as human as you."

Jeb sighed. "It's not that they're stupid, it's just that they don't know about the concept. It's not half as traumatic for you to live in here, since you know that when you get injected, they're putting some medicine into your system, or that whitecoats are just employees. You know that when they test how far you run, it's just that a test. For the kids that have lived in here since birth, it's a completely different world. They don't understand why people in white coats are stabbing them, or cutting them open. In their world, whitecoats are sadistic gods."

"It doesn't make it any more right," I snarled. "Innocent children are dying all the time in here because you want to see what happens when you inject embryos with things that aren't even human!'

Jeb blinked at my outburst. "I know," he replied. "But just be grateful you didn't grow up in this place. You spent your developmental years in a healthy environment; your personality and understanding of the world would've been extremely warped if you grew up here."

"Thanks for the life-lesson," I said, trying to push down a pang of pity I felt for the younger experiiments. "So we can get out the door. We'll need to get a bit further than that if we want this plan to work."

Jeb grinned. "How are your acting skills, Max?"

31. The Start

Chapter 30 - The Start

"My acting is abysmal," I responded honestly.

"Well, you'll have to get by, then. You're going to dress up as whitecoats." His voice was anxious – there were too many things that could go wrong with this plan, already. Any plan that needed me to act was probably going to go wrong somehow. But I could compensate with some ass-kicking, so hopefully things would balane out.

I had to surpress a grin. "Really, I'd think you'd know better than that, Batchelder. We're a pretty distinctive bunch – especially the younger kids. No way we could bullshit our way out this," I said, trying to keep the laughter out of my voice.

Jeb sighed. "This floor alone has more than four-hundred employees. You, Marco and Cameron could easily pass off for interns," he pointed out.

"Yeah, maybe," I conceded. "But what about the people that work with us regularly? They'll definitely know who we are."

Jeb smiled. "They know as you the kids in white dresses. Add a wig to hide most of your hair and some make up to make you look not as pasty and sick as you are, and most people won't look twice at you. Also, most people working on the night shift have never even entered most of the storage rooms. If you wheel out the younger three, you could get out of here successfully."

I frowned. "That seems a bit too easy, doesn't it?"

Jeb smiled slightly. "Of course it does. This place is designed to stop experiments from escaping, not preventing employees to help them get out."

I sighed. "I dunno. Something's going to go wrong, I can feel it."

"Well, Max, you have two choices. You can either do this, or you can stay in here until you either die or maybe get written off as a failure, if you're lucky."

"Well, that doesn't leave us many options, does it?"

"We wouldn't be here in the first place if we'd been given choices," Jeb replied gravely. "Do you think my original life goal was to analyze the mental state of children been brutally experimented on?"

"What was your first one, then?"

"To have a happy family."

I winced. So this is why he was fighting so hard for Ari. He wanted to prevent horrors, which was perfectly understandable. I just wanted to get away from them.

"What happens to the rest of the experiments?" I asked. "I don't think I'd feel right just leaving them in their cages."

"You can go public when you leave. This whole place will be put under scrutiny."

"Collapsing multi-billon dollar companies," I said, wringing my hands together. "I like it."

"I thought you might," he said, grinning slightly. "It's more of your style than just getting the hell out of here."

Fang hated the School in the same way that he hated the people running it – he never knew he could feel so much loathing and despise for anything before he came here. His heart's capacity to detest to this depth surprised him, but he reveled in it. He loved the feeling of wanting to tear the place down brick by brick, cage bar by cage bar.

He wanted to see the pain in the experiment's eyes mirrored in those of the whitecoats. He wanted to destroy, he wanted to kill.

Of course, he didn't tell anyone that. Not like they had any privacy any way. The few small moments he could keep to himself, were valuable The moments when he could curl up in his cage, totally unseen by the whitecoats. The murderous thoughts that stayed firmly in his mind. Nothing of his body was a secret to anyone any more. The people knew everything from his genetic make up to how fast his heart beat to how many freckles he had on his legs.

So he kept what he could to himself. His thoughts. Feelings. The small movements of his hands wringing themselves together in the moments when no-one was watching him. Those things were his and his alone, and he didn't want to change it.

That's what he hated about visiting Jeb Batchelder. He was trying to pick his brain of every thought he had, and then try to figure out Fang's next thoughts on that. Fang hated the invasion Jeb posed, so he tried to say as little as possible to the aging man.

"Good afternoon, Marco."

And always so polite. Fang hated people that were needlessly formal. If you hated someone, what was the point of formality?

Fang didn't respond.

"Fair enough," Jeb said. "Today I'd like to discuss something a bit different with you."

"I'm not going to tell you which drapes would look better in the operational room, but Fuchsia was pretty popular this season," he replied.

Jeb made a note on one of his pages and Fang tried not let his irritation show.

"We're going to try that again." He said. "I have already discussed this with Max, but don't ask her for details. It'll ruin the whole plan."

A plan? It already sounded ridiculous. But Fang perked up slightly at the mention of Max's name, wondering what she agreed to.

"I have a proposition for you," Jeb went on. "It's dangerous, but hopefully worth the risk."

"If you want me to try Max's cooking, I'm going to have to say no."

Jeb looked irritated for a moment. "No, what I was actually going to propose would be a lot more beneficial. Marco, do you want to leave the School?"

The next time I saw Fang was when I was heading to the drug room and he was walking in the opposite direction, looking determined and thoughtful. Probably headed off to the fight room.

I caught his eyes when we were about fifteen feet apart, on the opposite sides of the hallway.

He raised his eyebrow and the slightest movement, hardly visible. He gave a barely noticeable nod towards me, as we acknowledging my presence, one experiment to another.

Of course, I knew it wasn't that. Jeb had told him.

I grinned darkly back at him, looking pleased. He crinkled his eyes slightly, and I realised it was the most emotion I'd seen from him in the past few weeks. He was slipping further and further away the longer we stayed here, and I was getting increasingly worried. I wanted to collapse from the relief of seeing some kind of emotion on his face.

The Eraser guarding me turned abruptly at room twenty four. I was pushed into the room before Fang passed me in the hallway.

I tried not to smile to myself as I was handed pills to drink and had who-knows-what injected into my bloodstream. As always, I began to feel dizzy as the drugs took effect. It didn't bother me as much as it used to – I knew this was one of the last times it would happen.

Well, I hoped it would be. And that was enough for now.

The next night, we were settling into our cages. It was weird how oddly comforting they became – they were the only place that we could be alone, the place where we could rest. It was definitely not the same standard as say, a bed or something, but it was our only reprieve from everything else.

"Max?" Nudge asked as she readjusted in her cage, her voice coming in from somewhere down below.

"Yeah, sweetie?" I replied, trying to keep my voice smooth. I hadn't used it for pretty much the past two days, so it was pretty croaky. Nudge was the only one who kept her voice in full working order. The rest of us usually went several hours to maybe a couple of days between speaking. We treated our words like valuable commodities, not something to be wasted.

"I'm in."

I smiled to myself. " That's great."

"What's going on?" Dawn asked sleepily.

"Nothing, Angel," David replied. He had started calling her Angel since she got her wings. It was fitting for her; with her big blue eyes and her blonde hair. She did look almost cherubian, if it wasn't for the purple colourings under her eyes as well as her various scrapes and cuts.

But we all looked like that, I guess. Like mythical beings in frail night gowns and trapped in cages. Just a product of human curiousity, nothing more.

"Yeah, Max. Me too," Iggy said before fidgeting in his tiny space. Being the lankiest of us all, he had the roughest time getting comfortable.

I grinned again.

"What's going on?" David asked.

"You'll find out soon enough,"I said reassuringly. "Don't worry too much about it."

David sighed slightly. "Whatever," he replied.

"Max?" Dawn asked after a few seconds. "D'ya reckon we'll ever fly, you know, outside?"

"Of course we will," I said, trying to use my parent voice. "We'll all fly together in the sky, and it'll be awesome. All six of us; the only birdkids in the entire world!" I tried to add cheer to what I said, and failing only a little bit. Hopefully Dawn didn't hear it. Fang shot me a glance, surprised at my optimism.

"You don't have to be so optimism for me, Max." Dawn said quietly.

"She's being a realistic," Iggy replied. "You'll see."

I wanted to explain to Dawn so badly what was going on, but I knew I had to be patient. There was no point in telling her to make Dawn feel better about the whole situation, and get caught talking about the plans. Staying quiet was more difficult, but far better in the long run.

"'Night, everyone." I said tiredly, rolling over onto my side.

"Night, Max," Nudge said, sounding equally exhausted. I fell into the type of sleep I had become used to – a restless type of unconsciousness that didn't leave me feeling much better in the morning than what it did before I rested.

It was a couple of weeks later that the plan finally came into action. I won't tell you too much about it yet – you'll see in a moment about how it panned out.

"Good afternoon, Max," Jeb said as I walked into his room.

"Afternoon." I replied shortly.

"How are you feeling about your last day within the School?"

I smiled, one of the first few genuine ones I've had since I came to this place. "Not too bad, truth be told," I said. "Got half my arm shredded by an angry Eraser, so I put a dent in its face," I said as I lifted my arm, showing him the bandages. "I'll be healed by next week."

I saw a tinge of the admiration I saw in whitecoat's eyes, when they marveled their own genius. "Such a quick healing rate? That's impressive."

"Impressive is what I was designed for," I said, letting the wings on my back twitch and open about a foot, before closing them again. No point in stretching them out fully in such a tiny place.

"Right,' Jeb said. "Are you ready? You know the plan back to front?"

"Yup," I said. "Better than I know my own initials."

"I am not sure if that was meant to be reassuring or worrying, Max." Jeb said, smiling slightly.

"Have some faith in me," I said, pretending to be a offended. Jeb and I had become sort of friends in these last few weeks with our planning. We had similar senses of humour, which was good. I guess I kind of trusted him, even though the only reason he was busting me out was for the sake of his own son. His dedication to this project came out of a place of love, even if it wasn't love for any of the flock.

We went over the plan one more time before I left, Jeb making a bunch of pseudo notes about my current behavior, probably telling about how my moods were increasing or something. It didn't really matter what he wrote, since I would soon be gone.

That night, I couldn't sleep. Jeb had advised us to, even though all our nerves were running too high. The worst thing is that none of us could talk about it at all. We could barely exchange glances in the dark.

The plan was set to be launched at two AM, the School's official low-time. It was ideal, since we probably wouldn't bump into anyone that was staying up late, or people that got to the School early. The only people that would be around were those on shift, and they would probably not recognise us as experiments anyway.

At what had to be two AM on the dot, I heard a strange, small clicking sound coming from the lock of my cage. I jumped towards it and twisted my hand to the front, typing in the numbers. I grinned as the cage popped open, and jumped down the ground.

I landed on my haunches, nearly completely silent. I'd fanned out my wings a fraction or two to slow down the descent the tiniest bit.

A couple of seconds later, I heard the faint thumps of five other people landing next to me.

"Let's go."

32. The Fakes

Chapter 30 – The Fakes

Our room was faintly illuminated from the window above the doorway, giving us barely enough light to see. I immediately saw the cart that had been placed in one of the corners, with a thin cloth stretched over it that ran down both sides, leaving about three inches between it and the floor.

I could feel the other experiments watching us, one rasping particularly loudly.

I looked at David and tapped the back of my hand twice, then pointing at the cart. He immediately took Iggy's hand and indicated towards Nudge. She nodded in response and they crept towards the cart, Iggy climbing under the cloth first. He dissappeared into it, and Nudge and David followed. I took the cart by its handles and pulled it towards the door, trying my hardest to keep my heart from pounding too hard.

Angel climbed in top of the cart, lying on the steel table. It was made for wheeling surgical patients around. Since the School wasn't too big on comfort, it didn't have a mattress like most self-respecting hospitals.

We'd decided that Angel was the best person to put on the mat. If someone caught us in the hallway, we could always pretend that Dawn had a fit, and needed medical attention. We couldn't explain away why we decided to put her on a cart, but it would buy us enough time to do something about whoever was asking. Angel was the cutest, so people would probably pity her the most if she was in distress.

Fang wheeled the cart to the door, and I crouched down so I was on the floor. I felt gingerly around the gap between the door and the floor, looking for some laminated plastic.

I grasped it desperately, but it slipped deeper under the door.

"Shit," I said. "Fang, get a needle or something that can fit under here."

He went to one of the tables as I fumbled uselessly.

"What's wrong, Max?" Dawn whispered as she sat up from her cart.

"Can't get the damned card," I said, frustrated. "First thing to go wrong."

"Don't be so negative," a voice from under the cart said. It was Iggy. "We're going to die quicker than you can complain."

"Wow, gee, thanks," I said as Fang came back with some kind of long pointy thing. I took it and put it gently into the door, sliding the card through to our side.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I took it in my hands, bringing it up into the light, showing the others proudly.

We were stealing from De-Ann Le Roux. I saw, emblazoned into the card. I swiped it through the security, holding my breath as it clicked open.

I eased the door open gently, waiting for something to explode, or perhaps sirens to go off. I held my breath until it was completely open, letting light stream in from outside.

Nothing happened. Our first taste of moderate freedom had come at no price to us. Where were the Erasers? The whitecoats? Shouldn't they be stopping us?

This was too easy, too straightforward.

I hesitated as I stepped into the well-lit hallway, blinking slightly as my eyes readjusted.

"Clear," I whispered. Fang rolled the cart into the hallway, and Angel bit her lip, lying on her side. She couldn't lie on her back any more; none of us could.

My heart raced in my chest as I tried my hardest to breathe normally, to be quiet. I padded silently across the cold tiles, something I'd been doing for who knows how long. The cart made too much of a noise when it rolled down the passageway. I wanted to scream or jump out of a window, not to all of this espionage stuff. This wasn't me.

"What are you doing?" A puzzled voice asked from behind us. I spun around to see a woman that had just walked into the hallway from one of the other rooms, looking confused. Her black hair hung down to her waist. Probably an intern.

I scrunched up my face as Angel began to tremble. "We don't know what's wrong with her," I said, knowing my story wouldn't quite add up. "She's in some kind of fit, and we need help."

The woman's face softened as she covered the twenty feet or so of distance between us, before abruptly stopping.

I nodded to Fang, being the one closest to her. He moved quicker than I thought her could, swiftly knocking her into the wall behind her, knocking her out cold. He grabbed her before he hit she ground.

"What to we do with her?" Angel asked.

"What's going on?" A voice from below the cart said. Nudge.

"An intern found us," I explained to the ones that couldn't see. "She's out cold, though. Geez, Fang, is that blood?" I asked, looking closer at woman. Dark liquid was beginning to dribble down her neck.

"She'll live," he said without much pity in his voice.

"That was overkill." I said angrily.

"Guys, calm down," Iggy hissed, out of sight. "If we start bickering now we're fucked."

"Don't swear in front of the kids," I said.

"They've seen a lot worse things," Iggy pointed out. "Let's just get moving."

I sighed and continued pushing the cart. Dawn was wringing her hands together, picking at the dirt under nails and chewing her lip.

We continued to move through the hallway, with Fang carrying the woman over his back, like a sack of potatoes.

"Fang," I hissed. "She might bleed onto the floor."

"So? It's not like they've never mopped up our own blood off the floor before."

"We might as paste some bright red arrows onto the floor to announce we've been here," I said, trying to stay patient. "Just keep her upright."

Fang said nothing but readjusted so that he was carrying her bridal-style. "Happy?" He asked.

"Let's keep moving," I said.

After a minute of baited breathing, we made it to room fifty-one; the storage closet. Hardly anyone used it, especially during the nights. There were a couple of cleaning supplies, and for a second I couldn't help but feel nostalgic about the last time I was in a closet.

I flicked on the light and wheeled the cart in, just barely having enough space. On one of the lower shelves, there was a small form sleeping.

I poked him gently. "Ari?" I whispered.

He stirred slightly as the others climbed off the cart, looking through a box marked with GREENDALE SUPPLIES.

"Honey," I said gently. "We must get going."

"Urgh," he mumbled, sitting up. He bumped his head against the top shelf and yelped, rubbing his head.

"Good, you're awake."

Ari looked around the room, dumbfounded, his dark brown hair falling into his eyes. He was a cute kid, with freckles dotting his nose and wide honest eyes. I tried to picture him as an Eraser or whatever the scientists wanted to transform into, and I couldn't.

"Are we going now?" He asked, sounding a bit scared.

"Yeah," I said. "You're going to have to stay awake for a while."

"Okay, I can do that," he said and blinked, looking at the rest of the flock. "Who are they?" He asked, frowning slighty.

I remembered that he was the only one he had talked to. "Fang, Iggy, David, Nudge and Dawn," I said. "They' me."

"Oh, okay." He replied, climbing down onto the floor. Fang through a plastic shopping bag in my direction, and I caught it automatically. I immediately unwrapped it to look at the clothes. Jeans, Converse rip-offs, and a shirt. Nothing that stood out too much. I pulled out the shirt and saw the neat scissor marks slicing through the back of it. I shrugged it on over my gown. It felt strangely heavy, but I guess I was just used to wearing something so inadequete.

In a few moment, we were fully dressed.

"What are we going to do with her?" Nudge asked, nodding towards the intern woman.

"Tie her up," I said. "She'll probably be found tomorrow morning some time."

"With what, exactly?" Fang asked, gazing pointedly at the room. "There's nothing here that we can use to tie her up with."

I looked around the room, searching for some kind of answer. I deflated slightly.

"Fine, we'll just lock the door from the outside. Someone will probably notice the key sticking out and see what's up." Well, at least, that's what I hoped for. I couldn't say that the results would be pretty if I was wrong.

The rest agreed to the plan. I grabbed the thing that looked like a huge photocopying machine, designed to hold a crapload of paper at one time. Jeb had it hallowed out somehow, giving us a new more viable escape plan than the whole trolley thing.

"Get in," Fang said, indicating to the rest. David and Dawn went first, then Iggy. I nodded at Ari, who was too sleepy to really complain.

I shut the the thing's door and Fang and I wheeled grabbed the two white coats at the bottom of the GREENDALE SUPPLIES box. We shrugged them on, Fang's being a bit tight around the shoulders. Overall, I was surprised with Jeb's ability to pick out clothes that fit well. I buttoned a couple of my buttons up, attaching a fake ID to the breast pocket. A wig and a light coating of base later made me look like any intern that got some sun on a regular basis.

In short, we looked passable. I told Fang to wipe the bit of blood that had dribbled onto his hand, and he did so. He was wearing a pretty realistic wig himself, several shades lighter than his own hair colour.

My wig was a dirty blonde one that came down just below my shoulders – only a bit longer than my hair used to before it was all cut off. It felt strange and alien to have hair tickling the back of my neck again. I scracthed at my wig for a moment before Fang told me to stop.

"We need to make this realistic, Max," he said quietly. "Look natural, dammit."

I composed myself, trying to look like a serious intern cruisin' the hallways in the early hours of the morning.

The photocopier cart was even louder than the previous one. With every squeak I jumped about a foot into the air. I was expecting someone to yell at me to stop or hold a gun to my brain or put a bullet through my chest.

The quiet was even scarier. At least if someone was pointing a gun at me, I'd know where there danger was coming from. The uncertainty made it so much worse; anything could pop at any moment from any direction. I hated not knowing, I hated the silence where danger was supposed to be.

Ten feet. Twenty. Pause to listen. Have a heart attack at the sound of something opening and closing. Thirty feet.

We finally made it to the end of the hallway, my pounding heart pretty much the only thing I could hear. My breathing was jagged and there were big bats flapping in my stomach.

Something was going to go wrong, I could feel it sloshing in my bones, running through my blood. Beating in my heart. Tingling on my skin.

The room at the end of the corridor was locked, of course. Fang tried it to just to be sure. Right where Jeb said it would be, there was a wad of gum stuck onto the floor, bright blue. I didn't hesitate to pry it off the floor and fumble for the key rolled up inside of it.

Let's just say I'm very grateful that it was a small key. Digging in a unusually large wad of gum wasn't my favourite thing ever.

I put the key into the door, twisting it.

There was no click. It barely budged. I rattled for a few seconds, getting more and more frustrated by the moment.

"Fuck," I hissed, hitting my fist against the door.

33. The Elevator

A/N: I promise the next chapter will be longer. Thanks for the reviews, everyone. I really appreciate it.

Chapter 32 – The Elevator

"Is this really happening?" Fang said, sounding stunned. He looked at the door, as if waiting for it to giggle and say 'Just kidding!' and then pop open for us. "How did Jeb not think about this beforehand?"

"We'll figure it out," I said, putting my hands in my jean pockets, marveling a bit in the fact that I had pockets. The material kind of hurt the skin of my legs. I wasn't used to the heavy fabric. I wondered what would happen if we just tried kicking it open. Or found another intern and stole their key or something.

"Iggy," I said, an idea hitting me. Of course, we had Iggy. That was pretty much as good as having personal nukes.

Fang curled his lip slightly. "This is Jeb's fault, Max. Let's focus."

"No, we need Iggy," I clarified. "He does this sort of thing in his sleep."

"He also explodes buildings in his sleep," Fang replied. "That doesn't make me feel much better." Despite his words, he knelt down beside the clunky hollowed-out machinery, opened the door and whispered into it. "Iggy, get your ass out here."

I saw Iggy untangle himself delicately from Ari, who fell asleep on his lap. At least Ari wasn't too fussed about this kind of thing. A couple of moments later Iggy was stretching upwards to the ceiling, looking confused.

"Where are we?" He asked. "We're not out yet, right?"

"Outside the admin section. We need you to unlock the door, since we got the wrong key." Thanks, Jeb, I thought.

"I'll need a hairpin, or something..."

"Turds," I said, the sight of a sleeping Ari making me decide to ease up on the cussing. "How about I just kick down the door?"

"Not subtle enough," Fang replied tersely, taking my question entirely seriously. "How about I just sprint down back to our holding area and get a scalpel or needle or something? They have those weird rods too."

Iggy thought for a moment. "Yeah, get a needle or something. The thicker the better."

"That's what she said," I attempted, trying to make the situation a bit less horrible than it actually was.

"Yeah, in like, 2009," Iggy shot back, not harshly. "Get with the times, Max." I saw a glimmer of a smile twitch at the corner of his lips. If there was anything Iggy loved, it was something dirty.

I rolled my eyes and Fang strode calmly down the hallway, looking determined. It was a trick I'd learned at school a while back – if you stride somewhere looking like you have a purpose, people probably won't ask where you're going. Look uncertain and people will most likely haul you in for questioning.

"At this rate, we won't get out of here before sunrise," Nudge said, looking tired from her cramped corner. "Close the door, Max. The ventilation in here is fine, and we're totally screwed if someone tries to walk in now."

I looked down at the girl wedged between the two blond siblings, looking only mildly uncomfortable. Ari was out like a light against Dawn, and I couldn't help but envy him. At least all he had to do was sleep it out.

The wait for Fang to return was tense. About minute of anxious standing around, the door creaked open and I jumped again. Iggy looked confused for a moment, but I just rolled the cart out of the way, letting the person on the other side be able to walk through.

He must've been about twenty five, with sandy hair and a pleasant, freckled face. I breathed a sigh of relief – he wasn't someone I'd seen before, so he probably didn't know who the hell I was either.

"Oh," he said, realising Iggy and I were on the other side of the hallway. "Sorry. Didn't realise you were there."

"No worries," I choked out. "Sorry, we both don't have our keys on us. It's a funny story, but I'll save it for another time."

He smiled lightly and opened the door wider for me. "It's fine. Say, I are you two new? I haven't seen either of you around."

I shrugged. "Yeah, Doctor Tanner decided to put us on the night shift, which is weird since we're both just the runners." I replied, shrugging again. Jeb had previously explained to me that most interns would be runners for their first two years of being in the School – basically the ones to get coffee or fill out paperwork, or if they were lucky, observe an experiment.

"I'm Kyle," the man said, grinning. "Nice to meet you."

"May," I replied, trying not to draw attention to Iggy. Hiding the fact that he was blind would be pretty difficult once they two of them started a conversation.

He smiled. "Better than being called June, eh?"

I widened my eyes a fraction. "That's my sister's name."

Dammit, Fang! I hoped he'd realise that we had someone with us before he came walking down the passage with medical instruments.

"Oh, sorry," he said apologetically, looking down at his feet for a moment. "I didn't realise."

"We're named after our conception months," I said, putting on a fake smile, getting a vaguely horrified look from Kyle. How long would it be before he lost interest or realised that we weren't interns?

I heard Fang's feet coming from down the passage. It was his steady, controlled movement that I know so well. "Uh, we have to go. Tanner wants us to locate some report, and he isn't exactly patient."

"Oh, okay. Will I see you around, then?"

I smiled. "Yeah, sure." Anything to get him gone. I breathed a sigh of relief as he moved away from the door, wheeling my way into the admin room, guiding Iggy with a faint tug on his shirt. I held the door open as Fang walked past Kyle, not even glancing at him. He was empty-handed. Once he was in the admin room, I closed the door tightly, and looked around.

The room was surprisingly ordinary. There was nothing too flashy about it. The walls were white, of course, but the furniture was all wooden, and a lot of looked like it could do with replacing. Desks and computers lined the walls. Some of the models looked pretty high-tech, but others looked like technology from 2002. The carpet was scraggly and looked like it had been there since the seventies. There was only one other person in the room, hunched over a desk and asleep.

"Where are the instruments?" I asked Fang.

"In my pocket," he replied. "Do you really think I'd walk around with that stuff? Do you want to draw more attention to us?"

I wasn't surprised at how high-strung he was. Hopefully Fang would return to normal once we were out. If we got out. "Well, it's fine. We're through."

"Not out of the woods yet," Iggy replied anxiously. He clapped his hands together lightly, gauging the size of the room. "So this is where they assign us our daily experiments," Iggy said dryly.

"Yeah," I replied. "This is where the magic happens."

Fang frowned as we walked past the various desks. "Max, you're confused. This isn't my bedroom. No magic happens here."

I rolled my eyes. "Well, this place doesn't reek of sleazy," I replied, looking around the room again, looking for threats and finding none.

"Ladies," Iggy said. "Can we save this for when we're free bird people? Lover's spats bore me."

I grinned and started to chuckle. The chuckles quickly became laughs and soon Iggy joined in. Fang watched us for a few seconds before laughing too, the sound more like a choked cough than anything else. It was brief, only lasting a few seconds. I couldn't remember the last time I had laughed. It felt strange on my ribs and in my stomach.

It was a great feeling.

I didn't know why we were laughing, and didn't really care. But we were getting out of here, and that was all we needed. For a second, I let myself feel relief. I saw some light at the end of our tunnel, momentary hope. Something of a spark, the thought that we might actually get away from this hellhole.

"Guys!" Nudge hissed, her voice muffled. "Get yourselves together!"

I straightened up, trying to keep a a poker face. I squashed the hope automatically. I'd let myself feel relief once we were out of here, and until then I would keep absolutely calm.

But still, the laughing had loosened me up a little bit. I felt more human, less nervous. Less like an experiment about to be captured and more like a kid trying to pull of a prank. I didn't know if that was a good thing or not.

It was too easy, really. We just strolled along the rows of desks, with all of their workers probably at home, comfortably sleeping. The other worker didn't even notice when we walked past her. I don't think she would've noticed a juggling clown on a unicycle, but it made the fact that we were getting away seem so much more real.

We slipped into the elevator with ease, and no-one cared. We just slid our ID Jeb had given us into the slot, and the doors started to close.

This was too easy, wasn't it?

I breathed a sigh of relief. "Why do you think security is so...dismal?"

"They probably spend most of their money on research," Fang said, leaning against the back of the elevator, looking tense. "Did you notice the difference between the admin room and the School? All their money is going into the experiments. I don't think they can afford a lot security, besides Erasers. And of course, most of the experiments in here don't even understand the concept of there being an 'outside'. Why would they even try escaping if they didn't know they could?"

There was his frosty logic again, cutting through questions easily and cleanly. I admired the way he could analyse things so accurately, even when we were staging an escape of all things.

"I guess you're right," I said.

He smiled wryly. "Never thought I'd live to hear you say those words."

"I never thought I'd say them, either," I replied honestly. "But it's true. We can't just leave the other experiments here. It's wrong."

Fang sighed. "Let's get ourselves outside, first. Then we can start worrying about other things."

I pressed the button on the elevator, the number at the top glowing red.


The elevator jolted slightly – my stomach dropping – and then started gliding was weird to think I had spent the last few months five storeys above the ground. It was even weirder to think that if there was a window, I could've jumped out of it and be fine.


I paced around around the small room, thinking about everything that could go wrong. They could find us before we left the building. And even if we did get away without setting off alarms, we were still ridiculously far away from home and could be tracked down.


I held my breath, leaning against the the wall, next to Fang. For a second, I rest my head against his shoulder, feeling his warmth, drawing strength. We could do this.


"All we need to do is just stroll out of those doors and hope no-one catches us," Fang said, gently touching his lips against forehead. It wasn't a kiss, really. Just a reassurance that I needed.

"You're jinxing it," I replied. For the first time in months, I thought about what it would be like to go back to my hometown. To see Simone again. Maybe Dylan. My old school. My parents.


We're going home. The elevator stopped, shuddering to a halt. The light blinked, the red little light reshaping itself to present new information.


34. The Blood

The first half of this chapter flowed amazingly easily. (Editing? Not so much.)

This was originally two chapters, but I decided it'd be best if they were put together. Which means we only have the epilogue after this. Crazy, eh?

Chapter 33 – The Blood

The doors binged open. At this point in the story, I think you know that life likes to make what I'm trying to achieve spectacularly difficult. Usually this was by throwing Fang in my path as often as possible.

Of course, now that I had bigger problems, fate seemed to think it was best to make bigger obstacles, too. Because escaping from a top-secret illegal facility wasn't difficult enough, apparently.

As you've guessed, there was one huge problem waiting outside the elevator door. In this case, they were giant, hulking Erasers, standing in formation around the office cubicles, looking threatening and ridiculously out of place.

"Shit," Fang said.

Obviously, that was an understatement.

"I love you all," David said, sounding tired. "Whatever happens, happens. Don't feel bad afterwards."

They didn't move, and neither did we. After a heartbeat, I kicked open the door of the others' hiding place, saying; "Scatter. Nudge, stick with Iggy. Ari, come with me. Get out, don't wait for the others. Run." This wasn't about being noble or heroic, it was about getting away and telling other people.

I pressed the 'hold doors open' button on the elevator.

"Let's go."

In a flurry, the elevator emptied in seconds, everyone darting out in different directions. They all knew where the exits were located, it was just a matter of meeting up again on the outside. Whoever made it out, that is.

I grabbed Ari and slung him over my shoulder, dashing forward. I knew he would only be a liability, but there was no way I could leave him. He was the reason we were getting out at all. I dodged around a few desks, trying to avoid the Erasers. Immediately the others disappeared behind plywood walls. The cubicle walls made a maze, and we were all stuck inside it.

Fortunately, we had run mazes hundreds of times before.
Ari started wriggling. "Stop," I hissed. "If you fall, you'll get left behind," I said.

"I'll run next to you," he said. "It'll be faster that way."

I didn't stop to think as an Eraser swiped at me, roaring furiously. I ducked away from the paw, letting Ari drop to the ground. The moment the limb had cleared the space, I leaped up straight into a high kick, going for the throat, my foot sinking into the soft skin.

I grinned to myself, falling into my element. Sneaking around wasn't who I was – that was Fang's job. I was far better at doing things without a trace of any subtlety; fighting my enemies head-on.

I landed on the floor again in a crouch, looking at the Eraser. It snarled at me before lunging again.

I dodged. The thing's fist rammed straight into the desk behind me, splintering it. Papers went flying.

As I landed, I tried to think of how to get rid out of it. Evading and pissing it off wouldn't do me much good, it would only come back with a vengance for my blood. When I saw my weapon, I didn't think. As the Eraser crouched down to catch its breath again, I jumped into the air, straight over it an landed on an intact office desk, picking up a giant industrial stapler.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another one coming. I ran towards it, ducking down and sliding under the floor to avoid the the other desk, carpet burn ripping up my side. I slid neatly under the desk, barely clearing the other side before the desk was shattered into pieces again. I knew I had splinters in my hair.

I leaped back up onto my feet as the thing lunged at me again, this time jumping over the tattered desk. I grabbed the stapler from under it as it sailed through the air, whipping it open and wielding it like a pair of nunchucks.

The thing snorted when it saw my weapon of choice. I just grinned, aiming a kick for the stomach.

My foot was caught before I made contact. For a moment I spun in the air and then came thundering to the ground again, injuring my other hip.


I hooked my foot around his ankle and brought my knee up to my stomach, and the Eraser fell over. Without thinking, I jumped to my feet with stapler in hand, knocking the biggest hunk of metal on the staple at the Eraser's temple.

It was one of their few design flaws – thin temples. While the rest of their skulls were strong and hard, a blow to the side of an Eraser's head would knock it out. Nudge had figured it out in training a few weeks ago.

The thing blacked out, and it took all my willpower to stop myself from bludgeoning it.

It was tempting, but I moved on, flurrying around cubicles and desks before hearing an Eraser blundering in the cubicle opposite me.

I paused. The Eraser didn't know I was there. I carefully got onto the desk and calculated where the thing was hiding on the other side. I put my arm at the top of the flimsy plywood wall, giving myself a one-up before propelling the rest of my body over – I saw Nudge punch an Eraser and leap through a window – and smiled to myself with almost pathetic glee as gravity pulled me downward onto the Eraser's head. It yelped at the last millisecond, before I used my stapler of death on it too.

Backup arrived, and suddenly there were two Erasers blocking the way out of the room.

Oh yeah, I remembered. Wings.

I hopped onto another desk – landing on a keyboard – and stepped onto the chunky computer monitor, kicking off into the open space. I glided over the battle scenes, seeing Ari and Dawn slip out one of the windows. I couldn't see David anywhere, so I guessed he was gone already.

I circled for a few seconds before seeing Fang fighting one of the last five standing Erasers. I wondered why none of them called for backup – but then I realised, of course, that most of the Erasers could only sleep after being heavily tranquilized. All the other Erasers were somewhere above our heads, completely knocked out.

I took aim with my stapler, waiting for Fang to jump back away from his two Erasers. After a few seconds, I threw the stapler and it hit him square in the side of the head – a bit too far back, maybe – but the force I put behind it and the momentum of the stapler was enough to knock him out. Maybe kill, I don't know. And I didn't care.

We were so close.

Too close to let it all go up now. If I had to claw and scream all the way out of here, so be it. I was fine with that.

"To your left, Iggy!" I yelled as something ran to tackle him. I didn't have any weapons left, so I started to glide over to where he was, bumping my foot on some of the cubicle walls –


"Shit!" I yelled as I was plucked out of the air, pulled brutally down towards the ground. An Eraser snarled at me, and I tried to wriggle free.

"Think you can escape?" It laughed, the breath making me want to gag. "You won't get a mile away before we track you down."

"Watch me, bitch." I replied, clamping down on its hand, the taste awful. The thing howled and I pulled up my knee all the way up, kicking it firmly in the jaw. I heard something snap – a dislocation – and I wanted to cheer. That'd keep the thing busy for a while.

I jumped up as I saw Iggy escape through one of the windows.

Only two of us left.

"Fang!" I yelled, starting to pump my arms and run towards the doors. "Forget about the Erasers and let's go!"

"No!" Fang hissed, sounding pissed. "Do you know what these bastards did to us?"

"THEY'LL DO IT AGAIN IF YOU WE DON'T GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE," I yelled, my voice hurting from the volume. "LET'S GO." I couldn't leave him here. To my relief, he started running after me. He was always the faster runner and caught up with my sprint in a few moments. We were sprinting towards one of the glass doors – I could see nothing but darkness, the night! – and killed my momentum before trying to yank it open.

"Out of the way!" Fang yelled at me.

Without hesitating I moved backwards, and a second later Fang's boot went through the glass. Fresh air ran into the room, and I sucked it in. I never knew anything could smell so wonderful and sweet and cool. I ran into it without thinking, Fang on my heels.

The sky.

For a moment I stared in wonder, looking at the beauty of the outside, the chase forgotten.

"Max! Get into the air!"

My vision came into focus, seeing the thirty-foot electric fence surrounding the parking lot. I ran forwards, and pushed myself into the sky. I was a bit wonky, but I was free. There's nothing more amazing than cool night air under wings. Really.

I giggled into the sky, my voice lost to the wind. The stars were brighter than I remembered, everything seemed so sharp. Maybe it was just because I was used to dull and smooth surroundings, maybe I'd some eye improvements done.

I didn't care. It was beautiful.

I climbed up into the sky and rose higher and higher, giggling, before dropping ten feet.

I was flying. This was nothing like the wind tunnel. This was true, majestic and wonderful flight. I giggled and I felt Fang push me down from above, just touching my shoulder blades before raising up again. "Let's find the the others and then we can have a party, okay?" Fang said, sounding only slightly irritated. I saw him grinning as we rose into the sky, moving onto the patch where the sky was more indigo than black.

We had agreed to meet a mile North of the School, in the forest. If there had been anyone combing the area looking for us, we agreed to stay away from all the search parties and hoped that we would bump into each other.

I looked back onto the School one more time, smiling at the knowledge of it just being a memory.

Memories could hurt, but still. That wasn't my reality anymore.

Then of course, something that I totally wasn't expecting.

In the bottom floor, I saw flames erupt in the rooms, blasting out windows. A second later the was a huge BOOM! and cracks started to appear in the East side.I watched the half of the building crumble, feeling a sick joy from knowing that hey, look, the bastards are out of business.

"Wow, I didn't even know that Iggy set up a bomb," I said, sounding awed. We glided for a few more moments, enjoying the view.

Fang shook his head. "He didn't. I saw him get changed before we left. He wasn't carrying anything on him, trust me."

"You were watching him get changed?"

"I explored my gay side." Fang answered sarcastically. "But if it wasn't Iggy, who set it off?"

"Well, it's definitely too much of a coincidence for someone to decide to take out a chunk of the School on the same night we leave" I pointed out.

"So, David?" Fang suggested. "I can't think of anyone else."

I gasped, clicking. "Did you see him leave?"

Fang shook his head. "I saw a scuffle in one of the cubicles, but I assumed that one of the Erasers was bleeding out or something."


"...Wait, do you think he was in there?" Fang asked.

"Whatever happens, happens. Don't feel bad afterwards." I recited, the dread building in my stomach. My voice was weak.

We landed pretty soon after that. As it turns out, I really suck at it. I scraped my knee on the way down, tripping and landing flat on my stomach, my elbow smashing into a rock.

I didn't register the pain, even when I finally noticed the blood dribbling from a gash in my arm. I hadn't even noticed it when that happened, probably from the glass on the way out, I realised. One more place they could get my blood sample from.

The scarlet liquid was just that – a liquid. It wasn't my blood, really, that was dripping down my arm and staining my shirt. It was paint, wine, water. Just something that was there. I was de-attached and the world seemed to have a new shine.

I couldn't register it. My mind was too busy whirring with other things. If I'd been a better leader, if I'd been keeping better tabs of everyone –

David would've been alive. Maybe I would've been dead instead, but that was a better price to pay. Not some ten year old –

Fuck. Not him.

"Max," Fang said gently, as if reading my mind. "Gazzy had a choice. He decided to do that."

"He didn't." I said, my nose still in the dirt. It was where I belonged. "We left him. We left him to die."

"No," said Fang firmly, gently picking me up from my spot in the dirt, so that I was in a sitting position. I looked into his dark eyes, barely visible in the bleak night. They were hardened – this wasn't the Marco I knew before we went into the School. This was someone else entirely, a person that knew what suffering was, someone who'd seen the pain the world had to offer.

We were different people now.

He wrapped his arms gently around my waist, pulling me into towards him, so that my head was resting on his chest, right over his heart. It was whirring, thumping and thundering in his chest.

He rubbed soothing circles over my arms, not caring that he was staining himself with my blood. It was another thing – we stopped being queasy about a while ago.

I looked down at my lap and started laughing.

"What?" Fang asked, sounding confused. "Is this too cheesy for you?"

"No," I said. "It's fine." I lifted my hands up to him, showing him the blood and the dirt that had found its way onto them. "Look. I got blood on my hands."

Fang sighed. "It wasn't your fault, Max. It was crazy back there. Anyone could've not known that he was there. Anyone."

I shifted slightly, so that my forehead was pressed against the warmth of Fang's neck. For a moment he stiffened, and I remembered so many times one of the whitecoats held him down by the neck.

"Sorry," I said, moving my head back so that I was resting it on his shoulder.

"No, it's fine," He replied, shifting me back into place.

And for the first time since I was imprisoned, abused, operated and experimented on, I cried.

They weren't those pretty tears like you see in the movies. Not those lone bits of water that dribble down the character's face like dew.

Nope, of course not. My sobs racked my whole body, exhausting everything I had within me. They were ugly, they were horrible. Those tears were infected, and finally getting them out helped me to finally recover.

I cried, first and foremost, for David. It was my fault that he was dead, of course. I'd be a monster if I didn't mourn him. Guilt poured out of me and it wet Fang's shirt. He rocked me smoothly, pulling me closer so that I was on his lap, my face still nuzzled into the crook of his neck. He was so, so warm. My rock.

His hand found the spot right between my wings, and traced gentle patterns as I cried. He didn't reassure me or whisper useless comforts into my ear. 'Everything would be okay' wasn't exactly going to change anything.

He knew I just needed to cry this out. I needed a moment to just pour out everything. And he gave me that by just being there for me, not pressuring me into talking to him, not telling me that I should be quiet. He rocked me slowly backwards and forwards, only the tiniest of movement. It was soothing and constant.

I don't know how long we stayed like that. Maybe twenty minutes. Perhaps half an hour. We weren't too worried about the others – they knew how to take care of themselves. And no-one would be chasing us right now, judging the damage the School underwent.

I eventually cried myself dry, my throat tight and I felt desperate for water. I was taking shuddering breaths, my hands clutching Fang's dark navy T-shirt. I wanted to stay like this forever, on the dusty forest ground, tucked away from everything. I couldn't be hurt here. I had Fang with me.

"Max," Fang said softly into my ear. "We should go now."

I nodded numbly. I wasn't okay – nothing was – but I could bear the thoughts now.

Fang helped me to my feet and we took a running start, launching into the sky. The first few rays of the sunrise were peaking over the mountains, staining my clothes with reds and oranges.

I smiled. The movement felt a lot more natural than it had for the past few months. "I never thought I'd see that again," I said truthfully as we coasted, never more than thirty feet from the ground. I tried not to focus too much on the fact that there was freaking nothing between me and the ground. If I forgot to flap, I was good as dead.

The idea was crazy; going through all the effort to escape only to die because of forgetting to flap.

I felt more myself as we coasted over the forest. The school was already a memory behind the mountains. My new eyesight spotted a flurry of movement under the canopy of some trees. Maybe it was a squirrel, but I doubted that squirrels wore blue jeans.

I pointed them out to Fang and we dove down, looking for a clearing. I landed a bit more gracefully than I did previously, but I ended up with my hands catching most of my fall. Thank goodness there was some grass and leaves protecting my already tender and bloody hands.

"Nudge?" I called out into the trees.

Some thing twitched in the underbrush. I waited a second, searching for a response.

"Max?" A voice called out after a few moments. The tenseness in my stomach finally unknotted itself as I started jogging towards the sound, Fang right next to me. I heard branches snapping and leaves crunching, and I couldn't help but grin as a familiar face with frizzy, dark hair popped into view. The others followed quickly. We met halfway and embraced in one big group hug, enjoying the feeling of knowing we were alive.

I saw Ari standing at the edge of little reunion, and I smiled and indicated for him to join us.

After a few minutes, we finally let go.

"We did it," Iggy said, at deadpan. He had a cut on his cheek, running from his temple down to just missing his lip. Blood stood out against the white of his skin.

"Iggy!" I said. "Why didn't you clean that up? It looks really nasty."

Iggy shrugged, wiping his cheek.

"You're not looking much better yourself, Max," Nudge pointed out. "You seriously look like you had a run-in with a blender."

I looked down at myself, assessing the blood spattered on my shirt (that wasn't mine, I don't think) and the cuts on my arms. When did my jeans get ripped by an Eraser claw, anyway? I thought back to the fight, failing to figure out when it happened.

"I've had worse," I said, shrugging. The others only looked slightly better.

"I don't remember you ever getting run over with a train," Nudge replied, smiling lightly, her heart not really in it.

"Where's Gazzy?" Dawn asked suddenly, using a name for David that was reserved for her.

My face fell.

"He–" Fang started, sounding unsure how to continue. "I'm so sorry."

I'm not sure if you've ever had a heart break in front of you. Maybe you have, and know that it's like watching the earth crack under your feet or the sun go out. If you haven't seen someone you love break, I don't recommend it. It'll break you, too.

And trust me, you don't ever want to be the reason why that person breaks. You don't want to be the one holding the knife as someone you love gets stabbed.

My fault.

"What...what happened?"

My lower lip trembled slightly, my eyebrows drawing together. "He... didn't get out –" I started, feeling the tears coming back with a vengeance. I guess I wasn't completely cried out. And I don't think I ever would be. I took a shuddering breath. "He was in there for the explosion."

Dawn crumbled, he knees hitting the dirt hard. Fang caught her before she could fall forward, picking her up into his arms.

Yet again, he soothed the mourning. I held onto Ari's hand, trying to keep him calm. He gripped mine firmly, cutting off circulation. He was terrified and tried his hardest to keep a brave face.

"Dawn," I said gently, looking at the dirty and bloody girl that Fang held so gently. Tears were running down her face, leaving tracks in the dirt, letting pale skin shine through Like little slivers of hope side by side with all the ugly.

I wanted to tell her that things would be okay. Tell assure her that everything would be fine. Words would just be words, and my reassurances would only be something to the language of hope, a language that she didn't understand right now.

Sorry doesn't revive the dead.

A pat on the back wouldn't fill that bird-kid sized hole in her heart.

"He called me Angel," she said, wiping some of the blood that had pooled in the corner of mouth, smearing it across her cheek. "I want to remember him. Just call me that and that way he'll live on as long as I do."

I smiled weakly. "Sure, Angel." I looked at the rest of our flock, everyone looking completely exhausted. I felt drained too, too tired to care. I looked at the sky. The School was gone. We weren't.

We were alive – most of us, I thought with a pang – and totally free.

Those two things are so amazing. It's amazing how many people take it for granted, the fact that they can go anywhere they want and do what they please. That they don't have to worry if they're going to wake up tomorrow. Where their next meal was coming from. Where the next scalpel would dig its way into the body.

I couldn't feel myself to feel too much relief of happiness. There were sparks, stirrings in my stomach, but I needed sleep. Maybe the cost had just been too high. Maybe my tear-ducts were finally broken now. I don't know. Maybe I broke along with D – Angel.

I sneaked a glance at Fang and Angel. For once he was letting the pain show on his face, letting it radiate and spill out into the air around him. The joy and the relief were written into his features too, all mashed up together.

Like feelings usually are. All mixed up and muddled and confused.

I looked at Fang a bit longer, finally really letting the two people I built in my head crash together to form one whole person, building the bridge between the personalities. Between the best friend and the school enemy and the person who was in the cage next to me.

He saw me looking at him, and the emotion slipped back just into his eyes. Still on display, just a lot more subtle. Sneakier, almost. He indicated the to the blood-stained sky – the bigbigbig ceiling that was filled with natural light and colours and hopes and dreams. He jerked his head slightly, and I understood.

We leaped.

35. The End

The Epilogue

To cut a long story short, we flew to the nearest town and dropped Ari off with his designated relatives. Then we grabbed a taxi with the cash that Jeb had supplied us, there was enough to last us about a week. We bought jackets to hide the bloodstains and most of the dirt as well as, you know, wings. Those things have a tendency to be pretty obvious.

I located a motel, renting two rooms. We didn't really talk or argue much, being almost completely exhausted, too tired to plan ahead and too sore to look back.

Iggy and Fang took one room, the girls and I took the other. The rooms were right across the hall from each other. I made Angel take a shower first while I inspected Nudge's injuries. She was pretty badly bruised from where she had attacked the Erasers, but there were no claw marks on her. Not because she stayed out of the battle, but rather because she could dodge pretty much anything.

Even though Nudge was the least injured, she was by far the most bloody. I don't even want to know what the hell she did to earn all the spatters she had, but at least it got her out. I decided not to bandage anything up before she was properly showered and free of all the dirt. She looked dead on her feet.

A couple of minutes later, Angel exited shower and Nudge went in. I took out a medical kit (courtesy of Jeb again) and bandaged her wrist, as well as disinfecting her shoulder. I picked the last twigs out of her feathers and sent her off to bed. She didn't complain as she fell in, exhausted.

I leaned back on the couch, closing my eyes for a moment.

"Hey," Fang said. I didn't even turn around as he sat down onto the couch next to me.

"Hi," I replied. I flicked my eyes towards him. "What happened to your tan?" I asked teasingly.

"It was dirt."

It was pretty amazing, actually. Fang's hair already had some of its old gloss back to it, and his injuries were looking a lot better. Although the dirt removal had uncovered some pretty nasty stuff – like a bruise on his cheek the size of my fist.

"You can shower in our room," Fang said. "Iggy's done, and I think Nudge is going to take a while in there."

"You're not allowed to join me," I said automatically, rising to my feet.

"Dammit," Fang sighed, smiling. "There goes my plans for the evening."

When I emerged from the shower, wearing a giftshop shirt from a 24-hour store down the road, Fang was sitting on the couch, looking at the TV. It was off, and I knew he wasn't actually seeing anything. The old me – the one from before – told me that he was probably looking at his reflection.

"Can you help me get the glass out of my arm?" Fang asked. "Iggy offered to do it, but he looked pretty beat. And I don't want to really let a blind dude prod around in my arm."

I cast a glance at Iggy. He was lying on the double-bed, out to the world. "Sure," I said, going back to our room and getting the medical kit. He held out his wrist towards me, and I gently started picking out the pieces. Every now and then his free hand would grab my unused wrist a bit tighter, and I'd squeeze back. After ten minutes all the glass was out, but his wrist was bleeding again. After a dose of disinfectant and some bandages, and he seemed almost back to his normal self.

"Done," I said, looking back up into his face. He bit his lip and looked down, not meeting my eyes, his breath shaky as he exhaled. "It's okay," I said reassuringly. "We're okay."

"I thought you were going to die," he said, his voice husky. "And – Gazzy –and this wasn't how we were supposed to get out. You weren't supposed to look like you went through a blender."

"We're going to be okay," I said soothingly, sliding up the couch, putting my arm around Fang, my hand finding its way into his hair. The keywords there were going to be. None of us were okay right now. It felt strange to run my hand through hair that wasn't matted down with dirt and grease, hair that was untangled and soft. He shook – just the tiniest bit – and I held him tighter, trying to get him to be still, to be calm.

Once his breathing had returned to normal, I kissed him gently on the lips, trying to avoid the bruised section of his face. He wrapped his arms around my waist and sighed, sounding exhausted.

"I love you," I said, untangling myself from him. "Go sleep. We'll figure things out tomorrow."

Fang smiled, It was an exhausted, difficult smile, but genuine.

Just before I closed the door, Fang spoke again.

"Max?" he asked.

"Yeah?" I replied, holding the door ajar.

"I really do sleep naked." He said. "Just thought you'd want to know that. And I love you, too."

I chucked huskily. "I hope you warned Iggy about the naked thing. I don't think he'd appreciate that sort of surprise," I replied, closing the door fully.

We all slept for a solid twelve hours before any us even began to stir. D – Angel slept right through for an extra three hours. We didn't disturb her because we didn't want to make her have to fall back into reality just yet.

We finally left after two days of recuperating, which basically meant we spent a lot of time quiet, thinking about how we all could've saved Gazzy. Running scenes and situations through our minds, pushing all the 'What if's around, letting them slosh around in our minds and fester.

It was painful. None of us knew what to say to each other. We were free, but we'd paid with an innocent boy's life. He knew he was going to die – and he walked head-on into the crowd of Erasers, ready for it.

We all cried at one stage, except for Fang. He was rapidly becoming more and more closed off with his emotions, barely saying anything. Nudge talked even more, and Angel started wanting to control everything. Iggy used sarcasm compulsively. I lost all faith in authority.

We all changed in a way.

The night before we left was the one where we finally learned how long we'd been gone for, how much we'd missed out on. We flicked on the news on one of the shoddy TVs. There was nothing was new, really. People fought wars. Politicians made promises they couldn't keep. My favourite soccer team lost again. It wasn't until the date flashed at the top of the screen did I really begin to realise how much time we'd actually lost.

We'd been in the School for a year and one month.

"How is that possible!?" I cried, staring at the screen. "It barely felt like four months!"

Iggy paused to consider. "The drugs," he concluded. "It skewered our perception of time. Made our days seem shorter, making us less likely to fight back if we thought less time was passing," he said thoughtfully.

I wanted to cry. I was due to turn seventeen in a month. I'd lost so much time. We all did. It was time that I could've gone to school, met up with friends, make grand discoveries about my life. We were all horrified – and decided to leave the very next morning. After a few flights, a bunch of cabs, and a rather weird incident involving some pigeons, we finally made it to our home town.

The thing is about coming back to an old place is how painful it is to realise that it's changed so much. But then you realise it wasn't the place that changed, it was you. The buildings were still the same. The roads and people were more or less no different. But I was looking at everything through a new perspective, a new set of eyes. The roads were the same, just the people walking on them were different.

The smell of the pines nearly made me buckle over as we walked down suburbian roads. It smelled like home. We'd agreed to stop at my house first, but the cabbie didn't want to go too deep into suburbia, so he stopped a few blocks away from my house.

It was the most painful walk of my life. The sky was filled with orange again, this time of a sunset. Everything was painfully similar, and achingly different. The playhouse in one of our neighbour's lawns had been taken away and replaced a trampoline. A new couple had moved in at the bottom of our street.

Spotting my house bathed in the orange glow made my eyes sting. There were new potplants on the porch, the curtains in the windows a different colour. I felt out of place with my cropped hair and the bandages lacing my arms, and some people were staring the procession. No-one seemed to know us. I'd lived in this house for thirteen years, and now not a soul knew me, I realised with a pang.

I rang the doorbell.

As we waited, I realised that this wasn't the end. We'd still have to find our families, go out into the public with our story, and try and figure out where to begin with putting our lives back together. We'd have to get Iggy's sight back. This wasn't our happy ending, but it was the closing of a chapter. New things could grow in my life now, and we could bury the old. Whatever happens, happens. Don't feel bad afterwards.

I gripped Fang's hand tighter, his warmth felt through our layers of bandages. After too many seconds it opened, and there stood my mom. With surprise, I saw grey streaks in her hair and more grooves in her skin.

"We're home." I said.

A/N: There will not be a sequel to this. Since its conception, this has always meant to be a once-off story, and a sequel wouldn't stem naturally from this.

That aside, I'd like to say give my sincerest thanks. To all of you. Thank you for sticking it out right until the end, even if I took ages to update. And thank you so much to my wonderful reviewers – just, wow. You're amazing people. My only request that is if you've read this far, please drop a line one last time. I've put hours upon hours into this story, and final feedback would be wonderful.

Crash has been amazing and to write, and I've learned a lot about the trade. I can only hope that you enjoyed this, too.

All my love and heart, always. xxx