Fifteen Years Gone by tanyart

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Adventure, Drama
Published:2008-01-25 23:07:50
Updated:2008-04-06 12:01:23
Packaged:2021-04-04 15:33:23
Summary:Saving the world is more of an obligation than a passion. Duty; not pleasure. Destiny; not choice. Maximum Ride unexpectedly finds herself fifteen years into the future during her Antarctica escapade. She has doubts. The future never included her.

Table of Contents

1. Sky Light
2. Night Light
3. Bright Light
4. Back Light
5. Day Light

1. Sky Light

A/N:Sort of Heroes-inspired from the episode Five Years Gone and the Millefiore Arc from Hitman Reborn. Brilliant series, both of them.

The story technically starts during the "fourth" book or possibly at the end of it. I'm just taking advantage of the Antarctica setting.

Rating: T, for language.

Chapter One: Sky Light

"Did you know? The entire world is connected through the same sky."

-Ringo, Air Gear

Be careful.

The Voice couldn't project any emotion. It wasn't like a radio or a recorder that could send personal messages. The Voice was only a mechanical drone in Max's ears, a voice that nagged her of destiny and saving the world and most of all, reminded her of that dipshit of a father. Hell, it wasn't even Jeb's own warm voice that echoed in her mind, only a fake personification.

It might've been a strange comfort in an indirect way. Max wasn't ready to admit that yet. Really. She wasn't.

Not even if she found herself stuck in the middle of the Antarctica, so lost that she must have passed the South pole at least a dozen times in a circle; so cold that her feet could have fallen off hours ago and she wouldn't have noticed; so damn frustrated that she would have loved to abandoned the dying world just to curl up in a bed and sleep.

… so scared her flock was suffering in the same way.

But they were her family, they'd insisted.

Max peered over her shoulder, only to be greeted with sullen and dead eyes. The flock was reaching their limit. Unable to take in the pitiful sight, she averted her eyes and focused ahead. It wasn't snowing and the air was so sharp and dry that it was painful to breathe regularly. Lucky for Angel, the little girl had the ability to draw in oxygen particles. Max was relieved, since she would have never allowed her baby to trek through the Antarctica terrain.

Never, never, never.

What a lie.


The South Pole base came unexpectedly. They didn't see it come ahead or to the side, but rather below them. When their booted feet started stomping over steel instead of snow, the startled flock nearly fell to their knees out of sheer relief.

Max looked around her, sitting on the cold slab of steel as if were a heated cushion. Fang was now carrying Nudge on his back, though he looked as if he needed someone else to carry him as well. Iggy's lips were past blue. Gazzy could barely stand. Angel… her little girl was strong. Max had been thankful for that, but now… now she was getting a little bit jealous.

Max started to think that all this wasn't worth her family.

You could have gone by yourself.

They promised that they would never leave each other again.

At the expense of theirs lives for your mission.

Max decided that she didn't want to save their world anymore. Her world was right here, huddled in the middle of a blank plain of snow. It was her world that she wanted to save, not theirs.


They're holding you back.

The door to the base was sealed with rods and bars. It stood slanted and lead downwards like a cellar door in the middle of a pile of snow. At the Voice's instructions, Max leaned her face over the control pad. Her misty warm breath fogged the tablet before she planted her thumb firmly on the pad. There was a faint beep of acknowledgement and the door hissed opened. Max stepped inside and insisted that she went alone. She had to lie and tell them the Voice said so.

The flock could tell something was up, but they trusted her. They trusted her to come back. She made the promise anyway.

Max was going to prove the Voice wrong.


Inside, the base was falling apart. There were large jagged cracks on the walls and icicles on every inch of the ceiling. Max grew even more concerned when she had stepped into puddles of clear water. She was underground now and water meant leaks. Unfrozen water inside the base meant it was saltwater; even more dangerous.

The Voice urged her on and she readily complied. She found an icy screen with different controls. Gingerly, she placed her hand on it and it exploded with images. Max wanted to scream because the images were going into her mind. She wanted to pull back, but the screen was warm against her frozen hand, so she kept it there as her head throbbed. The images kept on flashing like a story. Events of the past and events to come; they were all inside her now. She saw things she would have to do, the sacrifices that she would have to make.

Slowly, she realized that it was never going to end. Their world needed to be saved over and over again. Max was going to have to take care of all of it. She didn't want to. This was what she was created for.

The heat on her hand started to become hot to the touch. The Voice told her that the mission was finished for now, but she didn't move from her spot. Max was part of the base and through some unknown eye, she saw her flock at the entrance. She heard them talking, talking about the future they would never have if they stayed with her.

Family, school, life, no more adventures…

Max laughed. She could save them. Without another thought, she did. She watched as the base's door eased shut at her command. The flock looked up with expressions of panic.

The Voice was no longer using words to reach her. It was shrieking horrible high notes in her head and Max finally broke away from the base's interface. Her glassy eyes cleared and she saw that the walls were melting. Melting.She couldn't think of any other way to describe it. Max got up to her feet, not realizing that she had fallen moments before since the base was shaking so bad.

The new information in her head disoriented her, but none of it mattered anymore. She had saved the world for good.

Max, how could you…?

She told her father to shut the hell up.


Sunlight came like a false beacon of hope. The water level had risen up to her hips and Max wondered why she was still able to move around. She legs still felt like lead blocks, but if she concentrated hard enough she could take steps. The progress was slow, but she made her way over to the shaft of light that came from the shuddering ceiling. Max's body was shivering so badly that the rocking base seemed to move with her rhythm.

She stared into the light and she saw the sky.

The water was up to her shoulders now.

Even though her body was numb, her mind stilled worked, though admittedly slower than usual. Max shrugged off her thick jacket, crying out in frustration as she couldn't get unbuttoned. She stuck her fingers in her mouth, willing them to move again, even for a moment. When that moment was granted, her jacket came off sluggishly.

Water washed over her face and Max squeezed her eyes shut.




The only word the Voice had said after she had screamed at it. It was a simple command, one that she heard a million times before. Max willed her wings to beat faster. Goddammit, her super speed powers couldn't save her now.

But she chose this path, so she might as well stick to it. Max laughed and watched the air bubbles waver upwards out of her sight.

Max told the Voice good-bye.


She turned agitated. Heated. A headache. Was she dying? Or was it just the Voice again? Stupid. Can't fly underwater.

Max! Don't leave us….please.

It was a new voice this time. Angel. Max's sluggish heart beat faster. Was her baby nearby? Or was she just in her mind?

Max told her to go away. Get out of here.

No. You're going to save yourself. You're not going to give up.

Mind influence. Max felt herself struggling for more air. She let her survival instincts take over and she started to move desperately. Max began to feel unnaturally hot and her headache made stars dance in her vision. Her wings did powerful strokes in the water. She shouldn't have been able to do it. Hot. It was getting too hot.


Water. Air. Sky. Fiery hot flashes of bursting light.

She turned away from it all and was relieved when the darkness came and swallowed her up.

End chapter.

2. Night Light

A/N: I'm so happy with all the awesome feedback you guys gave me. Honesty, I wasn't expecting it, so… thank you! I'm ahead in writing, so I plan to upload a new chapter every 3-7 days.

A note on the rating; It is still T for language, but there are also going to be a few serious and controversial themes in the upcoming chapters. I must warn sensitive readers not to take offense or, pardon my French, bitch about it. The views some characters express in this story doesn't necessarily represent my own. That being said, here's chapter two.

Chapter Two: Night Light
The buzzing in her ears wouldn't stop. Her body wouldn't stop shaking. The light wouldn't go away. Nothing was going right. Well, what did she expect? Nothing ever went right.

Max opened her eyes and saw a sea of unrelenting blue. She sat up, only because she was lying down. When the world righted itself again Max thought it was ironic when she fell instantly back down, twisted to the side to heave up her stomach. Nothing, of course. Just air and spit.

Wiping away the excess saliva, Max hesitantly looked around. Everything was so bright. The blue she had seen must have been the sky. Max didn't want to risk looking up again if she was going to be sick all over it. She shivered.

"Duh," Max said, a little relieved to hear her own voice, "I'm sitting on snow. Of course I'm shivering. Wonderful."

Personal self aside, Max got up on shaky legs. Focusing on a spot on the ground, she was glad that she didn't fall down straight off. One thing at a time. First, she would need to start walking.

Second, find her family.

Nothing would be accomplished if it were the other way around. That was what she told herself because she hadn't really thought about the flock until now. She felt a little guilty because that was the first thing that she should have thought about.

The shock of finding herself alive was getting a bit dull. In fact, it quickly irritated her since she could feel the cold moisture of water all over her body. Her mind briefly touched on the questions of 'why' and 'how', filtering them away to review at a later time. Feeling sore and clammy, Max rose slowly to her feet. It would have been redundant to remind herself how miserably cold she was, but Max felt that her suffering demanded a little more attention.

"Cold. Freakin' cold," she muttered and cocked her head to the side, as if she could hear a reply. She wasn't expecting one, but there was always the Voice to talk to. Jeb.

Nothing answered her, so she made a reply just to break the eerie silence, "Oh yes. It's freezing cold."

Shivering and turning in a tight circle, she gazed around. It was a great surprise to find the deep blue ocean behind her. The never-ending landscape of white was gone. Max gaped stupidly before her thoughts could function properly again.

Clearly, she wasn't anywhere near the South Pole anymore, but she was pretty sure she was still on the same dreary continent of Antarctica.

"Angel?" she called, a fleeting moment of panic settling in her stomach. "Iggy? Fang?" Gazzy? Nudge? Her voice was horrifyingly thin. It was probably the cold air. Sound would not travel well in these conditions. How the heck she knew that, she didn't know… but it was true. If she couldn't see anyone from where she stood, then she was most likely alone.

Scared, confused, and just admittedly pissed off, Max closed her eyes.

Angel… Angel, why did you save me only to leave me alone? Where is everyone? Where are you?

Max felt ridiculous, trying to send her thoughts to another person, but it was worth a shot. Angel was a mind reader. If she was nearby… Max didn't know what else to do. She waited and called until her head was started to pound.

Max, came a simply answer.

Max stiffened, eyes snapping open. It wasn't the Voice, it wasn't Angel, it wasn't Jeb… It was cold, distant. Max looked around again, finding that she was still alone.

"Oh. I better not be going crazy," Max said, unnerved. She had to get out of here. Going crazy and freezing to death were not on her to-do list. First, keep herself alive… Second, find her family.

Max pressed her lips together, fighting down a shudder of guilt. She'll find her flock.

Taking a quick running start, Max unfurled her stiff wings. Powdery snowflakes stung her face, but she took off anyway. Focusing her limited energy, she willed her wings faster and faster until her surroundings blurred and the air grew warm. With super speed and a bird's sense of direction, she was going to make it.


The United State's Secretary of Defense was a young and fairly handsome man. Only thirty years old and he had managed to kick and claw his way through the muddied world of politics. He had a great deal of influence and commanded great respect from most of the public and even his enemies.

So when his pretty secretary burst into his office with a gentleman in tow, the high-ranking politician had every right to frown in annoyance.

The man, he noticed, was wearing a pristine, white lab coat. He looked like a respectable fellow, save for a sheen layer of sweat over his marred brow and a slightly controlled look of panic in his odd amber eyes. With exaggerated patience and care, the Secretary of Defense put down his pen and looked up from his unfinished papers. His stiff shoulders flared with its usual pain from hours of hunching over his expansive desk. Like always, he ignored it.

"May I help you?" he asked, not sounding too gracious for the interruption.

His secretary winced, but the scientist came forward without preamble and the Secretary of Defense had to wave a dismissal to his assistant before anything could be said. When they were alone, the politician nodded curtly.

"She has escaped, sir," the man said grimly, "Subject eleven, three hours ago. The walls were breeched and mechanical arms did not even respond at all to the break. We are unable to provide anymore evidence concerning her… methods." The man swallowed involuntarily and dropped his voice. "I think she knew all along, how to escape."

"Impossible," the Secretary said, though he was pale. "She's in a state of cryogenic sleep. The design-"

"-is obviously flawed, sir," the scientist said, "We've sent in retrieval teams… not that they'd be able to do much." He shrugged gracelessly.

"Obviously," the politician echoed bitterly. He stood up, twitching idly as his muscles creaked with sudden movement. He had to get to the lab immediately.

Hastily gathering his things, he muttered scornfully, "Against Angel, there's not much anyone can do."


"Oh, but you can do something for me," Angel murmured demurely. She leaned over the counter, hoping that it revealed enough cleavage to send the clerk's hormonal systems into a frenzy. All in actuality, she probably didn't have to do much. His eyes were already wide the moment she stepped into the small Abercrombie shop. It was just as well since the straightjacket she was wearing didn't seem to show much skin anyway.

God, she's pretty. Is she hitting on me? Wow, they look big. Maybe it's the straightjacket. Hell, a straightjacket's kind of kinky-

Angel wondered if there was any hope left for mankind. She was inclined to scowl, but her face remained perfectly smooth and charming. "I'll make it worth your while," she added with a touch of impatience.

The teenager must have caught her change of tone. He blinked and shook his head. "Sorry, ma'am, but you can't just walk out without paying. That's stealing."

"Well, duh," Angel scoffed, causing the clerk to gape at her sudden viciousness, "I know that. You have a credit card don't you? And an employee's discount?"

"Ma'am, you can't be serious," the clerk said, too bewildered to be angry.

"I am," Angel answered, peering at his name tag. She gave him a flattering grin. "Mr. Loman, please. I'm in a bit of a fix."

The clerk unexpectedly blushed.

She looks pretty desperate. And in need of better clothes. Maybe she'll give me her number-

Angel tilted her head. "How old are you, Mr. Loman?"

Despite his wavering thoughts, the clerk gave her a wary look.

"Nineteen, ma'am."

Angel tugged the corners of her lips into a wicked smile.

"Oh good. You're not a minor then."

It only took a couple of minutes before Angel could trade in her straightjacket for a pair of hip-hugging jeans and a cute navy zip-up hoodie with a tank top underneath. The clerk seemed a little disappointed with her choice of casual attire. The hoodie was nice and baggy, so it didn't cramp up her hidden wings much.

After a few more flirtatious smiles and fake giggles, the clothes were eventually paid for, courtesy of a dimwitted example from the male species.

"You're a dear," Angel smiled, wrapping her arms around the clerk's shoulders in the back lot of the store. The boy followed in suit, his hands resting casually on her hips.

"Oh, no problem."

They were nearly the same height. Angel was slightly taller by an inch, so it took no effort at all to place her forehead lovingly against the clerk's. Their lips met and the clerk immediately started to kiss her. Angel grinned into the kiss.

"Thank you, darling," Angel said over the boy's protests to continue, "But you're going to have to forget."


"Forget me," Angel's said, inflicting each syllable like a strike to the head.

Forget me. You never saw me. If anyone asks, the clothes you bought me were for a friend. Go back to the counter. Keep on working. Never let another girl take advantage of you again.

Angel stepped back, idly running a hand across her mouth. Nausea clouded her mind, but she made herself turn away and quickly walk out of the store. It had been a while since she mind-influenced anybody, not including this morning during her escape. She rubbed the back of her neck where a jeweled piece of metal nestled in the middle. She could imagine the neon green light it emitted. It always glowed whenever she used her powers. It was the only way people could protect themselves from her. Angel scowled, tempted to rip it out because of the ache it brought. Ever since it was implanted, it hurt to send out thoughts, talk to animals, but worst of all, the thing tracked her. It sent signals to the damned government— and Itex… They would know where she was the instant she worked her powers. Bastards, every single one of them.

But strangely enough, it didn't seem to count her hearing of other people's thoughts. Angel always considered it a feature she could control completely.

Angel quickened her pace, blending right into the bustling crowd on a Friday night. She walked and walked, possibly for two miles before she found a Starbucks to sit in, claiming a soft couch of her own. This was Washington D.C., a monster of a district, though unfortunately crawling with government agents. She bent her head, lowering her eyes to her lap. She didn't want to draw attention while she was concentrating. Trying to relax for the first time since her escape from that hellhole people called an asylum, Angel drew in a shaky breath.

Her heart was throbbing, unable to contain her delight, hopefulness, and choked sorrow. Angel closed her eyes, barely able to stop a small sniffle. She was finally free.

And Max…

Max was back!

Angel reached out, extending all her senses and searched carefully. They narrowed to a specific pinpoint and her breath was caught as a flood of foreign, yet wholly familiar thoughts came into her head.

Where is this? Where am I? Those buildings… what the heck? Oh, my god. I'm lost. I'm totally screwed.

Angel trembled in her seat. She found Max. West… not too far if she flew. Southern California, most likely. Bracing herself, Angel prepared to deliver a thought—a message for Max. Now that she knew where Max was, she didn't need to take so much effort. There was little she could do during her years in cryogenic sleep other than to hone her powers. Hell, she had been pretty powerful at the age of six. Now she was twenty-two. It was a damn shame she hadn't been up these past five years. Angel couldn't hold back an ironic smirk.

Her message was simple. The less words she used, the less it will hurt when the tracking device activated.

Stay, Max. I'm coming.


Again, the strange voice entered her head. Max almost dropped out of the sky when she heard it. There was a faraway sensation when the voice had spoken, as if it had been echoed through a long tunnel. Max even paused, hovering awkwardly with quick flaps of her wings. She looked around, seeing nothing but pink-tinged clouds of twilight. Knowing that it was the same voice she heard in Antarctica, Max began to feel uneasy.

More uneasy, she silently amended.

With a tilt of her wings, Max flew in lazy circles. She had no clue where she was since she couldn't exactly control her super speed powers very well. Below her was a giant metropolis, though she had to hide herself among the clouds to avoid being seen. It was hard to imagine that only an hour ago she had been in Antarctica. Max tried to picture a generic world map in her mind, and it shocked to see a clear image of it. Her eyes were open and all she could see was the sky, but there was another vision from her head. A perfect map. The double sense of sight made her momentarily dizzy. One was real, the other was in her mind.

Max instantly thought of the computer chip in her arm and the South Pole base. Of course. She was practically a living memory stick. All sorts of information had been processed into her. While extremely useful, Max didn't cherish the idea of being a robot. She'd deal with it later. Might as well use the 'map'.

She immediately thought of South America, though she didn't know if the place had big cities. She always thought the area was more rural. Consulting her bird's sense of direction, it felt as if she was a little more… north than South America.

Mexico then.

It seemed like a safe and educated guess. The air was warm and pleasant, driving away the chill she felt moments ago. Already, Max could feel her spirits lift marginally. It was on that feeling that she angled her wings and floated back down to the ground.

She found herself on the outskirts of some large city with dazzling lights and the distant sound of traffic. Max looked cautiously around her as she folded her wings. There was nothing but deserted buildings and empty cement lots. An abandoned car, weeds growing everywhere, the outline of where cement met untreated dry grass.

It was ugly, but at least no one was around.

A second later Max's legs went buckling down. She made a tiny noise of surprise, but managed to fall in a sitting position. Weariness washed over her and Max suddenly remembered that today had been pretty rough, even by her usual standards. With a groan, she forced herself back on to her feet. If she was going to rest, then she better find some shelter.

Max started to wander aimlessly, not knowing where to start. Her feet dragged, thanks to the heavy snow boots she was still wearing. Actually, she was still dressed for zero-degree weather, minus the top coat. Max's face instantly flushed with heat. Now that she thought about it, she was getting extremely hot.

Fifteen minutes later, Max had pried her way into an old warehouse. The doors had been boarded up, but the windows could be easily broken with a toss of a brick. The cheap glass pane shattered and she was in. With nothing to hide her wings, Max knew she had to stay hidden throughout the day. How she was going to survive without food or water, she didn't know. She figured that it would only be a day of hiding and she was too exhausted to care at the moment, even though she knew she was going to regret it when she woke up.

After shuffling around the abandoned warehouse, Max picked a corner (hell, there was only four to choose from, all of which were equally as uncomfortable as the next). She got between two crates that provided something of a decent hiding spot, not that anyone would want to enter the warehouse anyway.

With a tired sigh and huge yawn, she was asleep in a matter of seconds.


3. Bright Light

A/N: Once again, thank you for the reviews.

Chapter Three: Bright Light

Minutes, hours, days, she could feel the light coming through her closed eyelids. Max didn't want to get up, knowing that she would be incredibly thirsty and hungry if she did. Her whole body was shaking, even though it wasn't cold at all. She had slept with her boots and heavy layers on, if anything, she should be boiling.

"Hey… hey!"

Hands shook her, patted her face, stopped, then touched her wings.

Max opened her eyes and scrambled up, lashing out with her arms and feet. Her hand came in contact with something that felt like a face. Guessing right, there was a startled yelp followed by a string of curses. Mind still fogged from sleep, Max kept on striking her disturber.

"Jesus Christ! Will you just stop! You're gonna hurt yourse-"

Max aimed a blind punch and apparently missed when her fist collided straight into one of the crates. She let out a cry.

"There, you see? Now you've gone and got splinters all over you, punching a hole in a crate like… that…"

The voice trailed off, ending on a high note of surprise. Max looked at the person for the first time, saw his expression of surprise, and instantly pulled her wings into a tight bundle. It was too late to hide them now.

"Look at that!" the man exclaimed in disbelief.

Max gave him a stony stare, slowly backing away. The man was no doubt an unfortunate homeless hobo. His clothes were unkempt and stained with dirt. He had a full salt and pepper beard and a grin that was missing a tooth, but there was a glint in his brown eyes that spoke of intelligence… or possibly insanity. Max knew plenty of smart and crazy people herself.

"Broke clean through the wood!" the hobo laughed, peering at the broken crate she had punched. He turned to her, eyes wide. "How did you do that?"

Max stared, too stunned to continue moving away from the man.

"I'm… I'm a strong girl," she answered lamely.

"I'll say," the man agreed, "Not quite a delicate bird, eh?"

Max frowned. Mad, this man was mad. He didn't seem at all concerned with her wings, wings that he just touched to wake her up. That being the case, she took a few more steps back and turned to run.

"Woah, miss!" the man called after her. She could hear him getting up and scrambling after her.

Max ignored whatever else he said and went for the open window she had broken. She glanced despairingly at the broken glass. It had taken her minutes to wiggle through the opening when she broke in and she didn't exactly have that leisure time now. Gripping on the window frame, she hauled herself up, carefully lifting her foot outside.

"You know, the door's unlocked from the inside. You can just go out from there," the man said from behind her.

Max craned her neck, unsure of what to do. She might have felt embarrassment at that point, but the hobo saved her from humiliation by not looking the least bit interested in her. Max hesitantly climbed down and started making her way to the door.

"Uh… thanks," she said, knowing that she'd feel guilty if she didn't say anything, "And sorry about the window, I guess."

"Oh, shame about that," the man replied sadly. He patted his pockets and dug out a battered cigarette and lighter. Quickly lighting his cancer stick, he took in a savoring puff. "But there was no harm in that. I remember when I broke my first window, it was pretty darn exciting. Everyone needs to break one once in a while. It's good for the soul."

And Max didn't know how to answer that without offending him, so she didn't say anything. The hobo took another drag and glanced at her with an assessing gaze.

"You're a bit far from the up-side, aren't you?" he asked.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Max said and she didn't even have to lie.

"You shouldn't be running away from home yet. You should wait a few more years. It isn't easy on the streets, especially for young girls like you."

If any other hobo had said that to her face, Max would have gladly gotten out some pepper spray. Yet, there was something about this old man that was… helpful and not at all creepy. She was pretty sure she hadn't been traumatized enough to cling to the first person she happened to see in a while.

"I can manage," she said curtly.

"I'm sure you can," the man said in a complying tone. He shrugged. "But why don't I just lead you out of this crummy place? It'll still be better for you in the up-side part of town."

Max's eyes narrowed. There was no use in denying that she was lost and she was definitely not in Mexico like she thought she would be. The hobo had a gruff and friendly voice, but no accent. Definitely American though, she was sure of that.

"And what town would this be?" she asked.

The hobo gave her a puzzled look. "Not really a town… San Diego, missy," he said, sounding reluctant for the first time since she met him.

Her surprise must have shown on her face because the hobo laughed.

"I'm not kidding. San Diego isn't all glamour and glitz. I'm afraid you haven't ran far enough," he chuckled.

Max nodded as if she understood. Fine, let him think that she was a runaway teenager. "I guess so," she replied neutrally.

"Oh, don't scowl like that. Here, I'll take you back. Pampered little girls like you shouldn't be here," he grinned, holding out his hand for her to take.

Max glanced at it distastefully. "I'm not pampered. And I'm definitely not little."

"Well, I'm fifty years old, so you're little if I say you are," the hobo scoffed, cleverly tilting his hand for a handshake instead. "I'm Miguel."

Max remembered that his hand didn't look very clean the last time he held it out, but she shook it anyway. "Ma… Madison."

The hobo smiled and Max was obliged to quirk her lips in a pale imitation of it.

"Come, Maddy!" Miguel said breezily, "It's going to be a long walk."


They actually didn't get very far. As soon as they had stepped out into the bright sunlight, Max felt an acute stab of hunger and thirst. When Miguel saw the signs, he offered her a cigarette, which she politely refused. During their walk, Miguel had told her bits and pieces of his life. He seemed to have omitted some key parts from his story, or maybe he just liked to jump around, but Max listened to him anyway. The more she learned about him, the more ironic she felt walking casually beside him. Miguel was a drug addict, which explained his lack of money and constant smoking habits. He was a high school dropout with no family support, no job, and lived in the abandoned warehouse Max had spent the night at.

"I also don't like people," Miguel added, "Can't stand living and talking around them. I think the therapists called me anti-social."

"Well, I'm a person," Max couldn't help but point out.

She closed her mouth once Miguel gave her a raised eyebrow and a sardonic glance in her direction.

"Of course," he said, "A person with-"

"Yes, Miguel," Max interrupted loudly with a frown. She lowered her voice. "But don't you find that… strange?"

"Not really."


Miguel suddenly stopped walking, "Ah… here we are!"

Max looked and wasn't very impressed. "I don't think this is the upside of San Diego."

"And you're absolutely right," Miguel laughed, "This is just the shelter for hungry folks like us."

Max fell silent, suddenly feeling very abashed. Miguel had known she was hungry and probably heard her stomach growl a million times during their walk. She hesitated.

"You must be starving," Miguel said, catching her eye, "I know I would be if I slept for two full days."

That was new. "I was asleep for two days?" she exclaimed. Angel, Gazzy, everyone… I'm so sorry.

"Maybe longer than that since I hadn't realized you were behind the crates," Miguel admitted, "That's why I woke you up."

Max gave him a sideways glance. For a drug addicted hobo, Miguel was noble and even educated in a weird and friendly way. Maybe it was a cruel stereotype, but she was sure not all hobos would act like he did.

"Thanks," she said, trying to muster up some genuine feelings into the word. Max couldn't feel happy when she completely wasted a day to find her family.

He shrugged, "I couldn't just leave you there."

"Yeah. Didn't want a smelly mess, right?" Max attempted to grin, but Miguel stopped in his tracks.

"That's a horrible thing to say," he said sharply.

"Oh… sorry."

"Well… okay," Miguel said grimly. He stayed gloomy for a moment and was heading towards the homeless hostel with a cheery smile before Max could even blink. She hung back.

"Anything wrong?" Miguel asked, turning around and scratching his beard.

"I don't think I should go in."

"How come?"

"Well," Max shrugged her shoulders in an exaggerated manner to let her wings rustle loudly. "You know, I just don't want to be seen…"

Miguel frowned thoughtfully. "You should wear my jacket," he said.

Max took a look and tried not to wrinkle her nose, "No thank you. Can't you get some food for me and I can eat out here?"

Miguel shook his head.

"Sorry, I can't take two meals with me. You'll have to come inside."

Max sighed as her stomach said an agreement for her.

"Fine. I'll take your jacket."


Two days without food would probably make anything taste like a meal from a five-star restaurant. Max was still hungry after her first tray, but after seeing the other malnourished patrons, she willed her stomach to stop complaining. Miguel, on the other hand, ate very little and gave the rest of his food to Max. She suspected that he did it on purpose, but Miguel only chuckled and lit himself another cigarette.

After they were done eating, Max located a surprisingly clean restroom to strip away her extra layers and clean up as best as she could. It didn't amount to much. She still looked tired and starving, only more damp. Leaving her extra clothes left her with a thin black thermal shirt and outer snow pants. For the sake of hiding her wings, she kept Miguel's battered jacket. Soon after, she and Miguel went back outside and continued walking. Though Miguel kept her entertained with his stories, she often withdrew in silent contemplation and let his voice flow over her. She could feel something wrong. It was a gut feeling, or maybe it was the food. Her eyes wandered, seeing the desolate downtown area turn into a more respectable shopping district. It was still nothing fancy though.

It wasn't until then that she noticed how odd some of the buildings and passing cars looked. The buildings looked normal in design, but they were painted in bright and glittering colors that Max had never seen before. The smooth texture of the walls almost reminded her of the Itex School. She repressed a shudder and stared at the cars instead. There were a few she recognized… a Toyota Prius, Honda Hybrid… an Odyssey van…

But every single vehicle make she knew looked old and battered. She noticed that the cars she didn't recognize were strangely quiet and… sleek. Max had to privately use the word 'futuristic'.

Now… the people she saw… Well, Max had assumed that today was some sort of holiday- like Marti Gras. Everyone looked bright and glowing. Even the people who were wearing black seemed to sparkle. She knew it was a little silly to noticed, but hardly anyone was wearing a regular pair of jeans. Those that were seemed to be… unfashionable in their wrinkled shirts or sweaters.

Max had never been to San Diego, so she figured that it was some weird fashion statement going around the place. She even said so to Miguel.

"You'll get used to it," Miguel huffed, "I swear it was only yesterday you kids were wearing tight jeans and styling your hair to cover your eyes. Nowadays it's those ridiculously puff-tri pants and multi-colored mo-tails."

"Excuse me?"

"Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you. You just don't look like the type to wear those."

"I'm not," Max said, still confused. She peered around and easily spotted a teenager her age wearing an odd pair of green pants. They were indeed quite puffy, but she wondered where the "tri" came from. The teenager also sported the love child of a Mohawk and ponytail in the flattering colors of neon purple and navy blue. Max looked away to relieve her eyes. "… and I don't plan to either."

"I thought so," Miguel nodded.

The rest of their walk took only a few more minutes until they reached a bustling park. The area seemed much more urban and bright with well-kept buildings and clean streets. It was obvious that this was probably the 'upside' of San Diego. Max and Miguel looked at each other in awkward silence.

"Well, I guess you can find your way back home from here, right?"

And that, Max thought, was the problem.

"Listen, Miguel…" she began, "I don't know-"

But Miguel seemed to have arrived to a conclusion all on his own.

"Oh! You're one of the sheltered ones! I bet your parents don't let you much, huh?"

"It's nothing like that-"

"No shame in that, Maddy," Miguel said, patting her shoulder, "It would have been easier if you went to the police if you were lost then."

Max quickly shook her head and held up her hands. "No, I don't want the police! I don't want …"

Max, I found you. Stay safe. Stay where you are. I'll be coming.

The voice in her mind startled her so bad that she put a hand to her head. Miguel steadied her, looking concerned. Max quickly lowered her hand. "I-I'm fine."

"What was that about?" Miguel asked, blinking.

"Oh… just a headache," Max lied, finding that voices inside her head did not validate as a sane excuse, "It's gone now."

Miguel frowned, obviously not convinced. "I know some people who know some other people that may have something to help it pass."

Max raised a brow, almost afraid to ask, "You mean, like, drugs?"


"Oh, no thank you then," Max said, touched and mortified at the same time, "I think they'll just give me an even bigger headache."

"Ah," Miguel nodded, "If it's your first time, then I suppose you're right."

"I hope there won't even be a first time for me," said Max with a light emphasis and swiftly changed the subject. "Anyway, I think I should wait here for a while."

"Wait for what?" Miguel asked, looking around nervously.

That was a good question, Max thought. She certainly didn't know. The voice told her to wait and even though it was a straightforward command, it still ended up sounding vague. Wait here? In the park? For how long?

Max saw that Miguel was starting to get uneasy. He actually started pulling out his collection of used cigarettes to calm himself. She then remembered that Miguel didn't like being around people. It was hard to remember that he when seemed so social with her, but while the park wasn't teaming with people, there were enough around to make it energetic with activity. The day was late in the afternoon, so there were plenty of kids running around with their parents, a few joggers, and even a tai chi group exercising nearby. Most of the people gave Miguel and Max a wide berth, as if they were incased in a bubble. Well, Max couldn't blame them. Miguel looked very out of place in the nice and tidy area and she supposed she looked a bit bummish herself in his coat too.

Taking a bench for the two of them, Max shrugged. "I'm supposed to meet someone here."

Miguel sat beside her, but not before he found a discarded cigarette on the ground. He picked it up and inspected it. Deeming it worthy, he put it in his pocket. Max chose not to comment.

"Okay," he said and left it at that as he smoked.

Max sat attentively, twisting her head to view her surroundings. Again, that bold and colorful fashion still made its way to the up-side of San Diego. In fact, Max found it even more apparent here. It was like a rainbow explosion, but every now and then there would be a person with a relatively normal haircut or a simple t-shirt. Admittedly, the "simple" t-shirt still had a weird metallic sheen, but Max was ready to take normal to a new standard.

She kept herself busy with the interesting sights. Despite the fashion trend (or lack thereof), everything else in the park was quite ordinary. Max leaned back on the bench, grateful for the breeze that blew away Miguel's smoke. Glancing at the playground (which actually looked amazingly fun and new), she had to smile when a little blond girl climbed up on a high slide and demanded her mother to watch. The mother complied and called out encouragements. Giggling, the little girl jumped…

… and unfurled her black and grey speckled wings.

She drifted down, graceful as any bird.

Without meaning to, Max had stood up. "Oh my g-"

"What is it?" Miguel asked, startled by her sudden leap.

"That! That girl!" Max exclaimed, mind working furiously to sort her thoughts. "She had freakin' wings!"

Miguel appeared baffled, "So do you, Madison. And them."

Max followed his line of sight and was further stunned into silence. There, a boy with white wings was playing on a swing. Another older boy who could have been Max's age was chatting with four of his friends (two of which who also had wings). A winged girl there, and three more nearby.

Max slowly sat back down.

"You seem… shocked," Miguel commented blandly.

"That's freakin' obvious."

"Watch your language, Maddy…"

Max gave him a glare. He may have heard wrong, but she didn't curse. At any rate, she didn't have time to worry about her mouth. "I didn't say anything," she muttered.

Now Miguel gave her a glance of disapproval. "I may be old, but I'm not deaf."

"What? Freakin'? You can't be serious," Max grumbled, rubbing her temples. She had to focus and figure out what the hell went wrong. Her trip to Antarctica only lasted a week! Possibly add in another week and well, now the world seemed to have turned upside down.

"Well, I admit I can cuss like a sailor sometimes," Miguel said wryly, "But you, an aveman, would be one of the last people I'd expect to say something like that."

Max blinked, a sudden spark of realization creeping up her back. "You mean… like freak?"

"Christ!" Miguel groaned, "Don't let anyone hear you say that. What kind of parents did you have? Wait, don't bother answering, I think I know. Here, let me explain. Well, most avemen, except you apparently, and their old folks would get pretty pissed if they caught anyone using that word."

"Oh…" Max said, taking an educated guess that 'avemen' meant people like her, "Really?"

"Well, you wouldn't call a gay person a faggot, would you?"

"No, of course not," Max replied hastily, "But… freak? Since when did that become so-" she searched for a word and found it instantly, "-derogatory?"

Miguel winced as she 'cursed' again, but he saw her genuine confusion and tried to explain once more.

"It didn't used to be. Like how fag used to mean this-" he held up his cigarette, "-the word just got twisted as time passed. Stuff like this happens all the time."

Max fell silent, trying to assimilate everything that she had just seen. "I can't believe this…"

Miguel's bushy brows had risen up and he let out a low whistle.

"Jesus, Maddy, did you live in a cave or something? No wonder you ran away from home."


4. Back Light

AN: Apologies for being late. I was sick (and really didn't feel like writing even if I hadn't been). Now I'm significantly behind in writing… amongst other things in life, which would probably ensue further delays. But hopefully not long ones.

Anyhoo, special thanks to Griffon's Flight for being my much needed Beta and just for being awesome in general. As for the reviews in the previous chapter, you all should know I'm insanely happy with them, good or critical. Also, I can't help but add that this was my favorite chapter to write by far.


Chapter Four: Back Light

The head scientist hurried down the long corridors of the Pentagon, noting the slightly lax measures the security guards gave him. He wanted to yell and scream, no no no! Damn it, they had a high profile criminal on the loose! They shouldn't just let anyone pass through the checkpoints, no matter who they were or what they looked like. The scientist bared his teeth in frustration, but quickly walked on. There was no time to scold the guards yet. He needed to see the Secretary of Defense right now.

"Sir," said a watchful guard, finally setting a good example. "I.D."

The scientist already had his card out and gave it an impatient wave.

"Thank you, sir," lilted the guard, eyeing him with an expression that said civvie. Apparently the man was new around here.

The scientist nodded curtly and went through the double steel doors and straight to his next obstacle, which ironically proved to be more difficult than the guard.

"He's busy," said the secretary before he could even speak. She didn't even look up from her computer.

"This is urgent," the scientist announced patiently, trying to be courteous. The secretary was a pretty lady. Rude, but still quite pretty in her navy suit.

"You'll have to wait," she sighed apologetically and glanced up. The woman blinked, recognizing him. "Oh."

But the scientist was already opening the door to the Secretary of Defense's office.

"I'll just let myself in," he replied shortly and closed the door behind him.

The office was large and would have been called sparse if the walls hadn't been covered with bookshelves and framed awards. The scientist had been in this room a hundred times, so he knew what to expect. As usual, the Secretary of Defense sat at his desk, pouring over a stack of papers with a frown. His pen scribbled non-stop even as he spoke.

"Miss. Khun, be sure to knock next time. In the meanwhile, is that my coffee?"

The scientist glanced around and discretely took a sniff at his lab coat. He wasn't surprised when he caught a strong whiff of the caffeinated substance he drank religiously everyday. Today had been particularly bad since he didn't get any sleep last night. With a polite cough, the scientist caught the Secretary's attention.

"Oh. You," the politician said rather pointedly, "What's the situation?"

"I've been seeing the damage and working the figures. So far, we have no physical evidence of how Angel managed to wake from the cryogenic sleep," the scientist said, dropping a messy folder onto the desk.

"Since you've been gone for nearly three days, I figured that," the politician replied dryly, moving the folder to an unoccupied corner.

"Because of that," the scientist continued without pause, "I am inclined to believe that she had outside help. Someone must have called to her mentally."

The Secretary of Defense's brows drew sharply down.

"Now who would do that? Angel was a sworn secret. I can count the number of people on two hands that personally knew her."

"Which narrows our suspects down considerably, sir," the scientist hesitated for a brief moment and gave a silent sigh, "though I already have one person in mind that—that could have done such a thing..."

"…Her brother," the Secretary murmured.

"I'd hate to think so, but that would be my best bet," the scientist said stiffly as the Secretary's hands danced over the keyboard of his computer. At a touch of the button, he printed a sheet, signed, and sealed it.

"Your orders," the Secretary said, handing the scientist the paper, "Go to him. Don't forget to bring a radio. I heard you two still keep in touch."

"Not… recently, but I can still drop by," the scientist said quietly, taking the paper and opening it. His amber eyes scanned it swiftly. He opened his mouth with a surprised and annoyed grunt. "But… tonight, sir?"

"You will be temporarily relieved of your duty at the Pentagon until you return."

"Oh," the scientist said, slowly folding the paper and putting it in his pocket, "But, sir, if I may suggest that we wait until-"

"Dr. Griffiths," the Secretary snapped, "Will you go or will you not? I can easily change my mind and send a real agent instead, though I know you probably wouldn't want that to happen."

Iggy froze, caught between the two situations he would have liked to avoid at all costs. He stared at his boss, the Secretary of Defense, and tried to keep the look of scorn from his face. He waited for half a beat before choosing the lesser of the two evils.

"Yes, sir. I'll go, sir," he said mechanically and turned on his heel to leave.

"Good man," the Secretary said after him before he quietly shut the door, "I knew I could always count on you, James."


Zachary Walt shifted slightly in his seat and silently reprimanded himself when his eyes darted to the clock that was mounted on the far wall. He had been in the principal's office for nearly fifteen unfulfilling minutes. Trying to focus his attention on the conversation between two parents and the principal, Zachary couldn't help but feel like a useless piece of furniture. He was well aware that he was only at this private meeting for show. Only a year into his teaching career, he had enough experience to know what was about to happen.

Concerned parents. Disapproval. Denial. Roundabout conversation. Hours of talk. Sudden transfer.

Zachary could do without the middle four steps. It would save everyone a whole lot of time and sanity. The clock read four in the afternoon and he decided that enough false pleasantries had been done to last him a lifetime. Nevertheless, he leaned forward and finally engaged himself fully into the issue.

"Mrs. Thomas, I must hear the reason for your son's transfer out of my class. I would like to know how to improve my skills as a teacher. You can help me by telling me what I have done wrong," Zachary said, adopting a serious tone he reserved for parents.

The mother had the grace to blush and the father appeared even more bashful. The man hadn't said much the entire meeting, so Zachary assumed that it was his wife who held the conviction for the cause.

"Oh no, no," Mr. Thomas said, scratching timidly at his thin goatee, "It's not you. Not your teaching abilities. Not at all."

Ms. Montag, the principal, threw Zachary a quick apologetic glance, but Zachary ignored it and pressed forward. The quicker they said it, the sooner he could leave and be done with it.

"Then I have no idea how to take this," Zachary said, lying artfully. He folded his hands on the table and appeared contrite. "Ricky is a very good student. I would hate to lose him."

The mother was young. She was well-dressed and wore a solemn look on her face. Zachary didn't think the expression suited her. He could see the smile and laugh lines around her generous mouth and eyes. Looking at her made it hard to feel resentment towards a mother who only wanted the best for her child.

Mrs. Thomas lowered her eyes as if to reorganize her thoughts. Zachary waited patiently and never took his eyes off her as she spoke.

"Mr. Walt… Our family, we try to live as best as we can on a moral basis. Ricky grew up with that foundation. We're only good Christian people a-and…well, and we believe—Robert and I-- that our son shouldn't be exposed to-" she waved an airy hand, as if trying to summon the right term.

"Homo sapiens aves [MSOffice1 ?" Zachary suggested gently, "Avemen? Avian hybrids? Bird people?"

"-to people who appear to be the watchers of the Bible," Mrs. Thomas said firmly. She knew she sounded blunt, but Zachary was glad that the worst was over. Finally, an accusation and sadly enough, it was not the first time he had heard it. Angels. Holy Ones. Hosts of Heaven. Messengers. Watchers. He had heard them all.

"I assure you, ma'am," the principal interjected, "that Mr. Walt would never instill any sort of religious-"

"Oh, oh yes, I agree, but that's not the point," she said primly.

"Oh… then what is?" Zachary asked, even though he had heard the answer a dozen times before.

"Your appearance, Mr. Walt. I'm sure you are a fabulous teacher, but I can't have my son be influenced by… by how you look."

"With all due respect, your son doesn't seem to have a problem with me or the other winged children," he replied truthfully, though he suspected that his tone might have hinted a bit of harshness.

Mrs. Thomas, who had been on edge since the beginning of the meeting, took that as the final nudge into desperation.

"You don't understand! Just last week my baby climbed a tree in our backyard. I tried to call him down and do you know what he said?" she cried.

Zachary could literally feel his stomach drop miserably.

"He said that he wanted to be just like you. My son jumped, Mr. Walt! Without a doubt! Why, thank goodness Robert was there to catch him. And not even a moment passed before Ricky was wishing for wings again. So Mr. Walt, don't you dare tell me that my son hasn't been at all affected by your—your mere presence!"

Silence. Unending, painful silence.

Zachary's jaw clenched and loosened. He felt his cheeks flush with heat, but he refused to show anything more than that. Tactfully, he picked up a pen and started to sign Ricky's transfer papers.

"From what I understand, you want Ricky to transfer out of my class into Mrs. Roland's?" he asked quietly.

Mrs. Thomas seemed to relax visibly.

"That's correct."

"Mrs. Thomas, this is an integrated school. Your son will still be… exposed to avemen children," Zachary half-said, half-muttered. His polite mood could only last for so long, but Mrs. Thomas quickly put him back in his place.

"When he jumped, he told me to watch, because he claimed to have seen you do it a million times. It's not the children, Mr. Walt," she said.

Zachary couldn't help but wince. He willed his head to nod.

"I see," he said, "Of course, I only have the best interests for Ricky. I know he'll be successful in Mrs. Roland's class as well." With a closing click of his pen, he handed the signed transfer papers to Ms. Montag.

Seeing the finality of the act, Mrs. Thomas rose from her seat, followed closely by her husband. She shook Ms. Montag's hand with a murmur of thanks and held it out again to shake his. Zachary took it graciously. Without another word, Ricky's mother left, almost leaving her husband behind. He had stopped to also shake Zachary's hand.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Walt. He's only in kindergarten. If you perhaps taught a higher grade-" Mr. Thomas began, but Zachary only shook his head.

"I enjoy dealing with kids," he said simply, "Thank you, but I like where I am."

Mr. Thomas paused but eventually gave Zachary a sad smile before he also exited after his wife. When the door closed, Zachary blew out his cheeks and slumped in his chair. He laughed weakly.

"Whew! That was the fourth one this year," he said with a rueful smile, "At least more parents are starting to request transfers before the school term actually starts."

Ms. Montag did not speak for several moments. When she did, she gave Zachary a reassuring grip on his shoulder, very nearly brushing her hand on his gray wings.

"I'm sorry, Zach," the older woman said.

"Oh no, none of it's your fault," he answered, waving a dismissive hand, "Give it a couple of more decades. They'll come around. I just have to do my part by letting the new generation adjust."

"But it's the old generations that are holding them back."

"That's why I said to wait a couple decades," Zachary grinned.

A brief smile touched Ms. Montag's features. A polite, fair, and caring woman, she was an easy person to get along with. She was one of his first few friends he made at the Parklane Elementary School a year ago. He valued her friendship as much as he valued her sound judgment as the school's principal.

"Well then," she said briskly, "I'll take care of the papers for you. Today's been a rough day. Go home and take a nap, Zach."

"You sound like me in my classroom," Zachary noted mildly as he made his way out of the office.

"It might surprise you, dear, but I started out teaching kids like you," Ms. Montag replied merrily.

Zachary caught the double meaning and he chuckled, "I believe you. See you tomorrow, Rachel."

"Have a good one, Zach."


Of course, Zachary couldn't just go home right away. He went straight back to his classroom, picking up some of the toys his students had forgotten to pick up. It didn't take too long. There were only three items on the ground, so it was three minutes off from their recess. With a small grimace, he stopped stalling and went over to Ricky's desk. He removed the boy's name tag, tapping it lightly against his chin. Mrs. Roland had already gone home, so he would have to wait until tomorrow to give it to her. Zachary put the name tag back on the desk.

He didn't know what to do with himself at the moment, but the reading corner looked awfully nice. In a couple of seconds, he was flopped belly first over a bed of beanbag chairs. His wings flapped playfully, almost hitting against the walls and causing the posters to flutter. Maybe he could just nap here.

Although it apparently wasn't meant to be when a knock sounded on his door.

"Come in!" he called, struggling to sit back up.

The door opened and Iggy came in, looking a little worse for wear. Then again, the sight wasn't so new to Zachary ever since Iggy became a college student and, more recently, a head scientist. Zach also thought of jetlag, but his friend appeared too unsettled just for a plane trip.

"Geez! Did you actually fly all the way from D.C. to California?" Zachary asked, half-concerned, half-teasing.

Iggy's wings rustled in exaggerated annoyance, but the older man's smile seemed muted.

"Hello, Zachary. And no, I didn't actually fly. I took the plane. Sorry to drop by unexpectedly."

For a full two seconds, Zachary didn't answer.

"Oh. It's no problem," he replied cautiously. Iggy never called him by his full name and actually, he never called him by his shortened name either.

What happened to just Gazzy? Zachary wondered.

To make matters more suspicious, Iggy had bluntly apologized about 'dropping by'. They were practically brothers! It had been months since they last saw each other and Gazzy was damn sure a stupid apology was totally uncalled for. He monitored his friend's odd behavior with a puzzled brow.

"Thanks," Iggy said politely, stepping inside and turning in a full circle to close the door.

Gazzy, or formally known as Zachary Walt now, saw an unnaturally faint outline from beneath Iggy's wrinkled polo shirt. He would have totally missed it if Iggy hadn't twitched his wings so much and tilted his head to silently expose a dark shadow on a spot below his neck.

His best friend was wired and he was being tapped. Gazzy nervously licked his lips.

"So James," Gazzy said, using Iggy's birth name to show that he knew, "How are you? I haven't seen you in a while." He gestured towards the mini chairs so that Iggy could sit. Despite himself, he smiled. Likewise, Iggy appeared equally amused when he regarded the tiny furniture. He might as well sit on the ground because of his tall height. Instead, the scientist sat on one of the desks, finding it to be the perfect chair for him.

"Not very good," Iggy admitted, sounding unusually serious, "I'm here on business, Zachary."

Gazzy wished he would stop using that name. It sounded weird coming from Iggy. "Nothing bad, is it?" he asked, even though he knew that it probably was.

"Is there a private place to discuss this?" Iggy asked, ignoring Gazzy's pointed question.

Gazzy gave Iggy a perturbed glance, but rose from his seat to lock his classroom door. "This is just about as good as it gets on short notice. The janitor won't come in till six." He meandered over to a separate cluster of desks to sit on, drawing his legs up and crossing them. Crisscross-applesauce, he thought automatically. It was something he always said with his students and he couldn't help but sit like them as a habit. "So, what can I help you with?"

Iggy had been staring at him the whole time with his amber eyes. It had been close to nine years since Iggy had the transplant and Gazzy still found the unique-colored gaze unnerving. It wasn't just the color that was unnatural either. The shape of the eyes were also… alien. They weren't slanted or almond-shaped but rather… rounded and oval. The light color of Iggy's new eyes also made his pupils very easy to see. Gazzy had always been fascinated by the way they reacted to light. Even the slightest change caused a drastic narrowing or widening of the pupils. Iggy had explained long ago that they were very sensitive. He never actually said if they had been human though. Gazzy didn't have the nerve to ask either. All he knew was that the pair of eyes had been kindly donated.

"I want to tell you that your sister is doing well," Iggy said. His pupils narrowed into twin specks.

At first, Gazzy was too shocked to say anything coherent. He probably made a small noise of surprise. Iggy had been in charge of keeping Angel stationary. His amiable mood soured instantly. "Of course she's fine, you put her to sleep." Oh god, something happened. "Why are you telling me this?"

"I just thought you should know-"

"Because it's not like I even have a sister anymore," Gazzy finished flatly and looked away, "Anyway, you could have just sent me an e-mail about it. What's your point?"

"Well, first of all, the whole nation should be in a panic, but they're not. Hardly anyone would recognize Angel even if she slapped them across the face and brainwashed their mother… which is probably the point you're looking for. Listen, Zach, she's-" Iggy suddenly leaned over and grabbed his friend's arm to hold him down. "O-oh, geez. Watch it. You okay?"

Gazzy had turned chalk white and lightheaded in a matter of moments. He gripped Iggy's free arm tightly.

"She got out?" he whispered, nauseated.

"We've been tracking her movements every time she uses her powers. She's making her way to California," Iggy explained, his formal tone becoming slightly gentler.

"So she might be coming for me," Gazzy said. He held back a shiver.

Iggy frowned and shook his head. "We can't prove that. She was still asleep when you moved here. She would still think that you were living in New York."

"She could easily sense me here. Angel can do that kind of stuff. Didn't you know that?"

Iggy shook his head, still disagreeing. Obviously Iggy knew something and wasn't likely going to tell him about it. Either that, or his best friend was limiting what he could say because of the radio tab he wore.

"I'll look into it. You should be safe as you are."

"And… what if she does come for me?" Gazzy asked, fidgeting.

Iggy held up his hand and crossed his fingers. It was the old sign. Wait. With his other hand, Iggy took out a small device that looked like an ordinary flash drive. He gave to Gazzy and said, "If you see her, break off the cap immediately. I'll be nearby. Well, my agents will be, but I'll still be in California."

Gazzy fingered the device, still a bit unsure of the mixed messages he was getting. Wait?

"I'm not going to lie. You're suspected to be conspiring with Angel. She's your sister, after all."

Iggy raised a brow and Gazzy suddenly understood. "It's not like we parted on good terms," he said coldly.

"None of us did," Iggy shrugged, easing his way back into a standing position.

Gazzy got up as well, "I'll call if she comes."

Iggy glanced at him with a small sad smile. He held out his hand. "Thank you, your cooperation is appreciated."

Gazzy reached for it, but Iggy quickly grabbed his head instead and gave his light blond hair an affectionate ruffle. He wanted to growl a protest, but contented himself with a baleful glare. Iggy grinned with a spark of his former mischievous self. The silent brotherly exchange did wonders for Gazzy's miserable mood and he couldn't help but grin too.

"Good-bye, James," Gazzy said, trying to keep his voice under control. His powers of mimicry made the task easy and he heard himself sounding solemn and slightly afraid, but he was smiling anyway.

Iggy, who didn't have such powers, only nodded. He risked a curt good-bye, but even that echoed with a hint of warmth. The scientist left quickly, leaving Gazzy feeling drained and exhausted. He inspected the curious flash drive device, finding it plain and inconspicuous. Iggy probably made it just for him. Or for Angel.

Gripping the device, Gazzy was slightly appalled when he felt a single tear sliding down his cheek. He hadn't broken down and sobbed or anything. He stayed perfectly still, but there was an uncomfortable pressure squeezing his chest and he knew that he was crying.

"Well," he said, testing out his voice. It had a tiny gasping quality to it and Gazzy cleared his throat. "That was weird." He decided to take the advice that he gave to his students whenever they wept; …say what's wrong and work your way up from there. Gazzy wiped away the irritating tear and laughed breathlessly.

"I guess I don't know if I should get my hopes up…" he muttered, "especially when there's nothing good to look forward to."


5. Day Light

AN: As expected, "The Final Warning" mucked everything up. I did not read the fourth novel (I wiki'd it) and the story will continue as if the events in it never happened, although I will incorporate a bit of it into 15YG, because I realized that some stuff fits marvelously (and freakishly) well. To those of you who have not read "The Final Warning", there's not much to worry about because you probably wouldn't even know the spoiler if I put it in, haha.

Much beta love to Griffin's Flight, who makes sure I do not sound like an illiterate idiot.

Chapter Five: Day Light

Max waited. She waited until the sun went down the horizon and there was no light other than what the street lamps had to offer. Still, no one came for her. Yet, she had seen a lot of things that day; avian hybrids walking around (all of them no older than her), children playing, and people more or less coexisting together. It was extraordinary. It was unreal. It was just a little bit scary too.

"How?" Max had asked Miguel before he left her. The hobo had started to appear slightly ill the longer he stayed at the park. He clearly did not like open spaces. Her question provided her with two things; a distraction for Miguel and an explanation to ease her scattered mind.

"How what?" Miguel had fired back, just as confused as she was.

"I mean," Max gestured to the winged children at the playground, "Since when did this happen? They're, like, normal kids. Not stuck in some lab as experiments…." Like how I would be.

"Well, I guess they are just normal kids, only with something a little extra," Miguel said, "You're the first one I've met, but you have an interesting view for an aveman."

Max let out a frustrated sigh and held out her hands, "Like you said, I don't get out much. Is it like this everywhere now?"


"I mean bird people being free to walk around in public without anyone wanting to hunt them down to use them as lab rats! How did this happen? I thought—I thought that me and my flock were the only-"

Perhaps it was the little edge of hysteria that crept out or the wild look in her eyes, but Miguel clamped his hand over her shoulder to silence her. Max paused for breath, helplessly shrugging his hand off.

"Sorry," she grimaced, "I'm just lost here. Tired… Confused."

"And hungry?"

"That too."

"I'll go find us something to eat then," Miguel said, a little too eagerly. He stood up and started shuffling away. "Stay here, I'll be back."

Max had watched him leave, wondering where and how he was going to get the food. Well, she was prepared to eat anything at any rate. Stomach growling, Max rose from the bench and made her way towards the playground. There were a few kids running around, but most of the earlier occupants had left. Much to her relief, the avemen teenagers were also gone. Even if she took off Miguel's coat and exposed her wings, Max felt that she would not have fitted in very well anyway. She was used to hanging around younger kids, so it was only natural that she squatted beside a little winged boy in the sandbox. Maybe she could find out something.

"Hi," she said with a friendly smile.

The boy had noticed her before she was even in. He stopped his intent digging and gave her an openly curious look. "Hello?"

"That looks fun," Max commented when the boy didn't say anything else, "What are you making?"

The boy shrugged, moving his small wings up as he did. He was obviously hesitant to share the sandbox with her. "I'm just digging."

Max knew that he probably did not want to be bothered. She was in the middle of standing up when a lady– most likely the boy's mother—came by with quick and measured steps. She took her son's hand.

"Come, we have to go home now," she said with a wary mother's eye on Max, "Daddy's waiting."

The little boy frowned, not wanting to leave his play area. Another glance at Max, however, seemed to change his mind. The boy got up, shaking sand from his wings and left with his mother.

Max sat back, appalled. What had she done? Did she look dangerous? Was it Miguel's ragged coat? Honestly, it didn't look that bad… and she was only being friendly. Max looked around, but she couldn't see the little boy or his mother. There were still some kids in the playground, but none of them ventured to her part of the sandbox. Pursing her lips, Max shrugged off the coat and casually stretched out her wings.

A few minutes later, a girl with black curly hair wandered over to her. She had a mottled grey pair of wings speckled lightly with a pleasant blue color.

"Can I play too?" she asked.

"Sure," Max said with a grin. The younger girl grinned back.

Maybe the boy had been unfriendly and maybe this girl just wanted to play, but Max had a rising suspicion that their actions had not been based naturally. She stood up, waved bye to the girl, took Miguel's coat in her arms, and started to walk around the playground. Well, she hadn't noticed before, but there was a distinct separation between the children in the playground. Small clusters of avemen kids and smaller clusters of normal children. Of course, there were one or two groups with mixed beings, but even then they stood or sat next to each other accordingly.

Max went back to her bench and found that Miguel was waiting for her there. He handed a plastic bag to her. Max glanced inside, finding four large sandwiches, neatly wrapped.

"You bought these?" she asked dubiously. By now she figured that Miguel's feelings could not be damaged so easily.

Miguel shook his head and looked rather pleased with himself. "There's a deli nearby that likes to make fresh sandwiches. They give me the ones that they want to throw out. They should be fine, but watch out for the cheese anyway."

Max unwrapped one and ate quickly. The bread was a little hard, but otherwise it was probably the most delicious sandwich she had ever eaten. "So," she began between mouthfuls, "Where did those kids come from?"


Max tilted her head towards the playground. "The ones with wings."

"From their parents, I guess," Miguel said cautiously.

"So they were born that way?"

Miguel shrugged, "You're asking the wrong guy. I heard some stuff about them, but I don't know if they're true or not. About fifteen years ago, they just suddenly appeared. Y'know, after the big Itex scandal." He blinked. "How did you think you were born?"

Max ignored his question and threw in a couple of her own. "What Itex scandal? Since when? Fifteen years ago? I'm about that old and I've never seen any others like me." Except the flock, but she didn't think they counted.

"Well, you were sheltered."

Not that well, Max thought.

"So it's like this in New York too?" she asked, remember her time spent there. Last year, she definitely saw no avian hybrids about.

"Hm. I heard that New York has more of you guys, plus some more," Miguel said, "Not bird people, but other animals too. Not all of them are from rich families either. I heard that they were the first creations that got loose from wherever they came from."

Max ventured a guess that the hybrids loose in New York were most likely her fault. She had to hold back a smile, but after a moment of consideration, she didn't need to. Miguel's story did not add up. The more she asked, the less sense it made. She couldn't see any reason why Miguel would lie to her unless he was totally being misled. He seemed pretty sincere though.

"How do you know about Itex?" she eventually asked, idly starting on her second sandwich. If Miguel thought her stomach capacity a little weird, he did not say anything about it.

"You know that Itex is the company that makes practically everything, right?"

"Yes, even I knew that," Max huffed.

"Settle down. Well, at the time it would have been hard not to know about the big scandal," he said, shrugging, "Even homeless folks like me were passing on gossip for weeks."

"What happened?"

"Lots of people died," Miguel frowned, as if trying to recall a vague memory, "I don't know. The government rounded up the media real good to keep it hushed for a couple of years. Apparently Itex had a lab and a group of its former experiments exposed them, the original avemen, from what I hear. After that, things became messy."

Max briefly wondered if there had been any avian hybrids before her. She was pretty sure there hadn't been, but Miguel seemed awfully truthful, if not clear with all the details. There was a lot of doubt she had accumulated in the past few hours. A part of her wanted to crawl under a rock and think things through while the other half wanted to interrogate Miguel. She had the feeling that the latter would only make her feel more confused, but it was rare for her to talk with someone ordinary. Even if he was homeless.

"Who were these former experiments? Are they… still alive?"

"Of course," Miguel said, flicking ashes from his cigarette, "They're still quite young. All five of them." He paused delicately. "Madison, do you read?"

"Yes," she answered, a little too offended to come up with a witty retort.

"Then I'm sure you can go to the library and read on anything there," he said gently, "No offense, but I haven't spoken this much in the last year." Max nearly scowled, but Miguel had been extremely helpful already. There wasn't any reason why she should get angry at him. The hobo glanced at her expression and held up his hands. "Sorry, but you know how I feel about… talking."

Actually, Max had forgot. It was hard to think of Miguel as anti-social when he had done nothing but converse willingly with her all day.

"It's getting dark," she noted just to change the subject.

"Do you still want to wait some more?"

Max shook her head, "I think I'll come back tomorrow. You wouldn't mind if I stay with you for a little longer, would you?"

Miguel regarded her with a quizzical smile. He shrugged. "No. Just as long as you don't ask anymore questions."

"Deal," Max agreed.


"Okay, but what if I told you that I was one of the original avemen?" Max asked, trying her best to keep up with Miguel while holding her breakfast tray. Both of them were heading back to the park. It was late morning and Max had figured out that Miguel had a very long fuse in terms of temper. Feeling none too guilty, she found it easy to exploit it.

"I doubt it. You're too young," Miguel answered tiredly, walking even faster.

"But I really think I am!" Max wheedled, "You're just a little confused. I don't remember any other avian hybrids before me. I was the first. Or the first successful one, anyway."

"How old are you? Fourteen?"

"Fifteen," Max corrected, almost bumping into Miguel when he stopped walking. The park was empty. The old man sat down on the same bench they had yesterday. She sat next to him, glad to leave the food tray on her lap.

"Oh, I see what you mean. You're just one of the first legal avemen. Your parents were probably the earlier ones to try it," he said, stroking his beard.

"You mean, we weren't born with natural wings? Did they graft us?"

"Well, it's getting to be a popular thing these past few years," Miguel said dryly, "Parents with heaps of cash to spare just go to an Itex lab and put wings on their babies. I heard they can also choose the eye and hair color too. You know the joke, right? Build-A-Baby."

Max stared at him dumbly.

"I take it that your parents never told you?"


"Just eat your food," he said, more for her benefit than his need for a minute of silence.

Max did.


There was nothing much to do while waiting for the voice in her head to appear. Miguel had wandered off to relieve his ears from Max's constant questioning, mumbling something about more cigarettes. She didn't mind waiting by herself. It gave her time to digest whatever information Miguel had told her. Well, Max felt as if her brain was actually vomiting instead to taking in anything. She considered dropping everything, but her need to understand was getting in the way of blind acceptance.

Okay, Voice, Max tried, I'm getting really confused and that's usually when you start talking.

The absence of Jeb didn't escape her notice since Antarctica. She was used to his inconsistent chirps of riddles and vague comments; though those had been very limited ever since she had learned the Voice was him. Max wasn't afraid to admit that she was becoming increasingly worried with his silence. Jeb knew there were times when she should figure things out on her own and times when he should step in and guide her. Right now, she really wanted her father to say something.

Max swallowed her pride and cautiously asked, Dad? Jeb? Are you there?

Well, she had not raised her hopes that high anyway after a sticky minute or two without a single reply. Suddenly feeling stupid from obeying a foreign voice in her head, Max abruptly stood up, shaking her agitated wings. She had given Miguel's jacket back before he left since he insisted that she should wear it whenever they walked through the shabby downtown area. Max could venture a safe guess as to why.

Her mind was in a state of hazy awareness. There hadn't been much to do or look at, this being her second time in the park. Not many people were out today, so she suspected that it was a weekday with children at school and adults at work. Checking but an impatient sigh, she eyed the few passing park goers. It did not take her long to notice a figure walking with a purposeful stride towards her. Warily roused, Max kept on her feet. The park's cement pathway made it logical for the person to come her way and Max couldn't help but feel a little silly for staring intently at the stranger.

It wasn't her imagination then, when the figure turned into a pleasant looking woman with shoulder length hair the color of deep auburn. The woman was young and was probably no less than five years her senior. The majority of Max's attention, however, was drawn towards the woman's blue eyes. Aside from their bright sparkle and clear color, she couldn't escape the feeling of familiarity.

"You're the voice in my head," Max said with no question in her tone. She knew.

The woman paused. She had been staring at her with a vague expression of relief and controlled fear. Max suspected that it wasn't her personal self that caused the slight tremble in the woman's shoulders. Yet as soon as she had spoken, the woman's face abruptly turned from misty to pained disbelief.

"Max," she said with a small, quiet laugh and a shake of her head. "Ah. Of course you wouldn't recognize me." She appeared embarrassed and undecided.

Now prompted to knowing that she must have met the woman before, Max fumbled for a name and a face.

"Oh. Oh, I'm sorry," the woman said and, much to Max's horror, started to silently cry, though the woman appeared equally mortified by her own behavior. She hastily tried to wipe her tears. "Ah, crap. Sorry. I'm just confusing you more. Max, Max…"

Her voice was entirely new to her ears, but Max finally grasped the familiarity of the woman; her blue eyes, her knowing gaze, the way she said her name, how she was crying… Past the cheaply dyed hair, the mature face, the new height…

"Angel?" Max exclaimed softly, the shock of it rooting her to the ground.

That was all the woman needed. With a choked gasp, Angel reached over and pulled Max into a hug.

"I knew it. I knew you weren't gone. Not dead," she whispered fiercely into Max's hair, "I missed you."

Max could only stammer, "But- how?" She did not even have to say anything, not with Angel. Pulling abruptly away, Angel gave Max a small smile.

"I thought you would've noticed," she said staring curiously at Max, who got the feeling that Angel was slowly examining the tangled thoughts in her mind. "Max, all the things Miguel told you; he's right. We were the original avemen. All that was fifteen years ago, when you disappeared in Antarctica."

Angel paused, waiting calmly for Max to take it all in. While Max had no doubt that it was really Angel in front of her, the little blond girl had grown up with a new sense of smug aloofness. Her smile was not as innocent, her voice not as bright. It was funny how she had noticed it right away instead of trying to comprehend her current situation.

Probably picking up on her thoughts, Angel continued ruthlessly on, "Everyone thought you died. I didn't though. I knew you'd come back."

"This," Max began slowly, "-this is the future?"

Angel gave a short laugh that didn't quite suit her happy expression. "An interesting way to put it. To me this is the present, but I guess it's the future for you."

A cold chill ran down Max's spine and to the pit of her stomach. She felt a little queasy as she stared in a daze at Angel. Abruptly falling into the bench, Max lowered her eyes and focused mindlessly on the cement ground. Her whole life story was practically a sci-fi story, full of strange things that no ordinary person would see. How was time traveling any different? "How did this happen?" she asked wearily, as if nothing could shock her even more, "This… this can't happen."

"Don't think too much about it," Angel said with a careless shrug. She had spoken even before Max had gotten all of her words out. "The only thing that matters is you being here."

Max frowned, "But-"

"That can wait," Angel interrupted and held up her hand. "I know what you're thinking, so don't bother asking just yet. Oh, Miguel's coming. What an interesting man." She had tilted her head, fixing her blue eyes on Max. "And no, I've never met him before. I looked into your head and his," she added in a tone of practicality.

Max's frown only deepened. Angel gave her another smile, a bit apologetic but thoroughly amused.

"Who's this?" Miguel had walked over, curiously eyeing Angel and keeping his distance. There had been no malice in his voice, only the unease of meeting a stranger. Angel answered before Max could.

"I'm Maddy's sister," Angel said, adopting an expression of concern. Max stared hard at her, wondering how far the telepath had pried into her mind. "Thank you for looking after her. I was- so worried."

"You shouldn't leave a good kid like her loose," Miguel answered bluntly, "I did what I could, miss."

Angel's lips trembled, an expression of private mirth crossing her face. "Of course," she said, hands going into her pockets to pull out a wad of dollar bills. She held it out to Miguel. "I'm sure you'll need this. Take it."

Miguel blinked in surprise, but he took the money with a nod of thanks. "So you guys are leaving," he said, sounding a little awkward.

"Thanks for everything," Max said, saving him. She smiled and held out her hand for him to shake. His grip was feather light and weak, but he had returned her smile with a crooked grin. It suddenly occurred to her that a plain good-bye was wholly inadequate. Max doubted she would see Miguel anytime soon and the thought made her feel oddly squeamish. It was a problem to be in the future and an even bigger one if she got attached to it. "Maybe we'll see each other again."

Miguel chuckled, giving her a sidelong look. "I hope not. That would mean you getting lost again. Maddy should be outside more," he added to Angel, "A bird's not meant to be caged."

Angel only smiled merrily and laughed, "Of course. Excuse me, but we have to go now. Thank you for looking after Maddy. Good-bye." She took Max by the arm and something about her firm hold stopped Max from protesting.

"Bye, Miguel," she said, looking over her shoulder as Angel walked her off. Miguel lifted his hand and waved once before he turned away and started walking in the other direction. Max opened her mouth to say something, but Angel seemed to always be a step ahead of her.

"What an interesting man," she murmured, tucking a loose strand of brown hair behind her ear, "I'm glad I found you safe, Max."

"Why wouldn't I be?" Max said with a sudden burst of heat, "I've taken care of myself before, not to mention you."

"Physically, yes," Angel conceded graciously and tactfully changed the subject. "And now we have a bus to catch, so hurry."

Max kept in stride with Angel, still feeling a bit irritated. They walked in silence and Max decided to get over "Where are we going?"


"You're joking. What are we going to do there?"

"We're going to see my brother. And before you ask that," Angel added, poking at Max's forehead, "I haven't seen him in three years and I have no idea where Nudge or Iggy are; so stop wondering. You're giving me a headache with all that thinking."

Max found it hard not to wonder at all and she couldn't help but let a few thoughts slip with spite fueling them. Angel's mild expression twitched and her blue eyes hardened. Under her icy gaze, Max glanced away, feeling ashamed that she was getting angry at Angel. It was clear that the older woman was only trying to be cheerful under stressed circumstances. When Max took the time to study Angel closely, the woman had darkened smudges under her eyes and her shoulders continuously tensed from time to time. It didn't take much intuition for Max to see that the future was riding on the bleak side of things.

They came to a bus stop with the bus just rolling in. Max blinked, looking curiously at the large transport. She assumed it was a bus because even after all these years, the vehicle still retained its boxy shape. The only thing that bothered her was the lack of noise. She could hear the quiet hum of the engine, but the door didn't even hiss when it slid open.

Angel went in first and she climbed up after her. As Angel was casually dropping in coins in the slot, Max saw the odd bulge on her back. Oddly relieved by this, Max took the window seat while Angel was perfectly content nearer to the isle.

"Wouldn't it be faster if we flew?" asked Max in a whisper. Despite the fact that avian hybrids were ordinary now, it was still a habit. It hadn't escaped her notice that even Angel was keeping her wings hidden under the baggy hoodie she wore.

"It won't be safe-" Angel began hesitantly, which was the first time Max had heard her sound so.

"We could wait until night," Max clarified, automatically trying to reassure Angel, fifteen years older or not.

Angel glumly sat back, which might've hurt with her wings in the way because the older woman straightened immediately. "I mean, I don't think it's safe for me, especially at night," she explained, looking a little sheepish and annoyed. The bus lurched into a steady speed, easing faster and faster by the second. Angel glanced at the moving city through the window and then back at Max. With a puzzled frown, she shrugged, "I think I might've forgotten how to fly."

To Max, she might as well have said that she had forgotten how to breathe, "What?"

"Don't worry. I'm sure I'll relearn it quickly," Angel said dismissively.

She chuckled, letting her head fall back against the seat and leaving Max in shocked silence.