Home at Last by Venomous Angel 75

Category:Maximum Ride
Characters:Fang, Max
Published:2006-11-09 13:37:20
Updated:2007-07-11 01:51:39
Packaged:2021-04-21 23:52:50
Summary:She's been gone for three years and has just now been able to find her way home. How will the flock react? How will he react? Please review. Warning for Language. Complete

Table of Contents

1. Prologue
2. Together Again
3. Running Water
4. All Mine
5. Back in Action
6. Haunting Past
7. More Running Water
8. To Bed
9. Awake and Back to Sleep
10. A Darker Alternative
11. Explanations, of Sorts
12. Mocha Flavored Comfort
13. Reaching Out
14. Decisions, Decisions
15. Um, Ouch?
16. Meditation with Memories
17. New Developments
18. What Happens Inside
19. Breakdowns and Returns
20. Epilogue

1. Prologue

Disclaimer: I do not claim any right to the Maximum Ride universe.

Three years.

Yes, Maximum. Three years. Are you ready for this?

God, I have no idea, I thought. My stomach was in knots and unconsciousness seemed imminent with my vision all hazy and spinning. For the first time in three years, I was going to see my flock. What if they don't want me back? I hated hearing the panic in my thoughts.

They will.

Though I'm sure the Voice tried, it didn't make me feel any better. There was no guarantee that they would be happy to see me after I had abandoned them to save them.

They know why you left. They understand.

It doesn't matter. They might still hate me. I was sure that I was going to hit the ground soon. I have never fainted in my life, but the monumental stress and anxiety was starting to get to me. Even when we were running from the whitecoats all those years ago, my apprehension had never been so acute. Instead, I walked to the door of the lovely country Victorian that was supposed to be the stable home of the only family I had ever known.

Five minutes passed. Then ten. I lifted my hand to knock at least twenty times, chickening out each time. I had to make a decision soon.

Just knock, Max.

But… I began.


Almost automatically my fist rapped against the heavy wood. I heard shuffling and someone call out. For a few brief seconds I was ready to run. I was ready to take a flying leap off the porch and forget about ever being back with my flock. The instant I took a step to do just that, the lock clicked and the tumblers released allowing the door to swing open. I froze. Too late.

I was afraid to turn around, but the sound of a voice that I had heard every night in my sleep for the last three years forced me to do just that.

"Can I help you?" The deep masculine voice was smooth and even, having settled beautifully in the years I was gone. He was seventeen now, just like me.

I screwed up my courage, reminding myself that I was Maximum Ride, the ultimate, the best. I felt like nothing now. Pivoting slowly on my heel, I kept my eyes down and focused on his shoes. I heard his indrawn breath and lifted my head cautiously to meet his gaze.

My lips twitched up in a nervous smile as I saw for the first time real and true shock on his perfect features. I shrugged. "Hey, Fang."

2. Together Again

Disclaimer: I do not claim any right to the Maximum Ride universe.

"Long time no see," I said. Wonderful conversational skills, no? I almost died right then. He didn't say anything. He just stared. Eventually his face shifted back to its normal state of impassivity, but he really seemed out of sorts for a bit. Damn, I love him.

Hours, days seemed to pass before he even moved. I shuffled my feet a little.

"Can I come in?" I asked. His lack of response was really starting to unnerve me. He still didn't say anything. My heart and hopes sank like the Titanic, maybe a few shards survived.

I shrugged as if it didn't make any difference, but I had to get out of there before I broke down. "Um, or not. I'll just…I'm sorry, this was a really bad idea. I just wanted to," My voice cracked. "…I'll go now." I was babbling. I was babbling uncertainly.

I tried to smile at him but it probably looked more like a grimace. I spun around, wiping away the few drops of moisture that had spilled onto my cheek and prepared to run for my life. I almost made it off the porch, but an iron grip locked around my wrist and yanked me back.

At the unyielding grasp my instincts fired and I twisted in a panic, bringing my leg up and around in a powerful roundhouse kick. His other hand caught my ankle and he held me there firmly as I regained awareness of where I was and who was touching me. The instant I did, I found myself crushed against his body.

Relief nearly brought me down and only his tight embrace kept me from a close personal meeting with the floor. Tears began to flow in earnest and I wrapped my own arms about him. The real thing felt so much better that I had ever imagined in my dreams. Fang was actively participating in a hug and being the recipient was almost enough to make me cry, never mind the additional reasons.

He released me in degrees, but kept hold of my wrist as if he were afraid that I would leave again. After all, I nearly had.

See. The Voice said, possibly sounding smug.

Shut up. I thought and thank god it listened. I had enough to deal with without the Voice's input. I swiped away the tear tracks and grinned shakily at my best friend.

"I thought you'd be back sooner," he rasped, his voice a little husky. His dark eyes were suspiciously bright, too. His gaze raked over me again and again looking for some indicator of a trap or maybe just committing my new scars to memory. Most weren't visible, most I would make certain that he would never see.

I giggled a little hysterically. "So did I." His thumb rubbed little circles on the back of my hand.

"Wanna come in?" He nodded to the open door.

I squeezed his fingers. "Yeah. I do."

He moved first, tugging me along behind him. "Hey! Kitchen now!" He yelled upward as we crossed into the foyer. I heard some muffled shouts and the sounds of bodies moving across the floor above us. "They've missed you," He told me quietly. "We thought you were dead," he said even softer.

I met his gaze and the momentary flicker of sadness prodded at my conscience. "I very nearly was," I whispered.

Then a piercing shriek came from the second floor and there was a sudden stampede down the stairs, which we had passed on the way to the kitchen. I turned away from Fang just as something tall, slender, and blonde barreled into me.

"Oh, Max!" it shrieked. "I thought I'd never see you again. When you left you were so certain that you were going to die and I was so scared that you had. Oh…"

I barely recognized the girl crying on me as Angel. She was so tall, almost as tall as me, and so beautiful. Her pale golden hair fell in perfect waves around her shoulders and her huge blue eyes drowned in tears. I burst into tears myself and clutched her tightly to me.

"I know, baby. I know," I murmured. "God, I love you so much." I started sobbing uncontrollably and I sank to the floor with her in my arms. I stroked her hair and just let everything wash over me. There was no point in resisting. A small cough captured my attention and I raised my head to see Nudge, Gazzy and Iggy standing in the doorway. I shifted Angel to one side and held out my hand.

Nudge and Gazzy both dove for me, clinging to me as if I was the source of life. I almost fell back under the onslaught, but managed to stay upright. The Gasman buried himself into my neck and I could feel the tears sliding down my collarbone, but he cried silently. Nudge wailed right in my ear.

I let them have some time, whispering to them, promising that I was back for good.

After a few minutes, I extracted myself and got up to stand in front of Iggy. His handsome face twisted in an expression of disbelief and confusion. He had gotten even taller since I had seen him last, and he had been over six feet then.

I clasped his hands in mine and brought them slowly to my face. I let him feel my tears, his fingertips stroked gently over my features, his pale sightless eyes beginning to well up. "I'm back, Ig." His skin smelled a little like gunpowder and a lot like soap. Tears started leaking again. "I'm home." My voice broke and he dragged me forward by the back of my neck into an embrace.

He held me tightly and I pressed my face into his chest, soaking his t-shirt. It had been a long time since I had felt so safe and I let go of everything while he held me, crying softly himself, into my hair.

It was a long time before he stepped back and he laughed a little as I brushed the moisture from his skin. "It's good to have you back," he said. "You have no idea what a tyrant Fang is." I twisted around to look at Fang and he had the ghost of a smirk on his face, but his eyes were serious as they regarded me.

The rest of the flock agreed emphatically and Fang threw his hands in the air. "See if I every do anything for you again," he growled in jest and made as if to stalk off.

I pinched Iggy playfully and gave the rest of them a look as I caught Fang's arm. "I'm sure you did a wonderful job," I told him.

He wrapped me in his arms again. "I did what I could until you came back." He regarded me for a second and brushed my hair out of my eyes. "I'm glad you're back," he said close to my ear and I tried to ignore the little shiver of heat that crawled up my spine.

3. Running Water

Disclaimer: I do not claim any right to the Maximum Ride universe.

Please do review if you want me to continue. My ego needs stroking.

Despite my efforts, a faint hint of color flooded my cheeks and the smirks of the younger ones only intensified the blush. Refusing to care, I let him hold me, reveling in the strange feeling.

Yet all at once, I got super conscious of my less than tidy appearance. Having been on the run for six months, I had not found much time to pay attention to my appearance and now I was somewhat uncomfortable. Normally they were in the same boat as I was.

Angel suddenly leaped between us and dragged me out of Fang's grasp. "I am going to take her upstairs. Nudge, could you run down the street and get her some clothes? These have had it." She then proceeded to haul me along behind her out of the kitchen and up the stairs.

"Oh, thank God," I heard Iggy say loud enough for me to hear.

"I heard that," I shouted back. Laughter followed us to the second floor. Angel led me around the corner and threw herself into my arms when we were out of sight. Her tears began anew and she started shaking. I held her as tight as I could and we crashed to the floor together for the second time in an hour.

I gathered as much of her as I could onto my lap and leaned against the wall, rocking her gently. "I'm back, baby. I promise."

"Gazzy said he saw you dead, a bunch of times. He said that he could barely recognize you once, that the only way he could tell was because of some feeling in his gut and your hair," she whimpered.

A sudden fear that she was digging in my head overtook me and I snapped up the shields that I had developed in the lab. They had a telepath there, too, and he liked to scrounge around for my darkest fears, to make them into reality, to test me. She flinched and groaned a little. She had been digging around.

"Don't do that, Angel," I warned her. I would have to keep my defenses up. She should never know what I had been through. "And don't worry. I'm not dead. I'm not planning on dying for a real long time." I kissed her head and moved her back a little. "Now, how about that shower?" I was so desperate to be clean.

She didn't even crack a smile. "You feel like Jeb when you do that," she frowned and got to her feet. She must have know how that would slice straight to my heart, shields or no. I found it hard to breathe for a few seconds.

"I'm just trying to protect you, Angel. You don't need to know what's in my head," I told her.

She sniffed and nodded. "I know, it's just scary when you do that. I know that you aren't doing what Jeb did, but it's hard when you're so blank. It's like you are dead."

I sighed. "Just stay on the surface and we'll be fine, all right?" She nodded again and helped me to my feet.

"Mine and Nudge's bathroom is over here. The boys' is at the end of the hall, down there," she pointed with a look of disdain. "They're disgusting," she whispered.

"I remember," I whispered back. We shared a conspiratorial giggle. The shine was back in her eyes and she opened a cabinet and pulled out a huge fluffy towel. She saw my look of longing and tossed it to me.

The towel was definitely as soft as it looked and I wouldn't take my face out of it, feeling the softness and smelling the detergent. Detergent is one of my favorite smells. It just smells so clean. Angel had to take my arm to lead me into the bathroom. I dropped the towel as soon as she turned on the water and practically shoved her out the door.

"I'll be out in a while," I said, absently patting her shoulder. Her pretty laugh faded to background noise in favor of the sound of running water. She said something about drowning, but I had already closed the door.

I adjusted the temperature with practiced hands to as hot as I could stand it and stripped gleefully. I think that I was giggling uncontrollably until I was under the spray for ten minutes. After that I moaned in absolute pleasure.

I don't know how long I just stood there and let the heat wash over me, scalding and disinfecting me. No matter how clean I had gotten in the lab, I had always felt disgusting after one of their exercises. I had felt like I could never get clean again. Maybe it could happen here.

It had been so cold in the lab, too. I hate the cold.

Feeling a little shiver of cold air down my side, I turned up the heat even more. Eventually I got around to washing my hair. I combed my fingers through the long tangled mass, wincing at the incredible heat as it hit my scalp. Oh, well.

My hand found the bottle of Nudge's favorite shampoo and I dumped about a third of the contents into my hair. I felt like one of those women in the old Herbal Essences commercials. This experience was positively orgasmic. I just hope that I was quieter than they were. Probably not. I think I was louder.

I spent twenty minutes just on shampooing my hair, conditioning took another fifteen, now that my hair reached my lower back and was pretty thick. While I was rinsing the conditioner out of my hair I let my wings untuck to enjoy the water sluicing over my feathers. I love that feeling. It's almost like flying, just heavier.

I found a washcloth and some gel body wash and went to town. I scrubbed my heat singed skin until it was raw and pink. I think that there may have been some oozing, too, but not enough to be gross.

When I finally got out, I was thoroughly waterlogged and slightly sticky to the touch. Damned heat, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I patted myself dry and flipped my hair upside down to squeeze out the excess water.

Rummaging through the cabinets produced some lotion with aloe and I slathered it on generously. Maybe it would make the shiny pink tinge die down a little, and it soothed the irritation.

I straightened and caught a glimpse of myself in the foggy mirror. Automatically, my eyes went elsewhere.

During the time spent in the lab, I had developed an aversion to mirrors because I never knew what I would see. Options included Eraser Max, myself bloodied and torn, or some scene as though I were watching television showing me the goings on of various people in my life. The possibilities were endless and I hated all of them.

I wrapped the towel around myself tightly and reached for the doorknob, but in a sudden burst of recklessness I faced the mirror. Enough of the steam had evaporated so that I saw myself clearly in the silvered glass. To my surprise, I looked like me. I was a paler, leaner, cleaner than I had last seen myself, but I was me.

I touched my face carefully, afraid that I might sprout fur and fangs and go on a rampage. All I saw was what I felt. I brushed my hair to get the knots out, grinned at my reflection, that looked like me, and headed out the door into the hall.

4. All Mine

Disclaimer: I do not claim any right to the Maximum Ride universe.

Fang stood opposite the door, leaning against the wall. He looked up from his feet as I walked out. His gaze slid over me slowly and for an instant I was reminded of the appraising glances of whitecoats and Erasers. I shuddered and shrank into myself.

"Don't look at me like that," I ordered. His eyes softened for a moment and he nodded assent. I wrapped my arms tighter around myself. "I'm not an object. Not anymore."

He pushed away from the wall and indicated for me to follow him. "You never were, Max. It's just good to see you. Real good." We started up a second set of stairs to the attic. We reached a small landing that had two doors branching off of it. Fang pulled a long thin chain over his head and handed it to me. An old style skeleton key was suspended on the chain.

"Try the one on the right," Fang said.

I grabbed the key and slid it into the lock of the door on the right. With the proper application of strength and twist the lock released and the door swung open. Fang stepped close behind me and pushed it open farther. I peered in only to be overwhelmed with what I saw.

The door led to a big room facing northeast. The floors were polished hardwood but the majority was covered by a huge fluffy deep blue rug. An elegant four poster faced the east wall draped in a heavy blood-red duvet with big white pillows. My backpack sat in the middle of the bed, waiting for me to take it up again. I backed up a few steps, almost afraid of the reminder of my desertion. My back hit something solid and warm and I remembered that Fang still stood behind me. His large hands settled on my shoulders. The touch calmed me. The sensation of skin on skin sent a small wave of heat through me.

"We hoped that you'd come back, so we set this up for you," Fang told me. "I'm next door. Iggy's at the bottom of the stairs." A door slammed downstairs, the sound distant in such a big house.

We heard pounding on the stairs and a lot of rustling of plastic bags. Soon Nudge popped into view on the landing. She did have a lot of bags with her. Fang removed his hands from my shoulders.

"Oh, my God," she said when she saw me. "Do you like the room? I picked out the colors. They just seemed so you. Oh, here." She shoved half of the bags into my arms. I almost dropped them and the towel that secured my dignity. Fang intervened, much to my relief. Nudge didn't even notice.

"So I went to this little boutique down the street that I shop at all the time because the clothes fit really well after we modify them and you're about my size so I picked up a bunch of stuff, but in your style. I know that you like simple stuff, but I did get you some cute trendy things. I hope you like them," Nudge ran on and on.

Fang and I exchanged a glance. He dumped the bags he held on the bed and took the rest of them from Nudge. She was saying something about lotions and razors and a haircut, but I was way overwhelmed. I reached out and hugged her tight with one arm while keeping the towel in place with the other.

"Thank you so much, Nudge. I'm sure I'll love whatever you got me," I told her.

She glanced between me and Fang and suddenly wrapped it up. She hugged me back quick and headed for the door. "I'll let you get dressed now and stuff." She bounded back down the stairs, closing the door behind her.

I took a deep breath. "Wow."

Fang chuckled and I grinned in response.

He upended the bags and let what seemed like hundreds of shirts and pants and skirts spill out onto the bed. He whistled. "She really went to town."

Digging through the pile I found a pair of lounge pants and a loose long sleeve shirt. A little more digging revealed some undergarments. Oh, thank heaven. I glanced over at Fang to see him holding up a lacy little bra and panty set. I coughed. Why the hell had Nudge gotten me that?

He glanced up at me, almost startled, and his face flushed. I grabbed them out of his hands.

"Oh. Um…wanna borrow some clothes until we get these washed?" he asked. Smooth save.

I shrugged. "Yeah, sure."

He disappeared for a second, into the other room, his room, I assume, and came back with some sweatpants and a modified t-shirt. The sweatpants were way too long. Oh, well. "Thanks," I said as he tossed them to me.

"Sure, just don't take too long. Dinner's almost done." He smiled at me just before he closed the door and my heart did a funny little hop.

As soon as the door clicked behind him, I threw off the towel and stretched to my limit towards the ceiling. Several satisfying pops drained some tension from my back and I flapped a little to speed up the process of drying my feathers.

I walked over to the dresser on the other side of the bed. Arranged neatly on top was a brush and a picture album. A little dish of hair elastics sat just in front of the big mirror hung on the wall above the dresser. I stared at my reflection, hating the evidence of the past few years etched into my skin in a thousand thin white scars. They marked me as surely as a brand. I wasn't a real person; I was just an experiment.

I turned away and slipped into Fang's clothes. I took a second to breathe in the scent of him which was ingrained in the clothes. He always smelled like the wind and the wilderness and …was that a hint of Calvin Klein?

I took a deeper breath. When did he start wearing cologne? I thought. Not that I minded. I inhaled again. I quite enjoyed it actually. At least he picked something good. Another breath. Something real good.

Do you feel better now, Maximum? the Voice asked.

I nodded absently. I had long ago stopped caring how I looked when the Voice talked to me. It had been the one thing to keep me sane in those last horrible years. I shivered.

I'm glad. You need them, Max. They need you. You got out just in time.

Can we not talk about it? I asked. I did not want to revisit those memories again. I would see them soon enough in my dreams. Any respite I got, I took.

Of course. Forgive me.

I snorted. Like I have a choice.

I squeezed what water I could from my clean hair and pulled it back in a braid. Another deep inhalation of Fang's shirt and I was good to go.

5. Back in Action

I stepped down the two flights of stairs taking the time to learn the house and everything it contained. My mind worked in overdrive trying to figure out how they had been able to do all of this when a picture caught my eye. I picked up the frame and scowled.

It was a picture of Anne Walker and the younger ones standing in front of the house with huge grins on their faces. So, that was how they had gotten all of this. She had set it up for them. Hot rage boiled through me. Did they know what she had done to me? I thought of all of those days and nights spent in a dog crate wondering if I would get food or if they would just leave me to rot now that I had served their purpose. I slammed the picture down and took a deep breath to calm my turning stomach. I couldn't let my guard down anywhere.

I moved into the kitchen where Iggy was sniffing something boiling on the stove, Fang was chopping something up on a cutting board, Nudge was rifling through the refrigerator, Angel sat at the table and Gazzy leaned out the sliding glass door that led to a backyard, I'm assuming.

I sidled up behind Iggy and peered over his shoulder. "So what are we having?" I asked with interest. Food was excellent. Iggy's home-cooked food was heaven. And I was about to die.

He shrugged and knocked my chin back with his shoulder. Another death-glare had no effect and he smirked as if he could see my frustration. "Spaghetti, with my own special sauce, and garlic bread, and lasagna." I dodged out of his way as he carried the huge pot of pasta to the sink and drained it.

My salivary glands were working overtime and I couldn't wait to dig into Iggy's home-cooked food for the first time in three years. I dropped into a chair at the table and propped my head up on one fist, watching how the boys moved around the kitchen so easily. I glanced over at Gazzy, still hanging half out the door.

"Hey, Angel, is Total still around?" I was hesitant to ask as most genetic recombinants have a real short lifetime, but I did want to know.

She looked up from her game of solitaire and nodded. "Yep. He's still around and going strong. I think he might outlast even us." Gazzy slid the door shut and hopped up onto the counter to steal slices of carrot from Fang's cutting board.

"Who's going to outlast you?" came a voice from close to the ground.

I looked down to see Total about to hop up onto the chair next to Angel. "Apparently, you are," I said.

He glanced at me casually, not really caring who I was and then his head snapped around in a painful looking double take. He launched himself at my face licking and shouting. "Oh, my God. You're alive! You're here! They didn't kill you!"

I took as much of the licking as I could and then brought him down enough so that he couldn't quite reach my face and scratched him behind the ears to placate him. "Yeah, I'm still around." I set him on the chair next to me. It was definitely good to be home. I fell right back into things as if I had gone to get groceries. I caught the Coke that Nudge tossed at me and cracked it open immediately. Cold soda is very nearly the best thing ever. What can I say? It's been a while.

Fang tossed the sliced carrots into a big bowl and set them on the table. I grabbed a handful and stuffed a few in my mouth. Readily available food is so wonderful. I felt Fang's gaze settle on me. He always had a way of exerting pressure with his eyes. It drove me crazy. I think he could sense that I wasn't completely relaxed, but I'm sure that he didn't know why.

He snagged a Coke for himself and dropped into the chair next to me, his face inscrutable.

I pushed thoughts of betrayal out of my mind and then all of us were distracted as Iggy announced the completion of dinner. A cheer went up as he set the huge bowl of spaghetti and a large dish of lasagna on the table along with two loaves of garlic bread. With a prayer of thanks to whatever god was out there, I dug in to the best meal of my life.

An hour and about ten pounds of food later, I lay on the couch and tried not to move. I felt almost full enough to puke, but of course I didn't. Nudge stretched out the length of the couch with her head on my lap and Gazzy sat on the other side, squished into the armrest, but I don't think he minded. Angel sat on the floor and played with Total. Iggy and Fang were still in the kitchen taking care of dishes. I had no idea how they became so domestic. God knows that all my efforts at the house in Colorado were wasted.

A sharp pain spiked through my chest at the memory.

It is the past. It is no longer important.

I sighed. It is if it still affects me. I spent my first free years there. That was the ultimate home.

Very well. Have your little pity party, but don't let it take hold. You need to be strong. Your trials are not over.

I snarled silently. Are they ever? Can't I spend one week without worrying if I'm going to get shot or captured and…

To my horror, my eyes began to flood and heat began to build under my skin. I needed to get out fast. I got to my feet and headed toward the back yard, making some excuse and trying to sound normal. I slipped through the kitchen and nearly got out the door before Fang noticed. At the last second I felt his fingers close around my wrist.

"Max, what--" he began, but I didn't stick around to hear the rest. I didn't want him as a witness. I wrenched free from his grip and leaped into the air, spreading my wings to catch the night breeze.

6. Haunting Past

Disclaimer: I claim no right to the Maximum Ride universe. Please review and tell me what you think of the changes.

I don't know how long I flew, but it can't have been very long because the episodes don't take long to manifest. I found a small copse of trees and dropped into it, my legs giving out on the landing.

I felt like my blood was boiling out of my veins and would soon ooze from every pore. Maybe I was going to melt into a puddle of mush. Maybe someone was going to come by and barbecue something on my back because I was that fricking hot.

I hated this feeling, knowing what was coming, being unable to stop it, and realizing that this buildup is nothing compared to what I'd soon have to deal with.

I ripped off Fang's clothes, trying to let the night air cool my burning skin, although I did have enough presence of mind to leave my underwear on. I sprang into the air, hoping that airflow would help, but I was barely fifteen feet off of the ground when the vision hit.

My senses warped and I couldn't see the trees anymore. Instead I saw the neatly manicured grounds of the School, smelled the faint lingering scent of antiseptic and Lysol on my own skin. I snapped my wings in a powerful down thrust, to escape this disgusting hell hole and was rewarded with a paralyzing zap of electricity through my body. Unable to move my wings, I fell.

I landed in a crumpled heap, gasping for air and trying to regain mobility. The bastards had wired my wings so that I could only go so far before getting zapped. I could see two or three Erasers loping casually across the lawn toward me, feral grins, twisting their handsome faces. I pulled my wings in as best I could and forced myself shakily to my feet. The electric shock still reverberated and I couldn't stop twitching as it moved across my nerve endings.

"Hey, baby," one of them snarled musically. They stopped a few yards away, standing casually, but their eyes were focused hungrily on me. I turned slowly, mainly because I wanted to save my strength for fighting, precious little that I had left. There were only three around me and they hadn't morphed yet, if I fought smart, maybe I could do some real damage before they took me down. One of them licked his lips and I shuddered. Way gross.

I faced the one who had spoken. "You know," I said conversationally. "I'm not your baby." And I launched myself at his face.

The sudden attack took him by surprise and he went down easily. I managed to blow his eardrums before the other two dragged me off.

Razor sharp claws dug into my skin, piercing deep and drawing blood. I screamed and kicked Casanova in the face real good when he tried to get up. The crunch of his nose and his immediate trip back down to the ground pleased me to no end. He would be feeling that for a long time. If I had gotten lucky, he wouldn't be feeling it at all. One can only hope.

My white hospital clothing was already spattered with blood and it was only going to get worse.

I stomped hard on the foot of the Eraser on my left and wrenched my arm from his grasp. In a quick sweep, I rammed my elbow into his face as he bent over and brought my fist up to smash the other one in the face, too.

He caught my fist in a crushing grip and dug his ragged claws deeper into my shoulder. My legs almost buckled at the pain, but I managed to bring my knee up and sink it into his stomach right as he was morphing. He doubled over for an instant, then ripped his claws from my flesh and backhanded me in a powerful blow.

I crashed to the ground, dizzy and with blood pouring from my lip. Before I could move, one of them was on me, snarling and raising his paw to deliver a killing blow.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that this was only a memory. But the little twist of fate that declared I have this power make me victim to it. The visions became real to me. If I was cut, I felt the pain and smelled the blood. Something like, "what the mind thinks is real, is real." The wounds stuck around, but healed within a few hours.

"Stop. Now!" someone yelled. "Get her on her feet."

The Eraser that had come so close to finishing me, growled, but backed off. He morphed back to human form and glared at me while he jerked me to my feet. I refused to make a sound as he almost dislocated my shoulder.

My arms were wrenched behind my back, nearly popped out of their sockets. My vision cleared. Ari grinned at me in human form, his not quite human features highlighted by the cruelly gleeful look in his eyes.

"I have to say, that was impressive," he said, stroking my cheek with a morphed hand, the claws drawing shallow lines across my face. He seemed to forget himself as he focused on the blood welling from the slices and rolling down my cheek. He ignored the blood from my lip, drawn by another Eraser and just stared at my cheek. His tongue swept across his lips as if he wanted to taste me. His eyes flashed red for just an instant. My stomach turned in revulsion.

I struggled against the iron grip of his lackey and the movement seemed to break his concentration.

The blow across my face temporarily stunned me and I was released to drop to the ground.

"I don't want to hurt you, Max," he said, crouching low so that I could see his face. Yeah, right.

He sounded oddly distant, strangely rational. I spat blood in his face, employing whatever resistance I could muster.

He grabbed my throat, effectively cutting off my air supply with his huge hand and jerked my face close to his. Can we say "breath mint?" All together now.

"That doesn't mean that I won't," he snarled, his features twisting as if he were trying not to morph and not quite succeeding. "You are mine now, Max. You will submit."

My senses were dulling and my vision narrowed rapidly. It all started to get fuzzy.

He licked the blood from my face. "I will make you." I almost heaved on him, but I didn't have anything in my stomach. Lucky him.

I fought tears at his words. I had no doubt that no matter how hard I tried, he would get his way. That little boy no longer existed anywhere inside him.

I came out of the vision, gasping for air and staring up at the bits of sky visible through the trees while my body stabilized. My strength was completely gone. I was beaten and bloody and feeling so defeated that all I could do was let the tears come. Somehow, I managed to roll onto my side, feeling a little less exposed and gave up fighting the breakdown.

I cried quietly and for a long time. I just let it all flow out through my eyes. My mind took me through the events that followed after Ari had let me breathe again. The devastation of reliving the events through a vision did not occur, but the first time he violated me completely remained the worst memory of the last three years, with the exception of leaving the flock.

As the tears ceased to flow, I heard a light crackle above me and the soft thump of something hitting the ground. My instincts screamed at me to run, but I couldn't even move. The visions, manifestations, really, weaken me for a long time. They just sap away every scrap of energy I have.

I prepared myself for death, only wishing that I could have said goodbye to the flock properly, that I could have told them that I loved them more than my own life. My only consolation was that they were in good hands, the best, with Fang.


7. More Running Water

Disclaimer: I do not claim any right to the Maximum Ride universe. Please review and tell me what you think of the changes.

My eyes flew open. Oh, my God. Fang!

"What was that?" his voice was low and he approached me slowly. I couldn't see him as I had my back to him, but I could hear his movements in the quiet darkness.

I pressed my face into the dirt. I wanted to die.

He touched my shoulder carefully and curled his fingers over the curve of my shoulder when I didn't immediately flinch. His grip slipped a little on my bloodied skin. He cursed

"Can you sit up?" he asked me.

I nodded, knowing that he could see me in the dark. With his help, I managed to get upright and I only had to lean on him for a few seconds while the dizziness passed. I was getting a little strength back each minute, but it would still be several before I could think about standing.

Fang scooted around to the side so that he could see me better. His eyes flickered over my scantily clad, blood slicked form. "What happened to your clothes?" To his credit, he didn't say anything at all about my face, though I'm sure he wanted to. He probably wanted to get me back to the house first

I looked around and spotted his shirt hanging from a branch. He followed my eyes and left me briefly to retrieve it.

"I was too hot," I croaked, my voice way unsteady. All that screaming. "Pants," I said and shrugged, hoping that he would understand that I had no idea where those were. "Sorry."

He scowled. "Yeah, cause the condition of my clothes is my top priority right now. You're not dying or anything." He tugged the shirt gently over my head. I was shivering.

I shook my head. "I'm not. The first time was way worse." I knew I had made a mistake as soon as the words were out of my mouth. Fatigue made my mouth loose.

His voice was deceptively calm. "What do you mean 'the first time'?" He would never let this go.

"Really, It's nothing. I'm fine." I tried to stand up quickly, but that backfired in a big way as my legs didn't want to support me and I almost did a face plant. Fang caught me before I hit the ground.

I shoved away from him as soon as I was certain that I wouldn't fall again. I glanced around and spotted the sweatpants. I stumbled over and snatched them from the ground. Thank god, I was recovering faster now. I could feel the gashes knitting from the deepest point up. I don't know if you've ever felt your body healing, but it's really weird. Trust me.

I extended my wings to jump into the air, but Fang was behind me in an instant, pushing my wings back in. I don't know if you've ever had someone else push your wings in, but that feels really weird, too.

Before I could react, he had scooped me into his arms and taken off. That's pretty impressive, considering how hard it is just to take off with your own body weight, never mind someone else's. I was in shock for the first twenty feet and after that it was pointless to argue 'cause I didn't want to get dropped. I hesitantly put my arm around his neck and relaxed as much as I could. Fang set me on my feet, his hands lingering at my waist as if getting ready to catch me again. I stepped away from him to prove that I could.

"Um, thanks," I said. I have to admit, I was irritated and thankful at the same time. I hated that he had just picked me up, but I'm also not certain that I could have made it on my own. Win some, lose some.

"What happened, Max?" he asked, sliding the door open for me.

He followed me inside and then stopped me with a hand on my arm when I would have kept going. His grip was loose, but he wasn't going to let go without a fight.

I started to get all nervous and twitchy. "Look, I really don't want to talk about it right now, okay?" I sighed. "I just want to wash the blood off and go to sleep." I was so tired.

He moved ahead of me and led me down beyond the kitchen and into the laundry room, which had a cute little adjacent bathroom. "Use this one. Less chance of the others hearing," he said, realizing just as he said it that it was a ridiculous statement. Every kid in the house had well above average hearing. It was silly for me to use the shower in the back just so that they wouldn't hear. That's how tired I was, I didn't say anything about it. He flicked on the light and moved back to let me in.

As I stepped past him, he suddenly reached out and grabbed my chin. The move startled me and I reacted on instinct. I smashed his hand away and had him by the throat in an instant. I froze and stared at him wide eyed as soon as I realized what I had done. I couldn't read the expression in his eyes.

I let go and slipped past him, too ashamed to face him. "Sorry," I said softly. This unpredictability could be dangerous. Maybe I should have stayed gone. I started shivering and wrapped my arms around myself. I was nearing the end of my rope.

After a second, he moved close and turned me around. He slipped his fingers beneath my chin and gently forced my head up. I carefully schooled my expression. I'd already been weak enough tonight.

"Don't," he said, his voice rough.

I blinked in surprise. "Don't what?" He actually looked upset.

"Don't lie to me. Don't pretend."

Ha. Nice one, coming from him. "Don't pretend what?" So I felt a little dumb tonight.

"Don't pretend that you're fine. Just…"

I have no idea was he was going to say because right at that minute, Iggy tapped on the door.

"Hey, what happened?" He frowned. "Why do I smell blood? Max?" He stepped in and grabbed Fang's shoulder. He turned his face toward me and his features expanded in surprise and contracted in worry. "Shit." He reached for me with one hand, keeping the other on Fang.

His touch was light and gentle as he tilted my face toward the light. His fingertips traced the claw marks down my cheek. He gently moved my face the other way, examining the purpling bruise spreading across the left side of my face. Oddly enough, he was reacting as though he could see me.

With one last gentle stroke he let go. "Was it Erasers? Looks like it. You kinda smell like them, too. Was Ari here?," he said.

I moved away from them and sank onto the edge of the tub, resting my forehead in my hands. "No, he wasn't here. It's kind of a long and involved story. Could it possibly wait until later?" I was falling asleep right here. My head rolled to the side and I looked up at the boys. They had really come into themselves since I left. They were never going to take orders again. I bet girls followed them in hordes.

I smiled absently at the image of the two fighting off dozens of not quite teens with braces and frizzy hair. An image of Fang with his hands on that slut from D.C. suddenly popped into my head and all my amusement vanished. Exhaustion does funny things to a person.

"Take your shower," Fang said. "I'll bring some clothes down."

I mumbled something and turned on the water.

8. To Bed

After I soaked up enough water to last me on a trip through the Sahara, I dried off and slipped into the clothes Fang had left me. They were even warm from the dryer. Mmm, happy thoughts for Fang.

I stumbled as quietly as I could up the stairs, but paused on the second level. On an impulse, I opened each of the doors, looking in on the sleeping forms of the younger ones. Angel and Total lay back to back, both curled in similar positions on their sides. She had kicked the covers off. I crept in and drew the covers up over them both. Angel's hand shot out and grabbed my wrist. She blinked up at me sleepily.

"Don't let her out. She's not the real you," she mumbled with her eyes half closed.

I had no idea what she was talking about. I just agreed and she subsided back to dreamland nodding in satisfaction. I smoothed her hair, kissed her forehead and crept back out.

Gazzy was still up when I peeked in. His eyes were glued to a computer screen and his fingers moved at the speed of light over the keyboard. I coughed.

He jumped and whipped around, eyes as wide as saucers. I couldn't help but giggle.

"Shouldn't you be in bed?" I asked him, raising one eyebrow in an inquiring manner. I regretted it immediately, because my face was still a mass of cuts and bruises.

He shook his shaggy blonde hair out of his gorgeous blue eyes and looked guilty. "I was just trying out some new codes that Nudge gave me for WarCraft and I couldn't stop." He straightened and narrowed his eyes. "What happened to you?"

I pointed toward the bed and he reluctantly shut down his computer and got under the covers. "Nothing much. I promise it will be gone by morning." God, the boy had grown. I still couldn't believe that he was eleven, much less exactly my height. Which is five ten, in case you didn't know. Three years and I only grew two inches. I'm okay with that though. I don't want to look like a freak, do I? Oh, wait…

"You look like crap," he said, ever the tactful one. I pushed him.

"Thank you, Captain Obvious," I said with an eye roll.

He corrected me. "Um, that would be Captain Terror." I stared at him for a second and then we both burst into giggles. Oh, that hurt my face.

" I just wanted to say goodnight, and sleep well and all that good stuff," I said. He finished getting comfortable and gazed up at me with those big glue eyes. "I'll see you in the morning." I held out my left fist and he smacked his own down on top of mine with a grin. I tapped the back of his hand and ruffled his hair. "'Night, Captain," I said.

"'Night, Max," he replied. I winked at him, but his eyes were already closed and he was out. I stifled a giggle at his soft snoring as I closed the door.

I cracked open Nudge's door, just as she flipped off her light. "Hey, Nudge," I said quietly.

"Hey, Max," she mumbled. I sat on the edge of her bed and flopped across her legs. She giggled. She sat up and peered down at me. "Ouch."

"Yeah. It'll be gone tomorrow, though." I ignored the stiffness seeping into my muscles and rolled onto my side to face her.

"Oh, good. 'Cause it's so annoying to have to explain things like that. Angel and I are taking you out tomorrow. We thought that we could go shopping and show you around and maybe hit a salon?" The last bit she said in a rush, even for her self, and really quiet.

I put my hand to my hair. "What are you saying, Nudge?" I asked, acting offended.

She snorted. Oh, yeah. Real ladylike. Not like I can say anything, though.

"I just saying that you could use a bit of sprucing up for normal living. You know, work the goods." She eyed me critically. "You got 'em, you just need to learn how to use them."

Oh, my god. She did not just say that. Where was my sweet little Nudge? "You know, I think I'm going to leave before you continue. I don't think I could handle it." I grinned so she would know that I was kidding. "We both need sleep so…'night, Nudge." I held out my fist.

It sounded like she sniffed before putting her fist on mine and tapping it. "Good night, Max."

"See you tomorrow," I whispered and kissed her head on my way out.

In the hallway, I leaned against the wall next to her door thinking about what she had said. Sprucing up? Goods? Things I had NEVER thought about EVER in my life. Maybe I could relax enough now to think about them. Sam had been fun before he turned all Eraser-y.

I cleared my head of those thoughts and realized that I would get to sleep in a real bed tonight. A bed I could call my own. I ambled up the stairs, daydreaming about sheets and pillows and a mattress. That is heaven, right there.

The door swung open as my fingers touched the cool metal of the doorknob and Fang stood in the doorway, framed by soft lamplight and glowering at me. I blinked stupidly at him. Did I get the wrong room? I turned to look at the other door. Nope, that one was on the left, my room was on the right. I just wanted to lay down. Is it so impossible for me to relax for more that two freaking minutes?

I must have looked pathetic because his eyes softened and Fang took my hand to lead me inside. When he turned around to shut the door, I saw a neatly arranged collection of first aid supplies on the desk near the window. Iggy sat on my bed. He turned toward me as the locks clicked and smiled, though I could see worry lines in his forehead.

He got to his feet and let out a big breath. He moved close to us and touched Fang's shoulder again. His eyes actually moved back and forth over my face like he could see.

"Wow, the purpling is already fading. You're healing faster," he said.

"Not really," I yawned. "These will be gone by morning. They usually disappear after a few hours. Is that a bed?" I leaned over exaggeratedly so that I could see the bed and hopefully, they'd get the idea.

Iggy's lips twisted up and even Fang had a ghost of a smile on his face.

"Yeah, all right. We'll let you sleep," the blind one grumbled. I heaved a huge sigh of relief and staggered forward a few steps. Feeling like an idiot, I stopped and turned back around. In my last burst of strength, I held out my fist and kept it steady. Kudos to me. Whooo.

Fang stacked his on top and Iggy followed suit.

I blinked back the shadow of moisture from my eyes. "It's good to be home," I murmured and tapped the backs of their hands.

"Yeah," Iggy said just as quietly. Fang just stared at me with a gaze that sent heat rippling over my skin. I know that my face was at least three times as pink as it normally was, but I couldn't look away.

Iggy coughed and I regained my senses, my eyes snapping to the floor.

"So, sleep tight, Max. I'll see you tomorrow," Iggy paused. "Well, you know what I mean." And he headed off to his own room.

"Good night, Ig," I called and gave a half hearted smile to Fang before crashing on top of the covers.

He had the audacity to laugh as he lifted me enough to pull the covers down. He became my method of transportation because I was all out of my own steam. He guided me back down and made sure I was all comfortable and snuggled in.

He pushed renegade strands of hair from my face and touched my cheek with his hand. "You better be telling the truth about these."

"Promise," I muttered, or at least I think I did.

"Good night. Max. Sleep well." He kissed my forehead. "Dream of me."

I jerked into semi-consciousness at his last whispered words looking for him to ask him what the hell was that, but he wasn't even in the room. Too tired to pursue it, I drifted back to sleep.

9. Awake and Back to Sleep

Disclaimer: I claim no right to the Maximum Ride universe. Please review.

I woke to the yells of three demented little snots. At first I had no idea where I was and scrabbled beneath the pillow for the knife that I usually slept with. About five seconds in, their laughter registered in my panic and sleep fogged brain.

"Got you, Max!" Nudge singsonged from her perch on my nightstand. Angel giggled beside her.

Breathing heavily, I collapsed onto my back and tried to quell the panic and the rage. They don't know what I've been through. They didn't know that I would have sliced them to ribbons before I was half awake.

Gazzy was cackling wildly on the floor without any idea of how close to dismemberment he had come. I grabbed a pillow and swung it at his head. With a satisfying thump, he hit the floor and stared up at me with a stunned expression.

"Yeah," I said. "That's what you get." I whacked Nudge and Angel, too, while they were distracted and laughing at the Gasman. "That's what all of you punks get." I stuffed the pillow back under my head and rolled onto my side away from them. "Go away. It's too early for this." I pulled the covers over my head and tried to ignore them.

"You do know that it's already three in the afternoon, right?" Angel said.

Afternoon, Max. Sleep well?

I took a moment to run a check on myself and was quite pleased to discover that I was in great shape and I had slept through the night. I am fantastic, thanks. I pushed the covers off and sat up. My stomach growled loudly.

"I guess that I was right on in heading up with this," Iggy said from the doorway with a loaded tray in his hands. He stepped over Gazzy and set the tray across my lap. "Figured you'd be starving. How's your face?"

"Still scary," Gazzy muttered. I hit him on the side of his head with a walnut.

Iggy really outdid himself. Sitting in front of me was a huge stack of waffles topped with whipped cream, sliced strawberries, and walnut pieces. Six slices of bacon and four sausage links sat to the side, drizzled with syrup, just the way I liked it. There was also a large glass of milk and one of orange juice.

Iggy grinned. "I know that it's afternoon and all, but I'm sure it's been a long time. I also have a surprise for you when you come downstairs." He reached over and touched Nudge's knee with his face still turned towards mine. With his other hand he grazed lightly over my shoulder where the deepest slashes had been. Then he turned my face this way and that. "Yep, you were right. You look a lot better now. Not that you're presentable, but…"

"Gee, thanks." I punched his shoulder. Then I grabbed the utensils and dug in.

As I devoured the delicious repast that Iggy prepared, I could hear sounds of gagging and choking. I rolled my eyes but kept going. I was hungry.

That's no reason to turn into a wild beast. The Voice said dryly.

Who's side are you on anyway? I deserve to eat however I want. Go away. I swear that it sighed in resignation.

When I finally looked up, there were four stunned faces circled around me. Angel's mouth had dropped open and Iggy's eyes were wide, but he was obviously trying not to laugh.

"That was amazing!" Gazzy practically shouted.

Nudge shuddered. "Yeah, amazing. Gross." She'd just become a little princess, that one. I had no idea how I was going to handle that.

I fell back against the headboard, feeling stuffed to the gills. I wouldn't be able to move for, like, an hour. A groan of contentment escaped me.

"You're not gonna barf, are you?" Nudge asked tentatively. "You ate that really fast and…"

I rolled my head from side to side. "Nope, that is staying down. God, that was good." In a burst of energy, I wrapped my arms around Iggy and squeezed him. "Thank you so much!" I flopped back. "I so can't move."

"But we were gonna take you out today," Nudge whined.

It was strange, I hadn't even been around for a whole day and I was already way relaxed and going with the flow of things. I wasn't sure what I should do about the whole leader thing, after all, Fang and Iggy had been doing a great job, it looked like, and I was enjoying not freaking out every second. Maybe I'd just see how things worked out. I patted Nudge's knee.

"You can take me out tomorrow, okay? I think I need a day to adjust anyway." I blew out a breath and draped my arms across my stomach. "How about you give me an official tour of the house?" I said through a yawn. Goodness, I was starting to feel sleepy. All that food.

Iggy removed the tray from my lap and pulled the covers up. "Rest some more and maybe we'll talk later tonight. Angel?"

She focused her big blue eyes on mine. "Go to sleep, Max. Rest up." Her voice sounded strange and hypnotic. "She's not gonna like this when she wakes up," I heard her whisper.

Iggy's weight left my bed. "Yeah, well. Fang can handle it. She needs the rest. Have her wake up in time for dinner. Make her sleep good."

"Be sure to wake up at seven, Max. You're gonna sleep the best ever, and you'll have great dreams." I could hear their footsteps fading away.

"What?" Angel's voice rose a little. "You want her to have bad dreams?"

That was the last I heard as the door clicked softly and I drifted off into dreamland.

10. A Darker Alternative

Disclaimer: I claim no right to the Maximum Ride universe. By the way, thank you to everyone who reviewed, if I wasn't able to reply to you. Please keep reviewing.

I awoke in degrees. It was weird because I could feel myself drifting up from the deepest part of sleep. I could even feel remnants of my dream, which, I will admit now because no one is listening in, was a great dream involving a secluded tropical island and the one and only Fang. The pressure of his fingertips still lingered on my cheek and the soft warmth of his lips as he kissed his way from my forehead to my mouth. And let me tell you, this kiss kicked the ass of the one on the beach. Mainly because Fang wasn't dying and I wasn't about to implode from the fear of him dying and because that had been how many years ago? The warmth left me as I came closer to consciousness and I reached out trying to keep it.

"Hey, wake up."

I was fully awake instantly and sat up, cracking my head into Fang's because he had been leaning over me. "Ow," I whined. "What do you want?" I took a trip back to the pillow with my hand to my forehead. His head is made of rocks. I knew it. Seriously, it hurt.

He dropped onto the bed holding his hand to his temple. "I don't know. You were making funny sounds and reaching out. I thought you might be having a nightmare." He looked sideways at me. He looked somewhat flustered. Weird.

I flushed. I think he noticed because I saw an upward twitch of his mouth. "No, I actually slept fairly well. I don't remember what I was dreaming about." There's a lie if I ever told one. I suppose I don't need to mention that I have spent approximately three fourths of my life in a lie. Whatever.

All of a sudden I remembered what Iggy had told Angel to do and I was pissed. "What the hell, Fang? Have you started telling Angel that she can use her subconscious influence? They did it to me!" I'm sure that my memories of that freak in the School that used to do that to me escalated my anger, but at this point I didn't care. I poked him in the chest. "Do not ever, ever play with my mind like that. If that happens again I will not be responsible for my actions." I rolled away from him and stared at the wall. They didn't know how dangerous I would be if certain lines were crossed.

"They just wanted you to rest. You might not see it but they're worried about you. Remember how you looked last night?" Since when did Fang speak with inflections other than sarcasm and irritation? He sounded , well, earnest and nice. Wait, I'm still very angry. Right.

He touched my shoulder.

I whacked his hand away and flung the covers off violently, rounding on him as my feet hit the floor. "And it's all gone, now. Damn it, Fang. I could have killed them without a second thought because I wasn't awake. There was this…this guy and he used to do the exact same thing. He used to do other things." My voice started to rise and a tingling feeling crept into my fingers and toes. "He used to…"

I couldn't finish as memory clips began to play in my brain. My vision flickered in and out with brightly colored spots swirling around.

Let me have them.

The softly menacing words drowned out the sounds around me. This wasn't the Voice. This was something else. This was a part of me.

They need to learn that we are not a toy. It has been so long since I've been out to play.

"No," I said quietly. I didn't care that Fang was three feet away. All I cared about was forcing the tingling out of my limbs. It had crept up to my knees and elbows. Once it got all over, forget it. There goes the town, or at the very least, the house.


The Voice only said one word, but I knew it was right. Fang could quell this. I flung my arm out behind me, searching for him by touch since I couldn't see very well, and was surprised to find him right behind me. I grabbed his arm for reference and then wrapped myself around him, as close as I could get. The tingling had reached mid-thigh.

All of my senses were spinning. I felt like I was going to be sick. And Fang's arms encircled me tightly, crushing me to him. And he was whispering in my ear.

"Whatever this is, you're fine, Max. Don't let it win," his voice was low and urgent. His hands stroked over my tangled hair and smoothed down my back. "Stay with me. Focus on my voice. Don't let go. Just stay with me. Come on, Max."

Amazingly, the tingle receded and the dark mockery of my own voice faded into static. I was more than a little surprised. There were very few times I could remember the onset of the tingling and I always woke up several hours later, covered in blood and shaking without any clue what had happened to the Erasers I had been fighting. Well, the Erasers that had been poking at me.

Why are you so shocked? Fang was supposed to be your balance. He keeps you in check. You are more dangerous than you know, far more dangerous than the scientists expected.

I shuddered at the memory. Yeah, no shit.

I grew aware that I was still holding on to Fang with my arms wrapped around his torso and my face pressed into his neck. I froze.

"Are you back?" he rumbled close to my ear. I shivered. Oh, that was hot.

I nodded against his skin. So warm. I wonder…and without thinking I licked him.

Yeah, me, licking the boy I have been in love with since we were children but from whom have been separated three years. I think that's moving a little fast, even for us. Mmm, he tasted good.

"Did you just lick me?" He pulled back and gripped my shoulders.

"No…" Shit. He totally knew that I had. I'm still going to pretend that I didn't.

I met his gaze as my cheeks practically blazed. His dark eyes were lit with something htat I didn't quite recognize, but it was similar to the way Ari had looked at me the first time he…so I immediately pushed it from my mind.

Fang looked as though he wanted to say something more, but he kept his mouth shut. For a few seconds.

"What was that, Max. It's time to tell me what's going on." He led me to the desk and set me down in the chair while he leaned against the tabletop. "Were you going to kill me?"

There was no point in lying about this to him. He needed to know just in case I went crazy and he needed to take care of the problem, so to speak.

I took a deep breath to steady myself, but then remembered that dinner was about to be served. "Look, I'll tell you all about it after dinner. I'll tell all of you."

His stare pierced through me and I could practically feel him testing the truth of my words. Finally, with an almost sad look he nodded. "Yeah."

11. Explanations, of Sorts

Disclaimer: I claim no right to the Maximum Ride universe. Thank you so much for your feedback. Please Review.

And so, here I sat totally unwilling to meet the wondering gazes of my flock as they settled around me. Dinner had been good, but the prospect of telling them what had happened to me made it taste like glue and sit like a rock in my stomach. I felt like I was going to throw up.

A soft brush against my hand startled me. Fang sat next to me and leaned against the arm of the couch, facing me so that he could see me while I told my tale. Iggy settled in an armchair and Nudge sat between his legs on the ottoman. Angel perched on another chair with Total in her lap. Gazzy lay on the floor propped up on his elbows.

I so didn't want to be here. I wanted to run away and never look back because telling them would make it all real. Don't get me wrong, I knew that what happened to me was real. I have the scars, internal and external, to prove it, but telling them somehow seemed to make it worse, more devastating. I think we all know that I have never been one to back down from a fight when it came to myself, only for the safety of the flock. Oh, I was so tempted, reputation be damned.

The couch squeaked as Fang leaned forward and one big hand enveloped my left fist. He uncurled my fingers and laced his through. "Are you okay?" he asked, his dark eyes boring into my own.

Breathe. It will be okay. This needs to happen.

Stop telling me what I need! I rubbed the bridge of my nose with my right hand and took a deep breath. But, yeah. I conceded. Maybe it does need to happen. I could sense the Voice nodding, as if it had a head. I fought the urge to roll my eyes.

Coming back to myself, I took another deep breath and exhaled slowly as I looked around the faces of the only people on the planet that I trusted and loved. I had rehearsed this so many times without ever expecting to live long enough to tell them. I reached the end of my exhalation. Okay, here goes.

"Um," I began. Yep, eloquent me. "I guess that you guys have been wondering about what happened to me after I left and you've been really patient in waiting for my explanation." Fang squeezed my hand. I felt a little better. "Just let me talk and don't interrupt," I looked pointedly at Nudge. "because if you do I might not be able to finish." They all nodded, except Fang 'cause he's just not into that. I still can't believe I licked him.


Oh, right. And on to the recounting of three years of hell.

"I'm sure you all figured out why I left. I was scared, terrified, for all of you. Maybe it was a stupid thing to do, but all I could think was 'They'll leave the others alone if they have me' and I wanted you all to have a shot at a normal life, just like we always dreamed. I just couldn't handle the idea that you were being cheated because I refused to suck it up and save the world. So, I left.

"That first day, I flew the whole time in warp speed. I wanted to make sure that you wouldn't be able to find me 'cause wouldn't that defeat the purpose of me leaving in the first place? And when I landed, used the card and waited for them to show up.

"It actually took a couple of days for them to catch up. I was in Alaska. I was kinda pissed that they caught me there because, you know, I expected Alaska to be all inhospitable and frozen, and it wasn't. I had guess that it would fit the mood. Too bad Alaska's really nice in the summer, huh?" Nudge giggled and then clapped her hand over her mouth. Iggy poked her. Fang's other hand joined the first around mine.

"Then, Jeb was there and Ari, too. I'm sure you can guess how that went." I rubbed a hand along the right side of my neck, feeling the thin line of knotted scar tissue where he had nearly decapitated me running from behind my ear to the top of my shoulder blade. Thank god, I had time to rest before they got there.

"Anyway, we negotiated and I made it a condition that they would leave you alone for life as long as I went with them. I had a knife, you know that one we swiped from the restaurant that time? I had it a quarter of an in inside my chest before they agreed." God, why was I telling them this. They didn't need to know. Ouch.

Fang's hands tightened convulsively around mine, almost crushing them. I couldn't look at him or he'd see that I was about to fly apart. I heard Angel sniff. Gazzy shifted and grabbed my other hand. I couldn't look at any of them. I just stared at my knees.

"After that, it was the usual: mazes, no food, constant brain exercises, exams, combat. Three months later, they set me loose to take down Itex. And I did." Little drops of moisture spilled over and made tracks down my face. "And I went back." My voice threatened to crack and I had to stop for a second.

Easy, Max. It's okay. Let it flow.

I was too upset to retort. After a second, I swallowed it all and continued. "You know, it didn't matter to me what they did as long as they kept their end and let you guys live. Free, like we tried to." I finally looked at them, my gaze traveling over each of them, lingering and certain that my sacrifice had been worth every second.

Angel sat rigidly, clutching Total tight, and stared at me with tears coursing down her face. Her expression was tightly controlled, but her eyes blazed with emotion. It hurt to look at her. Nudge had moved to Iggy's lap and he held her tightly as she cried quietly. His own face was a mask of pain and empathy. His cheek was pressed against her head. The Gasman gripped my hand so tight that his fingers were bloodless and mine were totally numb. I could feel the growing wet spot on my sweatpants where his face was pressed. They've definitely gotten softer in the years since they've been hunted. I looked at it as a good thing.

And then Fang. Oh, God, I was so afraid to look at Fang. I was shaking. I mean, I was shaking anyway, but just thinking about looking at him made it way worse. Then he lifted my hand and pressed a very light kiss to my knuckles. I looked at him before I could stop myself, knowing that confusion was written all over my face amid the tear tracks.

I couldn't read his dark eyes, but there was something in them that made me feel hot and shivery and safe and nervous and powerful and weak all at the same time. That's a confusing mix, let me tell you. And then it all melted into the most tender look I have ever seen, on anyone. He scooted closer and removed one hand from around mine to cup my cheek and wipe away the tears with his thumb. That just made me cry more.

He pulled my face into the crook of his neck and held me there, softly stroking my hair and letting me just feel.

All right, get the rest of it out before you lose it.

I steadied myself and sat up on my own power again. Fang moved his hand back down to our joined ones and rubbed the back of my hand with his thumb again. I coughed and went on.

"It got worse, then. They didn't really need me around for anything else, so I was just another experiment to test to death. They had me fighting Erasers, first one on one, and then they got up to five on one. Those were fun days. There were times when I did nothing for days. They had other things to torture and I was glad for the break, but they didn't really feed me either. Win some, lose some, you know?" I suddenly felt really bad. I shouldn't have brought it up. They were remembering what it was like, the frustration, the pain, the hunger, the thirst.

"About a year ago, they decided to see if the two viable recombinants could reproduce. Breed together."

Iggy's head shot up so fast I heard his neck crack. Nudge gasped. Total growled. Gazzy's other hand curled into a fist and Fang's grip convulsed again. I flinched this time. He didn't react.

"It didn't work, at least not with me. Invitro failed and so did…um…the other way."

Iggy jerked upright. "Those fuckers did what to you?" His expressive features twisted in fury. Nudge squeaked as she thumped to the floor as he stood.

Fang was vibrating. I stole a glance at him and it terrified me. His face was its usual expression less mask, but he was wound at his tightest. And his eyes were an eerie opalescent black, like oil. "They're going to pay."

"No shit," the Gasman said from his crouch on the floor. He was definitely the most deadly eleven year old I have ever seen. He stood with Iggy. A ripple went over his skin. He turned toward me and his eyes were the coldest I had ever seen them. "Where are they?"

I shook out the hand that he had been holding to get some feeling back into it and shrugged. "You don't need to worry about it," I said tiredly. "They're already dead."

12. Mocha Flavored Comfort

Disclaimer: I claim no right to the Maximum Ride universe. Thank you for your continued support. Please Review.

For some reason, seeing the boys get so riled up calmed me immensely and made me feel like my old self. Looking over, even Angel had a dark look and her eyes were milky. Nudge scrambled over and touched my knee. Something almost like a recoil snapped through her thin frame and she nodded.

"Yeah. They're gone. Looked like a nuclear blast," she glanced up at Fang who had stood as well and narrowed those frightening eyes on me. "Where was it? Northern Territory?" she asked me. I shrugged.

Fang moved away, pacing a little and then punched the doorframe between the kitchen and the family room in which we sat. His fist went through the wood like a bullet through flesh. Iggy sat down again and Gazzy stalked over to stare out the window. God, they'd all grown so much.

"How'd they die?" Angel asked, her voice sounding creepily detached.

"Well, they really lost interest in me after the breeding was unsuccessful and, in effect, gave me to the Erasers as a plaything. A stress-reliever of sorts." Yeah, this was going to go over well.

The doorframe got another two holes. Nudge cussed and the bay windows in front of which Gazzy was standing shattered out onto the lawn. He turned to look at Angel with a look that said 'not again.' She didn't acknowledge him.

"Anyway, to make a long story short, I killed them all." This announcement was greeted with silence. So I went on to explain. "Turns out that they put in some kind of protection thing in me and when my body gets desperate enough, I essentially go ballistic. The problem is, I can't control it. When it first happened, it only disintegrated the particular forms associated with doing me harm. As things continued, I blew up the whole base. I woke up four days later in the middle of a blast zone with a four mile radius. Then I set out to find all of you."

Fang had his hands resting on the bottom of the holes he had made and leaned his forehead against an intact bit of frame. His head swiveled so that he could look at me. The inky blackness had faded, leaving his eyes their usual color. "They're dead?" he asked in a hushed voice.

I pulled my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them. "Yeah. That's something she made sure of."

Nudge scratched her arm. "She?"

"The defense mechanism," I explained. "I don't remember anything about what happens when she takes over. I usually wake up covered in blood and confused. The only way I remember what's going on is everything starts to tingle from my fingers and toes in and by the time it reaches all over, I'm out."

I hate to admit it, but the Voice had been kind of right. I did feel a teesny bit better now that I didn't have to hide most of that from them. God, I wanted ice cream right now. So, I got up and slipped into the kitchen while they mulled over all that I told them.

I found a gallon of Extra-Creamy Mocha flavor in the fridge, Fang's favorite, and didn't bother to get a bowl. It always tasted better right out of the container. I glanced back into the family room, but didn't feel like going in so I took my ice cream and a spoon and slipped into the backyard. They had a cute little picnic table on the grass and I sat on it with my feet on the bench.

Ice cream is heaven.

As I sat there shoving spoonful after spoonful of mocha-flavored frozen milk and cream into my mouth, I contemplated the reactions of my flock. Obviously, they'd developed some new talents, just as I had and they were still working as a cohesive unit. At least some of my preaching had worked.

I tried really hard not to think about how they might treat me, now that they knew most the icky things that had happened to me. Would they treat me different, knowing the things that I had been forced to do? A sudden thought nearly choked me and I lost my appetite for the ice cream. What would Fang think?

I set the now half empty tub on the table beside me and leaned over so that my head was between my knees, hoping that I wouldn't toss my cookies right there.

I totally hadn't thought of all the options. Maybe they'd hate me, even though it really hadn't been my first choice.

Don't borrow trouble.

"Shut the hell up," I snapped out loud. "Quit talking when I don't want you to. Shit! Can't I work out my problems on my own?" All the tension from the night got to me and the Voice's little bit of advice really pissed me off.

I'm only trying to…

I cut it off. "Well, don't!" I hopped off the bench and kicked it. I pressed the heels of my hands into my eyes and let myself fall onto the cool grass. I arched my back to open my wings and lay there with all appendages spread, glaring at the darkening sky.

"Still talking to yourself?"

I felt the familiar prickle on the back of my neck and glared harder at the drifting clouds. I didn't feel like engaging in sarcastic banter. There's a first. "Go away." I could barely hear bending of the grass under his feet as he stepped closer.

Fang placed a foot on either side of my head and looked down the line of his body at me. "Like I'm ever going to let you go again." He held out his hands. "Come on."

With a long suffering sigh, I stuck my arms straight up. He grasped my wrists and pulled me upright. And then he wrapped his arms around me from behind, bending so that his chin rested on my shoulder.

Yes, go with-

Shut up!

Fang nodded toward the ice cream. "I just bought that this morning."

I shrugged. "You can get more." I felt better standing there with him, talking as though nothing had happened. Maybe this was what I needed right now, to pretend that I wasn't damaged goods. That was a nice thought.

The wind picked up, bringing with it the sharp dusty smell of summer rain. My hair blew forward into my face and if I looked to the side, I could see Fang's long dark strands mingling with mine.

He straightened up to his full height, six five. Even at five eleven, the top of my head barely reached higher than his chin. With a gentle tug on my waist, he turned me around to face him and his hands came up to cup my jaw. "You are safe here, Max. You took care of us for so long, sacrificed everything." He kissed my forehead softly. It was almost like my dream. "Let us take care of you." His lips touched the end of my nose.

I fought the urge to giggle at the idea of Fang being so cutesy. But it was sweet all the same.

His mouth lowered until it was barely a breath away from mine. "Let me take care of you," he said so softly I could barely hear it, but I could feel the words as his lips moved, he was so close.

And then, he kissed me.

Sweet mother of God, that boy can kiss. And knowing that he knew about my past and still kissed me melted away the fear that had sat like a frozen chunk of ice the size of Greenland in my gut. He wasn't demanding as one might expect him to be. He didn't take without a care; he didn't take at all. He gave me what I had been needing since I left: acceptance and a promise that he would stand by me no matter what. I know it sounds strange, but I could feel all of that through the gentle pressure of his lips on mine. I shivered as new sensations rippled through me.

He broke contact and put some distance between our faces. One of his hands moved up to smooth my windblown hair. "You'll be okay," he told me in an echo of the conversation we had at Anne's when we were fourteen and I had asked him to kill me if I turned evil. "You're fine."

My mouth curved upward in a grin. My heart jumped to see his do the same. He hugged me tightly for a quick second and then led me back inside just as the soft summer rain began to fall.

13. Reaching Out

Disclaimer: I claim to right to the Maximum Ride universe. Thank you so much for all of your support as I struggle to keep this going. Your reviews make me so happy! Please keep doing it. Reviewing that is. And don't think I don't see all of you who apparently have nothing to say.

And so after a long night of spilling my guts and eating half a gallon of ice cream, things were winding down. Most of the flock had gone to bed. They had school in the morning. I laughed right in their faces when they told me, especially when Gazzy reluctantly admitted that they had uniforms. But deep down I was happy for them. They deserved to get out and about with kids their own age. Apparently the educational institution had a more difficult curriculum than regular schools. It was a school for the "gifted," whatever that might be. Good for them. Even Fang and Iggy had attended for a year before graduating early with honors. Imagine that.

I lay in bed, tired but not quite ready to go to sleep, and listened to the rain pattering on the roof. Definitely an advantage to being in the attic. For some reason, rain always made me feel better. It's like it washed me clean without judgment or criticism, like I was just another part of the earth.

The doorknob turned and the latch on my door clicked open. I had been expecting this. I lifted the covers and Fang slid into bed next to me. I curled into his side and he put one arm around my waist.

"I hate this," I admitted with a little sigh. He moved as if he were going to get up. I pulled him back down . "Ha ha, very funny," I said sarcastically.

He turned his head and I could feel his breath puffing through my hair. "Then what do you hate?"

His shoulder felt warm against my cheek through his t-shirt. He smelled clean, like detergent and wind and, crap, there's the Calvin Klein again. My eyes drifted closed. "I…forgot."

"Maybe you'll remember in the morning."

I shrugged sleepily. I was getting way to much sleep lately. But I suppose feeling safe tends to make a girl think she can catch up on the years of sleep she missed while running for her life. I'd say it evens out. Fang shifted beside me, swinging his legs out of bed as he sat up. I grabbed his wrist.

"Will you," I started. "Will you stay with me? Tonight?" I knew he wouldn't make a big deal of it, but I was really nervous. It was weird, asking him to stay, but I felt more like myself when he was around. Even the dark shadows of my subconscious couldn't stand against his presence. He was silent and still for so long that I figured that I had shocked him enough that he was considering whether or not to have me committed. I let go of his wrist and rolled onto my other side away from him, trying not to feel rejected.

The bed lifted as his weight disappeared and the floorboards creaked a touch as he departed.

Okay. I guess I mistook that whole 'Let me take care of you' thing and the kiss that he instigated. Here I was thinking that I had finally broken through and reached him, that I had let him almost all the way. Good thing it hadn't been all-wait. I sat up, already moving to intercept an attack and…

A pillow hit me in the face. It fell away leaving me open mouthed.

Fang slid back into bed and tucked the pillow under his head. With a completely straight face, he said, "What? I can't sleep without this pillow. It's my lucky pillow."

I was torn between relief that he hadn't just abandoned me and an intense desire to punch him in the face. I settled for glaring at him. He smirked at my irritation. "I remember, I hate you," I said and wiggled away from him while pulling the covers up over my head. His chuckle sent a shiver through the bed.

His arm snaked around my waist and drew me close, my back to his chest. "No, you don't . Now go to sleep."

"Excuse me?" He was gonna die for that.

"You're not ready to take the reins back. I'm still acting leader and I'm ordering you to sleep." I felt his lips press lightly to my shoulder. "I'll keep watch." All of my irritation melted away.

14. Decisions, Decisions

Disclaimer: I claim no right to the Maximum Ride universe. Thank you for all your reviews. I want more. That is all.

Bright sunshine and cheerful birds ushered me into a waking state the next morning. I levered myself upright and groggily rubbed my eyes. To my great surprise, I felt awesome. There was no soreness or painful swelling on any part of my body, I had slept the entire night (thanks to Fang) and I was going to eat as soon as I found the desire to get to my feet.

Remembering it had rained last night, I dragged the quilt with me to the window and settled on the fluffy cushions. I pushed aside the curtains and cranked open one of the big windows. The breeze carried in the strangely light and thick scent of a newly cleansed planet. I've always loved the rain. Especially summer rain. I love the smell of freshly soaked grass, cool crisp air and even the forcibly cooled tarmac. Just something about it. I love the sound rain makes on the roof or on trashcan lids or as the tiny drops rupture on my skin. I love the way it feels, too, sluicing down my wings and rinsing me off, almost like Mother Nature herself is absolving me of responsibility, washing me clean.

A faint creak of the floorboards was my only warning before I got buried under an avalanche of clean hot clothes. I tilted my head to look up at Fang in shock.

"They were in my way," he explained. "When you're ready, I'll take you around town." He set the basket that had held my clothes on the window seat next to me and smirked his way out of the room.

As soon as the door was shut, I happily burrowed into the nest of cooling garments. I adore freshly washed and dried laundry, especially when it come straight from the dryer. We used to get in fights when we were kids about who got to get it thrown on them. The only thing that sucked about it was who ever won also had to fold it.. I guess I was stuck with this batch.

With great difficulty I dragged myself out of the warm haven and folded the clothes. Then I tugged my bed into some semblance of order and bounced downstairs to rustle up some grub.

To my great surprise the food fairies had come and left me a plate of freshly made eggs, toast and bacon with a glass each of milk and juice. I snickered at the thought of Fang in tights waving a magic wand. After all he already had the wings. I won't be able to look at him with a straight face for hours. Speaking of, he was nowhere to be found.

A faint shuddering groan echoed through the house and I heard the rush of water moving through the pipe. Ah-ha, mystery solved. And then my brain assaulted me with images of him under the spray, dark hair slicked back, skin reddening from the extreme heat of the water, water beading down his wings, dripping down his-

I shook my head to rid it of those thoughts but my face was already burning. Thank god Angel wasn't around. That would have been a shocker for her. I crammed more food into my mouth hoping that chewing would distract me from such thoughts.

It's all right to be curious, Max.

I choked. "Waugh!" I cried and clapped my hands over my ears. As if that works against an internal Voice. "Don't ever say anything like that again!" I huffed after clearing my throat of life threatening debris. Ouch, that hurt. I downed a glass of water and turned my death glare inward.

Well, you should have some fun while you can. We already know he likes you. And you definitely like him.

"Just stop!" I shrilled. May I take a moment to say that I have never 'shrilled' in my life. Imagine how I felt. "I don't need you playing matchmaker." I dropped back into my chair and vowed to finish my food without any further distractions. A quick glance at the clock told me that it was eleven thirteen am. Time to start my day.

I rinsed off my dishes, enough time to watch them later, and meandered back upstairs to ready myself for my first day in a new life.

Fifteen minutes later, Fang was still in the shower and I was standing at the foot of my bed trying to decide what to wear. First time I have ever EVER spent more than five minutes making my choice.

The green one.

The Voice had lots to say.

I rubbed my temples, hard. I already had tossed on jeans that were tighter than anything I have ever worn, thanks to Nudge, and a modified black tank top, but I figured that I should wear something over it. You know, to hide the wings. Just in case you forgot. But I didn't. Laid out on my bed were two almost identical tunics (that's what Nudge called them last night when we were flipping through a magazine), one a soft green and the other a bright sapphire blue.

To spite the Voice I pulled on the blue one.

But the green brings out your eyes.

"Do I care?" I asked it out loud. The answer? NO! I twisted my hair into a low bun and wrapped it with an elastic. A quick glance in the mirror show that I looked pretty good, if I do say so myself. Still pale, but sunshine can fix that.

I skipped back downstairs, passing Fang on the way and nearly tumbling down the rest of them. It's not like I haven't seen him naked before, and let me clarify that he wasn't naked this time, but last time it happened, we were twelve, I had to pee really bad and he hadn't locked the door when he got in the shower. I had thought it was Nudge. Imagine my surprise when he stepped out as I was walking in. Major trauma. The others laughed for days. Anyway, I digress.

And, last time I hadn't been a seventeen year old and he hadn't been ripped. Oh. My. GOD!

If one recalls, I was fourteen when I first started noticing that boys could be cute. That ended real quick when I took off to save the flock. And now here I am, three years later making the same discovery again. I think I hid it well. He was coming up the stairs in nothing but a towel and I was going down it fully dressed. My brain immediately focused on the lean muscle of his torso and all other function ceased. I would have tumbled to my death, not really, if not for his reflexes. I mumbled a quick thanks and ignored his little smile even as my pulse went wild. He just let me go and kept on up the stairs in nothing but a towel. I forced my eyes not to follow.

I shook off my reaction and wandered into the kitchen to let Total in because he was scratching at the sliding door. "Where have you been?"

"Morning to you, too," he huffed. That dog has some attitude. Good thing he hasn't changed. That was sarcastic by the way. He looked at me expectantly.

I glanced around and saw a pot of coffee on the counter. Damn Fang! I poured some into a saucer and set it on the table. Total hopped up and lapped at it.

"if you must know," he said when he had finished, "I go visit old people in the mornings during the week. It makes them happy and I get to see what will never happen to me."

I raised an eyebrow. "Uh-huh. And you do this out of the goodness of your little doggie heart?" no offense to Total, but I just couldn't see him deciding to go and do charity,

"Angel told me to do it. Iggy gave her the idea," he mumbled in a rush. I knew it.

I patted his head. "Just think of the comfort you give them."

"Whatever. They just like pulling my ears." He thought for a moment. "And give me treats. And it's really funny when I say things."

I rolled my eyes. Those poor people, as if they didn't have enough problems.

His ears perked up and he gave a short bark. "Someone's at the door," he said and I followed as he trotted through the house. He stopped at the door and sniffed through the cracks. Then he looked at me with an odd expression. If I didn't know better, I'd say it was sympathy and panic. Strange combination. So I opened the door.

A girl around my age stood there, her finger poised to press the doorbell. She didn't look Erasery and she seemed really surprised to see me. She looked too soft to be a threat with her lace trimmed vest, white button down and knee length pleated skirt. Plus she was wearing wedge sandals. Not the best to attack in. then again she could be lulling me into a false sense of security and just kick them off to go at it.

I really didn't think that they would have found me this fast.

She looked down to Total as he sniffed at her feet. "Hey Total," she chirped.

Excuse me?

"Um, is Nick home?" she asked me.

I was startled into saying yes.

"Is he okay? Nothing happened to him, right?" Her eyes widened in concern in her oval face.

I shook my head. "Um, no. He's fine." Real fine, if you know what I mean.

She nodded. I didn't move to invite her in. A knot was starting to form in the pit of my stomach.

"Well, I'm Ally." She stuck out her hand and I just looked at it. Her perky smile faded and her hand dropped back to her side. "Um, can I come in and wait for him then?"

I really wanted to say no. "Sure," I managed. "Total, could you?" He scowled. "Please?"

He trotted off to go tell Fang someone was looking for him. "Thank you," I called after him.

I stood back from the door and allowed her to step inside before I slammed the door shut. Somehow I knew that this wasn't something good.

15. Um, Ouch?

Disclaimer: I claim no right to the Maximum Ride Universe. Thanks for all your support. I love you. Keep supporting! BTW: I have had hella crap going on at home, so don't judge me by this chapter. And I have acquired an Advance Copy of MR3. Let me tell you. OMG.

The bimbo headed straight for the kitchen before I had even shut the door. This familiarity seemed like one of those 'not good' things to me. I followed her, determined to be civil. Maybe she and Fang were in a class together and they had a big project to do.

Denial is a powerful thing, Maximum.

She already had a glass of juice by the time I caught up. I tried to be nice and make small talk.

"So, how do you know…um…Nick?" I asked, trying not to be SO OBVIOUS as I sized her up. Her eyes lit up at his name. Fuck.

"Well, we met two years ago at school. We started out in the same class," she told me. "Moved up into the senior class almost right away. He's so smart." She smiled in that girly-girl way. Ugh. What does he see in her?

I heard Fang coming down the stairs. Well, I didn't hear him, I just sensed him with the prickle on the back of my neck that I had nearly forgotten I felt when he was nearby. "Sounds like he's coming." Time for me to make an exit before things got messy. "I'll leave you guys alone. Nice to meet you," I ground out. My hands were almost shaking with the need to crush her windpipe. I sup around quickly to escape and ran straight into t he devil himself.

He steadied me and his hands lingered a little too long on my waist. Our eyes met. He looked away first. Bad sign.

Another bad sign? The bitch had red hair. Apparently he's a sucker for red hair.

Suddenly I was back in the hallway at that school in Virginia, watching Fang pull that girl closer, watching his head tilt to kiss her better. I shook my head. Whoa. This was not the time for jealous flashbacks. And I was so not jealous. Just completely in love with my best friend who's preference ran toward normal redheads instead of genetically altered blondes. Or maybe it was just girls who didn't have such utter darkness in their soul…with red hair.

Ally's little cough brought me back to the present and I darted around Fang as she distracted him. I heard vague murmurings as I went upstairs. I felt hollow and empty, but filled with a terrible need to get away for a while. I reached the second floor and glanced down the hall. There was a large oak that stood just outside the window. I could climb to the roof. Perfect.

Total sat just inside Angel's room.

"I'm going to the roof if anyone asks," I told him. He just whined softly.

I pulled the drapes apart and pushed open the window. Excellent. I had forgotten about the wraparound porch, which gave me something to walk across to get to the tree. I had one leg out and nearly half my body out the window when a hand wrapped around my ankle and tugged, hard.

My body folded and the back of my thigh tore on the window track, my head hit the top of the window and something in my wrist popped in a way it shouldn't have. I tumbled onto the carpet in an angry heap and immediately jumped up to punch Fang in the face. "What the hell?!" I shouted. I glared death at him. My wrist hurt.

My punch had knocked him back a few feet, but he moved forward again, crowding me against the wall. "I told you that I was never letting you go again." His eyes were dark and wild.

I kicked at him. "Did I say that I was fucking leaving? You aren't my boss and you sure as hell can't keep me prisoner. I can leave whenever the fuck I want!" As soon as the words were out of my mouth, his eyes shuttered and went blank. I regretted it, but not much. He was the one messing around with little Miss Perky Pants. He straightened and backed away. He moved stiffly. I had really hurt him.

And just like that, I felt tired and shaky instead of pissed off. The back of my head and the back of my thigh throbbed. I pressed my hand to my leg, frowning when it came away with blood.

"You're bleeding," Fang said.

Thank you, Captain Obvious. "Yeah," I said lamely. "First aid?"

He opened the linen closet and tossed me the kit. My wrist protested the catch.

The steps at the end of the hall creaked.

"Oh, my God. You're bleeding," was the first thing out of Ally's mouth. Thank you, Sidekick Duh.

"Yeah. I know," I said shortly.

"What did you do?" What was this, twenty questions?

"Um, I slipped while climbing out the window." I glanced at Fang. He was impassive as usual.

"Why were you climbing out the window?"

I gritted my teeth. Inquisitive people SUCK. Especially when they are dating the guy one…never mind. "I wanted to reach the oak tree. I really like sitting on the roof and I needed some time to think. Alone." That was more for Fang's benefit than hers. I took the first aid kit with me into the bathroom that was conveniently located right in front of me.

"On the roof?"

Yes, on the fucking roof!

She is insignificant.

Oddly enough, that little phrase made me feel a whole lot better. And I remembered that I could crush her with my bare hands. That cheered me considerably more. I set the kit on the counter and popped it open. Band-aids, gauze, Ace bandage. Good, everything I needed.

"You should go," Fang said. My heart froze for a second, but then I realized that he was talking to Ally.

I glanced back to see her grab onto his arm in a grip that turned her fingers white. He closed his eyes, looking annoyed, and pried her hands off him. "Now."

Ooh, harsh. Her round face fell.

"But, Nick," she whined. So, my first impression of yuppie wasn't all that far off.

"No, Ally. I already told you. This is over. It's been over for a week. Give it up." Fang looked at me. I looked away. He shuffled her out of my line of sight.

I could hear her protesting all the way to the front door. My head didn't hurt quite so much.

He returned about a minute later and taped gauze to the back of my thigh before snatching the Ace bandage out of my hand and wrapping up my wrist with quick efficiency. Then, with the saddest look I had ever seen on him, he left me alone.

I leaned against the cool tile of the counter for unknown minutes trying to process the latest events in my crazy life. I had no idea where all of these feelings and thoughts of betrayal and stuff had come from.

It comes with the territory, Max.

I was confused. What the hell is that supposed to mean/

Adolescence. Hormones. Not to mention you're female.

I better have imagined that tone of long suffering. Excuse me?!?

Hormonal swings tend to be worse for a female of the species. Heightened moods, especially unpleasant ones, cravings, the whole bit.

I rubbed my lower abdomen absently.

You're finally free to experience everything that supposedly normal teen girls experience every day. Your body is relaxing after all of that abuse. It's functioning properly. Go with the flow and live. It's what you were built to do.

Well, I didn't feel better after that little talk. It was like the "birds and the bees" talk that I've heard parents give their kids. I still didn't get that and I still didn't get Fang. So, I'm in the same place I've always been.

16. Meditation with Memories

Disclaimer: I claim no right to the Maximum Ride universe. I really wasn't satisfied with the chapter previously occupying this space, so I've made a few adjustments. I hope you like it better.

Trying desperately to ignore the little talk given by the Voice, I packed up the kit and tossed it back in the closet. On my way back down the hall I passed Total sitting where he had before things had gone to hell. He glared at me.

"Don't even start," I told him wearily and climbed the stairs to my room. I stripped off the torn jeans and the cute top that so wasn't me. I pulled my hair down and stared at myself in the mirror, dressed only in the black tank top, underpants and gauze. My reflection stared back. I felt blank. I looked blank. There was nothing left of me.

That is simply not true and you know it, Maximum.

"Fine, the only thing that is left is a murderous subconscious and an absolute resolution to live even though I died a long time ago," I murmured in response. I heard a door slam downstairs and went to the window. I pushed the curtain aside to watch Fang stride away with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders hunched.

Fresh guilt swam through my blood. He didn't deserve this, but then, neither did I.

I had paid the price for their freedom in blood and I would gladly, okay, maybe not gladly, but I would make the same choice in a heartbeat to set them free. I would never ask them to make it up to me, nor would I throw it in their faces as some are wont to do. My love for them had no limits, but my body did. My mind did. And I had done what was necessary to survive. I didn't know how to go back to who I had been.

You can't go back, but you can move on. It's true that you are not the same person they remember, but you are still Maximum Ride. You are still stronger than they can ever hope to be. Remember that. Things will be okay.

I let the curtains drop back into place. I really wanted to hit something.

I sighed and grabbed a pair of sweatpants from the pile of folded clothes and pulled them on. Maybe I could go for some meditation instead. That was supposed to help, right? I cranked open my window and climbed out onto the roof, successfully this time. I spider crawled to the back of the house so that no innocent passersby would see me as I stretched out my wings.

Lucky for me, there was a flat space in the middle where I could lay out if I wanted to. I extended my wings to their full fifteen foot span, feeling the light bones pop out and into joint. That felt SO good.

I stretched every inch of my body to its limit and lay back on the shingles before the dizziness from blood rushing to my extremities forced me down. I closed my eyes and let my mind drift. I sifted through memories like a child plaing with blocks, picking it up and looking at it from all angles before tossing it away in search of a better one. Some I simply bypassed because I knew they weren't right by the look or the smell of them. Others fit perfectly where I wanted them to be.

When I finished, I had a nice little house built around me of memories of Fang. All of them fit perfectly somewhere, the good and the bad. Even times that reminded me of him were in there. I just sat on the floor and watched them all play out in front of me. The biggest and brightest were also the most confusing. Kissing Fang on the beach when we were fourteen and I thought he was dying; asking him to kill me if the need arose and his gentle reassurance that I would be okay; screaming for him as an Eraser carried me away and seeing him fighting to reach me; wondering if he was crazy as he suggested forgetting everything in favor of a deserted island off the map where we could be safe; his arms wrapping around me from behind and holding me close, accepting me despite my brokenness; the sadness in his eyes the last time I had seen him.

I wandered slowly, taking in each scene and moving on when it was time. The sun had begun to set by the time I came out of the trance. I took a deep breath and opened my eyes lazily, in no hurry to rejoin the frantic pace of reality.

"I was beginning to wonder if you were going to wake up," Iggy said from where he leaned against the slope of the roof.

I concealed my startled jump and rolled my head to the side to look at him. "Maybe it would have been better if I hadn't." I said softly. Apparently the melancholy hadn't left yet. I didn't feel like putting up a front. He was old enough to handle it.

"You shouldn't say things like that." He chided me. There's a laugh, a kid six months younger than me reprimanding me.

I hmm'ed. "Then I won't say anything at all." I looked back to the sky. The sun had almost set and the bright oranges and pinks were fading into dark lavenders and blues. The air began to smell cool and fresh.

Iggy shifted. "Somehow, I think that might be worse. What happened today?"

Ah, how to explain the infinite drama of my day. "I got buried under a basketful of clothes just out of the dryer, learned of Total's good deeds and met Fang's girlfriend." Yep, that about sums it up.

"You met Ally?" The surprise in his voice annoyed me. "How was that?"

I tried to keep the adrenaline from flooding my blood. Relaxation was key right now. "It was just fine. How else would it be?"

"I dunno. Are you okay?" He paused. "Is she okay?"

The mocking tone underlined with concern really annoyed me. I sat up. "Yeah, we're all peachy. There's no reason I should feel one way or the other about it. He's got a girlfriend. Good for him." I tried, I really did, to keep the sarcasm out of my voice, but when it's such an ingrained response…I'm sure you can imagine.

Iggy leaned forward, his milky eyes intent on my face, as if he could see me. "Losing you was really hard on him. He was just trying to find a way to move on."

"I don't care, Iggy. I'm glad that he's found someone to distract him. He deserves that. Nothing should change just because I'm back." I was so tired of finding a balance with Fang and then having it ripped out from under me a minute later. Iggy's attempt at making excuses for Fang upset me more.

Iggy snorted. "Yeah, right, nothing should change. Max you disappeared three years ago, leaving us completely in the dark. We had no idea what happened to you. And now you're back with us, alive, and you think that things won't change?" He shook his head and leaned back again. "He used to have nightmares about you, about seeing you die and being forced to watch while he could do nothing. He dreamt that you blamed him for everything."

"How could I? The only person I can blame is myself," I said and got up. "if I had known my return would cause so much distress, I would have stayed away. Forgive me for wanting to come home." I jumped off the roof and landed in a crouch in the backyard, ignoring Iggy's call. I heard him land behind me, but I refused to stop and face him. There was only so much I could handle and I had reached my limit two years ago.

"I'm just trying to help you understand," he called after me.

I whirled around and stalked back to push him. "I don't need to fucking understand, Iggy. I don't care," I hissed. "Do you think that I don't want him to be happy? I know he deserves someone better than me. I know that I'm not the same person. How can you expect me to be when I spent a year as a plaything for Erasers? When I miscarried half a dozen children because the DNA of an avian-lupine-human hybrid unraveled faster than they predicted? When they just had to keep trying even though I had nearly died for the eighth time and then discarded me because I was falling apart?" I couldn't stop the tears and I couldn't care that I had just divulged my deepest darkest secret.

Iggy's breath was ragged. He reached out for me, but I dodged out of his reach.

"I only escaped a few months ago, Iggy. I only just realized that I might have a chance to live. I can't help it if I want it to be with him." I let out a bitter little laugh. "I love him so much." My voice cracked. "Why can't I be happy, too?" I stumbled into the house, trying to reach my room before I shattered.

"Max, are you okay?"

"Hey, what's wrong?"


The voices of the younger kids followed me from the family room into the foyer. I couldn't see through the moisture gathered in my eyes. I ran into something solid, something with hands that grasped my shoulders.

"What happened?" Fang asked just as Iggy burst through shouting, "Max!"

Iggy ploughed into us, crushing my body between his and Fang's. His hand touched the skin of my back and heat exploded under my skin. In an instant I was consumed, only having time for one agony-filled scream before darkness overtook me.

17. New Developments

Disclaimer: I claim no right to the Maximum Ride universe. I hope you like the changes better than the original. I think I do. Anyway, keep reading. Much Love.

Iggy's momentum carried all three of them to the floor. He yelped and rolled to one side to take the weight off of Max and because her skin had burned him. The sound was lost in her scream. He rolled to a crouch and flexed the fingers that had touched her. He could feel blisters already forming.

Fang landed on his back, arms automatically closing about Max despite the heat of her body. It didn't burn through the clothing, but he felt burns forming beneath his long sleeve button up. And just like that, the heat disappeared and Max's body went instantly limp. He lay there for a second, breathing hard and with her scream ringing in his ears, trying to feel her heartbeat through his chest or the light rise and fall of hers as she breathed. He felt neither.

Panic suffused him, lending him speed as he flipped them over and pressed his hands anywhere they might find a pulse. And there, in her neck, he found it. A faint pump of an artery that should be so much stronger, but at least it was there. He slumped in relief, his forehead touching hers. His hand dropped to the floor, but entwined in her scattered golden strands. He had already lost her so many times.

"Is she alive?" Angel's frightened tearful voice penetrated his haze.

Fang looked up at her standing with her hands clasped tightly in Gazzy's and then over at Nudge who sat by Iggy, checking his hands. All of them looked scared, terrified. And Iggy looked a bit guilty, too. Something to note for later, but unimportant now. He nodded. "Yeah, she's alive. I think-" he said, then began again. "I think she just went into one of her visions or something." He lifted a hand to scratch at the base of his neck, but Angel darted forward and knocked his hand away.

"Don't scratch. She burned you," she said. "Your hands, too." She turned them over. The palms were red and blistered.

Nudge glanced up from Iggy. "So what do we do? Is there a way to bring her out of it?"

Fang shook his head. "I don't think so. I think it's something that has to run its course." He sat up and rested his chin against the backs of his wrists. His gaze traveled over them, halting on Iggy. "What do you think?"

Iggy lifted his head. "I think that I caused it." He looked miserable. "I found her up on the roof in some kind of trance and had this sense that something had happened today."

Fang's mouth pressed into a thin line.

"I waited until she came out of it and asked her about it. She met Ally today."

The younger ones, well, Angel and Nudge gasped softly.

"Yeah, I know," Fang said tightly.

Nudge spoke before her brain kicked in. "I bet that sucked." Then it registered and she clapped a hand over her mouth in surprise. "Sorry," she whispered.

Iggy shoved her. "She got upset, said some things. I came home wanting to show her what it was like for you, so she could see that she wasn't the only one."

"How can my experience even compare to hers, Iggy?" Fang snarled. It took every ounce of control not to strangle the blind one who had never seemed blind until now. "She gave up everything for us. EVERYTHING," he roared. He was shaking as he scooped Max into his arms and held her protectively. "It is not your place to speak for me."

"Then who will? You certainly won't," Iggy snapped back.

Fang let his hair fall into his eyes and his old mask of indifference blanket his features. He had no reply. Instead he turned to Gazzy. "Could you bring some water up to my room?"

The eleven year old blonde nodded. "Yeah, I'll be up in a sec."

"Good," Fang said and drifted up the stairs with Max in his arms, leaving everyone else behind. He carried her into his own room, instead of hers, kicking the heavy quilt off the bed and laying her gently on the cool sheets. He had just released her when her face crumpled and she whimpered.

Her hands twitched, so he grabbed one and squeezed it tight. "It's okay, Max. I'm here. You're safe."

"Find a place to land,' she rasped. "Please." Her eyes remained closed and her face smoothed except for small tight lines around her mouth and forehead.

Those words caught in his memory. He remembered watching her wings fold and her body fall from her place next to Nudge. He remembered the wild fear that jolted through him as he dove after her, praying to a God he had never believed in that he would catch her. And he had.

"And help me be a better leader, a better person," she whispered. "Make me braver, stronger, smarter. Help me take care of the flock. Help me find some answers." Her face looked calm now, as if she had found peace somewhere.

Fang gazed at her, wishing he could read her mind just once so he could know the right thing to do. No matter how hard he tried, something always came between them. Her obliviousness, his fear, saving the world, saving the flock. And then he had lost her for three years, living with the torment that she was probably dead, had died alone and at the hands of the monsters that had created them. Now she was back and that stupid Ally had fucked it all up. Who was he kidding, he had fucked it all up.

Max's breathing changed again, growing labored and thick. Deep welts spontaneously split her smooth cheek. Blood dripped from the slices.

Fang wrenched open his bedside table drawer and pulled out another of the many med kits stashed around the house. He popped it open and dabbed away the dark liquid, surprised to see the gashes already starting to close. Bruises flowered on her skin, bursting around her eyes, across her cheeks and down her arms in bright flares before fading away to pale shadows.

A knock cause Fang to jump a foot in the air. Pretending it never happened, he called out, "Yeah, come in."

The door creaked open slowly and Gazzy poked his head around. "Hey, I got some water for you. Well, for her. She's gonna be okay, right? Right, Fang?" His blue eyes were huge in his lean face. Fang suddenly felt bad.

"Yeah, Gazzy. She'll be cool." He promised.

The Gasman looked like he wanted to ask something else so Fang turned his full attention to the eleven year old. The past few days had to have been just as hard on him. Fang hadn't been the only one to lose Max.

"Are you gonna be okay?"

The odd question rattled something deep inside. Fang blinked for a few seconds, trying to process Gazzy's question. He didn't quite manage. "What?"

The boy gained confidence at Fang's discomfort. "Are you gonna be okay? Everyone is worried about Max, for sure. But, we're worried about you, too. Don't forget that." With an assessing look out of place on a young boy's face, Gazzy left Fang alone with his thoughts and Max's unconscious body.

Fang gaped at the door for minutes after Gazzy had shut it. Gaping meaning staring with mouth not shut as tightly as usual. The idea that the others were worried about him when there was Max to worry about flummoxed his sense of how the world should work. He shut his mouth. It made sense in a strange sort of way.

A heavy sight forced its way from his chest and Fang circled the bed to sit on the other side. Max whimpered softly. He scowled. It was going to be a long night.

18. What Happens Inside

Disclaimer: I claim no right to the Maximum Ride universe. Thanks so much for your reviews. They totally make my day. Don't forget to check out the revised Ch. 16 & 17! This might make some more sense. Much Love.

I lay on my side, curled tight, praying that I could find my way back from wherever I had gone. I had so much unfinished business.

The last thing I remembered was walking away from Iggy, trying not to turn around and beat him into the ground, and then Fang, even if he was angry when he touched me or I was angry, I always felt safer. And then I had burned alive. I've never considered myself much of a girly-girl, but I would have stomped and screamed and whined to high heaven and worn a skirt if it meant that I could go home. Back to Fang. Yeah. I know. I was SO desperate.

As if someone flicked a switch, light burst into my eyes. I could hear water and seagulls and feel the rough crunching of sand beneath my body. Slowly, I untucked from my position and cracked my eyes open to see exactly where I was. Blinding blue sky and an endless expanse of sand peppered with small bushes and driftwood greeted me. Oh, joy.

I placed my palms against the sun-warmed sand and pushed upright, inhaling deeply to prepare for pain. Maybe I had fallen out of the sky.

To my great pleasure, I felt perfectly fine. To my dismay, I was totally alone. Sea gulls so don't count as company. They are the most boring creatures on the planet. I am ashamed to call them brethren. Well, two percent brethren. Anyway…

My legs supported me in my effort to stand and seeing no other option, I set off down the waterline. The beach itself probably spanned a hundred and twenty yards from the waterline to the edge of the sand. Where the sand stopped, trees began. The spot felt vaguely familiar, but then I think most beaches look the same, and I've been to quite a few, so I can't be expected to remember every tract of sand I've landed on.

I opened my wings, allowing the sunshine to warm them and the soft ocean breeze to comb between my feathers. I flapped to work out the kinks and walked slowly. Maybe this was a vacation for me. No reason not to pretend to enjoy it. And perhaps I might actually enjoy it.

A little shiver went down my spine.

Far down the curve of the sand along the trees, I spotted a single dark figure. I never had much trouble from one person, so I kept going at my leisurely pace but still on alert. As I got closer a tingle of recognition sparked along my senses. It was Fang.

He still hadn't moved as I approached, even when I was only twenty yards away. His long hair covered the side of his face I could see, but the tension in his body was unmistakable. He was upset. Really upset by the looks of it. There was also an air of defeat and sorrow in the hard lines of his form. But something didn't look right.

I edged around him so that I could see the other side of his face. He didn't even blink at me. No indication that I had registered on his radar. Was he really that mad at me? Then I had it. He looked young. I called his name. "Fang?"


Oh, God.

I was seeing him years ago. This wasn't a vacation. I wasn't so lucky. This was some cruel manifestation of his version of things. I turned to run when he spoke.

"You didn't have to leave," he said. "I would have kept you safe."

I opened my mouth, but before I could speak a gust of wind worthy of a tornado caught in my spread wings and yanked me into the air. I was tossed around like a little girl's rag doll in a game of keep-away.

I spun around madly and my vision blacked out. Automatically, I beat my wings with as much power as I could muster to pull myself out of the dizzying spin. If it didn't stop soon, I was going to die or at the very least get sick.

Just as quickly as my world had spun out, I was righted and flying, listening to Nudge chatter away in my ear. I still hadn't gained back all of my equilibrium so her voice was muffled, seeming far away. I watched her for a second, wondering why she looked so young when someone fired a nail gun into the back of my skull. Her scream echoed faintly as my wings folded and I dropped like an Wiley Coyote in those old Warner Brothers cartoons.

I was praying that the ground wasn't much farther when strong arms wrapped around me, halting my downward descent. Immediately, I started rising and realized that Fang had scooped me up. When I was finally able to take my hands away from my skull, he glanced down at me.

"Man, you weigh a freaking ton. What have you been eating, rocks?" he asked.

"No, why? Is your head missing some?" I replied. His almost smile made me realize how worried he had been. "Find a place to land. Please?"

Just as we were landing and I sat down to recover, I was whisked away. One moment, I had plopped down on a tree trunk and the next I sat inside a cool dark church on a hard wooden pew. All the kids sat around me whispering prayers. Not quite sure how to pray, I folded my hands and closed my eyes, saying the first thing that came to mind, "And help me be a better leader, a better person. Make me braver, stronger, smarter. Help me take care of the flock. Help me find some answers." I glanced up. There had been an echo. I heard my own voice saying the words not quite in time with the ones I had actually spoken.

Fang spoke to me, but I couldn't hear his voice. All I heard was a deep menacing growl. I spun around prepared to do battle and caught a clawed blow across the face. I felt the quick gush of blood spurt from my cheek and whipped around to confront the source of the attack. An Eraser stood nonchalantly in front of me, licking my blood from his claws. Another chuckled to my left.

"So, any last words?" The first said.

I assumed the standing thinking pose, pretending to consider the question. This wasn't going to end well and I was gonna take as many of them with me as I could. "Yeah," I quipped. "Bite me." And I launched myself at his face.

I managed a few good punches before the others ripped me off. I stumbled, but planted one foot firmly on the ground and kicked one real good just under his ribs.

Of course, all of them took offense and ganged up on me. Four Erasers and just one me. What's a girl to do? Fight like hell. Which I did. Duh.

Another explosion decimated my brain and I collapsed, groaning. I still felt the punches and kicks of the Erasers, but I also heard Fang and felt his hand on my arm. "You okay?" he asked quietly.

I moaned again. Then a cacophony of voices joined his and the Erasers' growls.

"I love you best, too, Max," Angel told me sweetly.

"As I recall, you're girly enough," Fang said, crowding me into the wall.

Go where the fun is, Max. Of course the Voice had to join in.

"I'm scared," Iggy whispered to me, his hand sweaty in mine as we stood in front of his parents' house.

Gazzy pouted, exhausted and upset. "I just want to sit and eat and rest."

I felt and heard everything. Every memory blasted over the others until I was in a flood of sensation that made my nerves scream. Then, a tingly numbness started to envelop me. It worked its way from my fingers and toes toward my torso, canceling the thousands of sensations pressing into my body. I welcomed the reprieve, but grew panicked at the implications. She was taking over. She would be in my place.


19. Breakdowns and Returns

Disclaimer: I claim no right to the Maximum Ride universe. Thanks so much for your patience and support. These last two months have been a trial. Keep reviewing. Also, if you haven't already please read the updated chapters 16 and 17. They've been up for a while, but I just tweaked 17 a little more. Much Love!

A strange electric buzz woke Fang from a light sleep. His eyes cracked open and he surreptitiously reached out to make sure that Max was still by his side. He couldn't help the immediate spike in his heartbeat as adrenaline flowed into his system. He lay still contemplating what to do.

"I know you're awake," someone said. The voice sounded almost like Max, but distorted and fuzzy, a metallic drone. "There's no point in pretending anymore. We need to talk."

Fang opened his eyes, squinting in the bright bluish glow. He sat up slowly, letting his eyes adjust before searching out the source. His jaw dropped slightly as he saw Max standing at the foot of the bed with her arms crossed, her wings out and a crackling blue aura outlining her body. Oddly, he noticed that she looked really good like that.

As soon as the thought entered his mind, she snarled and the light flared around her to blinding intensity.

He covered his eyes, turning away.

"You are just like the others. You only care about what her body can give you." Her voice rose until it sounded like feedback from speakers at a Rolling Stones concert.

Fang snapped, "That's bullshit, Max, and you know it."

The metallic whine subsided. "She cannot hear you." The glow subsided and he was able to look at her again. She had her head tilted to the side as she looked at him though eerily pale eyes. "Even I cannot reach her and I share her mind."

Fang thought of Iggy, but banished the thought just in case she pulled it from his head.

"So, the blind one did this? Good to know," she said. Max turned and meandered over to his desk, letting one hand ghost over the papers lying there. Her fingers moved slowly, gracefully, lingering over a worn black leather-bound book held together by twine. They stopped, her nails picking at the coarse string.

Fang sat still, praying that she couldn't see the words inside even as he knew that she could.

She said nothing. She tapped the cover and moved on.

"Why do you keep referring to yourself in the third person? What's wrong?" Fang asked.

Max hissed. "I am not your beloved. Do not think that the charms that affect her have any effect on me as well. I do not love you. I do not feel." The glow intensified again.

He got up and tugged the covers up to keep the warmth in the sheets. "Didn't mean to imply," he said. "so, if you're not Max, who are you? I know you're not a clone. That is Max's body." As energy crackled around her, realization dawned. "You destroyed the lab. The blast radius was from you."

Max smiled a humorless grin. "Lovely, wasn't it? They didn't expect me to wake up when they were cutting into her. Shock of their lives, I'd say." She chuckled, the sound harsh and grating on his sensitive ears. "Of course, I return to the deepest part of her psyche when my work is finished. She's so strong that I barely get out even when she needs me."

Fang folded his arms. "Then you can go back to wherever you came from. She doesn't need you anymore. She has us. She has me." He knew that she might take exception to his words, so he braced himself.

She narrowed her eyes. "Yes, I can tell. You've done such a good job of protecting her that even I can't find where she's gone."

"I will bring her back," Fang stated.

She snorted.

Max's alter-ego's attitude got under his skin like she never had. He closed the distance between them and grabbed her by the arms. Instead of the white heat he was expecting, her skin was cool and soft.

The light exploded, but neither he nor anything around suffered damage. "How dare you touch me!" she raged, the strident screech nearly blowing his eardrums. She struggled against him, but to no effect. She was as weak as a human to him. "What have you done? How did you take my power?"

He spun her around, crushing her back to his chest. With one arm he anchored her there, with the other he swept her long lovely hair to one side, exposing her neck. Despite her thrashing, he held her easily. "I cancel you out," he whispered next to her ear. "She doesn't need you anymore. Go away." He rubbed his cheek along her soft feathers and called up every memory of Max he had.

She shrieked and squirmed trying to escape.

He started at her shoulder and moved up her neck, kissing her gently, sometimes even nibbling a bit, murmuring to her. He flooded her brain with his view of her. Memories flowed through him as he forced them deep into her brain. He figured the alter-ego's ability to read minds could work to his advantage in this instance. He thought about the first time he saw her at the School, when she reached out through the little holes cut in the plastic crates and spoke softly to him, chattering to help him keep the horrors of the lab at bay. Her voice had been so soothing. Her eyes had been kind.

He thought about her slender fingers wrenching open the lock to his crate and her determination as Jeb had helped them escape. She grabbed hold of his hand and hadn't let go until they were well on their way into the Rocky Mountains. She had fallen asleep on his shoulder for a few brief moments and he had leaned his head on hers, loving the feel of her next to him.

Fang let her see his fear and despair the night she had disappeared. His panicked attempts to find her and the reluctant acceptance of her absence. He also showed her how he felt seeing her standing, dirty and pale, on their front porch only two days ago. How the bottom had dropped out of his stomach and everything had grown dim except for her.

He reached the spot just below her ear and realized that she had stopped struggling. "Max?" he whispered.

"Damn you," she rasped. "But she will be in strong hands. I will find a way to kill you if I ever get the chance."

"Good thing you'll never get the chance," he said.

Max's body jerked. The crackling blue aura seemed to be sucked into her and for the second time in twenty four hours, she went completely boneless in his arms. He sank to the floor, dragging her into his lap and rocking her gently. He rained kisses upon her face, stroked her hair and traced the small white scars on her arms. The stress of the last few days combined with reliving the last seventeen years of his life as it related to Max drained his defense reserves.

He sat on his heels, holding her in his arms and wishing that just once they could be together without drama. Her skin was still cold and pale. Terror suffused him. She should be waking up, blinking blearily at him with a shaky smile or one of her adorable confused frowns. Hell, he'd take a death glare right now if it meant she was awake.

"Come on, Max," he begged quietly, his voice no more than a breath because air refused to enter his lungs. He leaned over, letting his forehead rest against hers. A drop of moisture splashed on her cheek, followed by another. Soon his breath came in short gasps as he tried to keep quiet. Losing her once had nearly destroyed him. Losing her again would obliterate him entirely.


His body shook harder. He was even hearing her voice. "God, Max. I'm so sorry. I thought I could protect you. I thought my love would be enough. I'm sorry I never told you."


He sniffed. "Duh."

A hand forced his head up. He froze as he saw her eyes open and looking at him.

"I love you, too, Fang. Always have. It just took a while to realize it." Her lips twisted into a small, tired smile.

"Hi," he said.

She giggled. "Hi."

20. Epilogue

Disclaimer: I claim no right to the Maximum Ride universe. Thanks so much to all of you. This has definitely been an interesting experience. This is the first fic I have ever finished! Yay for me. I'm not ruling out the possibility of a sequel, but it will be quite a while. I need to settle down before I undertake another project. Maybe I'll write some shorter stories in the meantime. I have a few ideas. Anyway, I hope you liked the story. Keep reading and Please review! Much Love. Venomous Angel 75

I rolled my head to the side, squinting in the sunshine, to look at Fang. I lay on my stomach with my wings spread to soak up the sun. "How're your hands?" I asked.

He held them out, palms facing me. The skin was clear and unblemished. Accelerated mutant healing had always been one of my favorite results of the combined DNA. He quirked up one side of his mouth and spider crawled across the roof to lay next to me. I lifted one wing so that he could lay right next to me and settled it back over him. His long fingers combed through my feathers.

"That feels good."

"Mmm," he said. He wiggled close until our shoulders were touching and worked his hands inward to my back. He brushed my hair over the other side of my neck and laid his palm on my jaw. His thumb caressed my cheek.

One shoulder nudged at mine until I lifted up a little and he slipped underneath. Soon I was laying on top of him with my knees between his and my hands stacked on my chest so that I could look at him.

"Ugh," shouted a distinctly eleven year old voice.

"They're at it again," came that of his sister.

Iggy just couldn't resist taking part. "It's about time. Geez."

I rolled my eyes and sighed theatrically. "Gimme a break," I yelled. "Go away."

Fang's laugh rumbled through me, below the mock protests of the others. "We'll really give you something to look at and hear," he added for Iggy, "if you stick around."

"Peace out," Gazzy called and the other two were close behind.

I giggled with Fang chuckling beneath me. I gazed down at him smiling. He leaned up quickly and planted a kiss on my mouth.

I smoothed my fingers through his thick dark hair, playing with the razored ends. "Is that right?" I said.

"Max," he said.


"Don't ever leave me like that again. I don't care what's gone on. All I want is to be with you. I want you to…"

I cut him off with a kiss. "I'm not fixed yet. Let's wait and see what happens before declaring forevers, okay?" I told him. "I promise I won't go off again and I promise that if there is a forever in the cards for me, it's going to be with you."

A genuine smile lit his face and mine got all warm.

"I love you, Maximum Ride," he murmured.

I grinned at him. "And I wouldn't have it any other way."


...for now.