Summary: Fang and Max find comfort in each other when they face what seems like final mortality. Fax. Fang's POV. (Warning: this is not macho Fang. This is emotional, slightly OOC Fang.)

Disclaimer: "Maximum Ride" and its appropriate affiliations do not belong to me. No copyright infringement intended.

It's a thin line, between pain and love. Have you ever loved someone so much it hurt?

It's like tucking your wings and free falling, face first, toward the unforgiving ground. It's exhilarating, crazy, and fucking terrifying. Yeah. Like that. That pain of love – it's excruciating and beautiful. It's terrible and glorious. And I never want it to stop.

That's what it's like loving Max.

And I'm thinking this as I'm looking at her, slumped against a wall in a grimy hotel room somewhere in upstate California. We're running. We're always running. This time, though, it might be the last. The Erasers caught up with us around Los Angeles, and then again in San Jose. We kicked ass in L.A, naturally, but San Jose was different. The Erasers weren't bent on Erasing. They had something else in mind.

They found us in alley behind the Safeway, and cornered us against a Dumpster. Initially we didn't want to up and away – flying in broad daylight in downtown San Jose would attract more attention than we needed – but when it became obvious that we had no other choice, we spread our wings and opened the throttle. There was a small pop as we launched into the air. Without thinking, we followed Max's broken shout of "North!" I didn't realize something was wrong until I looked back and saw that the Erasers were just tiny specks amidst the California bustle. Not a single one had taken pursuit.

The second sign was Max. As we were flying, I noticed she was tightly grasping her left arm. I checked to make sure the Nudge, Angel, Gazzy and Iggy were all okay before coasting up to fly beside her. She was silent for almost a full minute, gazing at the webbed grid of streets rushing by below her, before saying "I think it's a tracker." Her voice almost broke again. With those five words, I felt my world crumbling before me. Please, God, no. I wasn't religious – it's hard to believe in anything but yourself when you grow up in hell – but in that moment, I was willing to believe. I didn't care what it took, I just wanted Max to be okay.

This had happened once before. Her Voice had revealed that there was a tracker in her arm that had nearly gotten us killed multiple times, and aside from the obvious physical damage it caused us, the thought of it had nearly driven Max insane. Max doesn't fall apart often, but I'll never forget the day she nearly destroyed her arm trying to get the tracker out. And now this nightmare was happening again.

"Fang…" she whispers, and my heart clenches at the pain in her voice. "Fang, we can't tell the kids." I know she's right, and I nod mutely. My mind is blank and racing all at once. I can't think. I'm thinking of the Erasers. I can't think. I'm thinking of the takeoff. I can't think. I'm remembering the pop. I can't think. I can't know. Because if I know she got shot with a dart gun, one that had a tracker embedded in the tip, I'll think about how I could've stopped it. I'll think about how I could've saved us. I'll think about everything that I should've done and didn't do.

Just the way I'm thinking about it now.

Max groans next to me, and my eyes flash to her face. I hadn't realized that I'd been staring at her arm, the arm that she's now clutching so hard her fingers are turning white. I scoot across the garish brown and red carpet till I'm only a breath away.

"Max," I whisper. My fingers find the limp ones of her left hand and squeeze them gently. "Max." She moans again, my name this time. Her eyes flutter open and I see pain glazing her vision. She tries to talk, but her throat is raw from the tears. She coughs and tries again.

"Fang. They're closer. They're closer, Fang. The Flock – are they-," and she begins to cough again. Her sweaty fingers tighten around mine and I hate her pain; I hate her tracker; I hate everything and anything that made her feel like this. Her eyes are watery as she looks me in the eye and speaks in a hoarse. "Fang, I feel them."

I don't want to hear the answer that I know will come out of her mouth, but I ask anyway. "Who?" The sound of her labored breathing fills the tiny hotel room, and suddenly, in room 1102, on the 11th floor of this ugly, threadbare hotel, I feel insanely claustrophobic.

"The Erasers. The School. The…" she takes another breath and suddenly her eyes sharpen a little. "Fang. Hey. The Flock. Are they okay? Are they- the plan- is it-," And I cut her off with a kiss. It's sudden and ill-timed and sloppy. But when I pull away, she's smiling and that's all I ever wanted.

"They're right where they're supposed to be," I tell her. My face is inches away from hers. We're looking each other dead in the eye and she knows I'm telling her the truth. Her heavy breathing mingles and blends with my own rapid breaths. "They're heading to Lake Tahoe. They should almost be there by now. They think we're investigating those rumors Nudge picked up about the Itex base in Sacramento. They're okay." Upon hearing my last two words, Max relaxes again. Her head slumps onto my shoulder and in the silence of the room, I think I can hear her heart beating. It beats in time with the blood pounding in my ears.

"How's your arm?" I finally ask.

"Numb," is her quiet reply. "I can barely feel it at all now."

"And… and your wing?"

Her silence is like a death sentence. We'd barely made it away from the Flock without giving away how badly she was injured. I'd realized nearly instantly that her wing was somehow affected by the shot. She'd made a hasty plan to meet the Flock at Lake Tahoe, told them to go ahead while we checked out this supposed Itex base. The Flock had only been out of sight for a minute or two when Max careened sideways in midair, smashing into me as her wing finally gave out. I'd managed to fly us through a window that was mercifully open on the 11th story of this hotel. Before she passed out from the pain, Max had explained to me between breaths that the dart had been laced with something else – some type of poison to immobilize her, giving the Erasers time to place the signal and find her before she got away.

Their plan was breathtakingly simple – and equally as effective. We were now sitting ducks, waiting for the Erasers to come get us. I could've flown away, but leaving Max was out of the question. I felt her breaths moving her gently on my shoulder. My heart went into a tailspin, and as I thought about losing her I began to free fall.

"They're almost here," she whispered. "We have… we have minutes." I glanced down and saw my knuckles were white from holding her hand so tightly. I immediately relaxed, not wanting to hurt her, and then realized that she couldn't feel it anyway. All feeling was gone from her hand. I gently unlaced my fingers from her and began to trail my hand up her arm.

"Tell me when you can feel," I whisper, and she nods in assent against my neck. My hand drifts up, up, past her elbow. Up to her biceps, and then on to her shoulder. She remains silent. I reach behind her back and begin to stroke her scapulars, then her secondary feathers. A burst of heat hits the skin on my neck. I look down, but her face is still buried in my shoulder and I can't see her. My hand slowly trails back across her wings and across her until I'm gently holding her chin. I lift it and look into her tear filled eyes.

"I know you're touching my wing," she mumbles through shuddering breaths, "but I can't feel it." And then she loses it. Her tears spill over, her body quakes, and her pain hits me like a tidal wave, driving a sledgehammer straight into my chest. I double over her, burying my face in her hair, and begin to shake like a newborn baby. My arms wrap around her and I'm clinging so tightly to her I think I might suffocate her, but she's doing the same to me and in that awful, gruesome moment I almost think I would like to die there, wrapped in Max's arms, holding her to me.

With a gasping, rattling inhale, she leans away from me and looks me in the eye. Her own eyes are swollen from tears. "Fang, I love you more than anything else it the world," she says, "and we both know I'm not a romantic person but Fang, since the moment you earned your name to the day I called you my brother to the very first time we kissed, I have loved you. You have been mine. And you always will be."

We fall together and our lips collide in pain, in fear, and in love. We pour everything we have into that kiss. Our lips mold together and her chest smashes painfully against mine. She grabs my shoulder with her right arm, pulling me impossibly closer. As our tears slip between our lips, she scoots onto my lap and wraps her good leg around me. I kiss her for yesterday, and for the day before, and for the day before that. I kiss her for every single fucking day that I ever wasted not telling her I loved her, and for the days I never would.

Eventually she tires. She pulls her lips off mine but still rests her forehead on mine. "Max," I say coarsely. "Max, I love you. I never started loving you because you are all I've ever known. You are all I've ever felt. And I will never, ever stop." Softly, weakly, she kisses me again. She kisses my lips, and my nose, and my chin. She kisses the tears out of my eyes. Hey body is becoming dead weight as she numbs more, slumping like a melting ice cream cone. Her right hand strokes my chin, her thumb moving over my jawline. And then she whispers, "They're here."

I hear the footsteps. Somewhere in my mind, I know that we should run. We should fight. We should try, one last time, to escape. For Max's sake, for the Flock's sake. But I'm looking Max's death in the eye and I'm like a deer in headlights: frozen. The smell of wet dog reaches my nose. The footsteps grow louder. The floor begins to shake. Max and I are staring into each other's eyes, willing the other to move.

But neither of us can.

When the door bursts open, it's almost dreamlike. The wood splinters in slow motion. The door hits the floor in a cloud of dust. I hear a scream from somewhere in the distance. And then the Erasers are in the room, drooling and spitting and scanning the room. Their eyes land on Max and I, tucked together in the corner by the window. Max twitches on top of me. Her eyes, like mine, are now on the Erasers, who have all stopped just before the bed.

"Maximum Ride…" one growls.

And suddenly, Max is on fire. "No!" she screams. I jump. The Erasers jump. She wrenches herself off of me and staggers to her feet.

"Maximum Ride… It is time for your extermination," snarls the same Eraser. As Max stares defiantly at the Eraser, everything comes into focus. The Eraser's bright brown fur, the brash red in the carpeting, the sharp orange of the bedspread. I see Max leaning heavily on the windowsill. I see the Eraser lurch forward. And I see Max, using every ounce of strength she has left, step onto the sill and launch herself out the window, into the bright blue sky.

I am speed; I am wind and light. I am out the window faster than the Eraser can blink, but even as I tip toward the earth I see Max below me, falling faster and faster past windows. One wing is tucked against her back, the other flopping uselessly as she twists and turns in the air. Her arms are crossed against her chest, funeral-style. All this is processed by my brain in the second it takes to pin my wings against my back and aim myself at Max.

11 stories is a long ways to be free falling, face first, toward the unforgiving ground.

We free fall together, but I'm slightly faster. My aerodynamic shape is to my advantage. The ground is rushing at me at an intense, horrific speed, but then, suddenly, I am next to her. I am next to Max. My brain is no longer my brain, my heart no longer really a heart. The ground is seconds away but my arms reach out and I am able to grab Max, clutch her to me. The tip of one ebony wing flicks out, and our angle is adjusted so she is on top of me. This love. It's excruciating and beautiful.

I am her bed. I am her ground. I am her rock.

And then the asphalt catches up to us, and I



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