disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride.

Max

It was a beautiful day in the countryside.

The birds were singing, the sky was clear, the sun was hot.

No, seriously, the sun was hot. Too hot. It was summer. The end of summer anyway. You would think that being this far up north the weather would be a bit more lenient. That wasn't the case. Any minute now, I feel like I'm one turkey baste closer to becoming a baked bird kid.

It didn't help that I was wearing a jacket, but you know how it went: old habits, long lifespans.

I came along with my mom on this outing to this ranch just to get out of the house, but I was kind of regretting it now. Miles out, the ranch was huge and owned by an elderly woman whose appearance was quite deceiving.

Deceiving in that she had more strength than I would have given her credit for. Quick, too. Before I knew what was happening, she had my jaw in her grasp. She pulled me down to her level, which was half my size, by the way. Never would I have suspected a woman so small and decrepit-looking to have such strength, but here we were. I should have seen it, but if you were to see the woman yourself you wouldn't be so quick to put me on the chopping block.

She was small, her skin was leathery, and her hair was nearly all gray. In fact, I was so taken off guard, I just didn't react at all. Maybe that was a good thing. Mom didn't exactly condone violence and the woman wasn't at the prime to handle my kind of violence, despite her show of strength. In the past, I would have instinctively reacted and that would have ended badly.

The exact words out of her mouth after turning my face this way and that was:

"You are wonderfully and wholly made, my dear." Ok...

That's not something you hear everyday, folks. So you could imagine my reaction toward that. Anyway, that was fifteen minutes ago. My mom had just kinda stood there before walking off following after the woman after giving me this bewildered and apologetic look. She was in the stables now, checking up on this pregnant horse. I made sure to stay clear of the building since mom would be using her veterinary equipment. Despite the years I was still a little uneasy around them.

My sister had disappeared to... wherever she disappeared to. Probably after that boy she couldn't stop talking about all summer. Ella spoke about him so much, I practically knew the boy myself without having to meet him in person.

As for Ella becoming my sister.

It started out some years ago when I met her during my wild rescue mission to save my baby girl, angel. You've probably heard of that story by now. Who hasn't? It was such a big part of my life that I would be shocked if someone hadn't written a book about it.

I was no longer with the flock, although that was voluntary this time and under no circumstances did I have to cook up another rescue mission for anyone. I had been wandering around the country, looking for a place to stay when Ella found me and we had been living happily together with our mom ever since.

Okay, so it wasn't that simple; I have my own apartment now and I have more tell. It was a time I was trying valiantly to forget, but we did move out of Arizona. We were now more toward the north where I went to school, made friends, blah, blah. After three years, I was finally starting to get over my past and look toward the future.

Yeah, right.

But hey, it wasn't like I wasn't trying. And I did make some progress.

In some cases.

Looking out over the large field at the back of the house was peaceful. I could even make out what looked to be a lake? I would have to check that out later. The house was separated by land for miles from the next one. It was beautiful, but my more paranoid side told me it was also a great chance for getting kidnapped and no one being the wiser.

On the other hand, it was huge and well worth it to explore, not to mention, all the privacy.

A hazy gray of clouds was slowly covering the sun, casting the flowering field in dim lighting, and giving some measure of relief from the oppressing heat. There was an eerie quality to it that made it beautiful at the same time, too. A ring of trees surrounded the area. A white fence cut them off, but there was a gate that led into the forest where there was a dark shadow coming out of the woodwork—

Wait, what?

I did a double take, stopping midstep toward the house. The shape was large enough to have cause for alarm but I didn't make a sound. I was tensed as I waited for the figure to come closer, making out features with my sharp hawk-eyes. All the while my mind kept coming up with different scenarios: the school had found me, it was an Eraser—er, a giant, hulking, if the size was any indication; it was a machine designed to specifically capture special bird kids like me. The more I stood there, the more wild my ideas were getting. Finally, I began to make out a distinct shape.

It wasn't an Eraser, thank God. It was a guy.

He had short cropped hair that fell over a single dark eye.

A dark eye that I found — familiar?

He was riding on top of a horse that was the color of grey glinting silver in the hazy sunlight. At any other time, and if I was the more romantic type like Ella, I would have said something along the lines of, "he was prince charming, riding on his mighty steed coming to sweep me away."

He was handsome. I'll give him that.

We were looking each other up and down. At least, that's what I figured. His face was confused as I felt, but for the life of me I couldn't put my finger on where I had seen him before.

He opened his mouth and that's when I remembered.

"Max?"

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