Best Friends Means
A/N: Well, this is that twoshot I've been promising you guys for ages. And YES! this is that spring that I'm constantly referring to in my fics. (BTW: If you haven't read A Little Place Called Home and A Little Person Called God, then you're not going to understand half of this fanfic.) I hope you guys enjoy. And had a fun time writing this.
NSRQ: "Back in school they never taught us what we needed to know/Like how to deal with despair, or someone breaking your heart./For twelve years I've held it all together but a night like this is begging to pull me apart. –from Seventy Times 7 by Brand New"
"Max, Max, can you play Monopoly? Angel wants to play, but we need more people."
I glanced up form my book at Nudge, who is practically hovering on her toes with anticipation. I don't really want to play a game that lasts hours on end, but Nudge hasn't been this lively in a while and I didn't want to wreck it.
"Yeah, alright," I answered and she grins gleefully as I put my book down and swing my legs off my bed. "We'll all play. Get Gazzy and Ig and—" I stopped myself from saying his name. "—And we'll set up in the living room," I finished lamely.
Luckily, Nudge didn't notice my near slip-up. She ran off to find the two boys. Iggy automatically agreed to play, but the Gasman needs a little more persuasion. After several complaints that Iggy always won at Monopoly— which is true, but oh well— he finally condescended since we hadn't played in a really long time. So in the end, we all played. Except him, of course.
It's like he's dead, I thought to myself while Angel rolled the die. There's only five of us now. We never talk about him, never even say his name. As if he's dead. First Jeb and now him…
Suddenly, it was too much and I felt an awful burning in my eyes. Mumbling an excuse, I jumped out of my seat and dashed to my room before they could see me cry.
He's not dead, I reminded myself. He's just a few doors down the hall. This small consolation didn't help much though. I buried my face into my pillow, trying to stifle my sobs. God, I needed him— especially now. I wanted to hear him tease me, wanted to see him smirk at me, anything to prove that he wasn't just some imaginary friend I'd conjured from the shadows.
He's just down the hall. I repeated my mantra. Just down the hall, locked in his room doing who knows what. I could talk to him now if I wanted too. He's just down the hall.
"Max?" I silenced my crying when I heard Iggy's voice. He knocked lightly on my bedroom door. "Max?"
I closed my eyes, forcing the tears to stop. I had to get a hold of myself. I was leader now. I had to be strong to give a good example. Especially since he wasn't around anymore.
I rubbed my cheeks with the heels of my hands, doing damage control, before I opened the door. "Yeah, Ig?"
Iggy's blind eyes were set in my direction, focused just above my head. He tapped his fingers against his leg. "Are you alright?" he asked.
I forced the lie between my teeth, shoving it through the small space. "I'm fine."
He knew it's not true—there's not doubt he heard me crying and I don't usually jump up in the middle of a game and ran away. But he didn't push it. That's the difference between Iggy and him.
"Okay," Ig sighed. "I'm going back to the game before Gazzy steals more money from the bank. Unless you want something?"
I'm about to tell him no and close the door when I realized there was something I needed him to do. "Yeah," I replied causally. "Could you pick Fang's lock for me?"
Iggy blinked in surprise and I knew why—no one had said Fang's name in days, an unspoken agreement. "What?"
"I'm going to talk to him. I need you to open the door," I explained tersely.
An expression that could almost be described as panic flashed through Ig's pale features. "I'm not sure that's a good idea," he said slowly.
I frowned. "Why not?" I demanded.
Ig increased the beat his fingers were playing against his jeans, fidgeting uncomfortably. "After Jeb...uh, left... something changed in Fang," he muttered. "He's kind of...unstable. If you say the wrong thing, it could push him over the edge."
I gazed at my pseudo-brother, mystified. "Something changed in Fang?" Iggy nodded. "And what do you mean 'push him over the edge'?"
Ig went whiter than he already was. From his expression alone, I could derive the answer: suicide.
"How do you know?" I inquired suddenly, forcing my brain away from forbidden topics.
Iggy froze. "I-I just know, Max," he stuttered out. I stared at him. What was with these boys lately?
Finally, I sighed heavily. I was twelve for pete's sake, and my best friend might just commit suicide. God. Why couldn't the whitecoats have picked someone else to pin wings on? Regardless, Fang was my best friend. Best friends means you don't abandon each other at the first sign of rain. "Look, Ig. I'm going to talk to him way or another. Now, are you going to help me or not?"
Ig turned his head away, tilted down the hall. "Fine," he mumbled.
Together, we walked to Fang's room. The closed door shunned us—I couldn't remember the last time it'd been open.
Iggy was hesitant again. "You sure?" he whispered; Fang could probably hear us. If Fang was still in there. If Fang was awake. If Fang hadn't already—don't think about it and it won't be real.
"He's been acting weird for month. He's been in there for a week and a half. Yes, I'm sure!" I huffed. I didn't want to argue about this anymore.
Face anxious, Iggy repeated his earlier warning. "He's in a bad way, Max. I don't he'll appreciate seeing you."
And there wasn't a doubt in my mind that Iggy was right. If we were dealing with anyone else, I would've backed down. But this was Fang. Best friends means you do what is right for the other, even when they don't want you to. "Iggy, I have to try. We can't just leave him in there."
Ig closed his useless eyes in defeat. He stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out his case of lock picks. "Alright. But be careful with him. And don't say I didn't warn you," he reminded me darkly.
I said nothing, just watched as Iggy stuck a pick into the doorknob's hole and worked his magic. A distinct click signaled that the door was unlocked, Ig stepped away, gestured towards me. I took a deep breath, trying to prepare myself for the worst, opened the door a little and slipped in.
He was just sitting there in the center of his room, back to the window. He looked up at me and his eyes sent a chill straight through my body. They were black, the pupil shifting flawlessly to the iris. And that's when I knew that Iggy was right—Jeb's death had changed something in Fang. Because there was only one way to describe his eyes.
Fang adverted his eyes from me and I softly closed the door. No going back now. I slowly moved towards him, scared that at any moment he'd tell me to leave. But he didn't—a good sign. Tentatively still, I sat down, close to him. I paused for a moment to find my voice, and then whispered, "Hey."
Fang tensed, but then glanced towards me. He glared, and for the first time in my life, I was afraid of Fang. But I couldn't give up on him now. Best friends means you face your fears for each other. I swallowed deep and asked, "Can I stay here? With you?"
He didn't answer me—not with words at least. But his entire body growled a firm NO! in my direction. I did my best to ignore it.
I folded my legs, getting comfortable. "It's okay if you don't want to talk," I added quietly. "But I'm going to stay with you whether you want me to or not."
The glare ended abruptly as Fang turned away, staring at the wall instead as though it held the secrets of the universe. I knew from the firm set of his jaw that we were going to be here for a while. Well, two can play at that game, I thought grimly.
And for the longest time, neither of us moved.
I couldn't help but wonder how he did it. I'd go crazy, staying in my room all by myself. I needed people, not to depend on so much, but to know that they were there. I didn't want to be alone. Maybe sometimes when I was down or mad, it felt good to lay in my room and read for while, but I always came back out within just a few hours.
But Fang didn't come out. And he didn't let you in either.
I was scared for him. He looked like crap. He hadn't been a fraction of what he should've been, if he was eating at all. Iggy said he heard him in the kitchen in the middle of the night sometimes, so I guess he had been. But then, I'd asked, when does he sleep?
Iggy hadn't known.
Fang's skin was naturally darker than mine, (we were decently sure that we was something Mediterranean), but it had lost its color and had reverted to the way it had looked back when we were in the School.
Not that we'd been out for that long.
But it went deeper than that. Fang had always been the loner type—going off on flights by himself, watching while the rest of us played hide-and-seek—but he'd never been like this. I could always count on him to help Iggy with dinner without insulting him, to let Angel sit in his lap and read all her favorite books to her quietly, to only grump at me for a moment when I woke him up at unholy hours because I couldn't sleep, stay up with me until I conked out from exhaustion, and then carry me to bed. I could always count on him to be there—and I needed that more than ever, since… Jeb was gone.
But right now, Fang needed me.
It had started a few months ago, just barely a week since Jeb had vanished. It wasn't a big difference at first: Fang was just a little quieter, a little more reclusive, and we didn't make much of it since we were all sad about Jeb. But as we started to heal, he just got worse: staring at his food and not eating, flying alone all night long, not speaking unless asked a direct question—maybe not even answering then. The kids were all worried, but I told them it was just one of his "phases", that he'd get over it eventually.
But when he'd locked himself in his room and wouldn't come out, they knew. And that's when they stopped asking about him.
That's when my other half died.
I didn't have a watch and I couldn't see his, so the only passage of time I could see was the etching of the shadows on the wall. The sun had been switched out for a moon before Fang finally gave in.
"What do you want?"
I jumped a little—it was the first he'd spoken to me in weeks. Somehow, I'd forgotten what his voice sounded like. "I don't need anything," I replied carefully.
He still wouldn't look at me. "I said what do you want, not what do you need. There's a difference."
I want to see you smile again. I want to be able to talk to you. I want to be your best friend again. I watched, wondering what to tell him. "I want… I want to know what's wrong so I can fix it."
His face went hard and in an instant, I knew I'd said the wrong thing. "You can't fix me," he spat.
I could feel my eyes burning. Fang never, ever lost his patience with me. Not with anyone. The venom in his voice stung fresh.
"He's kind of...unstable. If you say the wrong thing, it could push him over the edge."
"That's not what I meant, Fang. You should know that." I moved closer to him, ignoring it when he leaned away, and reached out to rest my hand on his shoulder. I could feel him shaking.
"Don't touch me," he muttered in a perfect monotone. And although he wasn't snapping anymore, this time it hurt worse, an icy knife to my gut. I pulled my hand away and stared down at it like it was a stranger's.
Best friends means you asked for, and get, the truth. My throat was closed up and my voice would crack for sure, but I had to know.
The tears pooled but I somehow managed to keep them in. I couldn't look at him as I whispered, "Is it—because of me? I'm sorry, what ever it is."
He didn't answer me.
My vision was cloudy and muddled, but I couldn't cry, I wouldn't cry. Suddenly, I heard Fang murmured, "Don't cry, Max. I'm not worth it."
How could he honestly believe that? Did he have any idea…? I shook my head, trying to dispel any false beliefs he contained in his mind. "You're worth everything, Fang."
God. I couldn't keep hold them in anymore. They started leaking out, the traitors, streaking heat down my cheeks. I closed my eyes, trying to trap what I could.
But without warning, Fang was there. I felt his hand on my face, wiping tears away with his thumb. Like he used to do. Like he always did. Best friends means that nothing ever changes. I opened my eyes in pure surprise. His black—no, brown—eyes met mine.
"You didn't do anything wrong," he told me, voice sincere. But this close to him, I could read the meaning behind the words—there was fine print to the money-back guarantee. It was because of me—I was part of it.
But he'd said it wasn't my fault. That was enough to patch the dam in my tear ducts.
I sniffed and the tears stayed in. Fang edged away from me, even further than before. However, when he glanced over at me, they were still brown. He licked his lips, blinked.
"Part of it is… Jeb."
I looked up, stunned again. Out of all things, I hadn't expected him to talk. I stared at him, and he continued, picking at the hem of his jeans. "He was like… a father. He saved us. And now he's—gone." His voice shook a little and I understood.
Though I didn't think the kids realized it, out of all of us, the School had affected Fang the most. I wasn't entirely sure why, but I was pretty sure it was because of the tests: once every two weeks, the whitecoats would take Fang away for a few hours. When they brought him back, he'd didn't have any bandages or injuries of any kind, but he'd be shaking. I tried to ask him about it a few times, but he'd clamp up and wouldn't say a thing. I had no idea what went on during those hours, but I knew that it was bad.
Whenever he came back from one of the tests, I'd stick my arm though the side of my crate and stroke his down feathers until he stopped quivering. It was all I could do for Fang. Best friends means you understand even when you don't.
Jeb rescued him from all that—the only time I ever saw Fang cry was when the six of us were piled in a black Sedan, the School fading into the dusty desert sand and the bright, azure sky, on our way to a new life.
Jeb was Fang's messiah.
Jeb was dead.
Fang stared determinedly at the ground, running one of his shoelaces through his fingers. "And now… we're really on our own out here. We're just kids. What are we supposed to do? "
The million dollar question. God, I wish I knew the answer. I rubbed my face on my shirtsleeve, muttered, "I don't know. I really have no idea. But—we'll figure something out." I was the oldest. It was my job to take care of the five of them.
I had no idea how I was going to do that.
I looked up in time to catch Fang's small nod. "Yeah—well… that's part of it," he continued tentatively. "The other part is…" he came to a stop, staring off out the window, leaving me wondering what could be worse than losing your hero, your savior.
Fang didn't restart for some time and I thought that maybe he was done, having met his word quota for the last few weeks. But he looks back to me, expression anticipatory, words on the tip of his tongue.
But the second my eyes meet his, all that withers away. I was a little disappointed, but I'd already gotten further than I'd expected to.
"Fang?" He blinks, so I know I've got his attention. I sighed, "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
Fang shook his head for some undecipherable reason, hands knitted around his knees. "No… it's just that—if I were to…leave, then no one would care."
What in the world is he thinking? Where did that come from? Is he crazy? "What do you mean no one would care?" Then the former part of his sentence hit me hard. "And what do you mean leave? Where are you going?"
Fang leered at his fingers and mutters darkly, "I'm not going anywhere."
"Then—" I stopped cold as I perceived the inflection. Oh God. Fang couldn't be—he wouldn't dare—?
Fang caught the glare I was sending towards his arms and understood at once. He made a face that I knew meant he was restraining from rolling his eyes. He pushed up his black sleeves and held out his bare arms for my examination. "I'm not cutting."
I closed my eyes for a second, released from the momentary anxiety. But it came back. "Then why are you talking about—dying?" I practically choked on the word.
Fang got defensive and looked away from me, staring at the wall again. "That's not the point," he grumbled.
"Then what's the point?" I huffed impatiently.
"That if I were to leave, no one would miss me."
The impatience was doused out by the blatancy he said it with. Best friends means you never forget and you always dream. God, I wanted to hug him so bad. But I can't take that risk yet. I compromised. "You know that's not true."
And Fang was just frozen, cold, dead. And I can't stand him like that.
"Fang…" I moved towards him, until our knees bumped together and I didn't care that he was trying to edge away again. "Fang, how can you think that? Of course, we'd miss you. We need you. I need you." I stretched my hand out to hold his, but he jerks it away from me.
Face still hard and icy, he responded, "They might miss the things I do, but they won't miss me." He stared at the ground, hair covering his eyes. But I could tell they were fiery red.
Depression. A chemical imbalance in your brain. Something wrong, the wrong places receiving the wrong messages. Just a minor programming error—pop a few pills for a couple of months, get some therapy, and you're dandy.
So why was suicide the second leading cause of teen deaths?
Because they don't get the help they need.
Best friends means you keep all the secrets they want you to, but not the ones they need you to tell.
Not hesitating, I gently grabbed his chin and turned his head towards me. My eyes met his: disturbed, but brown. Not black—brown. I released him and pressed my palm against his cheek, surprised at how warm it was. Somehow, I'd halfway expected his skin to be cool like a corpse.
"You're really an idiot sometimes, you know that?" I whispered. "I know I depend on you a lot more than I should, and I definitely ask to much out of you. But this is hard for me too, and I need you."
I brought my other hand up and squeezed his shoulder. "But don't you dare think for a moment that I don't want you here too," I ordered. "You're my best friend. You're funny and trustworthy and brave and a whole lot smarter than I am… when you're not be being an idiot."
Fang smiled, a small, sad smile, but a real one. I felt myself beam back at him out of sheer reflex and I hugged him hard. "I know I don't say this a lot—and apparently I should—but I love you. You, not what you do. You're a human, Fang, not an appliance."
I heard Fang swallow and he wrapped his arms around, muttering, "Thank you."
I leaned my temple against his and sighed. "Just don't scare me like that."
I laughed quietly, ran his feathers through my fingers. Fang was alive and here—not down the hall, here.
My pieces fitted together again. I was complete. We were complete….
I must've fallen asleep pretty soon because the next morning I woke up: still in Fang's room. He wasn't there, I figured he'd gone flying or something,. But when I wandered out to the kitchen he was there, setting the table for Ig. Iggy was acting all cool about Fang reappearing, and so did the kids when they woke up and found Fang among the living. Life went on, as though nothing had ever happened.
And maybe it really didn't happen, because Fang and I never talked about it again.
A/N: Go to next chappie for Fang's side of things. Reviews would be amazing.