This is my birthday gift for Maiyri! It's a sequel to her wonderful 'Wash It All Away', and based off the line 'The life that flows inside of you burns inside of me'. I have cut the scene in the middle, there's a link to my ficjournal in it place where you can read the story in its original form. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Maximum Ride.
Max stared blankly at the small plastic test in her hands, unable to form a coherent thought as she gazed at the blue line that confirmed the thing she feared most.
She was pregnant.
It had been a few months since Ari had let her go, and ended his own life. During that time, she had found her Flock and been welcomed with open arms. They hadn't gone anywhere or done much since she returned, instead rediscovering each other and becoming friends again, reminiscing the good times and trying to forget the bad. In other words, the best possible way things could have turned out.
Max had thrown up once or twice since her return, something the rest of the Flock brushed off as her stomach's reaction to food different than what Ari had made for her for the last two years. She had wanted to believe that, but knew she couldn't.
When she missed her period once, she thought it was just a normal fluctuation in her system. Twice, a coincidence. Three times, and she knew, deep in her heart, that she was most definitely having Ari's baby.
They had never used protection; Ari said that a blending of the three species that made up their DNA would be virtually impossible, that the odds of her getting pregnant would be one in a million.
Max was pretty sure that she hadn't slept with Ari a million times, but however many times they did, it had apparently been enough to get her knocked up.
She flushed the three different tests she had done, just to be sure, down the toilet, not wanting any of the Flock to find them.
How was she going to tell the others?
She wasn't even going to try to think about it tonight. She was tired, and now it was time to sleep.
Walking out from the bathroom down the narrow hallway back down to the bedroom she shared with Nudge and Angel, she replied, "'Night," when Nudge told her good-night, knowing that she sounded distracted and distant. She also knew that the Flock knew that when she sounded like she didn't want to talk, starting a conversation wasn't a good idea.
Angel was already in her bed when Max walked in, and Max quickly tried to empty her mind of all the things she had been thinking about just a moment earlier, forcing herself to think about a nice, neutral topic, like rabbits.
"You look really tense, Max. Is something wrong?" The curiosity was carefully veiled in Angel's voice, but Max could still sense it.
Her response was equally guarded. "I'm just tired. The stress of adapting is really taking it out of me."
"You sure? If something's bugging you, it's better to talk about it than to keep it all bottled up inside."
"Yeah, I'm sure. Good night."
Angel reached over and turned out the light, but it took Max a while to fall asleep. Her mind and heart were racing with questions, the most prevalent one being: What if something's wrong with my baby?
At the School, they had tried to create new experiments naturally-that is, without test tubes. It had only worked with Erasers, and even then, it sped up the breaking-down process for the female. They had tried to breed similar species, like a lion-human with a tiger-human, but the three different types of DNA had been too different to create a functioning experiment. Out of the three fetuses created in that experiment, two miscarried and one died shortly after birth. A screwy digestive system had been the cause of death, that's what Ari had told her.
None of the others had gone any better; the most successful experiment-A shark-manta ray-human baby boy- had only lived a month before it simply self-destructed. Too much DNA, not enough room for it all to exist without destroying itself.
What would happen if the DNA of a wolf and a hawk tried to cohabite with that of a human? Would the result be the strongest creature ever to walk the face of the earth, one with wings and fangs and a human soul and mind behind it all, or a heartless abomination? Or would her baby simply die, maybe even before it had a chance to grow fully?
Her other fear was that the human DNA would be compatible with that of bird and wolf, but her 2 percent bird and his 50 percent wolf would try to destroy each other. Erasers were bred to kill mutants, especially bird kids-Another thing Ari had told her was that the scientists wouldn't have needed to produce Erasers in the quantities that they did if it hadn't been for the Flock's existence, and that some of the later batches had been trained to lust for the flesh of birds-would they be able to form a single body? It reminded her of a movie she had once seen where they had tried to create a werewolf-vampire cross. It had failed many times, because, as one of the characters had said that even at a cellular level, their species wanted to destroy each other.
For what wasn't the first time, Max wished more than anything that Ari was still alive. She knew that if he were alive, it would be less painful to tell the Flock what happened, and then to go find Ari. She knew that the next nine months-Or however long her pregnancy would be-wouldn't have been easy either way, but if she at least had someone who she could share the burden with, it would a tiny bit easier.
Her last thought before she slipped away was God, Ari, why did you have to go?
Max gave an unhappy grunt, rolling over onto her side. She just couldn't get comfortable! What was wrong with her bed?
That was when she realized something. She wasn't lying on slightly worn cotton sheets. Whatever it was that cushioned her face was softer, almost ticklish.
She opened her eyes, and despite herself, gasped.
Moss. She was lying on a bed of moss.
Sitting bolt upright, Max looked around, confused.
How the hell had she gone from the comfort of her own bed to a forest?
Not like she was complaining on her choice of forest, though. As forests went, it was a rather nice once, anyway. Soft moss covering the ground, tall trees blocking practically all sunlight, and a few picturesque rocks made it look like it came straight from a Disney fairy tale. All it needed was some talking animals, and it would be perfect.
"Max?" The voice startled her slightly, and when she turned, her jaw dropped.
Standing behind her was possibly the most handsome man she had ever seen. Curly, luxurious dark hair, lightly tanned skin, and a god-like physique she could glimpse through the loose green shirt almost made her want to pant.
Their eyes met, and a spark of realization shot through her as she stared at him. Large, brown, baleful eyes gazed back at her.
Incredulous, she whispered, "Ari?"
He nodded slowly. "It's me, Max."
She could hardly contain her disbelief, "You-you're not dead! I heard the gunshot, you died!"
"I did die, Max."
"Then how are you here talking to me? Where are we?"
Ari looked away for a moment before meeting her eyes again. "This, Max-" He made a spreading gesture at the surrounding forest, -"only exists in our minds. It's not a real place, obviously, and it's only here because I wanted it to be. See, in the afterlife, we can still watch the people we love live their lives, and in some cases, intervene. I saw how sad and confused you were, and talked to the people in charge of everything-"
Max cut him off, "Ari, are you telling me that you talked to God?"
He shrugged. "I don't know, I never actually spoke with anyone, I just thought about it for a while and then they told me I could make a place for just you and me. But they told me in my head. So from now on, when you're asleep, you can come here and be with me for as long as you like. Until you wake up, anyway."
She nodded slowly, trying to process that information. "So then…why do you look different? Did you change that, too?"
Ari shook his head. "No, I didn't do it. When you die and go to…well, wherever I am, you aren't ugly anymore if you were when you were alive. I could've looked the way I used to when we come here, but I knew you thought I was ugly alive, so I thought I'd be handsome for you now."
She sighed. "Well, it looks like you got the better end of the deal, didn't you?"
Ari's head tilted to the side, as it was apt to do when he was confused, "What do you mean?"
"Let's think, you got me pregnant but now you get to go off and frolic around in eternity with a bunch of other perfect dead people while looking perfect yourself, while I get fat and have stretch marks and have to tell the Flock that I'm having a dead Eraser's baby, which I can guarantee you won't go over well. Then, after nine months of hell, I have to push out a thing that's gigantic in comparison to the opening from which it must emerge, which will hurt quite a lot and also mean that I have to go to a hospital. And after all that, I have another mouth to feed and raise, along with the good chance that the baby will have something wrong with it, so I'll have to watch my child die of some God-awful genetic defect after all that work because you couldn't stay in your own pants and leave well enough alone!"
The second her angry tirade ended, Max felt the first tinge of guilt, and the hurt expression on Ari's face made her feel even worse. Apologies popped into her head, but she couldn't bring herself to say or do anything except stare at him.
Finally, he broke the silence, saying in a soft, almost-inaudible voice, "If it means anything to you, I rather be ugly and in pain but alive with you and the baby than dead and pretty without being able to see my child."
"Oh, Ari." That was all she managed to say, instead stepping forward and wrapping her arms around his waist, holding him close to her.
"Why are you so angry, Max?" He still had that confused, unsure voice that reminded her how young he really was. It also reminded of her of the fact that she should have been disgusted at the age difference between them, but she no longer was.
"I'm just…worried, I guess. And sad. Scared, too."
"What of? The Erasers are all dead, the School will leave you alone, Itex is gone. There's nothing left for you to be afraid of."
"I know, but what if something's wrong with the baby? What if dies, like all the other babies the School tried to make?"
His face darkened. "I hadn't thought of that. But it can't happen to us. It won't."
"Um, Ari, if all the other babies produced by recombinants like us died, chances are good that yet another recombinant baby will also die. The odds are overwhelmingly against us."
"I know, but this is different."
She rolled her eyes. "How so?"
"We're in love. Those babies weren't from people who loved each other; they were experiments being forced onto each other. Babies made because of love don't die."
Max gave a scoffing, bitter laugh at Ari's naiveté. "Babies with two parents who love each other die all the time. Science and my body don't care if we're in love. Fate doesn't care. It's just luck or a lack of it that keeps your baby alive. And besides, who said we were in love anyway?"
Ari pulled away slightly, looking down at her. "I thought…I thought you loved me."
She groaned, realizing the magnitude of what she had just said. "I try to love you, I want to, and I do, sometimes. It's just…it's complicated."
"How could the most simple thing in the universe be complicated?"
She shook her head, saying, "Ari, even for normal humans who live normal lives love is complicated. With you…I used to think you were my brother. You're seven years younger than me. Your father raised me. We tried to kill each other tons of times, and I actually did kill you once. You kidnapped me and held me prisoner for two years. How could it not be complicated?"
"I know how to make it simple."
Ari leaned down slowly, his lips parted ever so slightly as he tilted Max's chin up to meet him.
Now, if you want to read this part, go to my profile and click the link to my homepage, and you're there! Comment on it there if you wish! Just to warn you, it's nowhere near as good unless you read this chunk too, so unless you have an aversion to smut, you should read it!
For the next few minutes, the two of them had been reduced to puddles of ecstatic goo, unable to do anything but lie there and occasionally smile at the other. Eventually, though, Ari broke the silence. "Do you think it'll be a boy or a girl?"
She turned her head towards him, "It's a bit early to be thinking about that, isn't it?"
He shrugged. "I bet it'll be a girl. I think I'd like having a daughter."
"That's mean. The poor fetus isn't even four months old and already it has pressure on it to be a certain way."
"Well, if it is a girl and I was still alive, she'd be spoiled rotten. When I was younger, I always wanted to have a girl to raise and spoil. I think Jeb wanted that, too, that's why he was disappointed when I was a boy instead of a perfect little girl like he wanted. Maybe that's why he always liked you better. You being the pretty blonde angel, and all."
There was an awkward silence; neither of them had spoken about Jeb or the School during her two years with him. It was too painful for both, and brought back a flood of bad memories. It kind of made Max wonder why he had brought it up. Then again, Ari did have a tendency to be more chatty and open after they had slept together.
Trying to change the subject, Max asked, "If it is a girl, what do you want to name her?"
She looked at him, confused. "Where did that come from? It's the most random name! What's wrong with something simple and normal, like Ella? I like Ella."
He didn't look at her as he said, "Mahalia was my mom's name. Before she died, anyway."
"Oh. I guess Mahalia works, then, since I don't know my mom's name. Can Ella be a middle name?"
"Whatever you want, love." Max kissed him again, this time slow and relaxed. A minute later, he broke the kiss, murmuring against her mouth, "Do you want to meet her?"
She tried to recapture his mouth, but he turned his head away slightly. Defeated, she sighed, murmuring, "Who?"
Max sighed. "Is that even possible?"
"I think so. But if I could, would you like to meet her?"
She shrugged. "I don't know, Ari, now really isn't the time to be asking that. I guess I would, but she probably won't like me." She, once again, tried to kiss him, and this time Ari conceded, kissing her back.
Max didn't know how long they lie there, kissing and cuddling, talking a little bit in between. Suddenly, though, Ari's mood changed from relaxed and happy to tense, nervous. She knew he was prone to mood swings, and also knew that he'd get over it, or he wouldn't.
"I don't want you to go back." His expression was pouty, like that of a little kid who didn't get his way. She wanted to laugh, but suppressed the urge.
She sighed, pressing a light kiss to his lips as a consolation. "I know you don't, but it's not like I have a choice. I have to wake up sometime. I think the Flock would notice if I didn't wake up tomorrow morning."
"I know. It's just…I wish there was a way for you to stay. It's not fair, really, that they get most of the day with you and I only get to see you when you sleep. Could you sleep more often? Maybe take naps, sleep in a bit, go to bed early?"
This time, she kissed him to shut him up. He didn't seem to mine, kissing her back with equal passion.
After the kiss ended, she rested her head on his chest, and said, "If you want, you can bring your mom to meet me tomorrow night. I'm sure she can't be horrible, even though she had the poor judgment to marry Jeb."
Ari gave a short, bitter laugh. "I never asked how that happened. I have a feeling I don't want to know."
"How did she die, anyway?"
Ari sounded distracted as he lazily ran his fingers through her hair. "She didn't want them to turn me into an Eraser. So after Jeb left, she told them not to, and tried to leave with me. They caught her before she managed to get out, and since Jeb wasn't there to stop them, let the Erasers loose on her. They-" His voice cracked "-they killed her. She was the first human to die from an Eraser. And with her dead and Jeb gone, there was no one around to keep them from turning me into an Eraser. We both know how that turned out."
She struggled to come up with a sensitive response, but settled for, "I'm sorry."
"I have you now, that's what's important to me."
She suddenly felt a strange tingling up and down her spine, and without any warning, everything began to fade away. The forest and Ari seemed to be dissolving before her eyes, and Ari said quickly, "I'll be here tomorrow night." The last thing she saw before everything went black were tears making their way down Ari's face.
When she woke up, she was panting and covered in sweat, but to her relief, Angel was still sleeping soundly. With a smile, she shut her eyes, laid her head back down on the pillow, and had the most restful sleep of her life.
If anyone's wondering, Mahalia is what Ari's mom is named in one of Maiyri's other fics, and I liked the name, so I used it here. I hope you liked it, and review!