Okay, this is an AU fic, obviously, in the sense that Max and Ari aren't related and Ari isn't dead. There's a chunk cut out of the middle, so if you want to read that, you'll have to go to my homepage and read it there. This was a gift for Kiseki-no-neko for our fic exchange, so go check out her stuff, she rocks! There's Mari and implied Fax, so, enjoy!

Disclaimer:I do not own Maximum Ride or any of the characters affiliated with it.

Fang couldn't believe it. They'd actually managed to capture him. After nine years of cat-and-mouse, the Erasers got finally him.

It had been five years since they had lost Max, five long years since their leader had been killed before their eyes. The Flock had been devastated, but managed to destroy Itex in the wake of their grief. So, in the end, the world had been saved, but with one less birdkid, it had almost seemed like a waste.

Slowly, the Flock had dispersed, as one by one they found their families. Angel and Gazzy's father had left their mother when she sold them to the School, and was more than happy to take them in. Nudge's family had moved from Tipisco to Washington D.C. a few years after she had been turned over to the School, and though they were skeptical at first, they took her and Iggy in, leaving Fang all alone.

It had only been a few months ago that Angel had contacted him, saying that Nudge had found something that proved that Max hadn't really been killed. Someone had faked her death, using Max 2, to throw the Flock off the hunt, to keep them from trying to rescue her. When he had asked who Angel thought had been responsible for it, her answer almost didn't surprise him.

Ari. Who was, according to Nudge's research, running a sort of Mafia-style Eraser gang in the underbellies of New York. Shortly before the School had been destroyed, they'd come up with a way to offset the breaking-down process in Erasers, so they would now live normal human life spans. Or at least, something close to it.

That was how he had ended up in his current situation. He'd gotten some information as to the location of Ari's headquarters, and it had actually turned out to be right. Unfortunately, it had been a lot more heavily guarded than he had expected, and a group of Erasers had captured him.

Now, being led through the passageway to what he could assume was Ari's throne room, the size of this whole thing was starting to sink in. He had expected Ari and maybe eight other Erasers in some filthy apartment in a bad neighborhood, but not something of this magnitude. An entire apartment building, and from what he had seen, an extensive basement system was totally controlled by Ari and the Erasers, maybe more. A dozen Erasers were leading him, and it was obvious that they were the newest version, stronger and faster and more human-looking than any Eraser he had seen before.

Something odd he had noticed was that there were more female Erasers than he had ever seen before in one place. Four of the ones who had captured him were female, and they were clearly warriors, with short hair and practical clothing. Other females dressed similarly were obviously busy, walking past them briskly. There were males, too, but more were wearing casual clothes instead wearing the warrior clothing around. There were old Erasers, something else Fang had never seen. The old Erasers looked like middle-aged to old people, and they sat on chairs in the hallway, watching the procession move past them. They didn't seem as cruel or fierce as their successors, looking more like harmless old people than anything else.

He also saw young Erasers, children and toddlers and babies. They'd seen younger Erasers, ones that seemed to be in their teenage years, at the School, but never little ones. The Eraser-children were playing in the hallways and in the rooms that were obviously apartments for groups of Erasers to live in. Toddlers and babies sat with the older ones, some with younger males or females that were probably their parents.

It wasn't until a heavily pregnant female Eraser stepped out of the crowd with a toddler balanced on her hip and kissed the leader of the group on the mouth lightly that he realized something. Some of these Erasers had families. The old ones were the grandparents, the parents were either with their children or fighting, and the babies were the next generation. The Eraser who had been kissed stopped, the rest of the group stopping without needing to be told. He accepted the toddler from what Fang assumed was his wife, or mate, or whatever it was Erasers called their spouses, pressing a kiss to the little girl's forehead before handing her back to her mother. She squeezed his hand briefly, then stepped away from the group, bowing her head respectfully.

It was strange, seeing the Erasers like this. It made them seem more real, less like killing machines and more like living, breathing beings.

Without another word, the group began to move again, the winding corridors confusing Fang more and more. He was trying to remember how they came in, so he could use it as an escape route, but it was too complicated to remember, even for a bird kid with a near-photographic memory.

The farther down they got, the less families and groups of Erasers Fang saw. The air was heavy with cigarette smoke, and he gagged slightly. The smoke wasn't good for his air sacs, and made his throat burn. The lights were dimmer, and the Erasers congregating here looked different from the ones up above. Most were females, though there were some males. The females languishing along the walls were wearing tight jeans or short skirts, and had long, thick hair. A few were wearing lipstick or eye-shadow, making their already large eyes and perfect lips even more appealing. Some of them called out to the younger-looking males leading him with promises of pleasure. Most of their offers were responded to with a 'I'll be there'. In some corners, there were couples, kissing so passionately that their presence didn't seem to annoy them. A few even appeared to be going at it, right there in the hallway. Any sympathy he had gained for the Erasers was instantly washed away at the sight of them fornicating out in front of everyone. Brutes.

But then, the group halted once more, this time in front of a set of metal doors Fang put at being about fifteen feet high. The leader of the group leading him waved his wrist beneath a scanner, which beeped for a second. There was a clicking sound, and the doors swung open from the inside.

The room was huge, with a high ceiling and cold stone floors. The lighting wasn't very good, and there was even more cigarette smoke than there had been in the hallway. The low buzz of conversation filled his ears, and he heard something that might have been music. He could still tell that there were a lot of Erasers, which seemed to be divided into two categories: Scantily-clad females, and militaristic-looking males and females. Most of them had been sitting down, but once Fang and his captors marched in, they stood up, making a clear path to the center of the room.

Sitting there in a massive, ugly black chair was Ari himself. He looked essentially the same as he had the last time Fang saw him. Maybe a few more scars, maybe a little uglier, and a hell of a lot smugger, but otherwise, the same. He noticed that Ari held a kind of leash thing in his left hand, but he couldn't see what it was attached to. Probably a rabid bear, or something like that.

Finally, Ari noticed their entrance, and held up a hand. Everyone instantly fell silent, and the music stopped. They led Fang to a large plate of metal directly in front of the 'throne'. There were two large metal rings protruding from it, and as they shoved him to his knees, it occurred to him what they were for. The chains attached to the handcuffs around his wrists were fastened to the rings, efficiently binding him to the ground. He gave an experimental tug on each wrist, but nothing happened.

A cruel grin spread across Ari's face as he stared down at Fang.

"Well, well, well." Ari's voice was cold, but Fang could detect a note of excitement. "Look what we have here. A bird kid. Taste good, don't they?" The Erasers laughed, some calling out in agreement.

This time he was directly addressing Fang, "Would you like that, bird boy? For me to let them eat you alive? This is going to be hard for me, trying to decide what a good enough punishment for you would be? Do I torture you, or just shoot you in the head? Let them eat you, or burn the body? Imprison you for the rest of your life and let you rot, or just kill you to spare myself the trouble? Maybe even eat you myself? Details, details."

He shook his head, an arrogant grin on his face. "I think I'll need some help on this one." He tugged the leash, then said, "Pet, come out, I need your help deciding something."

Until that moment, Fang had been more annoyed than anything else. He wasn't really scared, wasn't angry. But when Ari's 'pet' moved out from the shadow of the throne, rage like had never felt before coursed through him.

Max looked horrible, worse than Fang had ever seen her before. She was wearing…something, something Fang was sure hadn't been her choice. A short leather skirt that hardly covered her, high heeled shoes with thin straps that wrapped around her calves, and what looked like a strapless leather bra was all that she wore. Her hair had been grown out long, hanging down around her waist in loose waves. Her wings were still there, but her feathers were dirty and limp; It was obvious they hadn't been used in a very long time. On the very top of her head, there was a delicate, silver tiara that glinted even in the dim light. Around her neck was a slim silver collar, with a small loop on the front to which Ari's leash was attached. She had clearly had had make-up slathered onto her, her lips a red he knew they weren't and her eyes larger they had been. Her face was thin and sad, dark eyes staring out at the crowd with a combination of hate, desperation and sadness. When they landed on him, she sighed and turned her head away.

Of course. She didn't know that her death had been faked, she thought Fang had abandoned her. He wanted more than anything just to let her free of that collar, and hug her, reassure her, tell her everything would be alright.

"So, pet." Ari's gravelly voice startled him from his stunned trance. "What should I do with him?" His large, hairy hand stroked the top of Max's head in an almost affectionate way that disgusted Fang. Max's mouth was open slightly as she seemed to be trying to find a safe answer. She stared at the floor in front of her, careful not to look up or make eye contact with anyone.

Despite himself, Fang breathed a single word. "Max." She heard him, and her gaze snapped straight to him, her eyes both pitying and pleading.

"Oh, I see what's going on here." Ari sounded positively gleeful, like a little kid in a candy shop. "You like her like this, don't you Fang? I don't blame you, my pet is very beautiful. I bet you feel bad for her, tied up and trapped with me. Don't, you're wasting your pity. She's not nearly as innocent as she'd like you to think she is." He laughed, dragging a thick finger down her jaw and along her chin. "She may be pretty, but she's a dirty little slut, aren't you, Maxie? She's happiest with a fat, thick cock between her lips. Filthy whore." Ari's degrading words were so disgusting that even Fang, with all he had seen and done in his lifetime, cringed. He waited for Max to snap back with a witty retort, but it never came. Instead, she said nothing, her eyes closing in shame.

Fang wasn't able to control himself any longer, opening his mouth to speak. One of the Erasers still standing near him made a motion to punish for attempting to talk, but Ari waved his hand, signaling the guard to step away. Fang shouted, "Shut up! That's not-that's not the real Max! She's a clone, like the one you killed! She's…she's gotta be…" If it was the real Max up there, kneeling next to Ari, completely broken, he would have lost all hope. There'd be nothing left for him.

Ari sneered at him, "I have an idea, why don't you ask her questions only the real Max could know the answer to? Then you'll have your proof, and I'll get to watch the expression on your face as you find out that your precious little girlfriend belongs to someone else."

"Fine!" Fang snapped, irritated. If he knew that this wasn't the real Max, he could escape and keep trying to find the real one without a guilty conscience. If not…well, he didn't want to think about what he'd do then. "What was the name of Angel's bear?"

Max's voice was soft and barely audible. "Celeste."

"What's Nudge's favorite show?"

"American Idol."

"What did your clock back home look like?"

"It was a Mickey Mouse clock."

He was starting to get desperate, she had answered everything right! Frantically, he said, "Who's the person you've ever been most jealous of, and what color is their hair? What did you tell me later you called them?"

"Lissa. Her hair was red. I called her the Red-Haired Wonder."

Finally, he asked the question that there was no way a clone could answer, "What would I say, after we kissed?"

She gave a faint, vague smile, clearly the product of pleasant memories long past. "You didn't say anything. You would just smile."

Fang made a strangled choking sound as he realized that it was true. This was the real Max. The brave leader, the devoted foster mother, and the only girl he'd ever love.

A cruel, hateful smile spread across Ari's face. "You see, Fang? She's the real Max, the one you fell in love with. The only one that's good enough for me, the one that belongs to me. Why don't you just accept that Max is mine, so I can let you go and never have to think about you again?"

"No." To everyone's surprise, the single word didn't come from Fang, but Max. Her voice was still small and soft, but held a conviction behind it that reassured Fang that he might be able to save her yet. "I don't belong to you, I'm not yours. I'm not a thing, Ari, I'm a person. So stop calling me that!"

His expression went from that of slight annoyance to pure, raw anger. "Not mine, that's what you think? I can prove that wrong."

Okay, here's where the rest would be...Go check it out on my ficjournal, if you want...

The sound of a zip being closed reassured him that he could look at her again.

Max looked…tired. Not frustrated or angry, like he had expected, just tired. She turned to look at him, and sighed. Shifting slightly to the side, he noticed something he hadn't seen before.

There was something branded onto her breast. He craned his head slightly, and when he saw what it said, he gagged.

The word 'Ari' was branded onto the side of her right breast. It looked incredibly painful, and he was amazed that she hadn't strangled Ari in his sleep yet or something.

She finally noticed where he was looking, and a scowl crossed her face. She brought a hand up to cover her breast, and to his shock, moved closer to Ari's legs.

He knew what she was doing, though. The closer she was to Ari, the more likely Ari was to notice Fang's gaze and force him to look away. In her shame, Max couldn't stand for anyone to see her, even one of her closest friends.

Ari seemed to have become capable of speech, and even though his words were a bit slurred, he said, "As enjoyable as that was, pet, I've decided that he doesn't deserve to live, no matter how much you beg for him." He grabbed Max by the chin, and pulled her up for a brief kiss before letting her sink back down to her position beside the throne. Max looked at him, and it was obvious that she was holding back tears. Her eyes gleamed, but her face didn't budge from its carefully set mask of neutrality.

Panic flooded through him; There was absolutely no way he was going to get out of this alive. Until then, he'd been hoping that Max had some daring plan to get them both out of there, or that one would occur to him. But no plan was materializing in his mind, and Max looked no more capable of keeping him alive than a rock attempting to fly.

"I've waited so long for this, Fang, you have no idea how much I'll enjoy killing you. Your blood all over my claws…I'm going to eat you, and I'll make her watch. Maybe my pet would enjoy a little bite of the bird kid?" He smiled, showing teeth that were already growing. Standing up, he growled, and took a step towards Fang-

There was a loud thud, but it took him a minute to realize what it was.

Max was sprawled across the floor, an outstretched arm flung near him. Her eyes were shut, but Fang couldn't tell if she was unconscious or dead. He dragged himself along the metal plate he was chained to, moving as close as his bonds would allow.

Ari was at her side in a flash, kneeling next to her, pressing two fingers to the side of her neck to check for a pulse. Most of the Erasers were on their feet but frozen, staring at their clearly-panicked leader. After a moment of pure terror, Ari let out a breathe of relief. "She's just unconscious." The Erasers still stood there, dumbfounded by Ari's display of emotion.

"Well, what are you waiting for? Get me a medical kit and someone who can take care of her now!" He barked suddenly, sending several Erasers scurrying off to find the kit and doctor.

Fang had relaxed slightly after finding out that she was alive, but was still concerned. It was obvious that Ari had forgotten about him and was more concerned with Max at the moment, having pulled her head into his lap and checking her pulse repeatedly.

That was when Fang realized something. Back when they had been a Flock, they had come up with a signal for 'I'm faking it'. It had been to have the hand curled into a loose fist, but with the thumb and pinky curled away from the rest of the fingers. Which was what Max was doing now.

At that moment, an Eraser turned with a medical kit and a doctor-looking older female Eraser in tow. The female knelt beside Max with her back to Fang, blocking his view of Max. But that was okay, he knew that Max was alright. She had faked unconsciousness to save him.

That reassured him on several levels; One, it was quite obvious that Ari had totally forgotten about him. Two, Max still cared about him enough to do something to save his life. The best part was, though, that it proved that she was still making plans and plotting against Ari. Which meant that somewhere, deep inside, the real Max was still alive.

The doctor Eraser stood, announcing something that felt like Fang's stomach was being twisted in a thousand different ways.

She was pregnant. Max had conceived Ari's heir, and she needed to be put on bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy if Ari wanted a healthy child. Carrying a baby such as theirs would be hard on Max's body, and she needed rest.

It was obvious that Ari was barely containing his joy as he stood up and dismissed the doctor, then turned away, murmuring something to another Eraser, who walked briskly off. He announced to the group in general, "I'm taking my pet with me back to my rooms, you are all dismissed for the rest of the day."

Upon hearing this, a younger male Eraser stepped forward, sliding an arm underneath Max's shoulder, preparing to pick her up. In a flash, Ari had pulled out a gun from-Well, Fang didn't even have a chance to see where it had come from-and shot the other Eraser in the stomach, causing him to fall back onto the stone floor with a dull thud.

Several other Erasers broke free of the crowd, running to the fallen one. An older male and female seemed to be the bleeding Erasers' parents, while a small, petite younger female appeared to be his girlfriend.

She was a brave one, getting up in Ari's face, shouting, "Why did you shoot him? He was just trying to help you carry her! That's his job, and you shot him! You fucking shot him!"

Nonplussed, Ari knelt beside Max again, pulling her into his arms, and standing up, cradling her still-limp form. His short, clipped response to the female's tirade was. "He touched her, and I'm the only one allowed to do that. Now that she's pregnant, it's even more important that I handle her. He knew the rules, and he broke them. I had to punish him." The same female Eraser who had checked on Max stepped back into view, walking towards the male Ari had just shot.

Still carrying Max, Ari stood directly in front of Fang, staring down at him with a pure, untainted hatred. After a moment, he spoke.

"I would…I would kill you, but she wouldn't want me to, and I don't want to stress her even more. Consider that your gift for my baby, birdboy, and be grateful that Max was here to protect you." Speaking to a nervous-looking Eraser in the small group trailing him, he said, "Take him to the most secure room in here. Keep guards outside his room at all times, and don't let anyone in except me. Give him enough food to keep him from starving, but don't let him plump up. Anything my pet asks to be done for him, do it, within reason. Give him blankets, books, whatever she wants."

Once again, he addressed the room at large. "I'll be leaving soon to recruit our European cousins, and though I was originally planning to bring my pet with me, it'll be too hard on her to make the journey, so she'll be staying here. I'm leaving her in charge while I'm gone. Obey her like you would me, because as far as I'm concerned, when I'm not here, she is me. Don't let her do anything that could hurt the baby, she should only attend meetings at which her presence is absolutely necessary, then go straight back to our rooms and rest. She is, from here on out, excused from all gatherings. Treat her like a goddess, whatever she wants, she gets immediately. If I find out that any of you denied her something you know I would have given her, you will be punished. Remember, she's carrying your next leader. Treat her well, and you'll all be rewarded."

With a final, disdainful look at Fang, he left.

Fang let out a breathe that it felt like he'd been holding for hours. Sure, they were both trapped here and now Max was pregnant with the spawn of Satan's baby, but at least Ari was leaving, and he was alive.

And somehow, he knew that they would find a way out of here together.

I hope you liked it, and please review!