Maximum Ride was alone.

Not accidentally, not in a way that should cause any panic, but she was alone, reveling in her isolation, staring at the way the pine trees, outlined by a waning silver moon, threw charcoal shadows onto the water of the lake. The moonlight splintered off her hair, swallowed in the dark blonde locks, making them shimmer dully, though it did not emerge again.

She sat with her knees pulled up to her chest, one arm draped around them, the other hanging loosely down so that her fingers just barely brushed the surface of the water. Her toes dipped in and out of it, her eyes following the movement as her chin rested on her knees, her mind wandering...

Nudge, barely turned thirteen, had somehow acquired a disturbing designing obsession. With Ella as a sowing guide (apparently they taught design at her high-school for creative credits), she had taken to stitching up elaborate outfits suited for the flock because (in the thirteen-year-old's words) normal human clothes just didn't do the job.

After Max having bluntly rejected Nudge's first few attempts (they had ruffles and lace on them…and as far as Max was concerned, ruffles did not belong on anything but dresses, which she'd never wear, and lace did not belong anywhere at all), she'd been shocked to receive Nudge's first sensible creation; it was like a cross between overalls and a very revealing t-shirt. The whole thing was made of jeans-fabric, but the inside was cotton, so that it wasn't necessary to wear a shirt underneath for comfort. The bottom was like a pair of overalls; basically just pants. However, from the hip up, it was a completely backless, comfortably tight t-shirt, which had straps buttoned together just under her neck on her back, and left the rest of her back bare. The point of the whole thing was mainly to cover up what needed to be cover up, but keep her wings and all the corresponding muscles in her back completely free of obstruction. Because the whole outfit was skin-fit, it caught little to no wind and had brought up her flight speed by at least 5mph.

After putting it on and modeling it for Nudge, Max had reluctantly agreed that it was genius, and asked Nudge, with an approving smile adorning her lips, if she could maybe fashion two more outfits for different weather conditions. Nudge had nearly combusted with pride.

Now, Max sat in her new outfit on the shore of the lake and tried to convince herself that school really was something the flock shouldn't to deal with, even if it taught useful things like fashion designing.

A strong buffet of air pulled her out of her thoughts, and she leaped to her feet, just in time to watch Fang raise himself out of a crouch from landing just behind her on the bank of the lake.

"Oh, it's you." She mumbled, blushing at the tenseness in her body (a buffet of air wasn't really a threat these days, but it was hard to let go of the old reflexes) and folded herself back into her sitting position, staring across the water.

He sat next to her, comfortably slouched, his elbows on his knees and his hands hanging between them. Nudge liked to call it the bad-ass movie star slouch, after which she had insisted on making him a pair of extremely baggy pants and a hoodie. He had graciously accepted the hoodie (Nudge had lined it with 

sheep skin and fleece, so it actually had a point besides creating a stereotypical gangsta look), but straight out refused to even touch the pants.

For a moment, they didn't say anything. Max refused to look at him, Fang only waited for her to speak.

Her deep breath prepared him for her words, and herself for what she was about to confess.

"I know you think I'm being stupid, with the whole avoiding-the-talk crap, and acting like a jealous jerk." She started, her voice coming out in a croak. She hastily cleared it.

He said nothing, only waited for her to continue, though he did lift his eyes up to carefully watch her face.

"But I can't multi-task. I can't be the mother and a hormonal teenager at the same time. How do you expect me to cope? It's impossible to stay rational when you have two instincts trapped inside you like that."

Fang's mouth remained resolutely shut. He both thought she was wrong, and agreed that she had a point.

Thus, he remained silent. What was there to say?

"I mean, what the heck?!" her fingers closed around a small rock near the edge of the water. She let her wrist snap around, and the small missile went zipping across the surface of the lake, skimming the top once, twice, three times…seven…

It disappeared into the dark depths. Maybe a fish would swallow it.

"I can't…be with you. What would the others say? I have to take care of them, and I can't be distracted. Being at all…differently…involved with you would take over the part of my brain that's supposed to watch out for them. And I feel like they wouldn't respect me as much. They're my first priority, and I don't want them to think that I'm slacking off."

He ceased to agree that she had a point, and now his silence was only an argumentative one.

"But I can't stand the fact that you're off with whatever human air-headed girl you find, and I get to play mommy to the flock while you're off gallivanting—" her voice cut off in a growl. She glanced over at him to find his face completely impassive, except for the raised eyebrow that seemed to taunt her point.

"B.S." he finally muttered, his jaw locking. She could see the small muscle standing out in it, see that he was clenching his teeth.


"Bull shit, Max!" he snapped, louder this time. "There are two options here. You mother the flock and manage by yourself, or you let me be your co-worker. The first option leaves me to do whatever I want, and if you say you don't want me to help you, then I can do whatever I want. Second option…well, if half 

our minds are occupied with each other, then the other halves would make up a whole, and since you said you can handle them by yourself with one brain fully occupied with looking out for them, that should work out just fine. And of course they wouldn't lose their respect for you! I'm as much part of the flock as they are. In fact, I bet they'd love it. You're always taking care of everyone else, it would be only right for me to take care of you once in a while. You're just scared of emotional responsibility that isn't maternal, that's all."

She didn't know how to counter his argument. Of course he was right. Fang very rarely made temperamental mistakes, and when he did, they had a certain good-hearted reasoning behind them. This didn't sound like a temperamental unreasonable accusation. It sounded like logic.

"Well, if you're gonna spring an ultimatum or whatever on me, at least give me a bit of time to choose." She said.

"Never said I wouldn't. I can deal with your having to figure things out. But I don't want you messing with my head just because you're in denial."

"No, we wouldn't want that." She muttered, and they sat in silence, watching the moon.


A/N: So, what do you think? I decided to just start it off with the Talk that was so necessary between those two, because I think Mr.Patterson didn't let them explain themselves enough. I suppose this was more of a prologue than really part of the story, though, so the tone is probably going to change a bit...

Don't forget me to give some R&R review love (though I also appreciate suggestions to make it better and any essentials that I may have gotten wrong in the story).