Disappear - A Thieves/Maximum Ride crossover.
Rating: T as in Totally Tame. There's nothing squicky in here.
Category: Maximum Ride Crossover Oneshot. 4150 words.
Disclaimer: Maximum Ride belongs to James Patterson, Thieves belongs to Ella West.
Author's Notes: Thieves is a book by New Zealand writer Ella West about five kids (all between 14 and 16) who can Travel. They work for a group called The Project – stealing stuff and occasionally finding lost kids. The five – Jake, his sister Shelley, Tina, Paul and Nicky, escape after a job goes wrong, and Jake gets shot. The book is in Nicky's point of view, but this will be in Shelley's.
We stumble into the hospital not really knowing what to expect. After all, you've got wonder how often five shivering kids come into the ER, one of whom has been shot. We've got no names or papers or anything, which worries Paul, until we realise how busy it is in here and the doctors don't seem to notice because they're patching Jake up anyway. They take the bullet out and stitch him up. I try not to throw up at the sight of all that blood. I wish they'd let Tina sit with him, but they say only family, and Tina's just his girlfriend.
It doesn't really matter, because they all sneak in anyway, about an hour after the doctors finish. I'm just sitting there, numb, after everything that's happened. "Shelley?" Tina asks quietly.
"Hey," I say softly, looking around at them. Tina's fiddling with her sunglasses looking worried, Paul's looking like he always does, cool and collected, and Nicky's looking... fragile. I don't blame her – she just shot that guy. Killed him. She keeps trying to touch the bracelet that kept us all chained to The Project, and now it's gone, cut off and thrown away. She looks about as lost as I feel. "They say Jake's gonna be fine – said they've got him on antibiotics and painkillers and stuff. They want to keep him here overnight."
"We can't stay," Paul says instantly. Like I don't know. They'll be looking for us all.
"They said he was lucky," I tell them. "The bullet didn't go in far and it didn't hit anything important."
"So we could leave?" Tina asks.
"Yeah, I think so," I say. "Just as soon as Jake wakes up." Come on big brother, I think, you gotta wake up or they'll find us. I reach over and shake him, trying to be as gentle as possible. I won't get the image of him bleeding and screaming out of my head any time soon.
Jake opens his eyes groggily. "Water?" he whispers, his voice all croaky. Tina helps him sit up a little, and puts the glass to his lips. He takes a couple of swallows. He's looking way better than he did.
Jake's clothes are sitting on the chair by the wall, and we help him get dressed. He doesn't have a t-shirt; the nurses took it away and, I don't know, burned it or something. Maybe they kept it to show the cops? After all, it was a gunshot wound. I hope the cops don't show up.
"Where are we?" I ask, because I have no idea. It's Christmas, I know that much, it's actually Christmas Eve. The first time I've known the date in two years. Since the funeral. Since my mother died in the crash. Since The Project killed her.
Paul smiles weakly. "We're in New York." He says. Wow, I think. We're in New York. The Big Apple. How awesome is that?
Tina and Paul help Jake to the door. I'm so sure that someone will notice and stop us, but nobody does. We just walk out, and nobody says anything.
"Where are we going?" Paul asks nobody in particular. I don't know, I've always been told what to do, and I don't know what to do. I wish that we could just go back, but only for a fraction of a second, and then I think better of it. I don't want to go on being a thief.
We start walking. It's cold, but not too windy. It's cloudy, but I don't think it's going to rain. There's snow on the ground, but it's not real snow, just dirty black frozen stuff in the shadows.
We reach a park, and we slow down. It's a little bit warmer amongst the trees. We stop, and let Jake rest. Tina stays with him, while me and Paul and Shelley go and look around. We're pretty lost; we don't have any money, or anywhere to go. It's going to get cold, and if we don't find somewhere warm to sleep tonight we're going to freeze.
Worse, if we don't find somewhere to hide, then the Project will find us. It's Nicky who sees the overgrown old bandstand thing. We check it out, and it's quite warm in there, sheltered by the breeze. Paul thinks it'll be safe enough to get a fire going in there so that when it's dark we'll have a bit of light.
We still need food and warm clothes, though. Is stealing for yourself and your friends, to survive, the same as what we were doing before? We don't have that much money. Not enough for clothes for all of us.
We Travel back to Jake and Tina. Jake's shivering, and Paul gives him his jacket. We help him to the Bandstand. It would be so much easier if he could travel. Pauls starts a little fire, and Jake curls up next to it and goes to sleep. He's still shivering a bit, and my stomach's starting to cramp. I'm not surprised; I haven't eaten since those sandwiches on the flight. That was hours ago.
"We need food, clothes," I say. Everyone looks at me. We haven't exactly said much to each other recently.
Paul nods. "We've got six-hundred and fifty dollars." He says.
"That's not enough for warm stuff for all of us." It's Tina who says that. "Or for hair dye and makeup so they can't spot us as easy."
"What are you saying? Steal it!" It's Nicky again. Jake told me how she was all shocked about Tina taking the skirt before the Project found her.
"If we don't get warm clothes then we freeze. We don't have enough money." Paul is being the voice of reason, like usual. "You don't have to come – you can stay with Jake," he says to Nicky. Nicky just nods, lips tight with disapproval. She'll learn. If she doesn't steal then she'll starve.
"I'll go," Tina says. I nod too, I might as well go. Anything to get out and do something. If I sit still I'll think about what's happened and I'll crack.
It's too easy, stealing things. Paul takes some of the money and goes and gets food. Me and Tina are the ones taking things. Tina's done this before, and she's not in the least bit nervous. We reach a huge department store. It's packed with people doing last minute shopping.
We reach the clothing section, and I get a long sleeved T-shirt for Jake. I grab a couple of blankets. Then we find some jackets. We take five of them off the shelves, black for the boys, blue for Nicky, dark green for me and pink for Tina. Then we duck down out of sight.
I focus on the bandstand. I'm a finder, I find and Travel to places I've seen or been to. Tina is a seeker, and she's best at seeking out objects. She can do people a little, and especially Jake. I know she's focusing on him. I catch her eye, and she nods. We Travel.
Paul's already back, and he looks up as we appear. He's got food, burgers and hot dogs. It's warm, and we scarf it down like we haven't eaten in years. Jake's awake, and he's looking okay. Paul's given him some more of the painkillers. I hand out the jackets, and then help Jake into this new T-shirt and jacket. Afterwards, he hugs me. I'm glad he's okay, I don't know what I'd do if I lost him. He's always been there for me.
We curl up around the fire, me and Tina on either side of Jake, Paul with Nicky. I can hear her crying softly.
I wake up cold. Even though Jake's been wrapped up in his own blanket, he's still gone and pinched mine and Tina's, the blanket hog. The fire is still going, but Paul's gone. Nicky's awake, and she's sitting in front of the fire, wrapped in her and Paul's blanket.
I get up and sit next to her. She unwraps herself enough to give me some blanket, and I thankfully curl into it. It's warm from the fire. I'm a little surprised, Nicky's one of those reserved kind of people that doesn't seem to like others being around. The first few weeks after she joined us she hardly said a thing to any of us. But now we're in this together. She's playing with her un-braceleted wrist again, and as a peace offering I give her one of my bangles. She takes it, and gives me a genuine smile.
Paul appears bearing food, and Nicky and I get stuck into it while he wakes Tina and Jake up. Jake's hurting, I can tell, and Paul gives him a couple of pills. "I got some antibiotics," he says to Jake. "They're supposed to be broad-spectrum, so I hope they're okay."
Jake nods, and swallows one down. Our first medical, they tested me and Jake for allergies, including drugs. I'm not allergic to anything, and neither is Jake.
We finish the food in silence. For the first time we're able to talk without people listening to us, and we've got nothing to say.
"So, what now?" It's Jake who asks us. He doesn't know what to do. He should, he's the oldest. But he's just as lost as the rest of us.
"We need to get out of New York." Paul says. "They know to look for us here, and we're better off if we've got out of the city." Paul and Nicky have done survival training, I know, but I really don't want to just hide in some forest somewhere and hope for the best.
"And where should we go?" It's Tina who asks. She's from the other side of the country, but like the rest of us, she's got no parents. She's a street kid, never says anything about where she came from. The rest of us are from all over the place. Paul's a foster kid, and Nicky's parents were killed by the Project just like mine and Jake's mother was. We've nobody helping us, and lots of people trying to find us.
We know almost nothing about the Project – who they are, how big they are, where they are. We only know that they've got some facility somewhere in a desert. The place where we were based, trained. They'll be looking for us.
"I don't know," Paul says. "Away from here." I don't really know how Paul came to be in charge, but he's the one who is actually thinking. I don't want to. I want to just be safe, that's all. "We can get on a bus, or a train or something."
We squeeze out of the bandstand. Jake's looking better, and he's walking without help now. We reach one of the paths. There aren't many people up, because it's so early in the morning. In fact, it's not until we're underneath a patch of trees that we see people. There's a group of them, about ten. I only notice because the guys are super-hot. And I'm not kidding, I mean really hot.
And they're coming towards us. Paul notices them too, and quietly eases us around on to another path, heading away, avoiding them. The group still follows us. It's then that we get worried, are they from the Project? I don't recognise them. We pass behind a bush, and out of sight. I catch Paul's eye, and he nods. We start to run, as fast as we can. Jake's face is screwed up in pain, but he's running too.
I just take a glance, one glance behind me. They're following, running. And I don't know why I thought they were hot before, because they're ugly up close. I don't understand, until I realise that the guy is growing a muzzle. He's, like, a werewolf or something. That's not possible, I think, until I realise that that's real dumb coming from me, a girl who can teleport.
Jake suddenly falls, and I think, just for a second, that he's been shot again. We have to stop, and help him up. There's no way he's going to be able to run again, and he can't Travel. We're stuck. I'm not leaving him behind.
The werewolves slow to a... it's not a walk, it's more of a stalk. They're playing with us.
"Are they with the Project?" Tina hisses.
Paul swallows hard. "I'm not sure," he says.
The lead werewolf chuckles. His ... his pack spread out, trying to circle us. They're moving through groves of trees to our left and to our right. "You managed to get rid of your bracelets, freaks, but you didn't get rid of the microphones," the led one says in a sing-song voice.
Shocked, I pull out the microphone and earpiece that I hastily stuffed into my pocket the day before, and drop them on the ground. The others follow suit. The werewolf just laughs again.
"Who are you?" Paul demands. "What do you want?"
"It's not important who we are. We've come to retire you. You've proved that you've outlasted your usefulness, and the Project doesn't want you back. Not now."
Retired. Just like Ginny and David, Nicky and Paul's former instructors. Like Jill, who worked with me when I first got here.
Paul opens his mouth to say something, but someone else gets there first. "Erasers! Guys, U and A!" It's a girl's voice, younger than I am from the sound of it.
The werewolves on our left side suddenly go flying, and I hear the cracks of breaking bones. The Lead werewolf growls and, totally ignoring us, goes after the girl who just kicked his friends' asses. The others follow, and taking the chance to get out of there, we do. Jake can't really run, but me and Paul can drag him pretty fast.
We don't get very far before we hear the sounds of someone chasing us. I look back; it's one of the werewolves. I stop, let go of Jake, and turn around. If I can only give Jake some time, he can get away.
"Shelley?" Tina calls.
"Go!" I yell. "I'll catch up!" They keep going. I must be totally insane.
The werewolf snarls, and slows. He's stalking me, just like I'd hoped. The longer he wastes on me, the longer they have to get away. My eyes don't leave him, but I'm backing up. Even so, I almost miss the lunge. The werewolf covers the ten metres between us in half a second, jumping, aiming to rip out my throat. I'm quicker though, and I reappear on the other side of the clearing behind him.
I laugh, taunting him. I'm taunting a werewolf. How stupid and insane and just plain nuts is that? "Can't keep up, dogbreath?" I say. "Getting slow in your old age?" I laugh, running on pure adrenaline. I'm so scared that I'm going to die that I think the fear bit in my brain's overloaded.
He lunges for me again, and again I travel, reappearing behind him. He slows, realising that I'm too fast for him. He creeps forwards. This time he'll get close before he tries. He'll get closer and closer until I've got no time to Travel. So I back up, taunting him. For every cunning step he takes, I take one too.
And then I trip on some stupid root. My ankle twists, and I cry out in pain. I hear the howl of triumph from the werewolf, and I try to travel. I try, but I can't. I'm dead.
There's a rushing noise, and then a thud. Bones break. But they're not mine. The werewolf lies, looking half-dead on one side of the clearing. It's not moving. Where it was is a girl. She can't be more than fourteen, brown hair, on the tall side. She's looking at me.
I'm looking at her wings. As if my day couldn't get any worse, there are angels too. Werewolf-butt-kicking angels. "What the..."
"Shelley?" Paul appears next to me. Then he sees the girl with wings. "Holy crap!"
"Erasers!" The girl hisses, and she leaps for us. My ankle no longer hurting I disappear. I can focus a little on Jake, he's my brother. I reappear next to him. Then Paul is there too.
Jake pulls me into a crushing hug. "Don't ever, ever do that again!" He tells me, then gives me a little shake. "Ever!"
Tina hugs me too, and Nicky.
We're hiding behind some bushes right up next to some building. Jake's leaning against the wall. Paul tells the others about the girl with wings. They don't believe him.
"It's true," I say. "Come on, we just got attacked by werewolves, and you're getting all nitpicky on some angel girl?"
"They're called Erasers," says a really young kid's voice. There's a little blonde girl standing by the wall, and the other girl from earlier is there too, along with four other kids. "It's okay, Max." The blondie says to the older girl. "They're not Erasers. But the Erasers were after them. They escaped from the Project, and the Erasers are going to terminate them."
My jaw drops. How does she know that? The older girl, Max, makes a noncommittal noise.
"Who are you," Paul demands. "What are you? What are they?"
Max glares at him. "I'm Max, and this is my flock." She says, gesturing at the other kids. I take a look at them. There are three boys, three girls, and a dog. Two of the boys look the same age as Max, but they're totally different. One's got dark hair, dark eyes and olive skin; the other is pale, blue eyes red-blond hair and freckles. I realise that he's not focusing, even though he's looking at me. He's blind. The younger boy is blond with blue eyes. He looks around nine, and I think he and the littlest girl are related. The final girl is dark-skinned, -haired and -eyed. She's supermodel pretty, or at least she would be if she was older. I think she's maybe twelve.
"You've got wings!" I say, getting over my shock.
"No, duh." says the older blond boy.
Max switches her glare to him for a second. "Can it, Iggy." Then she looks back at me. "Your turn."
I glance over at Paul, and then at the others. Paul nods imperceptibly. These kids don't look dangerous, but they beat up the very dangerous looking werewolves. We can't run, we can't travel. Even if they don't know that. We'll have to co-operate.
"I'm Shelley," I say. "My brother Jake, Tina, Paul and Nicky," I introduce us all. Now it's my turn to ask a question. "Those things. Erasers? What the hell are they?"
"You don't know." The dark boy says. It's not a question, but Paul answers him anyway.
"We've never seen them before."
Max looks at the little girl, who nods, before she answers. "They're human-lupine hybrids. They're called Erasers, and they work for the School. They're like, I dunno, guards." She says.
"Why are they after us?" Nicky asks. "Whose School?"
Max shakes her head. "Nuh, uh. It's our turn." She looks at Paul and me. She's as curious about us as we are about her. "You disappeared. How?"
I look at Paul. He can answer this question. "We're Travellers." He says. "We can disappear and reappear somewhere else. Travel. We don't really know how, but there aren't very many of us. We're born with it."
"You can all do it?" Max asks, looking at Jake, Nicky and Tina.
"Just like you've all got wings?" Paul shoots back, quirking one eyebrow. Max grimaces. "You haven't introduced your friends, yet."
"Oh, how rude of me," Max says sarcastically. "I'm Max." She points at the older boys, first the dark one, then the light one, "That's Fang, and Iggy," Then the dark girl, "Nudge," the youngest boy, "Gazzy," and the little girl, "Angel."
"Weird names," Nicky says.
"And me," says the dog impatiently. "I'm Total."
My jaw drops for the second time. "Hi, Total." I say weakly.
"What?" says Max with a sardonic grin. "You got attacked by werewolves and met some angel girl, and you're being all nitpicky about a talking dog?"
"No kidding," says Paul, who is still staring at the dog. Personally, I think the dog likes the attention.
"I think it's our question now?" I say, tearing my eyes away from the innocent-looking scottie, "How did you get the wings? That School you mentioned..." I trail off.
"We're an experiment," Max explains hesitantly. It sounds like she's done it before, more than once, but she's still angry about it all. "We were made by scientists in a place called the School. They made us two percent bird. So, the wings."
I swallow. And I think my life's been bad? I might have been an experiment for the past two years, all the tests and the training, but I wasn't made for it. Made to Travel. I look at Jake, who's still leaning against the wall, grey-faced. Nicky and Tina are propping him up, both looking like they hope it's all a dream and they're gonna wake up soon. I wish it was.
"Your turn," Max continues. "The Project. Who are they? What are they?"
Paul gets this question. I couldn't answer it. We never talk about the Project, We never have. I turn away from my brother and watch Paul as he answers. "I don't really know." He says. "They found us all, trained us, taught us to Travel. They'd make us go on missions. We'd find people, or take documents. We don't know who runs it, or why or anything. They didn't tell us."
"Where was this place. Where were you kept?" Fang asks this time. Even though it's our question, I answer it.
"We don't know. It was in the desert, though." At this, the Flock exchange looks. "Your School was in the desert too?"
Max nods. "In Death Valley, California."
Paul whistles. Then he asks the most important question. "So what next?"
Max raises an eyebrow. "What next?" she repeats. "We leave. I wanted to know about you, why you can disappear. But, they're already after us, and they're after you. I'm sorry, but you'll get in the way. You might be freaky, but you're still humans and you can't take on an Eraser."
I don't like the way she says 'humans', like we're, I dunno, ants or something. The others in her flock, except for the dark boy, Fang, look like they're going to protest.
"Fine." Paul says. I don't think he's all that surprised. Then he goes out on a limb. "Do you know anywhere safe we could go? Somewhere to hide. We just need to get away from it all."
Max shakes her head. "Nowhere they don't know about. And that's another reason. You want to escape; we want to take them down."
"We do want to take them down," Nicky bursts out. "But not yet. We don't know enough."
Max nods in understanding. I think she gets it more than anyone else would. "I'm sorry." She says. "It's not often we meet others who..." she trails off. "Usually it's a plant, and they end up betraying us." Angel squeezes her hand.
"I'm sorry," I say in sympathy. It must be hard for them, no adults, no parents, and out to take down the ones who created them. They're like us, but they're younger. Just kids.
Max meets my eyes, and I think we've made friends in her and her flock. "I hope you stay safe." She says.
Paul grins. "We'll try. I hope you manage to do it. Take them down."
Max nods, face hard. "Oh, we will." Then she turns to her flock. "Time to go." She says. They aww and complain, but they head out into the clear patch beyond our hiding place.
"Bye!" I call, and the younger kids wave at me. I can hear Nudge talking to Angel at a mile a minute, and Iggy is asking Fang to describe us all.
"U and A," I hear Max order, and the Flock spread out six pairs of wings, and leap into the air. It's amazing to watch, and I gasp. I can't take my eyes off them, and I don't think the others can either. It's just awesome. If I could pick between Travelling and having wings like them, the wings would win hands down. We watch until they dwindle until they're just flecks in the sky, and then they're gone altogether.
"Well," Paul says, breaking the awed silence. "You don't see that every day." Jake and I grin, and even Nicky and Tina manage half-smiles. "Come on then. We might as well get moving before more Erasers show up."