Disclaimer: Characters belong to James Patterson.
A/N: Oh my. I thought I would never see this fic uploaded. I started this last year and... wow. I believe I've done myself proud. Part Two is already finished and will be posted within a couple of days. Please enjoy and review! Thanks.
If Omega was capable of making a complaint about his creation, that would be it.
He had spent months chasing and fighting the wayward avian experiment, Maximum Ride. Despite his general indifference in every single aspect of his life, it was taking a toll on his unbending obedience to Itex. Omega didn't know how, but he suddenly found himself wondering why. He didn't ask out loud, but thinking it was just as dangerous. Why did he, the superior experiment in agility and strength, did not have wings? If he did, then capturing Maximum Ride would be less problematic.
Thinking about it gave him the ability to brood in silence. No one would be able to reprimand him. It was as much freedom as he could handle, one that he was hesitant to take advantage of.
Well, there he goes again. A year ago Omega wouldn't have been wasting his time staring into the empty sky. There were weapons to check, Flyboys to secure, and orders to follow. If not those, then time to mentally review the operation.
This one was no different. They were in the city, a sure place where the flock wasn't willing to risk taking off in the mists of a thousand bystanders and tall buildings. Sometimes they even attacked in an open rural field, in which Omega could only coolly observe the flyboys buzz after the swifter avian hybrids. From watching, he noticed a lot of the flock's habits in flight. The one called Fang favored quick, angled turns with little movement of his wings. The blind one, Iggy, had an erratic way of flying, never patterned, but those brief moments where he stopped to sense his surroundings left him vulnerable. Maximum Ride, Omega's primary target, was a graceful flyer, fast and nimble and cautious. He didn't concern himself with the rest of the flock. The youngest, Angel, might prove to be a threat if he ever got near her.
Which shouldn't be a problem, seeing that he couldn't fly.
Or walk, he thought when he suddenly stumbled and hit the ground. Apparently he had been thinking so much that the awareness of his immediate surroundings dropped. Omega quickly got back up to his feet, glancing with mild irritation at the uneven pavement. He checked his hands. Scraped, but not bleeding; minor physical damage. Omega breathed easy and left the sidewalk for an alley.
"Knock 'em dead, Omega," chuckled a voice in his ear.
He tilted his head, almost opening his mouth to question the order. No, not an order. It was a figure of speech; words of insignificant value, probably meant to boost morale. There was no killing in the plan, only subdue and capture. Omega remained silent. There had been one incident when he took the literal means of the phrase. Disastrous, the scientists had deemed the mission. From then on, they had tried to teach him which sayings to take to heart in opposed to take to action. Assuming that his communication skills were lacking, Omega allowed himself to be taught, though he didn't see the potential usefulness of the added knowledge.
"Targets sighted," he whispered, knowing that the audio bud in his left ear would pick up his voice. "All six confirmed."
From his hiding spot in the gloom of the alley, Omega peered to assess the flock's position. Older hybrids in the front and back, younger ones in between. It was a casual, natural position. Their guard was down, judging from their pace and relaxed posture. Almost involuntarily, his eyes focused on Angel. Flyboys didn't need to worry about her. She couldn't read the dead thoughts of metal and circuits. Weeks ago, Omega would have been more confident to bypass her telepathy, but now he wasn't so sure. He didn't think back then. Everything he had done was out of pure impulse, orders, and instinct.
In the middle of her discussion with the telepath, the third youngest member of the flock abruptly paused. He recalled that her name was Monique. Or Nudge. He had grouped her in with the weaker subjects, but when Omega saw her brows drawing down he felt ill-prepared and off guard. She opened her mouth, exclaiming like a single loud alarm. "Omega?"
His stomach fluttered uncomfortably. His heart rate increased. His brow was starting to sweat. Omega blinked. Adrenaline was not something he had easily subjected to in the past.
"Execute attack at will."
Omega didn't need to be told twice. He knew a clear command when he heard it. A few quick and measured steps forward brought him in front of Max. Acting quicker than her, he drove his fist into her stomach as six more flyboys backed him up.
That was the last solid hit he landed on her.
Max knew his weakness and she took advantage of it. He might be quick, but all his skills were rendered useless when all he could see were vague blurs. The scientists explained that the nerves of his vision had a delayed reaction. Every time, he was just a millisecond off. The rest of his punches caught nothing but air.
Omega closed his eyes. His slow sight was throwing him off. The rest of his senses were much better. It was hard to listen with the sounds of twisting metal and inarticulate shouts of battle. He could hear Max's airy footfalls behind him. Opening his eyes and whirling around, he raised his fist and felt it connect against her arm.
And found that it was not Max who had blocked his clenched fist, but Monique.
Seeing his mistake, he shifted his balance and glanced around quickly for Max. Omega had no interest in the dark skinned hybrid. He forcibly shifted her arm out of the way, but the girl held on with bared teeth.
"Every single time you pop up on us, you're always going after Max," she said, struggling to keep him from moving far, "Y'know… that's a pretty quick way to get a girl jealous."
Omega stiffened, a frown of incomprehension settling on his face. Monique released her grip on his arm and her lips curved upward.
"How about you try and chase me for a while?"
Oh, it was a bad idea, she was sure of it; a stupid, silly, and hopelessly girly idea.
It started out as an observation. She noticed that he was cute. She had even said it out loud the first time she saw him. Imagine, seeing the same three freak boys for the majority of her life-- boys that Nudge considered her brothers rather than datable objects. With that in mind, she supposed that a seeing a fourth freak boy could be a relieving sight.
She knew Omega would only be a passing crush, but he kept her mildly interested while it lasted. The older boy's expression rarely ever changed from its blank state. She eventually got bored of looking at him, especially when his personality was the equivalent of a Flyboy robot.
But when Max had stood up against Omega and started throwing her sarcastic comments around, the boy's face held a brief moment of such confusion that Nudge couldn't help but think he was cute all over again.
And she couldn't help but wonder how Omega would look with other expressions on his face.
It became a little obsession whenever the flock would run into him and his flyboys. More than once she found herself concentrating more on the emotionless boy than fighting or running. In all those times she was supposed to be fighting, a crazy idea would come reappearing in the back of her mind. She was a fourteen year old girl with the beginnings of a huge crush; or perhaps it was always there and it never got the chance to fester. Wild ideas were as common as the words that flew easily from her mouth.
He would appear at irregular intervals. Twice in a week, once in four months, six times in one day. Considering her nomadic way of life, Nudge figured that it was probably the most consistent relationship that she could ever have. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more brilliant it seemed. If she were to have an ordinary boyfriend living somewhere in like Kansas, she would eventually have to leave him…
…but with Omega… Omega would always be after the flock. It could work.
She didn't dare tell Max about it. The sensible part of her laughed and scoffed, but the other little part that was completely enamored would giggle and hope for the very best. It was horribly romantic, almost like Romeo and Juliet. Star-crossed lovers.
With a better ending, Nudge firmly thought. She fancied something along the lines of being in love and Omega joining the flock and everyone being happy. It wasn't going to be easy, but she was used to stumbling blocks.
Giddy with optimism, Nudge waited anxiously for Omega to come again. She paid extra attention when the flock came into cities because she noticed that's where Omega appeared the most.
Her hopes were rewarded when she and the flock were walking through. She felt it from the pavement to her worn sneakers and up through her body until she could feel it lodged right in her quickening heart. Her powers made her see Omega and how he had absently tripped over the pavement. She saw his faint look of irritation before the vision faded away. Quite surprised herself, she uttered his name, causing the rest of the flock to stiffen.
The rest happened in a blur. Flyboys appeared out of nowhere and in came Omega, looking positively empty as he collided with Max. Nudge fought her way through the Flyboys, eager to talk or say something to him. Once she got close to Omega, she simply latched on. He fought calmly to get away, but then her mouth opened and she must have said something particularly clever or embarrassingly stupid since Omega suddenly froze and turned his pale blue eyes on her.
Much to Nudge's dismay, she realized what she said was embarrassingly stupid. Omega even put her into a more flustered state when his eyebrows rose and he looked even more impassive than usual. Of all the stupid flirty things she had to say! And out of all the answers Omega could have given her, she was struck dumb when he bowed his head gravely.
"Challenge accepted," he replied, and proceeded to hurl his fist straight into her face.
The girl leapt out of the way, yelping. Omega turned neatly on his heel, bringing his other foot up to kick her. He felt it connect solidly with her stomach, though he didn't gain the right momentum to knock her down. He continued driving hits towards Monique, almost absently while the back of his mind analyzed his situation. The girl was correct; he was always going after Maximum Ride. And he always lost against her. Consecutive failures sometimes made him feel a little ill, though the doctors never said anything during his checkups. Max's father had once told him that he was only feeling disappointment. Dr. Batchelder always said odd things that did not make sense to Omega.
Meanwhile, the girl had grown flushed with running and dodging. She was not the same caliber as Maximum Ride and strangely enough, a feeling of disappointment brushed the vague areas of his mind. It wasn't exactly the same disappointed feeling that made him ill, but he was sure he recognized it. He could beat Monique within minutes.
"Oh, this is not what I meant!" the girl cried out when she scrambled out of his immediate reach. Her curved lips had turned downward and her nose wrinkled. "Argh, I knew this was a dumb idea!"
"You offered me to pursue you. So I complied," Omega said mildly in an attempt to clarify. He thought for a moment and added, "Unless it was a figure of speech, then I have taken the literal meaning."
He took a step forward and she stepped back.
"Gosh, you don't really know anything!" Monique exclaimed. Omega could recognize an unhappy expression if he took the time to notice, which he did. "It's called subtext. A hint, you know? You see, I think you're really cute. I mean, I know it isn't really fair to judge a book by its cover, but I think- Oh, drats. I'm sorry I'm being totally awkward, but- haha. Um, but I was trying to hint that… maybe I wanted your attention, but not the sort of fighting attention you gave me. I didn't want to fight, really, but I wouldn't call it flirting either, because-" she paused and shifted uncomfortably under Omega's intent gaze, "You know… somebody usually interrupts me about now. I have this habit of rambling, so you can just say something. I won't be offended."
"You weren't done talking," Omega explained, "And I did not understand what you said."
Unexpectedly, Monique laughed. The sound bothered Omega, who had never laughed and thought the act could not be beneficial for the respiratory system.
"But you don't find it annoying? Max and everyone else says I can talk forever."
"No. Is that another figure of speech?"
"Uh, yeah. I can't really talk forever," she answered hesitantly, "But you don't find my voice annoying at all? Or are you just being nice?"
Omega's attention flickered around. The Flyboys were in a horrible position with the avian hybrids. Only two were left and soon he would have to start retreating back.
"I was not aware that I was being nice," he said blandly, "Excuse me. I have to go."
"Oh!" Monqiue said, following as he jogged away, "So you have manners!"
"Manners are formal protocol." Omega glanced over his shoulder. He imagined that this time, he was the one with the unhappy expression on. Realizing that the girl was going to be an unwanted burden and distraction, his instincts told him to get away fast. "I need you to stop following me."
That word stuck him again and he finally noticed how pointless and unpractical it sounded. No wonder the scientists discouraged questions.
"Your flock is about to leave without you and I am withdrawing," he said hastily.
Something about his explanation made Monique's lips turn upward and teeth show, but she had stopped following him. "Aw, you're so sweet. You care about me!" she called after.
His jog turned into a sprint as he called up the remaining Flyboys. Omega figured that he would need to look up a hundred adjectives and verbs before the day was over; but whatever the ones Monique had meant, he was sure that some sort of misunderstanding was happening. For the first time in his life, Omega started to hope.
…Hope that the girl would not try and distract him again.
"Don't look so disappointed, Omega!" Nudge exclaimed brightly and was delighted when the boy's face blinked in surprise and then turned dutifully blank.
She couldn't believe her luck. It had only been a week since she had last talked with Omega. As soon as he saw her come up to him, Omega made an instant reply that he was after Maximum Ride and even tried to edge away from her. Nudge might not be as dense as him, but she was capable of ignoring hints when she heard them.
"I missed you," she said with a slightly sheepish grin.
"You weren't aiming," Omega said, sounded a little bewildered. He looked at her carefully as she laughed.
"It's another figure of speech. It means that I wanted to see you sooner," Nudge giggled, losing some of her embarrassment. She didn't know how easy it would be to say mushy romantic things to Omega.
Omega suddenly looked annoyed and even a little angry. Nudge watched, fascinated and then a little guilty for causing it.
"I do not understand why figures of speech should be used," he said, definitely sounding irritated. "Having more than one meaning for a word or phrase is unreasonable. And I am not sweet and nor I do not care for you," he added.
It took Nudge a moment to remember that last week she had called him sweet, but knowing Omega, he would have thought that sweet was…
"You didn't think that I thought you tasted sweet, did you?" Nudge asked, grinning and blushing at the same time, "Is that why you're trying to avoid me?"
"No," Omega said, a little too quickly, "I have reviewed the diet for avian hybrids. You are not a cannibal."
Oh, this was too funny. Nudge laughed, unable to contain it, unable to see the dark look that flickered across Omega's face.
Nudge's laughter lowered into small nervous giggles. She almost didn't see the way Omega's hand suddenly shot out, as if to grab a hold of her neck. She flinched back, all noise dying from her throat.
"What was that for?" she exclaimed, confused. Omega stared sightlessly at her and for a chilling moment, she was fully aware of their surroundings.
Flyboys, her flock, the fighting. Smoke and carnage, yells and faraway explosions. And in the middle of it, her and Omega. Until now, she had been oblivious to it all.
"You have pursued me for the second time, purposefully distracting from my mission," Omega said abruptly, his pale eyes focusing on her like a camera. She could see his pupils shrink like pinpoints. "You say confusing things that I do not understand. You laugh for no apparent reason. You are an annoyance and a hindrance."
Nudge, for all the hope in the world, could not have been more mesmerized at Omega. He was furious, white with anger and fidgety with restlessness. He was more alive than she had ever seen him. For the first time, she could not see any trace the obedient boy experiment that lived solely to be used by Itex. He was not an enemy, not a friend, not a specimen to be admired from afar. He was human, real and imperfect.
"Why?" he asked, as if struggling to get the word out, but once it was out, the rest came like water out of a dam. "Why do you follow me? Why can't you leave me alone? Why are you doing this? Why?"
Her throat had become dry and she felt her reply deep inside even before she whispered it.
"Because I like you."
Like, not love. The words suited her fourteen year old self. It suited her childish crush, her flighty personality, her blithe outlook on life, her want to have a boyfriend, like any other teenage girl. Nudge knew she wasn't a selfish person, but she did have selfish, thoughtless moments. He had been one of them.
Omega looked at her now with blank eyes. No blush of the cheeks, no surprised look, no comprehension; nothing but silence, waiting for an explanation that she could not give. She knew that he did not understand, but she liked him too much to leave him like that. She carefully took his hand, half expecting her powers of psychometry to give her a hint.
Nothing happened, as if clarifying that Omega was really living flesh and blood. Nudge gave his hand a squeeze; a promise, an apology, a good-bye. She stepped away and smiled slightly.
"Omega, when you understand what that means, come find me, okay?"
Omega was bothered the next few days. When he wasn't doing anything for the scientists, he was mostly sitting in his small little room, on his plain cot, staring at the blank wall. Instincts told him that he was searching for something, but it frustrated him to no end that he didn't know what he was looking for. Omega knew the cause of it though, but he did not have a clue why it should have mattered.
While she was nowhere near, Omega felt that she was the root to his problem, or error. Her words to him sounded important even though it wasn't a command or critique.
His performance was no longer at a constant level of excellence. He felt physically fine, only distracted at moments. He still finished his exercises very well, if not at the usual speed. The scientists had not said a word to him, but their evaluations took longer to complete and Omega had to become aquatinted with expressions of dissatisfaction from his superiors.
One afternoon after running laps and being monitored, Omega found himself face to face with the Director. This appearance was nothing new; she had often dropped in to check on his progress. Omega greeted her.
The Director smiled and Omega felt his tense shoulders relaxed. She was his top superior and being with her had always made him more secure and assured.
"Omega," the Director replied, "Are you doing well?"
And usually that would have been the end of their exchange.
"Permission to speak, ma'am," said Omega before she would turn away.
The Director's eyes widened momentarily, caught off guard by his request. She recovered quickly with years of experience behind her. She nodded, more curious than concerned, "Granted."
Omega, who had never been good at forming questions, even practical ones, had his prepared. "What are the slang definitions of like?"
Omega had never seen the Director speechless for more than a few seconds.
"Like. As in, to like somebody? Love?" she finally asked.
"Yes, ma'am. The verb, but not towards an object or an activity. Like, or the stronger form, love; as in, to like another being. How does it work?"
The Director was silent once again, but when she spoke, Omega caught the reminiscent of a laugh, not unlike the one Monique had given him.
"Oh dear. Omega, that isn't something you should be able to process. No wonder you have been struggling lately," answered the Director, "You are not compatible with the information, which is the cause of your confusion."
"Confusion," Omega repeated with a small frown. "Is it a misunderstanding?"
"No, Omega," The Director sighed, "Confusion is something a little different, but never mind that. If you continue to develop these tendencies, you will suffer from worse results in your exercises and missions. I want no more irrelevant questions."
An order was an order. Omega snapped his mouth shut and nodded. The Director glanced at him thoughtfully as he turned to head back to his quarters for the rest of the day.
When he reached his room, Omega caught sight of his reflection in the glass panel that served as a wall and window. The boy that stared back had a perfect look of dissatisfaction. Omega was certain he knew what it was now. He was about to step in, but Dr. Batchelder had come striding into the hallway.
Ever since the death of his son, Dr. Batchelder had become a little quieter and less inquisitive around Omega. A couple of years ago they had been at the point of greeting each other every time they crossed paths. Omega would say no more than his formal, 'sir', but Dr. Batchelder always had something extra to say. Omega could not recall anything specific, but he remembered that the scientist usually said odd phrases and asked even odder questions.
Hi. How are you doing, Omega? I'm absolutely bushed. Today has been nice out, you think?
These past few weeks, Dr. Batchelder would ignore Omega, looking slightly harried and always, always busy. So Omega didn't do anything about it. Until now.
"Hi. How are you doing, Dr. Batcheldor, sir?" Because Omega could not bring himself to forego the 'sir'.
Dr. Batchelder froze in place. His hands shifted on his folders full of documents as if he had lost his grip on them. He turned to Omega, looking much like the Director only a couple of minutes ago; off guard
"I'm doing all right, Omega," he said, looking like anything but all right. "Thanks for asking."
Omega waited expectantly.
"Oh, um, can I help you with something?" Dr. Batchelder asked with a hitch at the corner of his lips. The small change on his face made him look better.
"I have a question."
Now it was Dr. Batchelder's turn to wait expectantly.
"What is love?"
"Baby, don't hurt me," Dr. Batchelder immediately answered and chuckled to himself.
"Sir?" Omega stared at him, baffled.
"I'm sorry. It's a lyric from a song," Dr. Batchelder replied, still amused, "Though you still took me by surprise."
By now Omega was finding it rather tedious that people started laughing whenever he tried to fix his confusion problem.
"Do you know its definition?" Omega asked, his voice coming out more flat and faster than normal.
The older man gave him an intrigued look. He frowned, glanced at the white ceiling, the floor, and then back at Omega. Omega thought that Dr. Batchelder was seriously computing his answer; meaning that the scientist had no definition, or it was going to be very long and complicated one.
Very soon, the Jeb's face stopped frowning and smiled a very small smile.
"Love," Dr. Batchelder began, "is defined in the dictionary, defined in the mind, and defined in the body. It is a noun, a verb, an emotion, a belief, and a concept. I think, if love started anywhere, it started with the beating of a heart. Anyone can love or have love."
Omega was no less baffled with this answer than with Dr. Batchelder's first response. It probably showed too.
"But," continued Dr. Batchelder, "Everyone has their own personal definition of love, so the meaning varies. I believe it would be best if you discover it on your own."
Omega felt his cheeks heat and suddenly there was an illogical urge to punch Dr. Batchelder in the face. The answer meant nothing to him and he wouldn't help but feel an urgency to know the real answer now. He stood silent for several minutes, trying to think of another question that would be more helpful. Frustration was an emotion he was quickly being annoyed with and now it threatened his focus and discipline.
"Is there an example?" he finally asked.
"What?" Dr. Batchelder said, taken aback.
There was another long pause as Omega tried to rephrase his question.
"…What would be your definition, sir?"
The scientist became very still and his normally bright eyes fell downcast. When he looked back up at Omega his face appeared slightly flushed. He seemed hesitant to answer, though Omega knew he had one to give.
"Well, for me, love one is when you want to protect someone at all costs," he said, all his eloquence disappearing and it was the first time Omega saw Dr. Batchelder uncomfortable. "You want to protect that person- or people- even when it means that they will not love you back or it hurts them and you."
He glanced at the ceiling and blinked twice, not focusing at all on Omega.
"Then it also means not noticing a person until they're gone and when they are, you miss them and wish they were here again with you."
Omega saw the scientist suddenly look very tired.
"The avian experiment N-eight-eight-" Omega carefully said after some time.
"Do you mean Nudge?"
"Yes, sir," Omega said, wondering if he should call her that from now on. It had one syllable, so it was more practical if not all together formal. "She said something similar. She told me that she missed me."
"Did she now?"
"Yes. She also said that she liked me, sir," Omega explained and blinked when Dr. Batchelder glanced sharply at him, "Is it a problem?"
"Not that I know of," he said, "But my main concern is, is it a problem for you?"
Omega hesitated, unsure if he wanted to classify Nudge as a problem. A problem would make her sound negative and he didn't necessarily want her to sound that way but Omega wasn't sure if she was a good thing either.
"No, sir," Omega replied after a minute of silence.
Dr. Batchelder frowned and said thoughtfully, "You're not telling the truth. This is a very strange breech in your normal behavior."
Before Omega could say anything else, the scientist just smiled and shrugged.
"But I think you're starting to learn my definition of love. Maybe you'll come up with your own very soon, but you're learning. And that's all that matters."