((A/N: Events take place around Ch 59 in TAE – Angel is at the School, Max, Fang and Nudge have just gotten captured and Iggy and The Gasman had escaped))

Frayed Ends

Angel watched in terror as Max, Nudge and Fang were hauled past her crate, their limp forms unconscious and battered. They were tossed into crates similar to her own - if a little bigger - and left them there. For hours. Alone. The faint breathing of her family was her only comfort in the dark, she waited for each breath, panicking if one of them took too long to take one. She felt when Nudge, the least injured as far as Angel could tell, made the transition from knocked out to sleeping; the usually clear mind filled with dark and twisted dreams. It was only a few minutes – five? Ten? Fifteen? Who knew in here? – before Fang's mind did the same, though he slept quietly, lost in deep and dreamless bliss while his body worked at healing.

Max didn't dream. Angel couldn't feel any flickers from her mind. What was wrong with her? If one of the others would wake maybe she'd find out. Should she wake them? Should she call for the Whitecoats? She could scream that Max was hurt – worse than they could know – tell them to fix her, make her better. She couldn't do it. She couldn't call them. Tell them to fix Max? The way they improved Iggy's sight? No, Max would rather die than have them tamper with her mind. Angel kept silent, waiting, waiting in the dark, when will they wake?

The room lit slowly, the light from outside filtering through the barred and frosted window, as dawn came. It wasn't long before Jeb paid them a visit. Angel staring at him the whole time as he checked vitals through the crates; she watched him as he flicked a small light over each of their eyes, checking the pupil dilation. He stared at Max thoughtfully. Checked again. And exploded into action. Shouting. Whitecoats. Taking Max away. Everything was going so wrong. She'd tried to avoid this. Max was going to be so angry.

((Consistent with canon events:

They brought Max back after a long time, but Angel could feel the difference; they'd done something to her, something that had changed something inside of her mind. She was alive, though, so everything was okay. Angel had realized that Max might die – horrified with herself that the thought hadn't really penetrated before. Max could have really died. Gone. She was different now, but maybe she was still Max, maybe the difference wouldn't effect her.

Max woke, stared at me, Angel was alive. The thought was strong and relieved. "At least they gave you a big crate," Angel told her, "I'm in a medium," Max's shame pressed against her, the thoughts of failure battering at Angel's mind, "It's not your fault," she shook her head, God, how would she tell her. Max was looking around, checking on her flock, checking they were okay. They hadn't seen her taken away. She was back by the time they'd woken up. They didn't know anything was wrong.

"I'm sorry, Max," she whispered, "This is all my fault," Max didn't understand what she was apologizing for though, she started with her reassurances but Angel zoned them out, trying to work out a way to tell her that wouldn't totally destroy her. It was so hard to think. Max was scared; she could hear her thoughts buzzing back and forth, flashes of memory burning her mind like a light turned on too bright after darkness, the sharp patterns of fear tracing her mind second-hand.

"Max – there's something I have to tell you," she said and couldn't help but start to cry, she barely heard Max telling her that it could wait, she knew it couldn't, "No, Max, it's really important –" A door opened and her chance was lost, it was Jeb, she could tell that already from the mental block he seemingly had around him. He took Max away and Angel felt her realization, her inspiration that this is what Angel had been trying to warn her about, if only she knew the truth.

Max came back after what seemed like, but couldn't have been, an eternity, "You okay?" Angel asked, pressing against the crate, wondering desperately if he'd told her what had happened.

"I'm okay. Everyone hang tough, all right?"

Angel nodded. She didn't know. She didn't need to know. No one else knew. Jeb hadn't said anything. Max didn't need to know that they'd done something to her head. Angel settled back, hating herself just a little, but knowing that this was the right thing to do, for Max and for the flock, maybe Jeb could catch them easier know, who knew what the change would do, but at very least, they could be a family for a little while, and not worry about what might have happened in that lab that night.

End canon-relevant explanation of Max's screwy brain.))

Angel waited, for so long she waited, Fang and Nudge woke, they asked where Max was, but Angel didn't answer, she waited, because Max would come back to her. Max would never leave her.

Jeb came back. Max was dead.

Max had left her. Max couldn't come back from this. Max was dead.