"I'm cold, Max." Said through chattering teeth, a single, freezing hand extended to touch my bare forearm.
"Yeah, Nudge. I know." I bat it away, half-angrily. She should know better. There's really nothing I can do.
And sure, that's not all her fault, but my fingers are numb, my wings coated in icy sleet, and boots filled with sloshy frosted water, so I can sort of excuse myself for the way I'm acting right now. Actually, I'm surprised I'm not worse- but then the exhaustion's wearing in on me and I can barely find the strength to put one foot in front of the other, let alone scream until my lungs hoarse.
"Can we stop?" Nudge asks, as if we we'ren't still stuck in the same middle of a long stretch of white powder. and the snow could start pouring down on us again at any time. "My head hurts."
I don't even bother an answer, plunking myself down in the cold, cold, snow. Nudge follows. Hypothermia here we come. Or death, more like.
Nudge voices my concerns. "D'you think we're going to die here?"
"No," I lie, "definitely not." I watch the light puffs of breath come up from her mouth as she looks at me. "Okay, maybe just a little."
"D'you have any water left?" With a wince, I shake my head. I'd used my bottle as a toilet – too afraid to leave the hole we'd dug, to be swallowed up by the cold - and then as a hot water bottle the night before. I was loath to keep it the next morning after. "Me neither."
There's a silence which is more a prolonged pause then anything, and I use it to take off my wet boots and shake the frost out of them. Nudge uses it to scoop up a hunk of snow in her hands and bring it to her mouth to eat.
"Nudge!" Me, always the hero; I stop her. I crawl over to where she sits. I peel the ice from her hands and throw it away, only to watch as she grabs more and shoves it in her mouth, desperate to die.
"Please," I beg, "Please don't. Just- just put in your water bottle and keep it on your chest, wait for it to me- melt. Please."
My voice is stuttering, but then it's been stuttering for awhile. My body's shivering, too.
"Max," Nudge says, and she smiles. "Max, max. Maximum Ride. You knew this was a wild-goose chase from the start, didn't you? Government sends us on a 'top secret' mission, for some shit we haven't got chance in stopping and know we don't but you, you only laugh and so we laugh with you, 'cause you're the great, mighty leader that no one ever questions and you like it that way. When our group splits, there are questions but your logic overrules all, eh? That way we're more likely to find something 'cause we cover more ground. Of course, with our age, knowledge, and metabolisms, we don't last, but…" She stops her narration in mid-sentence. "Shame there weren't any penguins."
I don't cry. I shut my eyes and hold her to me, no longer worried about the cold.
Maybe later, I could make a snow angel. For her.