this is it, guys. it was difficult to write, but. . .it's here.

the last chapter.

i'm sorry.

disclaimer: don't own maximum ride.

epilogue: it ain't over yet

I chanced a glance back into the room to be sure the others were still asleep. Then, as softly as possible, I opened the balcony door and slipped outside.

He was leaning against the rail, looking out into the night, looking as if nothing weird had ever happened. Like it was normal to be here, out on the balcony of my hotel room, looking up at the stars. At two-thirty in the morning. Two days after helping me escape from the fourth circle of hell. (If you're wondering why it's not the seventh, it's because the seventh circle of hell is actually the public education system. Two and three are high school dances and standardized testing. At least in my book.)

I stepped across the cement floor of the balcony and stood beside him, ignoring the chill that seeped through my socks. I waited for a second, leaning my folded arms on the balcony railing and looking silently out into the night, until I couldn't wait anymore and asked in a dramatic whisper, "What are we looking at?"

Sy shook with laughter. "We're looking at something called the sky, Spark. It's big, it's blue, and at night, it's full of stars." Ah, my ever-awesome fish boy.

"Those are stars?" I repeated, feigning shock. "I thought they were fireflies." I looked around and made a tsking noise. "The Lion King lied to me."

"You are. . ." Sy shook his head, laughing again. "Oh, you're so weird."

"But that's why you love me," I replied, turning to him and beaming. He smiled back and for a second life didn't seem so confusing. Then, he held out his arm and I sidestepped closer so he could wrap his arms around me, in a kind of backwards hug. I leaned back against him and let out a small, contented breath. Now, I don't usually get all warm and huggy with people--mainly because I was afraid they'd find out about the wings--but I guess Sy was a special case. He already knew about the wings, and, well. . .I liked him.

Tell anyone and die.

"How'd you get up here?" I asked, the thought suddenly occurring to me.

"Broke into the room next door and hopped the balcony." I twisted my head around and looked up at him (not really in surprise, more in bemusement at his casual tone). One of his eyebrows quirked in return. "What, you think I flew up here? I'm a fish, Spark, not a bird. But my turn." He plucked the shoulder of my jacket. "Is this Con's jacket?"

"Huh?" I looked down at myself, then laughed. "Oh. Yeah, it is. You saw me take it, right?"

"Well, yeah, but. . .why?"

"Hey, I may hate his guts, but he's got good taste in clothes," I said sardonically. Sy chuckled and I smiled. "Okay, so I needed something to carry the hypermaladrine I was stealing. Plus, it pisses him off, so it's win-win."

He paused. "How does Con win in the situation?"

"He doesn't, because I wasn't including him."


I didn't mind the silence that ensued. Normally, I feel obligated to interrupt all quiet with some sort of noise, but this time, I didn't. Maybe because it was so late, or maybe because I didn't want the others to wake up and find us, or maybe. . .maybe I just felt comfortable enough that I didn't have to talk.

But, eventually. . .

"So. . .what's the. . .deal?" I asked uncertainly. I felt Sy's eyes on me but didn't look up, instead fussing with a small rip in the cuff of my sleeve. "I mean. . .what's going to happen now? Max's mom wants us to go to Australia. . ." Sy went still as I explained the whole CSM plan. ". . .but, uh, what about you?"

He took a second to respond. "Well," Sy said slowly, "there are some. . .things I need to take care of back with Itex before I can really run away for good."

"Things like what?" I said, aiming for casual but saying it too quick.

"Well, uh, I was kinda thinking about. . .maybe. . ." He hesitated, trying to find the right words. "I mean, Joey, Frankie and I got you out okay, and if you're leaving the country anyway, we were thinking maybe we could. . ."

I slowly felt myself smile. "You want to free all the mutants."

"Well, the good ones, anyway," he replied offhandedly, in that way guys do when they're uncomfortable or embarrassed. "And the ones who can survive. The rest can go to hell."

I'm sure he included Ariel, Con, and all the other evil freaks in that rest. "How many are there? A lot?"

I felt him shrug. "They couldn't've hidden too many after the previous Director ordered the extermination, so. . ."

"The wha?" I interrupted in confusion.

"Extermination. About a year ago, the last Director of Itex ordered all branches to terminate their experiments," Sy explained. "But, obviously, some of the scientists didn't listen, and hid some hybrids to keep experimenting on."

"Hybrids like you. And Con and the anti-flock."

"Yeah. They tried to save cooperative experiments, but a few were just too good to kill." Sy's tone suddenly changed as he added, "It's the cooperative ones who can go to hell. If they think Itex is actually doing something right, they're screwed up. We're not going to bother."

I paused, waiting for the bitterness of his statement to die away. "Well, at least you'll save some kids. I'm sure you, Joey, and Frankie weren't the only ones who were 'too good to kill.' " I put air quotes around the last part and Sy scoffed. "But seriously, do you know how many there still are?"

"I really don't know. There's no way to tell who was successful in hiding their experiments. Chicago was good, they hardly terminated anybody, but I know California wasn't nearly as lucky, so it really just depends. . ."

"Okay, when I asked, I didn't think you'd actually go beyond 'I don't know,' " I admitted, cutting him off. Unlike other people, Sy didn't get mad at me for it; rather, he just let out a breath and hugged me tighter for a second.

"Anyway. You think that'd be okay?" he said.

"Um, yeah! Why are you even asking?"

"Well, uh. . .it'd mean I couldn't, um, stay with you guys. I'll have to keep with Itex and pretend I'm on their side."

". . .Oh." I stopped, realizing what he was trying to say. If he carried out his free-the-mutants plan, he couldn't travel with us. And, of course, by us, I meant me. I doubted the others cared very much for him right now, what with the way he'd landed them in the Factory and stuff.

Speaking of. . ."How'd you get Max and the others to the Factory?"

"Huh? Oh. Well, uh. . ." Sy shifted uncomfortably. "Ariel was the one who came up with the plan."

I frowned at the mention of the fish girl's name. Definitely not my favorite person in the world. In fact, if she were placed on my favorite person scale of one to ten--with one being the lowest--, then Ariel was, like, negative infinity. Oooh, I'd never hated anybody more. Just her attitude and her voice and her stupid high heels and her trying to kill me. . .Whups. Sy was still talking. Better listen.

". . .and on the way back to the Factory, Con showed up. Usual fight, whatever, until he shot me, which made the flock go nuts. Then Blaze lit some smoke bombs filled with sleeping gas and knocked everybody out, which made it way easy to tie 'em up and bring 'em back to the Factory."

I'd heard what he said, but was stuck on three words. I twisted around to face Sy and he looked at me in semi-surprise. "He shot you?"

"I had a vest," he said defensively. "It wasn't even my plan."

"Oh. Um, right." I could've guessed that--the bulletproof vest thing--but the way he'd said it just. . .just the thought of him getting. . .shot. . .I shook my head. "Sorry. But. . .why'd you go and use some big elaborate plan?"

"They made me," Sy said, shrugging, like it didn't bother him much. "I said I could just lead them in, because I was thinking we'd just find you and bust out, but they wanted to actually capture them and bring them in themselves, so I had to go along with it."

After that, he fell quiet, leaning against the balcony railing again and looking out at the night sky. I inched close and nudged him with my elbow. "Well, Con and them are screw-ups. Maybe they just wanted to get something right for once."

"Ha." Sy shook his head, smiling. "Maybe." He turned his head to look at me, and I was surprised by his expression. It was. . .sad, almost. Halfhearted. Like. . .

"You have to leave now, don't you?" I guessed.

The corner of Sy's mouth raised a bit in a more pronounced half-smile. "How is it you've known me for so short a time but know me so well?"

"Secretly?" I said with fake seriousness. I glanced around like I was suspicious of eavesdroppers and dropped my voice. "I'm a psychic."

"Oh really?" But he was smiling fully now, hand reaching up to take mine.

"Yes, really." I pretended not to notice him drawing nearer. "I know your every thought. And to be honest. . ." I paused, tilting my head to one side as if hearing a voice. ". . .you have quite a dirty mind."

He was closer now. Like, really close. So close that he felt the need to lower his voice. "I do?"

"Yes." I knew what was coming. "Know why? Because you're a teenage boy. And all teenage boys have dirty mi--"

I never finished my sentence, because Sy put a hand under my chin, tilted my face up and kissed me.

Like I said, I'd been expecting it, so my mind didn't completely short out. But it came close, especially when we closed our eyes and his hand went around to the small of my back and I found my own arms snaking around his neck and. . .

And, uh, nevermind. This isn't some weird romance novel. Sorry to disappoint you, but we've just got freaks here. No vampires. Or werewolves. Well, technically, I guess you could call Erasers werewolves, but let's not go there.

I don't know how much time passed, but all too soon, we had to stop. For a second, though, we just stood there. Lingering in each other's presence for just a little bit longer, until Sy reached up and detached my arms from around his neck. "I really have to go," he said softly.

"Why? Did you sneak out or something?" I joked, my voice just as quiet as his.

"Kinda." Sy hugged me tight one last time, then crossed the balcony. He hopped up on the left railing, looked back over his shoulder to smile reassuringly, and then leaped four feet over to the next room. He landed silently on his feet and turned back to face me.

I half-raised my hand and wiggled my fingers. "Bye," I said, so softly I doubt he heard me. But he could read my lips.

He returned the gesture. "Bye."

Then, with a last fleeting smile in my direction, he left.

I let out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding and turned toward the railing, my hands rising to grip it as I sought to steady myself. Okay. Time to get my thoughts straight:

I--along with Max, Fang, Iggy, Nudge, the Gasman, Angel, and Total--was going to Australia. Mainly to escape the anti-flock, but also to preach about some saving-the-world environmental stuff.

The anti-flock was (hopefully) going to stay here, in America, searching and failing to find and/or recapture us.

Sy--along with Joey and Frankie--was going to stay here, in America, and go about freeing all the mutant hybrids that didn't want to be experiments anymore.

I felt like I'd been split in three. My friends and I were going to Australia. My old family, who'd been created to follow me anywhere, was going to stay here in the United States. And Sy, who I was kinda/sorta involved with, was also staying here in the States. Three parts of me--my present, my past, and my future, were all walking different paths. Or flying. Whatever.

It. . .didn't feel complete. I felt like there had to be more, like there had to be something else. Like. . .the story wasn't finished yet.

But there wasn't much I could do to change it now. I'd just have to deal with it, this feeling of incompleteness.

How long would I have to feel this way? Just how long would it be before my story came to an end?

To be honest. . .I had no idea.

Head pounding, body aching, and frustration boiling dangerously high, Con remained perfectly still, fists clenching at his sides. At his right, Avi let out a tiny sigh, and he could feel Blaze trembling with anger to his left. Swift and Shadow were sitting in the chairs, Shadow hunched over and sulking while Swift's back remained ramrod straight, eyes fixed on the floor.

"Unacceptable, Constantine."

Of course he called him out to take all the blame. But Con said nothing.

Julian Newell sighed and rested his elbows on his desk, rubbing his temples. The scientist then pulled Swift's laptop closer to him, keying in some code in an attempt to lock on to Spark's chip. "You lost her. Again. No trace of her chip."

No shit. Con reached into his pocket and pulled out a necklace by its string. Annoyed, he flung Spark's tracker chip onto the desk, saying, "She figured it out. Ditched it before she found the Cali group."

Newell let out a breath and grabbed the necklace. He studied it for a second or two, then pocketed it.

He looked up and stared Con in the eyes. "I'm getting fed up with your failures. I'm seriously leaning toward turning over Spark's case to somebody else. Somebody who's actually capable of eliminating Spark."

"We're capable," Con ground out, glaring at Newell so forcefully that the scientist had to look away. "We can get her back. The Cali group too."

"No, you can't!" Newell snapped. "You've had her I don't know how many times, but every single time she's escaped! You five are no longer responsible for Spark's capture and elimination!"

"You can't do that!" Con yelled, his temper finally breaking. "You can't do that to us! We are the ones who caught her signal, and we are the ones who are going to recapture her! We've been on her since day one and. . ."

"And you failed," Newell interrupted loudly. "You failed, Constantine, and that is unacceptable. It's obvious to me now that you're still in love Spark, otherwise you would have done your job correctly. In other words, she would be in our custody and under our control. So again I say: you are no longer responsible for Spark's capture and elimination."

It took all of Con's willpower (and Avi's warning hand on his arm) to keep from torturing Newell's mind. Before he could yell anything else, Blaze stepped forward, blurting, "Spark's wild, Jay, and you know that! Give us another chance, we can get her back!"

"No, Blaze. You had your second chance, and you blew it," Newell replied irritably. The man's pale green eyes flicked from hybrid to hybrid, focusing on each of them for a moment. "I used to be proud of you. But your failures are making it harder to keep that pride."

Con's knuckles went white as his fingernails dug into his palms. So he finally said it, he thought furiously. What everybody else is thinking. We're just not good enough anymore, are we?

Before anybody could stop him, Con turned and stalked from the room, flinging open the door so forcefully it banged off the office wall and slammed shut.

Thankfully, no one was in the halls at this hour--all mutants were confined to their rooms from nine at night to nine in the morning, and the day-shift scientists never arrived before eight. It was about five a.m. now, but to Con it felt much earlier. Newell had called him and his flock to his office as soon as they'd regained consciousness, which meant he hadn't gotten any real rest. He was dead exhausted.

Con made it back to his room before the others could catch up, stalking inside and slamming the door behind him. Then he leaned back, closing his eyes, wishing that, just for once, he didn't have a job to do, an authority to please, or a runaway sister to beat himself up about.

. . .I hate my life.

Con opened his eyes and looked around the room that'd been his since before he could remember. It was simply furnished--desk, bed, dresser. Bedside table, bookcase. Closet. The dark blue walls were papered with posters that suddenly held no meaning. The desk was littered with old files and knick-knacks that were no longer important to him. And over at the bedside table. . .

He pushed away from the door and flicked on the light before he crossed the room, heading for the bedside table. A picture frame lay face-down on its surface, a frame he himself had pushed over just two and a half weeks or so ago.

Con picked up the frame and stared at it, slowly lowering himself down onto the bed.

It was stupid that he'd kept it so long--this picture. It was of when they'd been young. . .when Spark had still been a part of their family.

She was in the photo with him, Blaze, and Swift. It'd been taken by one of the psychologists that used to visit, checking up on their mental statuses and how their brains functioned differently from normal children's.

A three-year-old Swift was at a computer in one corner of the room. Blaze, age five, was by a black practice dummy just behind him, arm and fist blurred mid-punch. Spark, four at the time, was at a small table in the center of the room, pen in hand and half-written paper in front of her. (If you squinted--or had a magnifying glass--you'd be able to see that the letters were Greek, not English.) Con--who, like Blaze, was five in the photo--was at the table with Spark, watching her write, his own pen and paper lying forgotten near his hand.

It was stupid. Nobody was even looking at the camera, because the psychologists had wanted the kids to look "natural." Yet he'd kept it all these years. Like. . .a reminder that Spark really had been with them, once upon a time.

But she was different now.

She wasn't the same little girl that'd saved his life when they'd met.

She wasn't the same little girl he'd fallen in love with.

Con gripped the picture frame tightly, so tightly his fingers went white. Then, in a burst of fury, he threw the frame to the floor as hard as he could.

The glass front shattered, and the wooden frame splintered. He didn't bother picking it up, or even kicking it under the bed and out of sight. He just put his elbows on his knees, pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, and tried not to think.

Didn't work too well.

He wondered absently if he should try and sleep.

Nah. Too much on his mind.

Maybe he could. . .

A timid knock came on his door, interrupting his thoughts. He ignored it.

It came again. Louder this time.

With an irritable sigh, Con called out, "What do you want?"

The door opened with barely a sound, but whoever it was didn't come in. Con didn't look up to see who it was.

"You okay?" Blaze finally asked.

He didn't answer her.

"Um. . .what are we going to do about Spark?"

Again, he said nothing.

Blaze seemed to get annoyed. "Look, you can't just sit there and take this. It's pathetic. What are we gonna do?"

"I. Don't. Know," Con said slowly, enunciating carefully to get his irritation across. "And frankly, I don't care anymore."

"That's not good enough!" Blaze snapped. He heard her footsteps as she crossed the room and stopped just in front of him. He imagined that her eyes were silvery with anger. "Look, Con, like it or not, you're the leader, so get over yourself and do your f*cking job. Forget about Jay. He has no idea how hard it is to keep Spark cooped up. Yeah, we kinda screwed up, but we can fix it. So what are we going to do to do that?"

"Nothing. You heard him, Blaze. She's not our problem anymore. We failed."

"What the hell's the matter with you?!" Blaze yelled. A sharp, painful blow slapped Con's head and he jerked out of position, finally looking up. Blaze's face was a mask of confused anger, sky-blue eyes nearly completely silver. "I don't know what kind of emo depression you've suddenly fallen into, but snap out of it already! The longer we stay here, the longer Spark has to get away and disappear! Screw what Jay said, we have to go after her!"

"What's the point?" he asked bitterly. Con's eyes dropped to the floor, where the eleven-year-old picture lay on the floor amid broken glass and splintered wood. "There's. . .she's never going to be one of us again."

"So you're just going to give up, let her escape, and let her get away with it?"

He looked up at Blaze again. She'd crossed her arms, still glaring down at him, refusing to give in to his sudden onslaught of melancholy carelessness.

"Well?" One of Blaze's eyebrows raised. "Are you going to let her get away with everything she's done to us?"

At first he was silent, trying to sort through his thoughts. But then, finally. . .

". . .No." Con looked down again, then bent to pick the picture out of the wreckage of its frame. He studied it for a moment or two, then ripped it in half. Letting the torn pieces fall back to the floor, Con stood up, all feelings of depression, anguish, and hopelessness fleeing his mind as anger and lust for revenge took their place.

"Tell the others to pack up. We're leaving in twenty minutes."

Blaze smirked, then playfully punched Con's shoulder. "You got it, Con."

She left his room, and Con closed his eyes, taking a breath. When he opened his eyes again, the first thing he saw was the torn picture. It was weird, but. . .Spark had ended up in the one half while he, Blaze, and Swift were in the other.

She wasn't one of them. She hadn't been for ten long years.

Con's fist clenched.

He was going to make her pay for running away. For leaving them. For throwing them to the wolves of the science community. For forgetting about them. For living a perfect little life while he and the others went through hell. For continuing to live a perfect little life while he and the others went through hell.

He'd chase her to the ends of the earth if that's what it took, but he would make her pay.

silly me. i left all these unanswered questions and unresolved issues just hanging out there. which means this is sooooo not the end--the rest shall be continued in the sequel, which i have yet to title (though it will begin with the word when).

anyway, i'm gonna take a tiny break to maybe get ahead on the new story, and possibly contemplate new ones for my other OCs--mainly sy's past (OC fish-kids under the age of 14 will be accepted), possibly joey and frankie's story (if you have an idea for their background, leave a message), and perhaps the past of spark when she lived with con, blaze, and swift (though i may have to speak with the creators of the anti-flock on this one).

help with those possible ideas would be appreciated.

but for now. . .well, since it's not over yet, we'll just say i'm putting my epically exciting tale on pause.

it's been fun. i'll see you next time.