I think we all know how this works. I disappear for a while, but then the new book inspires me to write again. I hope some of you are still with me. I'm sorry for my inconsistency.

I don't own Maximum Ride.


Chapter 27

The First Mission


Previously:

"It's like I got him back from the dead."

"I'm not going to lose her anytime soon. But something warns me that I'm wrong."


MPOV

It's funny how your world can move earth-shatteringly and yet everyone else doesn't even feel a jolt. Home goes on as it always has, the planning and constant motion. And I am Maximum Ride again. The Flock is whole. It's like someone who has lost a finger, they try to adjust to its loss but all they can feel is the gaping pain, and then suddenly it's sewn back on. Their hand is whole again, a little tingly, but whole.

I suddenly am myself again. I remember my purpose, who I am. I'm ashamed to admit that I've been wallowing in self-pity. That's not any way for a leader to behave. But Now I've been running around Home like the rest of this army of mutants, except with perhaps a rather more bemused look on my face. My world has burst into color, but unfortunately a lot of that color has a haze of red; red for anger, red for blood, red for vengeance, red for war.

I find myself out of place, and yet oh so aware that this is my place. This is my war and, with my right-hand man back, I'm no longer afraid. Okay, maybe a little.

"Max, debriefing," Fang says to me without stopping as he walks by my room. I blear sleepily out into the pale light. It's night time, who is brave enough to disturb my slumber?

I see a dark shadow back up a few paces to peer in at me.

"Are you awake?" I nod and run a hand through my disheveled hair. I can just make out the shadow of a smirk as he vanishes from my sight.

Fang's fit right into this soldier-life. He lives for the planning, the sparring. It's like he was born for this. All I see are sacrifices, people preparing to give everything they have to do my job for me, to save the world when that's supposed to be my job.

But I have to let it go, I don't know what's really supposed to happen any more than they do. Maybe this is what they meant when they told me to save the world. Maybe all they needed was my contribution to this war. And then again, maybe not.

I slip out of bed and race along the stone floors of Home, throwing myself from the canyon ledge and open my wings in a snap of movement. Chill air rises to meet my wings as I glide over to Mira's doorway where Fang has just landed.

He looks at me and I smile. When he looks away, I can't stop myself from running my hands through my hair to tame it. We enter Mira's quarters together.

"What's up?" I call, seeing Mira, Rider, and Iggy framed by the moonlight that filters through the crevice in the stone walls. I walk over to lean against the wall with Iggy. He bumps my fist by way of greeting. Fang stands against the wall next to me, and almost immediately becomes one with the shadows. Rider nods in our general direction, but returns his preoccupied gaze to Mira.

"Hey," Mira says to no one in particular, turning from her perusal of the visible night sky to look at us. "We have a mission."

Blunt and to the point. I knew there was a reason I liked this girl.

"What is it?" Iggy's tone is wary. Mira's eyes flit to the shadowy doorway.

"We're waiting for Hawthorne and Gryffin," she answers. As she speaks, they materialize from the shadows, two opposing ends of the light spectrum. Sunshine and darkness. Hawthorne's usually expressionless face is tense with unreadable expression. They don't bother with pretenses.

"Where is she?" Hawthorne barks out as if he can no longer contain the flood of thoughts racing through his mind.

"We're going to go get her," Mira explains, her voice unnaturally calm.

"Maybe someone could explain what's going on?" I pipe up, always willing to throw myself headlong into tense situations. Hawthorne and Gryffin blink as if they hadn't noticed the rest of us were here.

"I was getting there," Mira sounds exhausted.

"I've got it, Mira," Rider interrupts. She gives him a grateful smile and returns to looking out at the sky. Gryffin crosses to her side, and they converse in hushed tones, but my attention is drawn to Rider as he begins speaking.

"Once upon a time, there was a girl named Shadow—" Hawthorne makes a dangerous noise. Rider's smile droops and he clears his throat. "Right. Um," He ruffles the hair at the back of his neck in agitation. Hawthorne rolls his eyes and slips out of the room.

"What's wrong with him?" Fang speaks up. Rider sighs.

"Back before we met Hawthorne and Gryffin, they knew this girl named Shadow. Hawthorne was sort of in love with her." Comprehension dawns on me and I eye the door through which Hawthorne disappeared curiously. He never gave any sign that he was pining for his long lost love. "Anyway, she was captured. They spent ages looking for her, but never found her. Gryffin was convinced she was dead. There were no new leads to go by, and, in the end, the war came first. They convinced Hawthorne he could look for her after the world was saved. He didn't like it, but…" he trails off.

I can't imagine giving up the search for someone I loved. I would search forever to get my Flock back; the world could just save itself. My eyes meet with Fang's and I can't read the expression in his eyes, though it burns with emotional fire.

Mira turns around to look at us, and Gryffin speaks.

"But now we've found her. We can't just leave her, not after we stopped looking…" I can hear the guilt in his words.

"I'm in," I say, not wanting or needing them to say any more about this painful topic.

"Me too," Iggy adds, and I see Fang nod out of the corner of my eye.

"Where is she?" I ask, and they start to give us the details. I feel plans forming in my head. This is my element. We've done this sort of thing a million times.

I have no idea how much of the night passes as we make our plans. Fang and Iggy argue for a full on attack, and I can tell Gryffin agrees with them. However, Rider and I argue that we can't spare the fire power, the casualties and injuries. The risk factor is too great. In the end, Mira breaks the tie, since Hawthorne hasn't reappeared.

She votes for a mixture. We aren't going in bombs blazing, but we aren't trying to hide anything either. We have to be smart about this, but we aren't leaving without Shadow. No matter what.

We iron out the plans. I can see Fang and Iggy still don't completely agree, but they're outvoted.

"We'll leave tomorrow," Mira adds.

"Are you sure you should go, Mira? Home can't really spare—"

"Home can't spare any of us. But neither can Shadow. We're all going. Tomorrow morning."

"Tonight," a voice speaks from behind where I sit in the little circle we've formed. It's Hawthorne. "We should go tonight. We've already wasted so much time." Gryffin nods his approval. I can see Mira bite her lip in indecision. She looks at me; I am, after all, still Maximum Ride.

I sigh, torn. We're all tired and overemotional, but if it was one of my Flock, I probably would have already left.

"Alright," I say, standing up, "Let's go." Hawthorne shoots me a grateful look, and I can practically feel Fang staring a hole in my neck, but I refuse to turnaround to meet his gaze. I'm still the leader here.

And in an hour or so, we're flying, flying free in the open air. I let out a woop of excitement as I bank left, swirling around to ride the currents. I hear Iggy's laughter behind me. The others are even smiling a little. We stretch our wings happily, dancing through the air under the night sky. Hawthorne even has to relax a little.

Fang's still trying to get my attention, but I don't feel like picking that fight just yet. Instead I soar over next to Rider who's got a fake smile plastered on his face.

"What's up?" I ask conversationally. He frowns as he answers, screwing up his face in concentration as if straining to glimpse even a moment of the future. And his answer chills straight through me like a prophecy, like doom.

"I can't see what happens next…but I have this really bad feeling...that we aren't all going to be coming back."