A/N: I'm a newb to this series, having just discovered it maybe a week ago, but I've so far devoured the first three books and first two graphic novels with avid obsessiveness. Upon finishing the third book in the series I became firmly convinced that Iggy, Nudge, Gazzy, Angel, and Total should not have been captured by Flyboys and the plot should have ended on a happy note just after Max and Fang kissed in the desert. It was obvious to me as I was reading that there was too much thickness left to the book for that to be the resolution—so I knew very early on that this plot-bunny was going to be a fanfic. So, readers, that's your scenario for this fic: How Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports SHOULD have ended!
Please leave me a review if you read! I love seeing them and replying. Even flames are welcome (though I can't imagine anything particularly flame-worthy or controversial about this fic).
It was quiet.
Gazzy was lying with his head pillowed against my thigh. Nudge was on my left and Iggy was on my right with Angel tucked under his wing for warmth on this chill desert night. All I heard was soft, even breathing and a single locust chirping in the weeds outside our secluded rock cave hiding place. I had my windbreaker folded under my head and I was supposed to be getting some rest, but my mind was unusually wired tonight and I couldn't stop thinking long enough to fall asleep.
Fang was on the first watch of the evening and after a half hour or so of lying awake I had offered to take the watch from him, since I was up anyway, but he had shaken his head before I even got the first syllable out.
He wasn't looking around as often as he probably should have, seeing as he was on watch and all, but he wasn't being so infrequent that there was a risk posed to the flock. Sitting across from me, I felt him staring at me, at the flock, at the glowing embers before him, but most often at me.
The sky was wide open, blue-black like an impossibly huge curtain of inky silk, randomly glittering. I was fixated on a bright star in the sky in our cave's view, probably Venus, thinking about the stuff I always thought about when I made the mistake of letting my mind wander: saving the world, Erasers, how we were going to find food tomorrow, when the Voice was going to come to visit me next, Fang…
Tonight, my mind was stuck especially on Fang.
I don't know. Maybe it was the fact that as of late, I had been unable to look at Fang when he talked because I would get distracted by staring at his lips. Or the fact that whenever my dreams weren't pure nightmares, they were always about us—not the 'us' that lived on the run and heard voices in our heads and flew for hours and hours on empty stomachs, but the 'us' in my imagination, the 'us' that didn't have to do any of those things, the us that lived happily in our old house with no Erasers to worry about finding us and no School to have nightmares about and no worrying about our possibly stunted lifespans and the cabinets are always full of food and we can fly across the blue skies all day and everything is absolutely perfect.
My favorite part of the dream is when, after the end of a long and beautiful day of playing in the sunshine and just being ourselves, I've put all of the children to bed and it's just me and Fang and I lean over and kiss him on the mouth, and he kisses back, and as I pull away he smiles, so beautiful, and everything is just how I always knew it's supposed to be.
I knew it was just my imagination running wild with me, but I wished I could make it go away. Thinking about everything I wanted, everything I was missing out on, everything my illogically optimistic hopeful side said I could have, was like smelling the best chocolate-chip cookies in the world and then finding out they were poisoned with the most toxic venom known to man.
Wary of waking the Gasman on my lap, I quietly reached up and rubbed my eyes.
"Max? You okay?"
Of course Fang would notice. "Just, you know… thinking."
He leaned away from the fire, his face falling into shadow. He didn't say anything, but I could feel him waiting. The desolate desert night was so still as I listened to his breathing and imagined that I could hear Fang's thoughts whispering through his head and if I just listened hard enough I could make out the words.
"I'm fine," I assured him again, sensing his eyes on me. "Crying about… something stupid." Stupid: my dreams were stupid, impossible, unreasonable, out of character. Why was I being so sentimental? I felt like right now I could convince myself to walk away from this whole "saving the world" tangent—which was sort of a huge deal.
For this, I blamed Fang and his stupid distracting lips.
I could tell by the way Fang shifted his weight that he didn't believe I was being honest. I wasn't the type to shed tears over something trivial.
Fang took a slow breath and seemed to be on the verge of speaking when he stilled and turned his head toward the mouth of the cave. The wind had picked up and the locust's hissing seemed to increase.
Pebbles and sand moved vaguely; the sparse but hardy Arizona plants, weeds, and grasses rustled. This noise was perfect for someone to use as cover if they wanted to sneak up on us.
Fang glanced back at me as I was carefully trying to replace my leg with the folded windbreaker under Gazzy's head.
It was way paranoid of us to be getting nervous over a little breeze, but that was reality. We'd been surprised before.
Fang stood at the entrance, watching, wings twitching, ready to take off and give chase—or put up a fight—at a moment's notice. I came up behind him and listened, tense.
The wind died after a second, but the rustling continued somewhere below us and to the right.
"An animal?" I whispered.
"Probably." He headed toward it, letting pebbles loosen and roll loudly down the hill under his feet. I followed him, making noise as well. If it was an animal, it would spook and run away. If it wasn't, we would know really soon.
Fang stopped in his tracks and exhaled as a small furry head popped up to stare at us. "It's a fox." At the sound of his voice, the animal darted away.
I closed my eyes and focused on calming my breathing. After a moment or two, my heart stopped thudding so hard. I opened my eyes and turned back to our temporary hideout, but stopped after three steps and looked back at Fang, who wasn't moving.
His eyes were fixed on me. His face was impassive but he appeared to be thinking very serious thoughts.
He frowned, but slowly, as if he had forgotten how to do it. "Is everything—?"
I had no idea how to answer that. "It's nothing new," I told him, hoping to relieve any unnecessary worries I might have created by beating about the bush.
Fang didn't look all that relieved, which meant I wasn't off the hook yet. But he gave me a look like; Do you want to talk about it? It was an unspoken query, and there was no ultimatum. I could refuse to answer, if I wanted to.
I wanted to answer, I really did—and in excruciating, complicated detail, if it would make Fang happy. I wanted to tell him that every time I looked at him I got butterflies in my stomach and I kept thinking about the way we had kissed that night—and how I was sorry for running away too—and I wished I could do it over again because all I could think about now was the escape, the total mental disconnect I'd felt at that moment, a single moment in my life when I had no responsibilities or fears or paranoia because all I could think about was Fang.
I ran to Fang, my eyes overflowing, and planted desperate kisses all over his lips and jaw. He didn't stiffen up or flinch in surprise, so I knew he had been expecting something like this—but then again, it was sort of written all over my face.
Fang's hand smoothed my hair, his even breathing a contrast to my hiccuping sobs. "Max, would you please try to talk to me?"
"It's just… so…" I couldn't… I was beyond words.
Fang seemed to realize that I couldn't manage that much and changed his tactics. He put his hands on either side of my face, stopping my sloppy barrage of affection, and closed his eyes, giving me what I most wanted—an escape. A reason not to think.
This was probably what Fang had wanted when he'd kissed me out there in the desert. I wasn't interested in saving the world or destroying Itex or any other such nonsense. I was lost to that cause, trapped in his gravity.
Breaking the spell, I pulled my arms between us and tucked my face into my hands.
"Fang." Fang was warm. I leaned into his chest and breathed slowly, "I don't know what I want anymore, you know?"
He lifted his chin and looked skyward, silently holding me close.
The locust started up its hissing again.
The fire in our cave gave a little pop. Nudge sneezed and rolled over.
The open sky sealed itself, looking not like a depthless sea but an impenetrable wall, falling, pressing down on me. I wanted to fly up there with a blunt object and shatter it.
"Tell you what," said Fang. "Fuck this. Fuck saving the world. Fuck the School, fuck the Institute. Fuck Itex. I'm sick of this. I've hated it since the moment they ruined our picnic and kicked our asses and stole Angel. I want to go home."
"We don't have a home," I pointed out, staring up at him.
"A minor setback." He looked down at me. "Look at the big picture, Max. As long as you listen to your Voice, they still own you. They still own us. Don't you want to be free? Max."
What does he know? said the Voice. You need to do what you were made for. What you were meant for.
I pressed my lips together and looked away. The Voice was usually good about getting me back on the track it wanted me to take, but its rhetoric was undermined by my knowledge that the ones who made me didn't exactly have my best interests in mind.
"Max. You know the answer."
Well, of course. I was the leader. I always had the answers.
This decision was especially easy. "Fuck the Voice. I wanna go home, too."