ten ways to (hear) "i love you"
recommended music: beethoven's "moonlight sonata" on guitar. go on youtube.
Because sometimes I like to sit back and look. When Max hands me that brush, she's pretty much saying, 'all right, you have license to stare at me.' Max's hair... it's a conundrum. It's a mystery, it's a knot. Literally and figuratively. It's as if you're looking into a kaleidoscope— the slightest tilt of Max's head, and you're looking at a whole new spectrum of colors and patterns. I'm not an artist, or a specialist on color. I wear all black, all the time.
But there's just something about her hair. I'll take the brush in my hand and slowly, slowly work her hair through the bristles. It slides along my skin like some silky-liquid something, and I usually can't stop my fingers from taking hold of a few strands, lifting them towards my face and turning them gently in the light. And when all the tangles are finally out, I get the special, Fang-only privilege of running my hands through it, tucking it behind Max's ears, smoothing it over one shoulder. Of course, it will all be tangles tomorrow. That's just part of the fun.
Because sometimes I'm okay with traditional crap. It's cold out, just enough that the night air bites at the skin, just enough to push into the realm of 'uncomfortable.' But Max is Max, and she would never show she's cold. So finally, when the rest of the flock has gone inside due to exhaustion and frozen fingertips, I scoot beside her. And I shrug off my jacket, placing it over her shoulders despite her half-hearted protests because yes, Max, you're cold, and no, I don't believe that those feathers are good enough insulation, and yes, those are goosebumps on your skin. She slips her fingers into the sleeves, which are too big for her, and she nestles closer to both me and the jacket. Her fingers peek out from beneath the cuff and find mine. It's at that moment that I suddenly understand why guys give their girlfriends their jackets, and that I'm not going to get it back for some time.
I'm okay with that.
Because sometimes I'm more hawk than human. There's no place we really fit in except for with the other five of us (yes, five. Not six, because Dylan doesn't count). Can any human sympathize with your wings chafing because of all the dirt and grit lodged in between your feathers? Not so much. In a way, it's a little like your back itching, but not being able to scratch it. There's places in my wings that I can't reach, and the scientists did not include a beak and super-flexible neck in my 2% of bird DNA.
So Max will occasionally tap my shoulder, motioning me to sit in front of her. Her fingers will run along the top of my wings first, then curl under to nestle in the downy feathers underneath. If I'm lucky, her hands will brush my back as they move down my wings, picking out twigs and dirt and on one occasion, Nudge's bubblegum (don't ask). Then Max'll fan out her hands, combing through the secondary feathers close to the back, then the primaries at my wingtips. Which is quite unnecessary, given I can reach my primaries just fine. She knows that too, and that's why it matters. Because Max isn't doing it because it's practical, or it's a good use of her time, or out of a sense of duty.
She's doing it because she knows I like it.
7) chocolate chip
Because sometimes I would like the best. You know, how they save the best for last? Max, being Max, knows this. We don't usually give ourselves first dibs on stuff. So when we finally have a plate of Dr. Martinez's chocolate-chip cookies all to ourselves, we proceed to inhale them with gusto. They're warm, gooey, and although I don't admit it to Max, I can taste the clear vanilla notes, sweet chocolate chips, and distinct flavor of brown sugar. Suddenly, there is one lone cookie left on the plate. And then she pushes it towards me with a tiny sigh, but the corners of her lips are turning up and her eyes are glinting. Let me tell you, the last cookie is much better when your girlfriend gives it to you. And in the back recesses of my mind where Angel can't reach, I permit myself to wonder if I'll be able to taste it on Max's lips later.
Because sometimes I like a good joyride. And nothing says 'joyride' like 3:00 AM, just after a thunderstorm. And it's me that Max picks to invite along— not the kids, not Iggy, not Dylan, not even just herself. Me. I'm the one that gets woken by a soft kiss on the cheek, by slender fingers smoothing the hair off my forehead (one of the many reasons I don't cut it often). And that's why we're flying now, watching the sun creep over the horizon, the early morning light trickling over Max's face like honey, playing off her tangled hair. The sunlight is wonderful. It's heating up my wings, and the flying is heating up my body, and this girl is heating up my soul.
Because sometimes I do actually enjoy learning. I hate school, and I hate The School. The only things I've ever learned in school are 1) Disney pop stars look great on backpacks, 2) Nudge is a fashion plate, and 3) kissing redheads is hazardous to your health. So when Max says the two of us are going to go somewhere, to learn something, I am naturally skeptical. But this is nothing like what I thought. No school. There's a sign that says "Raptor Center," and that's when I know that Max is more brilliant than most give her credit for. Because there are hawks everywhere. And despite myself, I am circling each and every exhibit, reading plaques, asking the guide question after question. Max doesn't say much, just takes my hand as we walk. The guide smiles and remarks 'how nice it is to see a pair of raptor enthusiasts!' And I really can't believe that Max picked the one place in the world where being human, bird, in love, and Fang is not just okay, but encouraged.
Because sometimes I can be too much of a guy. Girls, what your fathers told you... It's all true. I want to feel her hand in mine, to link our ankles together under the table, to feel her leg pressed up against mine on the sofa during a movie I definitely am not watching. But at the same time, I can't always be the one to reach out. It has to be a choice, made by both parties. So the best kind of touches are the ones Max starts. Sometimes it's the simple brush of her hand across my shoulders as she passes. Sometimes it's more, though. Sometimes I'll be typing up a new blog, and suddenly Max slides behind me, wrapping her arms around my waist and resting her head on my shoulder. Her nose brushes my neck, and her hands skim my stomach over my always-black shirt. I'm not suave enough to keep on typing; I don't want to be. Because whatever I was updating blog readers on is so much less important than how good she feels pressed against me, and how her lips are brushing my neck so lightly I'm not sure if I'm imagining it or not.
Because sometimes I need to be found. I have made a lifelong hobby of hiding. I'm very good at it. Too good, actually. People don't realize it's a game anymore. They think that I'm naturally paranoid, and that I love the sound of Eraser bones crunching beneath my hands, and that I am completely unflappable because I have nothing to be flapped besides a pair of wings. I think that Max is the only person who really knows this isn't true. I mean, some of the flock might know it in theory. But none of them will seek me out like Max does. No one else will knock softly on the door to my room, sit on my bed, and ask me how I'm feeling. (In fairness, I don't know if I'd ever answer anyone else.) Max seems to know exactly what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. Let's take off the kid gloves here, I'll give it to you straight:
I don't trust anyone else but Max. I don't know how. I'm not sure if I want to. So until I decide to start seeking others myself, I'll just watch Max lead by example. Maybe someday I can figure out how to stop playing this game for good. Until then, I'm content to let her call the time-outs.
Because sometimes I need more than words. Words are thought-out, preprogrammed. We have to try and fit what is going on in our heads into letters, little man-made scratches and sounds. Everything that's worth saying isn't done justice by words. We haven't figured out how yet. So I'm falling back on the wordless, the instinctual sounds. It's the tremulous hiss of air as I slide my hands around Max's waist. It's the small, breathy laugh as she pulls at my hair gently to bring our mouths together again. The contented sigh as I ruffle her feathers. The sound of her breathing when she begins to doze off on my shoulder. The quiet, suppressed moan as I kiss the shallow u-shaped indent of her collarbone.
It's not an 'I love you.' But it's close.
Because sometimes I need to know she loves me. That she needs me. And I don't know if I'm doing the right thing, or if I'm screwing everything up royally. It's mostly my fault. I knew the risks when I kissed her in that cave. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into, or at least I should have. I had no business making that promise on the beach— that I would never, ever leave her again. I guess I just get illogical around Max. And... Iggy told me about those ten minutes I was dead. Sometimes I dream about her screaming. I think it'll get worse now. I would do nearly anything to stay. And I've written this draft a hundred times, beginning with 'Max' and ending with 'In twenty years.' Every time my fingers try to leave the keyboard, an image of a Max dying flashes in my mind. My Max, blood trickles from her mouth, a bullet, a fire, a beating—
This is why I have to leave. Nothing can compare to that kind of pain. I can only hope that this letter can seal up a fraction of my affection, and passion, and love that our pithy, preprogrammed words can't express yet. We're going to fall apart. I know it already. But... we're going to fall apart because we love each other. Shouldn't that count for something? And what Iggy told me just proves it: Yes, Max needs me. And I already know that I need her. Max has never spoken the words 'I love you,' at least not when I'm alive.
I just need to listen.
To all my readers: thank you. If not for the generous reviews you gave "Ten Ways" I wouldn't still be writing on this fandom. This one is purely for you guys. After the massive success of "Ten Ways," I felt I had to represent the other side of Max and Fang's relationship. "Ten Ways" is by far my most loved Maximum Ride fanfiction, and I hope all of you that asked for a sequel are happy. This is one of my favorite things I've written. It's close to my heart. I hope I portrayed the sweeping, epic love story that I believe Fax ultimately is.
Tell me, did I recapture the essence of the original?