*NOTICE AS OF 17.4.11 (4.17.11 for you Americans ...). Since we begin this story, our names have changes. B4k4 r3dux is now the lovely FangIsFexcellent, and I am not longer Blackiee, but acciopigfarts. I'm still called Blacks though. Got it? Good :D*

Blackiee: Okay. Hey!

Yes, I know I am still to finish to Secrets and Lies, and I will! But the plot bunny was nomming on my brain. That didn't sound weird . . .

So. This fanfiction is co-written by the wonderful b4k4 r3dux, whose profile you should most definitely check out.

Disclaimer : I do not own Maximum Ride.

B4k4: ...I don't own anything either XD

And I know I still have Two Flocks to do...but how could I resist helping blackiee out? And a warning: because of our mixed origins (I'm Americans, she's British) some of the words might be a little messed up: one minute we'll probably be saying "color" (me writing) then the next will end up as "colour" (her writing). So bear with us XD.

Have fun! Be awesome and review, kthxbaiii!

OMNOM I AM A LIINNEEE BRREEAAKKKK :D:D:D

Slide. Shoulder pop. Repeat. Duck. Kick. Jump. Body ripple. Repeat.

And again. And again. And again.

I was panting as I pressed the 'stop' button on my iPod, pulling out my earphones. I threw it carelessly onto my carpeted bedroom floor as I collapsed onto my bed in a tangled heap. I had been practicing that tiny section of my dance repeatedly for over half an hour. And I still couldn't get it right . . . I ran over it again in my head, wondering why it still felt wrong.

"Max, if you're gonna stomp like that, at least move down to the basement!" yelled my sister Ella from downstairs...right under me, actually. Oops. I hoped I hadn't started raining chunks of ceiling on her.

I feebly waved a hand towards the floor, as if she could see it, before letting it fall back onto my stomach. I closed my eyes as I ran through those few moves again for about five minutes, before jumping up again. I stood in front of my mirror, running a hand through my knotted blond and brown hair. It was hanging limply to my shoulder blades in a tangled mess, looking more like a birds nest than hair. I fingered my holey cream tank top, pulling it down to my black sweatpants again so my stomach was covered completely. I turned to grab a hair tie from my bedside table when I noticed the time on my alarm clock.

2:25.

"Shit!" I almost screeched as my eyes widened. I had a performance with my class in half an hour. It was fifteen minutes away. I almost flew to my shower, shedding clothes all the while and jumped in; turning it up to its maximum heat to wash away the sweat and grime I had collected during the day. I made sure to de-tangle my hair; Dylan would slaughter me if I turned up with it looking like that.

I finished in record time, jumping out and sliding into my clothes quickly. I had picked them out before; a simple black and blue tank top with my favourite black leggings. I hobbled over to my sisters room opposite mine, pulling on my black-on-black hi-tops as I went. I just hoped to God that she and her best friend, Nudge, had migrated up here while I was showering. I didn't have time to try and find them downstairs.

I threw the door open to see them sat on Ella's bed, magazines strewn around them as they talked in earnest, probably about the latest teen heart-throb.

"Dude. I need you to do my hair. Like, now." I finished tying up my sneaker as I fell into my sister's chair, surrendering myself to them. I would have normally tried to do my hair myself, but I had a total of five minutes before I needed to set off, and if anyone could do hair in that amount of time, it was these two.

They knew what I wanted; my hair in soft waves down my back, simple, easy to work with. I couldn't stand to have it tied back when I was doing one of my performances, and if I came in with it looking like anything less than perfection Dylan would murder me in my sleep.

I could hear them muttering to each other as they put God-knows-what into my hair, undoubtedly wanting to make it sleek and shiny and soft and-

I looked at Ella's sickeningly pink wall clock. I had fifteen minutes before the show started. "Hurry up, come on, come on!" Nudge produced a crimping iron out of nowhere and plugged it in, starting on my bangs even though the iron wasn't even hot yet. I could feel the heat building on my forehead and I gave them about two minutes of time with my head before I pushed them away. "I seriously have to go!"

"It looks great, Max!" Ella yelled down the stairs. I grabbed my legwarmers off the banister (what were they doing there anyway?) and exploded out the door. I could get there in thirteen minutes if I sped just a tiny bit. Luckily, somehow my car keys had gotten in my hand. I tossed my dance bag into the back of my tiny Volvo and slid behind the wheel, cursing at it when it stalled the first time I tried to start it. It was obviously scared of what I said I would do to it if it didn't boot up, and the engine turned over the second time I tried. I pulled out of the driveway as fast as I could without hitting the mailbox and turned onto the route that would take me to the street corner that Dylan had told us to meet at. We'd be there for a few hours, then we'd all go out for ice cream and tacos, our after-performance dance tradition, Kool-Aid toasts all around.

The city streets decided to be nice to me today, and there was virtually no traffic between my house and the street I was looking for. I parked in a gas station parking lot and pulled on my legwarmers. 2:53. I could make it.

I quite literally ran to the corner, where the rest of my troupe was waiting. Dyl grinned at me as I sprinted up, throwing my bag on the ground and raising my hand while gasping "I'm here..."

"So I see," he said, his blue eyes mocking. Dyl loves to tease me. I don't hold it against him, and we're pretty good friends. He's only two years older than I am. I could still remember the first time we met; I was twelve, wandering the streets in a sulk as my mom hadn't let me go out to meet my friends. So I snuck out anyway. I was searching for them when I passed a small, brick building that was practically shaking with the bass pumping out from it. I noted a small sign stuck on the door; literally rattling with the force of each beat. I tore it down and held it, leaning on one of the trembling walls.

Dylan's Street Dance it read. I scanned the details quickly. It seemed like this was a dance troupe that some fourteen year old kid had decided to start up. Seemed like a bratty rich kid who wanted to rebel to me. I was about to re-stick the flyer to the door when it opened in front of me, revealing two lanky blonde-haired, blue eyed boys. One looked me up and down, saw the paper in my hand, and gave an approving nod.

"Hey, the name's Dylan. Didja wanna join up?"

And that was that.

I ignored Dyl's faked tutting and went to pick up my bag again from the ground to we could go to the place we were performing at today. But my hand grasped at thin air. I saw a pair of Converse-clad feet in front of me and my gaze travelled upwards, taking in all six foot two of my best friend, Iggy Griffiths.

Iggy had been the other guy standing at the door five years ago. Once I'd been welcomed inside, he'd introduced himself as James, but you could call him Iggy. He'd been to one to partner me first, to help me gain my confidence as I kept returning, until we had become best friends. The big idiot.

I noticed he was holding my dance bag behind his back, grinning evilly. I narrowed my eyes. "Iggy, give me my bag." I took a small step towards him, but he just stepped away from me, knocking into another guy, Jack, who sent him an amused look before moving to the side. I kept my gaze level, looking right into Iggy's cloudy pale blue eyes. I watched as some of the laughter faded in them and changed to a tense excitement. He smirked as he realized that I was thinking how to get my bag back. I narrowed my eyes again, before suddenly jumping at him, reaching an arm around him to grab my bag.

He felt my motion and jerked his arm upwards, laughing and holding it above his head. "C'mon shorty, try and get your bag back." I heard the rest of the troupe laugh at this; my height was often the cause of jokes.

"Iggy, shut up about my height; I am not short. Now give me the damn bag, you idiot." He just smirked down at me (if only I was taller . . .) smugly.

"Nope. You're gonna have to come up here and get it, short stuff."

I glared at him and brought my knee up quickly, getting him right in between the legs. I heard all of the males around us groan as Iggy dropped the bag, bending over, moaning as if I'd shot him.

"Max! Do you not want me to have children?" His voice was slightly squeaky as he aimed his head upward from his much lower position.

"Um, no, not really. Why mess up the gene pool with your mistake of a personality?" I said brightly, causing several people around us to laugh and mutter "Slaaaay!" Iggy straightened up and shot me the finger as I gloatingly picked up the bag, being as dramatic as possible. The motion was really only for everyone watching, because Iggy, of course, couldn't see it. His blindness and all. Iggy had been blind since he was a little kid—some sort of birth defect or whatever. He lived with a foster family on the outskirts of town, but they were thinking about adopting him. It was good, the poor kid. I had watched him go through about six different families since I had met him—once he even moved out of town. That was the worst four months of my life, though I'd never admit it to him. He'd never let me forget it. He'd been living with the family he was currently with for almost a year now—a long time in foster kid standard. He was happy, and I was happy he was happy. And that he was still dancing.

"Okay, guys," said Dylan, clapping his hands all authoritative-like, causing most of the guys to snicker at his pretense. I made my way over to the two other girls in the troupe, Lesley and Anastasia. Ana had her hair in a billion teeny braids, and the effect of the thin blonde ropes against her tan skin was stunning. Lesley's brown-almost-black hair was stiff and down, falling in natural waves that complimented her dark-chocolate-colored skin. She talked with a faint accent I couldn't place. Something African. They were dressed identically to me.

I reluctantly turned my attention away from them and back to Dylan. "We're going to walk down to our place now—we got a prime spot downtown. There'll be other dancers there, I'm sure, but we're the best, right?"

"Don't we know it!" Ana, Lesley, and I chorused. It was sort of our thing.

"Cool," Dyl finished up his little pep talk and gestured for us to follow them. Iggy was still holding himself where I had kicked him, and I tugged his arm in the right direction. He didn't need too much help, being blind, but for God's sake, the last thing I wanted was my partner for our epic solo, Piece Seven, to stumble out into the busy downtown streets and turn into road pizza. Luckily, that didn't happen, and we made it to our appointed spot on the Row with no trouble.

The Row was the street where all of the district's finest came to perform: musicians, dancers, magicians, theater troupes, bands, whatever. If it made noise and people wanted to watch it, it was on the Row. A few people whooped when Dyl showed us where we were booked for the day: the one and only Corner. The Corner was the coveted spot for anyone who wanted to perform on the Row—it was where the most people walked, the most people loitered, and the most people would come and watch, because only the best acts could even hope to get booked on the Corner. It was an honor that they (whoever "they" was...whoever decides that stuff) had even let us be here.

We had to live up to it.

Dylan left us standing on the curb as the girl that seemed to be monitoring who was performing on this stretch of the Row came waved him over. I watched as he conversed with her, noticing how she giggled at something he said, ticking off something on her clipboard while looking up at him through her lashes. I rolled my eyes. Why must girls act like complete bimbos around any guy in order to catch their attention?

I noticed how her face fell when Dylan walked back out to us, smirking slightly. He'd obviously been thinking what I had; we were often on the same wavelength.

"Come on you guys, set it up. You know the drill." We started unloading the gear bags. He waved an arm to catch the attention of a few of our group hanging a little ways back, Jack and Shawn. They immediately stopped chatting and mimicked the rest of us. Dylan monitored the unloading, making sure none of use decided to, like, bomb his precious stereo equipment. Performing outside on the streets meant extension cords. Lots of them. Shawn went to find an outlet.

The speakers were not fantastic, and the cords were just a little bit frayed...okay, a lot frayed. Dyl always told us never to touch them when they were plugged in, for fear of getting electrocuted right off our Converse. I knew that we didn't have much money. Dylan had basically raised himself, contrary to what I had first thought, and this dance group was all he had. We all chipped in, and we were more like a family than a dance troupe. But none of us were particularly well off, and these types of places were the norm for us.

Sometimes I'd sit out during one of our lessons and watch Dylan go through the routine with the group. It never failed to surprise me; we were amazing. Sure, I know it sounds cocky, but we were. Each step was in time with the beat, the dancers were all in perfect sync, the chemistry literally glowed as we danced. We were destined for better things than this.

I swallowed my feelings and picked up a speaker, moving it into place on one of the boundaries of the Corner. It was one of the unspoken rules: don't hog space, or you're liable to get your stuff smashed. We couldn't afford that.

When we were all set up, and mostly in place for the routine we had decided to try first, Dylan walked past me and took his place in front of us all.

"Okay, guys, this is it. I want this to really be it. I think we could get spotted here. It's the best place we've been to so far . . . I don't know. Just don't mess up you guys. Jack, to the left a little. Ana, you're behind Max, not Rico. Yes, there. Move it. Good." He turned back to the front, shuffling into his place next to me. I heard other members of the group moving too; we had to be in the right place for this to work. Nathan took his place behind the mixing board, a boombox loaded with the CD of the sets we had decided to use.

I took a few deep breaths. I heard Iggy do the same on the other side of me. I was rapidly running through the dance in my head; making sure I could remember each move. I always felt pressured for this opening dance; I was right at the front, the first anyone that came by would see. I closed my eyes briefly, telling myself to keep calm, it was just another performance.

"One...two...three..." Dylan muttered, and we all knew what to do to get the attention on us.

"KICK IT UP!" we all yelled in unison.

Then Nathan pressed Play.

OMNOM LIINNEEE BRREEAAKKKK ::D

"Oh yeah, baby! We so aced that! High-fives!" Iggy whooped, jumping around as we walked through the small strip mall. He was practically skipping; still on the high of having completely aced out routine without a single mistake. Idiot. But I had to admit, Piece Seven had ended up the best we had ever done. Having a blind guy as a partner was actually a really huge benefit, because he had to rely on his senses to figure out where I was, making him more aware.

That didn't stop him from being obnoxious about it, however.

High-fives went around as we laughed and joked with each other. I didn't think we'd ever done as well during a performance as we did today. It felt like I was walking on air, like I was flying. I hung back slightly to walk with Iggy and Lesley, the three of us giggling as we linked arms. This was partly to make sure Iggy didn't get lost, but mostly because we were so damn happy we didn't give a care what we looked like.

Suddenly, our whole group, all twelve of us swerved in unison into Taco Bell. I went with Ana and Jack to find enough seats while the others went up to order. I yelled to Iggy to get me the biggest thing on the menu as I lay on about four consecutive seats, making sure no-one else stole them. Jack and Ana did the same, and we lay there giggling as passersby gave us looks of confusion as to why three teenagers were lying across the seats at Taco Bell. We were used to strange looks, and by this time they were basically our drug. One of our mantras was "Staring people is a good thing!"

When the guys and Lesley came back with armfuls of food, we immediately sat up, freeing up the seats for everyone else. I jerked my ginormous burrito out of Iggy's hands and unwrapped it before he even had a chance to sit down in his seat next to me, sinking my teeth into it with a most distinctly un-girl-like, animalistic groan. But hey, I was hungry. I was in almost every set, and dancing like we did for three hours straight did not make for a small appetite.

"Guys, guys, guys, stop!" Dylan laughed, zipping open his dance bag. We all immediately knew what he was doing and unzipped ours as well, pulling out our special glasses. One of Iggy's foster families had been extremely well-off, but also extremely misguided. For whatever reason, one Christmas they had gotten a set of twelve shot glasses, each with one of our names printed on it in swirly font. As a joke, we had started bringing them to performances and doing toasts with Kool-Aid afterwards. Somehow, it had become a tradition, and we all whooped as Dylan pulled out four bottles of water and grape Kool-Aid instant powder packets. He mixed the drink up and poured a little in each of our glasses.

"To the coolest people ever!" Iggy hooted, holding his up. He had crossed out the delicate script reading "James" on his and written "Iggy" in red Sharpie. We all mimicked him, managing to choke out "Kick it up!" through our laughter before we all knocked back the Kool-Aid shots at the same time. Rico started choking, and Juan thumped him on the back, which really only made him laugh harder, and that didn't help his airway problems. Our ritual complete, we stored our purple-stained shot glasses back in our bags (I wrapped mine carefully in my legwarmers, in case Iggy tried to steal my bag again, though I was fairly sure he wouldn't after what I had done the first time) and dug into our absurd amount of food on the tables pushed haphazardly together in front of us.

These guys were my family: Dylan, Iggy, Nathan, Rico, Juan, Jack, Lesley, Ana, Jeremy, Kenny, and Marvo. I loved them, and I guessed I always would. We had been together for five years now, and at seventeen, I was starting to seriously question what I wanted to do with my life. But now wasn't the time to think about it. I took a giant bite of burrito, only to nearly spit it all over Marvo as he told a hilarious story.

It was always like this. We would go to the same sleazy Taco Bell. Then when we finished up all of our "meat" and "bean" burritos and tacos and such, we would throw everything away, bid goodbye to the cashiers (who all knew us by name by this point), and head over next door to Nirvana Part Deux: Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. I fingered the ten dollar bill I had in my pocket, already tasting a two-scoop cone of cookie dough and raspberry sorbet.

"Hey, Max," the young pimply guy at the counter said as I placed my order. He had the hots for me, I could tell, and had ever since we started coming here. I played along, for the time being, almost bursting out laughing when his eyes widened after I tossed my hair just the tiniest bit turning around to pick up change that had fallen. I collected my ice cream and walked away from him, feeling wicked. I hung out with too many boys to date one—it just wasn't in the cards. And I didn't mind that, though Ella did, saying I'd ruin her reputation. Me? Ruin hers? As if.

Dyl was examining a flyer when I got back to the table, and he handed it to me with an evil glint in his eyes. "Here's something for you to lust after."

"Give me that." I snatched it from him and looked at the pale blue paper.

CALLING YOUNG TALENT!

The International Talent Agency is having its annual recruitment for the 2010 ITAC!

The International Talent Agency Competition is on a quest to find the unknown stars of tomorrow!

Agents will be recruiting in your hometown soon!

Competition location: London, England! 'Ello, mates!

Date: July 18

If you get approached, be there or be square!

"Why does Max look like a puppy that wants attention?" Rico asked as he sat down with his bowl of three scoops. He looked over my shoulder at the flyer. "Ah. I get it. Dyl, did you give this to her? You are an evil bastard."

"I know," Dylan said proudly. They both knew that it was my absolute dream to get recruited to go to the ITAC. They only took the best, and whoever got picked had to go to this insane competition in whatever location they picked that year. Five kids would win scholarships to the best art school in the world: Keterlein, located in New York City. The competition was in less than a month.

"Oh, shut up," I told them, whacking them with Rico's spoon, which I stole out of his ice cream, then gave it back with some of Dylan's blonde hair tangled in it.

"God, Max, gross," Rico said, laughing, tossing it in the trash can and going to get another one, as everyone else came pouring into the table. Dylan didn't say anything more about the ITAC, a fact which I was grateful for, because the rest of the guys would have teased me just as bad. They knew my obsession. They took full advantage of it.

At seven o'clock or so, we finally split up and walked back to our cars, which were scattered all around downtown. Incidentally, Iggy's foster mom was supposed to pick him up at the same gas station my Volvo was parked at, so we walked back through the Row together. A drummer now occupied the Corner, banging away on paint buckets. I dropped some change at his feet and we kept walking. I still had the ITAC flyer folded in my pocket.

"Iggy, Stephanie is..." I called his foster mother by her first name as we got to the gas station.

"About forty feet due east. I know, Max. I can hear the engine."

"Ah, okay." I always forgot Iggy's close-to-superpowers. I watched him walk to the car, trailing a hand over the hoods of cars to make sure he didn't run into anything, and didn't get into my own until I was sure he was in the car. I watch out for him, however much he annoys me.

The drive home was short and simple, and Ella had already gone to sleep over at Nudge's by the time I got back.

"How was it?" my mom asked, hugging me and handing me a chocolate-chip cookie. Though I was still full of ice-cream, I accepted it, because she made the best cookies ever. Ever. Ever. Valencia Martinez was the Cookie Queen. And she didn't even need a man to do it (my dad walked out when I was two, right after Ella was born).

When I was safely back in my room, ready to take a shower and listen to music until I went to bed, I took the flyer out of my pocket one more time. I looked at it longingly. I wanted this so badly it hurt.

Then in the next second I realized how stupid I sounded. I threw the flyer on my cluttered desk and pulled off my shirt, wanting to wash the sweat off myself, still feeling the happy glow from our success on the Corner.