Disclaimer: I do not own Maximum Ride.
"You're sure, Angel?" I ask her. It's a pretty big risk to take, but I'm just sick and tired of being this way.
"Yes," She replies easily. "Don't worry, Max."
But I do. Because I'm Max, and I'm sometimes the mommy and always the leader, and it's my job to worry. Nodding at her, I lie down on the grass and close my eyes. I try to make my mind as blank as I can. Pushing away thoughts of everything that had just happened, of everything that we had just accomplished, I picture a white wall.
I feel Angel's presence the minute she enters my mind. Inwardly, I flinch- having someone else dig around in your thoughts in no fun.
"Relax, Max. Make your mind empty," I hear Angel tell me faintly. Someone's hand slips into mine. It's too big and rough to be Angel's, and I realize that it's probably Fang. I squeeze it once and then try to not think about him, either. That would make my mind far from empty.
Angel's still poking and prodding around in my head. It's hard to describe- it's as if someone is tickling you, but you aren't ticklish. And the tickling is inside you. I gasp as she pulls out a memory of me and Nudge talking.
"Oops," Angel says, more to herself than anything. She lets go of that memory and continues rifling through my brain. And than she stops.
"What?" I ask, curious. I open my eyes, which take a second to adjust to the light. The meadow is brightly bathed in sunlight, what with it being mid morning and all. There is the faint melody of birds chirping in the background. I first see Angel's blond curls, and then Fang's dark eyes.
"There's literally a box in your mind," She tells me. "And it's locked. And I think I can bust it open, but it might hurt."
"There's a box in my head?" I ask her incredulously.
She giggles. "A mental block that you're subconsciously putting around your old memories, yes. "
"Go for it," I breathe, excited. It might actually be happening- I might actually get all my memories back.
She nods, and I close my eyes again. Suddenly, I realize exactly what Angel is talking about. I try to visualize the 'box,' but it evades me like a butterfly.
And then all at once, my head splits open. The pain is similar to how I had felt when the Voice first came to me in the sewers of New York. Shaking, I bit my lip to make sure I don't scream. My wing, which was still painfully throbbing, seems to explode. But just as quickly as it had come, the pain fades.
But my mind is not empty anymore.
"We will call you Little One," the leader said, obviously deciding to dispense with the whole confusing name thing.
"Okay," said Angel agreeably. "I'll call you Guy in a White Lab Coat." He frowned.
"That can be his Indian name," I suggested.
"I choose you," he said very softly, "Max."
Then his hard, rough hand tenderly cupped my chin, and suddenly his mouth was on mine, and every synapse in my brain shorted out.
We had kissed a couple of times before, but this was different. This time, I squelched my immediate, overwhelming desire to run away screaming. I closed my eyes and put my arms around him despite my fear. Then somehow we slid sideways so we were lying in the cool sand. I was holding him fiercely, and he was kissing me fiercely, and it was...just so, so intensely good. Once I got past my usual, gut-wrenching terror, there was a long, sweet slide into mindlessness, when all I felt was Fang, and all I heard was his breathing, and all I could think was "Oh, God, I want to do this all the time."
'It seems to be working, sir,' reported Lieutenant Youngville, poking her head into the map room. 'The technique-'
'The Gaz-Ig-Nart technique!' Iggy corrected.
'Yes, the Gaz-Ig-Nart technique seems to be neutralizing the enemy,' the lieutenant finished.
"I'm brilliant! I'm a genus! I could blow up the whole world!" Gazzy laughed.
I raised my eyebrows .
"Not that I want to of course" Gazzy said and gave a little cough.
And one thing becomes totally, absolutely clear to me. I have my memories back. And nothing is better off forgotten.
-Two Weeks Later—
"Let's go, Max!" Nudge shouts, gesturing wildly at me from her spot on the Ferris wheel. The empty, closed off to normal people carnival might look creepy, but the starry night and cool breeze make is pleasant for me. "Hurry up! This is fantastic!"
"Nudge," I tell her. "If I get on, too, who is going to turn the ride on?"
Nudge opens her mouth in an o. "Well turn it on, then!" She chirps, practically bouncing from excitement. Nobody else notices, but I see a dark figure slip off of the empty Ferris wheel, and when I turn it on only 4 flying mutant kids happen to be riding it.
I can't help but laugh at my Flock's enthusiasm. After all, I had plenty of things to be happy for. I mean, we had blown Itex up. There was a lab-sized crater in the middle of Death Valley. Let Jeb explain that to the authorities.
Nope, Jeb didn't die. I guess I had been debating about it the entire time. But after cursing and fighting scientists because they tried to take our lives and control them, did I have any right to decide who got to live and who got to die? Don't worry; I'm not going soft on you. In the havoc that followed the explosion, I killed my fair share of Flyboys and mutants. But I just couldn't kill Jeb myself. By tossing him right next to the place we blew up moments later, I was trying to give him a chance, trying to make it fair and square. Believe me, it was quite a display of equanimity.
It's more than he ever did for us. It's more than he deserves. But I think we established who the better person is a long time ago.
I hear Fang breathe behind me. I used to never notice him, and get annoyed when he startled me, but now I was on hyper alert. It was as if my body perked up whenever it realized he was around.
I guess that means that what Fang and I have is really love. Not the romantic, lets skip into the sunset type love, but the kind of love where you don't know how much time you have together. We weren't just foisting something fake. What we had wasn't just persiflage.
"Let's leave," Fang suggest, breaking the silence.
I am confused. "What? Where?"
He smiles, as if mocking me. "Not anything drastic- I mean let's go off for a little, just you and I."
"Oh," I say, comprehension dawning on me. "Okay." I stop the Ferris wheel and yell at my Flock to go do whatever they want and meet back here in 30 minutes. Gazzy and Iggy head in the direction of some restaurant advertising excellent meatballs and peaches. Nudge and Angel joyfully skip over to the house of mirrors. I can't help but notice that the windows are mullioned, like they might be in a church or other fancy place.
"So," Fang breathes his breath on my neck. "What were you saying?"
I turn around to face him without moving away an inch. "I do believe," I whisper back. "You were the one suggesting something?
"Me?" Fang asks, sporting a faux-innocent look with wide eyes and an open mouth.
"Cute," I tell him, although I'm not completely being sarcastic- he actually looks pretty attractive, even with that face.
And then all of sudden, his lips are on mine and everything else flies out the window. At first, his just barely brushes my lips, but then he presses harder until my lips open at the pressure. They gently tug at mine and I almost just melt into a puddle of girly drool. I respond back fiercely, moving my lips and sliding my hands up around his neck. One of my hands somehow makes it to his hair, knotting into it. He makes a noise deep in his throat and then turns his head to kiss down my neck.
His arms around my waist press firmly against my back, pulling me closer. I lean in but stay firm, not wanting to put all my weight on him. His fingers skim down my sides, making me shiver. I pull away and press my lips to his once more, savoring the way they feel against my own.
A loud BOOM makes me jump away from Fang. I look around wildly while trying to stop my blush and pat down my mussed hair at the same time. Fang shoots me a smirk at my wildness and I scowl in response.
I locate the sound of the explosion within seconds. A small trickle of smoke escapes a place a ways off to my right. I break into a sprint, yelling as I go.
"Fang, here." Fang replies with sarcasm in his voice but I ignore it. He's most probably just jealous that something else has claimed my attention. Replaying what we just did, I begin to blush all over again. What if someone had seen us? Iggy wouldn't have let me live it down, ever!
"Nudge, Angel, together and fine!" Nudge's voice shouts from behind me. Iggy and Gazzy. Of course. Their lack of reply makes me begin to actually worry. We had just blown up the largest evil corporation in the world- we were bound to have enemies. I should have made sure to be more careful!
I hear a scream that makes me strip my shirt off and jump into flight. Scanning the carnival with my hawk-like vision, I immediately spot the source of the smoke and hurry there. I'm so much faster flying that I make it there in under a minute and even have time to throw my shirt back on before anybody can see me in just my bra.
"Iggy! Gazzy!" I shout, trying to find the problem. There is an abundance of thick heavy smoke and the persisting smell of rubbish. Oh god oh god oh god. I see a scrap of red fabric, similar to the shirt Gazzy had been wearing moments before. But there's no sign of Flyboys or Erasers or white coats- in fact, there's nothing threatening about this place at all- it's a museum tent, displaying the first printing press and daguerreotype.
"Max!" I hear a voice shout. It's Iggy. I wave my hand in front of my face, trying to clear my vision.
"Iggy! Where are you? What's going on?"
A hazy figure stumbles into my line of sight. I rush to him at once.
"Iggy?" I ask again, checking him for signs of a fight or injury.
He swats at my probing hands. "Max, stop. We need to get out. The lions found us."
"What?" I gape at him. "The lions as in the experiment ones that saved us two weeks ago?"
I push the information out of my mind to ask a more important question. "Where's Gazzy?"
"Here!" Pipes up a small voice. I turn to see a soot covered Gazzy trip into the small clearing.
"I'm fine," He tells me, sensing that I am about to ask and then check. I nod, but I look him over to double check anyway.
"Okay, so the lions are here?" I ask, back on track.
"Yeah. Gazzy panicked and set of the bomb we were working on," Iggy explains. Gazzy blushes, creating a red and gray masterpiece on his face. "But I guess the lions are based off of the Greek mythology lion, because they're still alive. They survived that explosion without injury. And my guess is that they aren't brainwashed anymore. Unless you've found us a wizard that can whisk them away, we need to leave."
"No," Nudge chimes in before I can make a decision. "They saved our lives."
Angel agrees. "I can convince them to not eat us again. How many are there?"
"Just three," Gazzy answers, which sort of changes things. I exhale in relief. Facing 3 angry man-eating lions and facing fifty of them is quite the difference.
"We stay," Fang says, with a sort of finality to it. Had this happened before, I would be pissed that they're calling the shots. But these last few weeks have proved time and time again that each member of my Flock is not only invaluable, but also incredibly, intuitively, inherently good and smart.
So instead of getting angry, I agree. "Yes, we're staying. Angel, just convince them to not eat us. I'm going to talk to them."
"You're going to talk to the man-eating lions?" Gazzy asks incredulously. When I shoot him an exasperated look, he shrugs. "I just don't want you to get eaten."
I'm oddly touched. "Tell you what. If it appears that they're going to eat us, we'll do an up and away."
He nods, reassured. Right on cue, I hear a lion roar. I kick off with my feet and hover in the air for a brief moment, just above the smoke. It still hadn't cleared completely, although it had definitely become less dense. From the air, I can easily make out the three golden figures. I fly to them and land, Angel right on my heels.
"Hi," I say. I turn to Angel. "Can they understand me?"
"More or less," She answers.
"Hi," I say again. "How are you?"
Angel thought-translates for me. "They said they've been groovy."
I'm taken slightly aback. "Really?"
"Well, one said ravishing," She amends. I nod thoughtfully and then realize that I'm being incredibly rude to these groovy, ravishing lions.
"Good, I'm glad. I can't thank you enough for all your help that day. Without you, we all would have died."
"They say that they're happy they could help, but they don't know what to do now." Angel explains.
I think for a moment. Fang takes over for me.
"Where did the rest of you go?" He asks.
"They all scattered, apparently, but everybody survived."
"I'm not going to tell you what to do," Fang says. "All your lives, people have been doing that to you. Go, live in the forest, the mountains, whatever you want. Live naturally. Just remember that you are heroes. And act accordingly."
The lion in the middle, the one that seems to be leader, growls at Fang. It sounds more like a sound of approval than anger, though, and Angel translates as much.
Abruptly, the lions sprint away from us and back into the cover of the smoke, which is barely there anymore.
"Well," Nudge says. "That went well."
And it had. In a way, I was glad we got to see the lions once more. If there was one thing I hated, it ws owing people, and while there was no way I could ever pay the lions back for saving my life, I could live knowing the fact that just might have helped them gain their freedom. Seeing the lions, though, brings a lot of things to mind.
"You know what, guys?" I say, looking into the eyes of each of my family. "We still have a lot to do."
I throw the café door open and am immediately swept into hugs.
"Max!" Mattie yells, squeezing me so tightly I can barely breathe. I step back and then hug her all over again.
"Mattie, I've missed you so much!" And I really had. Looking at her again now made me remember the girl who was my roommate for several weeks, but had somehow since then become a true friend. I turn and sweep Julia, Noah, Nate and Sam into hugs as well. For some odd reason, Dylan hadn't bothered to show up.
"What stopped you from calling, then?" Julia asks, punching my shoulder. Nate laughs, not taking his arm off of me.
"You know that strict no out of state phone calls rule the school has," I tease her. "I didn't want to offend Noah the principal's son here."
Noah groans. "Not even two minutes and you're already being so mean to me."
"Mean?" I scoff. "That was nothing. Looks like someone has been babying you." I smirk at Julia, who blushes a deep red. Mattie and Nate had started dating several months ago, but I still had some matchmaking to do.
My friends don't ask me to explain anything. I think Fang, who had arranged this all for me, had already told them I couldn't answer they're questions. Instead, we spent an afternoon bantering and laughing and catching up.
A few hours later, when I see Fang step in through the door, I'm not even sad. Sure, I'll miss these people, but meeting up with them one last time has wrapped up the bow strings. Even if I never see them again, we've ended on a good note.
My next stop is harder. Going back to New Jersey is hard, especially with all my memories intact. I had never actually played soccer here, although as I walk past the fields, they seem intimately familiar. Still, the idea of seeing yet another friend propels me with excitement.
I knock on Drew's door practically giddy with glee. A few moments pass where I hear no sound from inside the house that signifies someone coming to open the door. But Drew's always been lackadaisical like that. When the door opens, though, I'm in for a shock.
"Max?" Jake Rickson asks me, his mouth literally falling open. He's gotten a haircut since the last time I saw him, and even thought I know I have to thank him for telling Fang and Iggy where I went, my first reaction when I see him is to take a step back.
"Jake," I reply. "Hi." Drew pops out from behind him and tackles me. As soon as we disentangle from each other, she tells me what is up through hushed whispers.
"Jake and I are friends now," She mumbles into my ear.
"You're not…dating, are you?" I ask, stunned.
"No," Drew laughs. "But he's changed some. We're friends."
I nod, taking the information in. "Okay,' I say finally. "I've changed some too."
Drew smiles, a sight so achingly familiar I want to just cry. "Yeah," she responds. "And we're still friends too."
You can't blame me for tearing up at that.
Walking into my old home is a new experience all together. The constant smell of brownies, the memorable frames hanging down the walls, the sight of an empty space where I used to put my shoes by the door, right in between Anne's and Brooke's. Anne runs up to me, sweeping me into a huge embrace.
"You figured it out," She mutters, her voice muffled by my hair.
"Yeah," I reply, trying to hold back the emotions as I clutch my not-really-mother to me. "Thank you for giving us that clue."
Anne pulls away, her eyes full to the brim with tears.
"No, Max," She says softly, taking my hand. "Thank you for letting me be a part of your life."
That's enough to set me off again.
"You saw everyone you wanted to?" Fang asks, leaning back on the leather loveseat. I step into our rented apartment slowly.
"Yeah," I reply. "I think that's everyone. How about you?"
"I went to go talk to my foster mom," He tells me. "It didn't last very long. It was awkward."
I nod, suddenly thankful all over again for Mattie and Drew and Anne. I may not have had the easiest of lives, but I can't say that I've ever lacked in people who care about me.
"Where is everyone else?" I ask Fang. Considering that I had been all over America the past few days, visiting and saying goodbye to everybody, I had left Fang in charge. As the ever dutiful second in command, he was now keeping tabs on the rest of the Flock.
"Nudge and Iggy went out to buy dinner," He tells me. "Gazzy and Angel should be back from Oregon any time now, they left there last night."
"It's been almost a day," I frown, noting the sun that was hanging low in the sky "Oregon to Arizona doesn't take that long."
Fang shrugs. "I think it's about time we took it easy."
I smile at my best friend, my soul mate, my right hand man. "Of course," I tell him.
Fang asks me the question I've been trying not to think about. "What about Dr. M? Are you going to visit your real mom, Max?"
I sigh. "I don't know," I answer truthfully. "I don't know what to think of her. Obviously all my memories of her are great ones, but she couldn't have picked up the phone and called once? Or tipped any of us off? It's been 2 and half years, Fang. That's a long time to forget."
Fang nods at me understandingly. "Just give her a chance. We're in town anyway." He scoots over on the sofa and pats the space, gesturing for me to sit. I sit down and curl up into him.
"You're probably right," I say.
"I generally am," He teases, putting his arm around me.
"So, "Fang begins. "It occurs to me that I haven't ever officially asked you this."
"What?" I ask, sitting us so quickly that my neck cricks.
"Max, will you be my girlfriend?" He asks.
I smile. "What if I told you I already have a boyfriend? A tall, dark, winged handsome one?"
"What if I told you I had a pet goldfish when I was 15?" He replies.
I recoil. "What?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," Fang says, taking my hand and pulling me closer. "I thought we were talking about things that didn't matter."
When he brushes his lips against my hair, I feel like things are finally on track. I can only hope they stay that way.
"Yes," I whisper to him a little while later in answer to his question. "Always yes."
"Here's your lemonade, guys!" Gazzy sticks his tongue out as he balances six glasses of lemonade in his hands. I rush up to take them off his hands before he can drop them. Handing one to Nudge and Angel, I sit back down and take a sip of the refreshingly cold juice.
"That is not a word, Nudge," Iggy protests. I look at the scrabble board where, as always, Nudge is beating everybody. What can I say? That girl is a hardcore dictionary reader.
"Sure is, Iggy," I answer. I don't know the word either- costermonger?- but Nudge is on my team, so I'm more inclined to believe her.
"It normally means a fruit stall," Angel explains matter-o-factly.
Iggy throws his hands up in surrender. "Fine. Fine, it's a word."
"Just give in, boys," Nudge tells them. "We're going to win."
"Not if I can help it," Fang challenged, throwing down more scrabble tiles. I struggle to read them upside down- it's not one of my strong suits.
"Crossfade?" I ask him. "That's not a word.'
"Sure it is," He replies easily, smirking at me. I tally up the points in my head – if crossfade counted as a word, the boys would be tied with us- the c was on a triple word score.
"No, that's two words sandwiched together," Nudge complains.
"I could use a sandwich," I mutter, more to myself than anything.
"Yeah, they're called compound words," Iggy defends, ignoring me completely. I get up to go make everybody some lunch- one thing had definitely changed about me- now I could make sandwiches and pizza rolls with burning something or making a huge mess.
As I pull out the cheese from the refrigerator, I stop and watch my family for a second. Still bickering over Fang's choice of Scrabble word, they seemed like a normal enough group. If a stranger were to walk in, they would see a group of regular kids playing Scrabble, eating lunch, and enjoying the holiday.
I lazily slap bread and cheese together and stick it all in the toaster- Iggy taught me how to make grilled cheese just yesterday. Since the timer says 2 and half minutes, I go back to the living room and sit down.
They've moved on, my Flock. Now we're arguing about a different word. I don't even know what word, but I chime in anyway.
"Nudge is right. Angel is right. We're always right. Surrender!" I order.
Gazzy sticks his tongue out at me, letting his inner 6 year old shine through. You know you've bested someone in an argument when they stick their tongue out at you.
"Wasn't it you who taught us to never give up, Max?" Iggy asks cheekily.
I frown at him. "Sometimes you've got to know when to cut your losses."
Fang winks at me, which throws me off guard, so I slap his leg. He punches me back and then we return to using words like normal people.
Except we aren't normal people- we're freaks. I'm okay with that, though. After all, we are the one and only merry band of flying mutants.
A/N- And there you have it. 9 months later, we are at the end. Whether you started reading from the beginning or reading just now, I am so incredibly grateful for all of your support. In January, when I started this story, I was awed and thrilled at receiving 10 reviews- now I have over 700 reviews, and almost 200 people of Story Alerts. The though that 200 people might be reading this right now just blows my mind.
So thank you, dear reader, for every thing you do!
As always, here's to avian-american-supporter. Whether I'm happy, angry, tired or bored, she has always shined through for me.
This story will not have a sequel. I loved writing it, but I am done here. I do have an idea for another Maximum Ride story, this one all human, but I won't be writing or posting it until school and sports calm down a little. Add me to author alerts if you're interested in that.
And I think that's all I have to say. I can't say this enough, so THANK YOU. Without you, and yes, I mean each individual you, this story would not have been possible. So one last time, please drop a review?