A/N: So, I tried to update this yesterday as a little Christmas gift, but FF wasn't letting me login. I'm guessing that was a mutual problem…or maybe the Internet just hates me. Either way, the amount of requests to continue this outweigh my other priorities.

Thanks for reading!

MAX

Thump.

"Max."

Thump.

"Just look at me."

Thump.

"Why can't you talk to me?"

Thumpthumpthumpthump-

"Giving yourself a concussion is not going to get them to unlock to door."

I let my head roll forward, off the bathroom door, and glared at him. "I hate you," I mumbled.

"When did it become so hard to talk to each other?"

"When you-" I cut myself off, pushing my ear to the door. Fang started to speak and I hushed him.

"Maybe we should-" The Gasman got cut off by something - or someone.

"Shhh! They're talking! Do you want to hear or not?" Nudge.

I pounded my fist on the door. "If you aren't going to open the door, go the hell away!" I screeched. I heard laughter and a bit of scrambling. I turned back to the shirtless-devil's spawn and frowned, deciding to whisper-yell just in case.

"I don't feel comfortable around you," I ground out. That was about as much as I could handle in the feelings department, but I doubted Fang was going to let me off the hook with uncomfortable. Damn him.

"Why not?"

I made a face at him, like, freakin' duh? "Because you purposely try to…to…do whatever it is you're doing right now! You talk all low and gravelly to me-"

"That's my voice, Max."

"- and you walk around half naked, flaunting your body at me-"

"Flaunting…?"

"- and you kiss me, without any warning, you just plant one right on me and my brain turns to mush and I can't even remember my name!"

"Sounds pretty great, if you ask me. Who's this guy again?"

I wanted to rip my hair out. "And you do that! You act like the cockiest bastard I've ever met, and I don't even know who you are anymore."

I ended quietly, not wanting to look at him. I stared at the counter in front of me, opening and closing the cabinet under the sink with my foot.

Fang was quiet, too. He watched my foot, just like I was, for the longest time. Then, he cleared him throat.

"Well…things change."

I felt hot pricks in my eyes and blinked. I didn't want anything to change. Our lives changed enough as it was, the last thing I wanted to change was my best friend.

"We don't have to change."

Fang rolled his eyes. "I don't think you have a say in the matter."

"What's that supposed to mean?" He'd said it with an insinuating tone, almost as if he were teasing me. Fang raised an eyebrow at me.

"Have you even looked at yourself lately? Or me? We aren't six anymore, Max."

"Oh, please." I waved my hand at him. "Do not try and tell me that this is all because of teenage hormones-"

"It's not," Fang said, his eyes softening. "Glad you see that. You're not totally hopeless."

I gritted my teeth. I stood and straightened my shirt, glancing at myself in the mirror.

"So what if we're not six anymore," I said finally, my voice wavering. "We can still be just as good friends at fourteen as we can when we were six."

Fang shook his head. "You're wrong."

I turned, ready to argue, but Fang stood up, holding his hands out between us like, Look. Look at this train wreck. How ya gonna fix it this time?

"Why did we stop sleeping in the same bed? Why is it impossible for us to talk about anything these days? How come you don't steal my clothes anymore?"

I rubbed my forehead. I used to steal Fang's clothes when we were younger, claiming they were comfier or something. Jeb eventually told me that I needed to stop; those were Fang's clothes. I was supposed to wear my own clothes. Girl clothes. Boy clothes.

"You never hid anything from me. Ever. Hell, we took baths together, Max, and no one was uncomfortable."

"You do see why that's not a possibility anymore, right?" I said warily, stepping back away from the shower uneasily. Having to explain boundaries and private places to Fang was so not on my to-do list. Mainly because, if you haven't noticed, boys have a way of figuring sexual stuff out before girls (ahem, the internet), and when we were twelve, Fang and Iggy were the ones who informed me. I mean, Jeb gave us the whole birds and bees talk, which was the clinical, doctor version. Iggy and Fang's version was…unabridged.

"I'm trying to make a point, not coerce you into the goddamn shower," Fang said with irritation.

"Gee, you could've fooled me," I said. "If it bothers you that I can change in front of you anymore, or that I try to have privacy in my life, then fine! I could strip down right here in front of you and not bat a freaking eyelash. Is that what you want?" To make my point, I yanked my t-shirt up over my head. I was wearing a tank top, and underneath that a sport bra, so I wasn't really anymore revealed the usual. Fang raised an eyebrow at me, as if to say, Go ahead. That asshole. I reached for my tank top, wondering for a moment just how far this argument would take us. My stomach fluttered at the idea.

"Max, cut it out. You know that's not what I'm saying. I'm not saying I want a show every time you change your clothes. I'm not even saying that it bothers me we can't do that. I'm just trying to get you to see that we aren't as close as we used to be. No matter what the reason."

I sighed. "Because that's not what friends do, Fang. That's what boyfriends and girlfriends do."

Fang dropped his arms. "Yeah. I know."

My chest tightened, my eyes still watery. One of us was going to leave here hurt, and as much as I didn't want it to be me, I really didn't want it to be him. We couldn't keep…torturing each other like this. But…

"Fang, we can't-"

"Max-"

"No," I said. "Stop interrupting me. You want me to talk? You want me to tell you what's going on and confide in you? Then shut the fuck up. Please."

He stared at me for a second, then relented, sitting back on the toilet seat once more.

"We can't. And I know you say screw it, it doesn't matter, we can do whatever the hell we want, but we can't. There's more in this equation than you and me. We aren't normal teenagers with normal responsibilities. The flock is our top priority. Safety. Family. Not relieving sexual tension that may turn out to be nothing more than some stupid chemical in our genetically fucked up brains. And it's not safe - it's never been safe - for us. That's my fault. They're after me, want me to do whatever it is they tell me to, and anyone I'm close to is automatically in danger. And I know you're going to say that you're already close to me, and you're already in danger, but it can always get worse. And if Jeb or the other whitecoats find out that you and I are an item, they'd use you against me. They'd think up horrible ways to sabotage us. Don't say they wouldn't, either, because they are not above that shit. And no matter what I want, or what you want, there are always going to be things more important. I'm never going to put myself in front of the others."

I slumped back against the wall, sighing. Fang stood up and moved closer to me, so I was between him and the wall. My stomach was tumbling, as if my emotional word vomit was about to become real-life vomit all over Fang's non-clothed chest.

"Max, how would you feel if they hurt me to get to you?"

He tried to grab my hands but I gripped his wrists instead, closing my eyes. "Don't make me think about that," I breathed.

"How would you feel?"

"Fang…I couldn't…I don't…"

"Whether I'm your best friend or I'm your something else," Fang said slowly, "it'd kill you to see that. I know. Because if the roles were switched, it'd kill me, too. Hell, they tried it when we were four and it nearly did kill me. And I know I'd throw myself under a goddamn bus for you in a second, no matter what."

My breath caught. How did he and I end up here? I had to wonder. Thinking back, I could vaguely recall our fall-out at the CSM meeting, and the unpleasant days that followed. But no. I couldn't just curse myself for arguing over the CSM air shows. This discussion had been a long time coming - even I knew that. I'd just been pushing it off forever, praying to avoid it until…until I don't even know when. Maybe never?

"Fang, you know that…you're really important to me."

Fang looked into my eyes, his shoulders relaxing slightly. He didn't retort because I was right. He did know that.

"But if for some reason this didn't work," I said, motioning between us, "then I wouldn't be able to stand losing you. Or tearing the flock apart. Or losing any part of our friendship."

"And what if it works?"

"That's a huge what if," I whimpered, forcing myself to look at him. "I can't take that risk, Fang."

Fang heard the finality in my voice.

"I can't take that risk. Not yet."

"Not yet."

"We have to stop Itex. We have to take care of the others. I just don't see that getting done if we put our wants over everyone else's. We can't have both. We can't make everyone happy."

"You can have both, Max."

I wanted to cry. Maybe I would, once I was out of Fang's sight and out of the flock's earshot. Maybe a nice, long, blubbering cry would do me so good. But right then, I choked down my tears and shook my head.

Fang didn't look very put off by my verdict.

"I'm right. I always am," he said, most likely trying to lighten the mood. He was still standing right in front of me, practically chest to chest, but I could tell he was trying to ease the tension. "And you'll come around. You always do."

I bit back a remark. "You are so infuriating. Can we not even have one serious talk?"

Fang dropped his head back and laughed, laughed at me. My breath froze in my throat, watching his face transform like that.

"Now you sound like me," he said. "Well, minus the low, gravelly, sexy part."

"I did not say you were-"

He pushed his finger to my lips, silencing me. Stupid brain. What good are you, anyways? Everytime Fang touches me you freaking shortage out or something. Asshat.

"So," Fang said, stepping back and sitting on the toilet seat once more. "You gonna finish the show, or are we done?"

I felt heat rush up my cheeks as his eyes moved over me. So much for our freaking heart-to-heart. And I'd been stupid enough to think things were going to go back to normal. I guess Fang was right. Things do change. But they never seem to change in my favor. Guess I'm just a lucky girl.

I pounded my fist on the door. "Are you fucking happy now? Let me the hell out!"

I heard Angel say, "Go ahead. They definitely worked…something out."

The door unlocked and I stormed out of the room and into the living room. I saw everyone but the Gasman, who'd freed me from the bathroom, sitting around the room, still watching Bones.

"You guys think you're so clever-"

"Where's your shirt?" Nudge asked, distracting me.

"Found it," Fang said, coming out of the bathroom behind me. My t-shirt whipped around and hit me in the face. I definitely didn't miss the way his hand grazed my lower back. A little too low, if you ask me. I also didn't miss the muffled laughter.

I lowered my shirt from my face.

"You're all grounded."

A/N: Please review.

If you like what you read, you can go check out my brand new story The Plan. Next update will hopefully be this weekend!

[Summary of The Plan: Jeb shook his head. "The game is not over, Max. But I can tell you this: you and the flock have reached a checkpoint, and from here on out, the entire game changes." FAX. Post-Fang.]