Here's another! Can anyone pick up on the hidden meaning behind the chapter name? I actually put some though into this one.

Enjoy!

Chapter Three: Narrowly Escaped, Yet Still Trapped

-._.-._.-._.-._.-

Max

If I heard 'Max, I'm hungry' one more time, I was going to go crazy. Seriously, it was like they timed it perfectly so one of them reminded me at least once every ten minutes! So, that's how we would up at a small burger joint in a random town on the way to Death Valley. (Am I the only one that sea the irony?)

When I was rummaging through the bag Dr. M gave me back in the cave at Lake Mead, I found her phone number, just like she promised—at a small wad of cash! I might have to call her just to thank her. It was enough to get us the food we need for all 5 of us.

I watched as everyone ate to their heart's content. Fang was on my left, finishing her second burger. Iggy, Nudge, and Gazzy were across from us, in that order. Iggy slurped his drink until it was almost gone. Nudge was just finishing her large fry. The Gasman tried to steal some of Iggy's fries, but it didn't work out for him.

'At least they aren't complaining anymore,' I thought, smiling lightly.

When the door to the burger joint opened, I didn't think anything of it. Just another customer coming to enjoy some food. I popped another fry in my mouth and just so happened to glance to my right.

I nearly choked on my fry. A shiver ran down my back.

'Erasers! They found us already! I saw an exit door behind me when we sat down…'

They weren't in their scary, furry form. But the two of them were dressed in nice suits. Ari was one of them.

"Fang…" I whispered.

She nodded. She must have noticed them, too.

With the toe of my boot, I tapped each of their shins across the table.

"Don't look up," I warned. "In three seconds, jump over Fang and out that exit door. Then a U and A."

I was so proud of them. They didn't respond to anything I said (although, any other time that would have annoyed the crap out of me). After three seconds, they each jumped on the table, over me and Fang, and made a break for the door.

As soon as they were clear, Fang and I sprang up two. Just then, three more Erasers stormed in.

'Damn! There's no end to these guys!'

The other Eraser what came in with Ari tried to grab the back of Nudge's shirt.

"Oh, no you don't!" I slammed him into the wall, though it wasn't too effective because he recovered and grabbed Fang's arm and twisted it behind her back.

"Damn it! They're out here, too!"

Gazzy's voice could be heard from right outside the door, and just after Nudge made it out, I heard her scream.

'Oh, no.'

I ran to the door and saw an Eraser grab Nudge by her ankle as she tried to jump in the air.

Nudge yelled to me. "Max! Behind you!"

Suddenly, I felt what I could guess was a below slam into the back of my head.

I went down on one knee, seeing stars. I noticed two Erasers had Fang pinned against the wall. She did not looked pleased about it either.

When I looked up at Fang to see if she was okay, Ari brought his fist down on the side of my face. Blood pooled in my mouth. Then he grabbed the back of my head and gave a hard, swift punch to my gut. Blood flew from my mouth and splattered on the floor. I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes.

I heard Fang still struggling to get free, though I don't think she was making progress.

Ari knelt down next to me, taking a hand full of my hair in his hand and lifted my head up. His smirking face was enough to make me sick to my stomach.

"It's almost like you don't want to go back to school," he said, chuckling. "But you don't get a choice."

He stood up and two more Erasers grabbed me and yanked me up. Ari had his hands on his hips like he had just accomplished something great.

"We're going home!" he announced. "Just like old times!"

-._.-._.-._.-._.-._.-

Needless to say, the place where we 'grew up' was not a pretty place. And the fact that it was located in the middle of a place called Death Valley just makes in ironic. When I woke up locked in a crate, I didn't have any doubts about where we were.

The School.

"Max, are you awake?"

I lifted my head—which was pounding from the beating I took from Ari. My vision finally focused and I saw—

"A-Angel…"

"At least they gave you a big crate," she said, smiling lightly. "I got a medium one."

I reached my hand through the bars of my cage and grabbed her small one.

"Angel… I've missed you."

I looked at the state it she was in… It wasn't good. They got to her.

'I'm too late… I'm so sorry, Angel.' I squeezed her hand.

"Me too, Max," she said.

I felt my anger flare, my hated for this place and these people suddenly made me feel like I could take on the world. How could they do this to us? How could they do this to Angel—to any of the other young, innocent kids that were trapped here?

Angel squeezed my hand. "It's not your fault. Don't worry about it so much."

My anger died down, hearing her sweet voice. She was trying to calm me down, trying to sooth my hate and fears.

"Angel."

"Max. There's something I have to tell you."

I smiled. Anything to hear her voice, and to keep hearing it. "Sure… Tell me anything."

Suddenly, the door to the room opened, flooding a bright light into the dark room. Blinded for a moment, I squinted, trying to see who was coming in. When my eye did finally adjust, I wish I hadn't seen what I saw…

Jeb Batchelder.

He's alive.

And he's back working for The School.

He walked up to my crate, knelt down in front of me, and said, "Hello, Maximus. How are you feeling?"

"Tsk." I glared at him, and start to slowly sit up in my crate. I had so much to say—so much to ask. But I couldn't get over the fact that the man—the father—I'd grown to worship was standing in front of me after being 'dead' for two years.

I realized just how long I must have been sleeping; my aches and pains were still there. But for the most part I felt good. And it was feel really good to punch someone in the face right now…

Once I was fully up, sitting ton my legs and leaning forward to grasp the bars, and glared at him. I poured all of the hate and anger I could into my stare, If looks could kill…

"Do you want to know what I think?" I asked, though I didn't wait for him to respond. "I think you were better off dead."

He just stared at me, though I could see his fake smile faulted slightly.

I had to be hallucinating.

This man had kidnapped the six of us four years ago; stole us away from this freak show. He hid us in mountains and fed us and clothed us. Like a parent. He taught us how to read, how to ti fight, how to survive.

"I'm so proud of you, Max."

But then he disappeared two years ago . We'd always known he'd been killed, and the horrible, aching, wailing pain of missing just didn't stop. It was like losing a parent.

"So healthy, so powerful, such a good leader… It makes me so proud."

Dead of alive, he'd been my parent; a part of our family. In truth, I've missing him so much. His guidance and kind words. Tucking me in at night after every one else was already asleep. Ruffling my hair when I did something that made him proud.

"You must have so many questions… I don't even know where to start."

But now, my eyes were telling that he was one of them. That maybe he'd one of them all along.

"Trust me," he said, touching my hand wrapped tightly around the bars of my cage—the cage he put me in. I withdrew my hand like he'd electrocuted me. "That's all I ask. Trust me, and listen to your gut."

Was he serious?! Trust him? After the heartache and pain he's put us through?

"I do have one question for you," I said, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath, reining in my anger. When I looked at him again, I made sure I was looking him right in the eye, showing just how badly he hurt me—hurt us. How badly he defrayed us.

"Did you ever care about us, or love us for any reason other than being your 'greatest creation'?"

The question hung in the air. I felt everyone's eyes on me, but I didn't care. I didn't to see Jeb's reaction—to know if he felt about us the way we felt about him.

After a long pause, He smiled again and said, "Of course I love you, Max. You are going to be the greatest thing this world has ever seen."

I sighed and sat back from my bars. "Well, I guess I got the answer I was looking for."

Jeb stood and turned to leave. "You'll see in time, Maximus. You were created for one reason. You were kept alive for a reason—a very special reason. And that reason…"

I looked back at me, and in complete seriousness, said:

"You're meant to save the world."

Then the door closed, plunging us into darkness.

…Excuse me?! What the hell is that supposed to mean? Save the world?

My mind was reeling, going through everything that's happened in the last few days; why The School wanted us back all of a sudden, Ari being an Eraser, Dr. Martinez and Ella, Jeb's betrayal, and…saving the world.

I put my head in my hand, massaging my forehead.

"You okay?" Angel asked.

I nodded. Though I don't think she believed it. She was probably trying to read my mind, but I had thrown my bind blocks up during the 'conversation' with Jeb.

"Everyone hang in there, though."

I glanced at Fang, asking a silent question if she was good. She nodded once.

"How are your wounds? You were out for a long time…"

I flashed her a small smile. "I'm really okay, Nudge." I doubt she believed me either.

Even though it was almost pitch black, once my eyes adjusted I looked around the room we were in. There were multiple cages, but I was pretty sure we were the only ones here. I noticed a camera in every corner of the room—the red light flashed every once in a while to warn that it was recording.

"Where are Gazzy and Iggy?" Angel asked, clearly worried about her brother and our blind companion.

I shrugged, nonchalantly. "I don't know."

Angel pulled her knees to her chest, tears brimming her eyes.

I opened my mind to her, pulling down the blocks.

'They're alive—they got away,' I told her. 'We're being watched, so just read my mind for now, okay?'

She gave no notion that she heard me.

What did they put her through? What twisted experiments did the force on her? Did they hurt her badly; probe her brain to see how her telepathy worked? I couldn't bare thinking that they tortured her like they did us—the ones who were deemed old enough to go through the torture.

'No, nothing like that,' she finally answered.

'Angel?'

'They made me run through a maze without breaks. I did it six times a day for an hour. It wasn't that mad…'

I clenched my first. I took a deep breath.

'I'm sorry, Angel.'

'It's okay, Max. I'm okay.'

We sat in silence for a few minutes, and then the door creaked open again. The squeaking noise of a cart could be heard as the door opened.

"Just leave it anywhere," a voice said, one I didn't recognize.

An Eraser, formed into it's ugly form, wheeled a cart with a cage on to the middle of the room for us to see. The cage was left in the room and the Eraser and White Coat left again.

I almost gasped. Whatever was in the cage…was barely breathing. I was covered in slimy, green skin. It had a few extra limbs protruding from various places of its looked like it what the start of what could be wings on it's back.

It…used to be a kid. Just like us.

Angel let silent tears roll down her cheeks. I heard a choked sob from Nudge's cage. Fang looked at me and then closed her eyes, turning away. I also turned my back to the poor creature-kid. The only sound that could be heard were the slithery movements of the mutant, and it's labored breathing…which eventually stopped.

Those monsters.

It was about an hour later before the lights came on and the door opened again. Careless humming could be heard as more Ari, with one of his buddies and a few White Coats, came through the door.

"Let's get to work~!" the female White Coat said in a sing-song voice smiling like she didn't have a care in the world. She looked down at the cage with the dead mutant. "What's this?"

"Looks like it's dead," another White Coat answered robotically.

She shrugged, still smiling brightly. "Oh, well! Not our business."

"Hey there, Maxy," Ari sneered. "Miss me?"

I just glare at him. But when he didn't get the response he was looking for, he an evil grin spread across his face.

He turned away from me and instead approach Fang's cage. It was stacked on another empty cage, putting her at eye level with Ari. She there, leaning against the far back of her cage, he expression giving away nothing as he grew closer.

"How about you, Fang Girl? Did you miss me?"

"Ari…" the female White Coat warned, her hands on her hips. "Just get what we came here for." Her and the other scientists headed toward the door, talking amongst themselves.

He made a noise of disapproval at the White Coat, probably for being told what to do.

Then he turned back to Fang, he's unsettling grin back full force. "Where were we…?"

She just continued to glare at him, pressing her back as far as she could again the bars of her cage.

Without warning, Ari snatched the cage up like her was grabbing a shoe box. The jerking motion caused Fang's body to fling to the right, and smack hard against the bars.

"Fang!"

She sat up, holding her head. But her glare never stopped—now she just looked pissed. And a pissed off Fang could be very scary. (I got a small taste of that earlier that day at Lake Mead.)

Ari chuckled. "Awe, did the little birdie hit her head?" He jerked the cage upward and held it above his head.

Fang was flung again, this time to the opposite side of the cage, toward Ari's head. She made a grab for the bars behind her, but wasn't fast enough. She landed on her left side, her hip and shoulder making contact with the bars. The sound of her body hitting metal wasn't pleasant.

Fang grunted, pushing up off the bars.

I gripped the bars of my cage. "Ari!" I tried to get his attention, but he wasn't having it.

Ari licked his lips, his smirk still evident on his face. He brought the cage closer to his face, and took a deep breath. "Smells like chicken…"

Without warning, he dropped her cage on the cart, and it landed with a hard THUD.

"Ah!" Fang cried out from the sudden fall. When she landed, her head cracked hard against the floor of her cage. A moan escaped her lips; her arm fell through the bars of the cage, limp.

"Fang!" Nudge and Angel called; Nudge had tears in her eyes, and Angel looked scared. The other Eraser already had them on a cart and was wheeling them toward the door.

"Damn it, Ari! Leave her alone!" I shook the bars of my crate, desperate now more than ever to get out.

He turned to me, a crazy look in his eye. "What's wrong, Max? Don't like it when I hurt your girlfriend?"

He grabbed my cage and both hands and tossed it on top of Fang's. The loud scraping sound as metal hit metal rang in my ears.

I practically growled at him. "Why not beat on me? I'm the one that you hate. I'm the one that replaced you."

That's what made him snap. He roared and reached through the bars on my cage to grab my neck. He brought my face to the bars;I could see the hate, anger and pain that stored in his eyes. I guess I had really struck a nerve…

"Believe me, if I could, I would kill you right here and now," he growled out, squeezing my neck just enough to make me choke. "But…" He let go and stepped around to push the cart. Meanwhile, I coughed up a lung. "Your time will come. Dad may think you're going to save the world, but no one said you had to be alive to do it."

As we followed behind Angel and Nudge, I tried to look down into the cage below mine. All I could see was Fang's hand laying limp throughout the bars.

We were carted outside, though I didn't expect to see the sky again for quite some time. It seemed like we were on the roof of the building, and if I remember correctly, that's where they…

Howls and yips came from every direction. Growls and grunts could be heard for miles.

This was were they kept the Erasers—waiting for feed on innocent mutant freaks.

We stopped near the center of the roof, right over the helicopter pad. Angel and Nudge looked scared as the Eraser that wheeled them out shoved their cages off the cart.

I had to do something to try and sooth them.

"Angel, Nudge. Don't—"

Ari's ugly mug came into view. "Don't what? Don't be scared?" He laughed, though it sounded more like a roar. "You have everything to be afraid of, Max. You know what? I'll take you for a walk…if you beg."

I smirked, still pissed off from earlier. The guy in me took over and before I could stop the words from leaving my lips, I said, "You're the one that's their dog. Why don't you get your leash and beg for a walk yourself."

That did it. He was mad.

He grabbed my cage with like he did Fang's and, with an angry roar, threw me at Nudge's cage. The corner of my cage hit the bars of hers, bringing me to a sudden stop. I hit my head (of course) and Nudge was thrown back from the impact.

I guess I deserved that.

"Ugh…" I groaned.

"Ouch…" Nudge moaned.

And just as I was about to turn around and check on her, my cage was moving again; Nudge was pushing my cage away from hers. It teetered forward and no sooner then it slamming to the ground, Nudge was flying free in the sky.

"Yes!" she cheered, soaring up.

"What the—?" the other Eraser growled.

"You really are one stupid dog!" she called from about ten feet in the air.

I smiled. 'Good. At least one of us is free.'

Quickly, she swooped back down, heading right for the female scientist. When she saw Nudge coming right for her, the panicked look on her face was priceless.

Our mocha-skinned hero twirled the keys to our crates around on her finger, sticking her tongue out.

'That's my girl.'

Nudge took to the air again, just our of Eraser reach.

"Max!"

She threw the keys as hard as she could, and I could them in mid-air. Quickly, before they could recover, I unlocked my cage and stepped out. The female scientist watched me uneasily as I towered over her. She trembled in fear, and small amount of satisfaction washed over me.

"Thanks," I said simply, barely smiling. And then I took off in full sprint for Angel's cage.

"Get them!" she called, and the Erasers stinted after me.

I felt an Eraser behind me—heard his graveling breathing as if he were right in my ear. I was just a few steps from Angel's cage.

'Come on, come on!' I silently pleaded. 'Give me 3 seconds… Just get Angel free—just 3 seconds!'

As if some guy sitting on a gold thrown heard me, huge birds suddenly started attacking the Erasers.

I paused for just a second. 'The hawks…?' Then I looked up above the door we came out of.

"Gazzy! Iggy!"

They smiled, looking rather proud of themselves. I felt pride swell in my chest. They gave me the time I needed, and then some. I got to Angel's crate and got the door open.

"Max!"

She felt so fragile in my arms, knowing what they did to her. But she was safe now, and that's all that mattered. When I flew up with Angel, Nudge met me half way, taking her from me. They were both crying happy tears.

"Get higher," I ordered them. "We'll be right there."

Without looking to see if they did what I asked, I dove back down to Fang's crate. The hawks completely ignored me, only attacking the Erasers and scientists. I pondered for a minute how Iggy and Gazzy got the hawks to attack just the White Coats, let alone how they got them to follow them here.

When I reached Fang's crate, she was still unconscious, but I saw a rise and fall in her back.

'Still alive. Being tossed around in her crate just knocked her out.'

I reached in her crate, gently grabbed her and hoisted her toward me. Being mindful of her wings, I wrapped one arm behind her shoulders and the looped the other under the backs of her knees. When I had her in my arms and stood up, she let out a groan and stirred, coming to.

With three long stride I pushed off the ground and took to the air. The others were waiting not far above me.

"Go!" I called to them. "We're right behind you!"

I heard my name being called from below. It was Jeb. a few of the hawks were all over him, but it was like he didn't know they were there.

"You were safe here, Maximus! Come back! This was only a test! I'm the only one you can trust! Please!"

Somewhere in my stone-cold heart I knew that it was just an act to get us back in their clutches. However…part of me wanted to believe him. I had to do what was best for my Flock. And that was to be as far away from The School as we could get. I looked from Angel, who was still with Nudge, to Fang in my arms.

I closed my eyes and sighed.

"I don't think so, Jeb. Not this time."

A few hundred feet into our escape, Fang started to come to. Seeing as though when she opened her eyes she was soaring through the air without flapping her wings, I could understand the confusion in her face. As well as nearly punching me in the face in panic.

I chuckled lightly. "I've got you."

When she noticed how she was flying, I barely looked down at her in time to catch a light blush on her cheeks.

"I'm…fine," she said, her voice low. She was holding her head, eyes screwed shut.

She was clearly lying.

I smirked. "Yeah, I know you are. But, just to be safe, hang out with me for a minute or two."

She shook her head, whether to my comment or to physically shake the heat from her cheeks I couldn't be sure.

"Don't need help. I'm fine, Max," she insisted.

"Too bad, Fang. You're stuck with me."

We watched the Flock fly ahead of us. I had overheard Iggy saw him and Gazzy hung out at the cave with the hawks at Lake Mead when they came up with their—surprisingly—incredible plan. Nudge still held onto Angel, Nudge giving her the details she'd missed in the last few days. My family was safe. They were beaten and probably bruised…but they were alive. All six of us were fine.

Whatever smile was on my face slipped off like butter sliding down the surface of a hot pan.

'All of us…except Fang.' The thought drill into my brain over and over until I started to get a headache. 'She's hurt because of me…'

"I'm sorry. You got hurt because of me," I said, voicing my concerns. I automatically clutched her tighter when I thought about how heartless Ari was to her. And what he was more than capable of doing to the others if he ever got the chance.

After scanning my face, she shook her head again. "Not your fault."

I made a sound that could be described as a cross between a laugh and cough. "Yeah, and pigs fly."

She raised a brow, motioning to my wings as they completed a down stroke. I rolled my eyes. "Are you calling me a pig?"

She slid her shoulders up and then down innocently.

I sighed.

"You can tell me that—" I jerked my head over my shoulder, motioning to The School we left in our dust "—wasn't my fault until your blue in the face. It was my plan. I'm taking responsibility, just like any good leader would."

Before we'd set out to get Angel, we needed a plan to get in. Knocking on the front door may have been a joke from Iggy, but it wasn't a bad idea. Get in, get Angel get out. Done. The idea was to purposely get caught. Iggy and Gazzy weren't meant to get away, but I was fine with that. We agreed that if the three of them got free to high-tail it to the cave and wait for us there. Apparently, Iggy and Gazzy were sick of waiting for me, so they took matters in their own hands. I wasn't complaining either. Ari would have his hands around my throat right now if it weren't for the hawks.

"You are a good leader," she commented out of nowhere. I wasn't sure how long we sat in silence, but I noticed that we were already almost back to Lake Mead. "We're your soldiers. We'd die for each other."

My head ached more at the thought of someone in the Flock dying for my sake. It made me sick to imagine it.

"None of you are dying for me to live," I said through clenched teeth. I looked up and watched Iggy and Gazzy laughing, Nudge angrily yelling at them for something they'd said. "Hell will freeze over before I let one of you give up your lives to save me. I'm not worth protecting if I can't keep my solders safe."

That comment seemed to spark something in her. And by that I must have pissed her off somehow. With the speed and swiftness of a cat, she reached behind my back and clamped her hand around my wing. My eyes grew to the size of dinner plates, I needed to do a few down strokes in the next few seconds in order to stay in the air.

"What are you—? Are you crazy? We'll fall right out of the sky if y—"

She cut me off. "Let's see you stop something you can't control."

I saw determination in her eyes—felt it in her grip on my wing. (Trying hard to ignore more how I would like her to stroke my wings more often—though less roughly.) She knew that I would need to beat my wings again soon to stay in the air.

"Drop me," she demanded suddenly.

It was official: she was crazy. "What?! If I dropped you with your wings tucked in they'll rip off your back from the G-force."

My wings itched to push up in the air. A gust came at us, and knocked us off balance, but I managed to right us with my one useable wing.

"Drop me, and you can beat your wings." The gentleness that formed in her words forced me to look into her eyes—dark and warm. "Drop me and trust that I can fly on my own."

I finally got what she was trying to tell me. And she was right: I couldn't protect them forever. If we lived to the point where my family would grow up into young adults, I couldn't keep my eye on all of them at all times. It's exactly how she said—I can't stop something I have no control over.

I had no control over Ari; there was no way for me to know he'd hurt her.

I had no control over The School; I couldn't have predicted that Angel would be kidnapped.

I had no control over anything in our lives. But…at the very least, I knew that we all had to fight to survive. We were a team—a family.

"Hey! Are you guys alive back there?" Iggy called from much farther ahead.

"What are you doing, Fang?" Nudge asked, probably noticing that she had her hand wrapped around the middle bone of my wing.

We both ignored them.

"You can't control the actions of others. Especially Ari's or the White Coats or The School's," she said, the gentle in her voice slowly turning into something like playfulness. Looking down at her again, I saw mischief dance in her eyes. She was plotting something, and I quickly doubted that I was going to like it. "Just like you can't control which way the wind blows."

Suddenly, and none too gently, she yanked down on my wing. A dull pain shot through my back. Even though I should have instinctively tightened my hold on her, she was the one that caused us to instantly drop out of the sky, so my brain said 'screw it'. A cry of surprise almost left me lips, but, honestly, I should have seen that coming a mile away.

I was surprised that she managed to grab the back of my jacket and switch our positions in mid-air—she now had me locked in her skinny, muscled arms. Her hands were clasped tightly together against the center of my chest, making it clear that she didn't have any plans on letting go. She wrapped her legs around mine, though the toes of her shoes only reached the tops of my calves.

The surface of the water spun into my view every once in a while as we tumbled and flipped around like a fish out of water. No pun intended.

"Fang! If we hit the water, it's gonna hurt," I warned, hoping—and then not—that she'd let go. My heart leapt into my throat when I felt her hold me tighter.

When she opened her mouth to speak, this time with her lips a fraction of an inch away from my ear, my breath hitched in my chest. Her voice was just above a whisper, but I heard it clear as bells, even through the wind rushing by us.

"Don't worry. I've got your back."

Then, we hit the water with a loud SPLASH.

-._.-._.-._.-._.-._.-

I broke the surface of the water, gasping. Shooting pain of pins and needles cascaded all over my back and legs.

'Pain is just a message…' I reminded myself. I lightly touched my tingling back under the water, making sure that half of my body was still there. When we neared the surface of Lake Mead, we just so happened to spine so that my body came in contact with the water!

''I got your back', she says,' I thought bitterly. 'She's just full of all kinds of jokes today. And how the hell did she let go of my back before we hit the water? She's sneaky…'

I realized two things.

First, the water wasn't that cold, which surprised me. I was fully expecting it to be cold, which would have probably hurt more when we—no, when I—hit the water. Then again, we were coming up on summer, and the weather had been ridiculously warm the last few weeks.

Second, Fang was dead. As in I was going to drown her when I got my hands on her!

Many feelings swarmed my chest then.

Anger, because I was now soaked to the bone—no thanks to Fang.

Relief, because that could have been a lot worse, though it was refreshing to have water 'splashed' in my face—no thanks to Fang.

Joy, because…well, we were alive, right? (I'm just going to blame Fang for that, too. Because I can.)

She was going to pay for proving a point by literally knocking us out of the sky. But, I guess it was partly my fault, too. I refused to let go and—

I heard a gasp from not far behind me.

I spun around in the water the best I could, plotting my revenge. I looked to see where Fang had surfaced; about five feet from me, treading water all the while coughing some up from her lungs. When she noticed my movement, she immediately started swimming away.

"Get back here!" I called and started after her. But I didn't make it far.

"Woo Hoo!"

Gazzy cheered and slammed into the water, his body curled into a 'cannon ball'. Not far behind him, another body hit the water—Iggy from what I could tell by the larger blur that crashed nearby.

Nudge and Angel giggled from above. Nudge held her stomach she was laughing so hard.

"Max, if you wanted to go swimming, all you had to do was say so," Nudge croaked between fits of laughter.

I shot her a look. "This wasn't my idea!"

I caught Angel's smiling face and I quickly threw up my mind blocks. Her smile faltered a little, so she must have noticed. I shrugged and started after Fang again. God knows she shouldn't know what just happened with Fang in the air.

"Damn it, Fang!" I called, starting after her again, maneuvering around Iggy and Gazzy as they started trying to splash the girls in the air.

I left them to battle one another. I had my own war the wage, and Fang was my prime target.

"Fang…!"

She looked back over her shoulder and saw that I was following.

Surprisingly, we were pretty evenly watched swimmers—something I never thought to compare, considering we were part bird, not part fish. (Though I now suspect that Fang thinks otherwise.) She was lighter and leaner, her body practically skimming over the water. I was heavier, but I had more muscle and power behind my strokes, propelling me forward.

Soon, we neared the shoreline. Fang, of course, making it there first. She got her feet under her and started trudging through the wading water, stumbling once. I'm taller, so my legs are longer. And even though I was a few paces behind her, it was enough to help me gain on her.

"Get over here!"

As soon as she stumbled, I shook excess water from my wings, and used them to launch myself forward. I snagged her wrist, my hand completely wrapping around the skin there. Because of the momentum from my wing strokes, I started to fly past her. And because I was still holding her wrist, I brought her with me. Together, we rolled a couple times in the wet sand.

Aching all over—yet again—I pushed off the ground and shook my hair out of my face. When I opened my mouth to tell her just how annoying she was, I realized the 'compromising' position we were in. One of my hands dug deep into the sand by her head, the other on the opposite side of her body near her ribcage. Her left arm—the arm I hadn't just had in my grasp just seconds ago—was up above her head; probably to protect her head when we rolled. My knees were planted firmly in the soft sand: one between her own knees, the other near her left hip.

I looked down at her face and immediately noticed her wide, surprised eyes. Shock, confusion, and…something else. It was the same emotion I saw in her eyes when I met up with the Flock earlier today when she noticed my shirt.

He were both breathing heavily from our race up the shore—though my heart was now beating even harder…and for good reason. Her wet cloths clung to her body; small pieces of stray hair stuck to her face. The lips were slightly parted as she panted, cheeks flushed.

I felt a small wave lightly touch my knee and then retreat again. I felt it two more times before either of us moved; before either of us knew what to do. The only thing my mind processed was that Fang was under me, not fighting to get away, and breathing just as hard as I was. I felt her body heat as a small gust of wind rolled over us. My mind short circuited and my body took over. I suddenly really wanted to…

She slowly reached her left hand toward my face, the small movement snapping me out of my trance. Her fingers barely brushing the skin on my cheek. I stayed frozen, becoming more still (if possible) when I felt another small electric shock where our skin touched. When she withdrew her hand, a skinny piece of seaweed dangled between her pointer finger and her thumb.

Her lips parted more to say something, but I had already jump off of her. I moved so fast you would have though she'd punched me and sent me flying. Once I scrambled to my feet, I took two steps back deeper into the water. She sat up, her hands pressed into the sand behind her, one knee bent half way to her chest. She was covered in sand—I knew I was, too.

"That was… I-I mean I…" I tried to form words, but it was like my brain hadn't caught up with what had just occuried. I didn't know what to do or say. When my brain stopped reeling, I managed to stumble through the water, just long enough to plunge back under the surface to get the sand off, and then resurfaced. To be honest, I should have stayed under until I drowned—that would be better than dying of complete embarrassment…

Without a word, I trudged to the shoreline and noticed she was gone. A quick glance to my right revealed she had copied my idea and was now diving back into the water herself. The kids were still playing, though now Nudge was treading water with the boys and Angel was trying to avoid their water assault.

I heard a voice—her voice—call my name as I opened my wings to shake the water from my feathers. But I didn't look her way.

It was hard to fly with the extra weight, but I managed to make it to the cave. I landed in the cave, tucked my wings and leaned my back against the rough surface of the wall. I let my head rest against the rock, barely noticing that the Flock was coming up, too, just as slowly as I was.

'What…the hell was I just about to do?'

Before I could ponder further I put up my blocks and ran hand down my face. I smoothed my expression and took a deep breath.

"Time to get out of here," I said as they got closer. "Dry off and get ready: We're heading east!"

-._.-._.-._.-._.-._.-

Not sure how I feel about the end of this one. I didn't expect Fax to show up so early, but I started writing it and went with it. Is it good?

Let me know what you think!

—RFC