This is my first Maximum Ride fic.
Don't go too hard on me, I haven't read all the books in the series yet and for those which I have read, I only read once.
So I might get some stuff wrong...
And of course I don't own Maximum Ride. Do I seem like James Patterson to you?
(If I do, please turn yourself in to the nearest mental hospital.)

Welcome, Ari Batchelder.

Who…who are you?

Do not fear us; we are here to welcome you into our ranks.

Ari opened his eyes. Around him was night, a calming black sea stretching endlessly in all directions. Stars peppered the night sky with twinkling flashes of silver, gold, sapphire.

The stars were around him. His eyes darted around warily as they shifted, turning into the forms of animals and people. There was a lion, its mane sparkling as it crouched. There was a hunter with a bow made of stars in his hand. There were two bears, one sitting down, shining claws splayed out in front of it. There was a lady in a dress that shone in many different colors sitting beside the bear. And there was a wolf, its fur shining a mysterious silver, practically giving off an aura of wise, powerful elegance and grace.

Ari repeated his question. Who…who are you?

Do you not recognize us? The figures said, their voices echoing all around. We are the stars, the constellations of the departed ones who made a difference to the world.

Why am I here? He asked, confused. He was an Ex- Eraser; surely someone like him didn't deserve to be in this beautiful place.

Ah, but you do, they said, as if reading his mind. Contrary to your beliefs, your family actually liked you in the end, and honors you for your valuable help in assisting their escape from the School and that Itex facility. Ari stared at the stars in wonder. Is that…true?

Jeb had never made it seem like he was needed.

Max, regardless of how much he secretly admired her, never paid any attention to him.

The pain of being ignored turned into rage at being undermined, shortly after he was genetically modified by the white-coats at Itex. He was given almost-super human strength, a wolfish nature. Merged with the creatures of the wild like Max and the flock, creatures that exhibited a powerful, deadly grace.

And still Jeb never seemed to need or value him.

And still Max ignored him.

At first Ari was thankful for the gift, happy to have powers as well. He thought that this way, he would finally get noticed, finally get loved. He ignored the pain of the genetic engineering, focusing on the reward that would ultimately slip from his grasp; love.

Later he was fitted with wings. Ari was also happy at first, thinking he would finally gain the freedom of the skies like Max. But the wings turned out to be of substandard quality; they could not fit seamlessly into his back, they could not grant him full freedom of maneuvering through the skies. His bulky figure turned into a curse.

He wasn't human, wasn't lupine…wasn't loved.

Ari had known that he was living the last moments of his short life, all that time ago. Max had known, too. And finally he had gained acceptance, not from all of the flock, but at least, partially, from Max. It was all that mattered, all that he needed. He could not expect to be fully loved by those who he had been taught to kill, those that he had tried to kill several times over. He had gone to Paris. Max had taught him how to write his name.

But finally he expired, in Max's arms. He fell into blackness, an eternal sleep, never to hear Max and Jeb's true feelings about him (even if they had been changed from hate to respect only days ago).

Yes, dear Ari. Now you are welcome into our ranks.

Then it dawned on him. Am I dead?

Yes, dear Ari. We cannot interfere with fate. We can shine upon those who are in need of hope, and present them with hope and courage, but we are unable to directly interfere with the happenings of the world.

Ari looked down at himself, expecting to see the curse of a body he had been saddled with. He didn't.

Instead of a half-human-half-wolf-hybrid, he found himself to be…a wolf. His fur was sparkling golden like the stars around him, his build was slender unlike his old Eraser self. His wings were not huge and awkward, and were lithe yet strong. Stretching to twelve feet and as dark as night, glossy feathers gleaming in the moonlight. Finally he was a graceful creature. He smiled slightly as the starry animals padded forward, rubbing briefing against him in welcome.

Your friends, the constellations said, pointing downwards. Ari looked down.

There they were, Max and the flock. Sitting at the shores of a lake, probably mourning his departure. He saw himself in the lake: a mass of golden stars in the shape of a wolf. Ari wanted to call down to them, but no matter how much he yowled, none of the flock heard.

They cannot hear you. The stars said serenely.

Ari watched as Max looked up at the night sky, where he was. Her tan wings were outstretched, cooling down in the night air. "Ari," she whispered. "I'm sorry." Nudge curled up under one of her wings, Gazzy snuggling up to Angel and Total while Iggy dipped his feet into the pond.

The ex-Eraser grinned despite him being dead. Finally, someone cared about him…

"Sometimes it takes the death of a loved one to make you realize that he's a loved one." Fang remarked, his dark wings invisible in the blackness of the night. Max nodded, stifling a sob which she passed off for a small sneeze. "Maybe he had changed after all, at the end." Fang added, flicking his dark, overlong hair out of his eyes. Max nodded. "I believe that. Oh well, back to being on the run."

Angel stared up into the sky as well, her eyes scanning the infinite stars. Her petite, angelic face broke into a small smile as her eyes appeared to be fixed on Ari. He waved back, but Angel showed no reaction to that.

"The world may not honor you, Ari, but rest assured that we do, at least." She said softly, her eyes twinkling like the stars above her. "Do you think that he's somewhere up there, Max? Living in the stars? That constellation looks like him."

Max looked over to Angel and ruffled her hair affectionately. "I hope so Angel." She twirled a stray strand of her blonde hair absently, looking at the constellation of a golden wolf bounding across the sky.

"Ari, where ever you are, please know that we don't hate you for what you did anymore."

"We honor you for your help. Rest in peace."

"Live well in the stars. We hope peace will be yours forever."

The other constellation spirits gathered around him, letting him enjoy the moment. He promised himself that he would watch over the flock, even if they were mortal enemies in the beginning. If the bird-kids were willing to change, if Max was willing to change, then he would, too. Ari smiled. He was loved at last.