After everything, I've come to this, I thought.
Today was one of those rare occasions where I woke up, facing a day with no danger in my immediate future. It was real easy to take days like these for advantage, so I tried to make the best of it. I didn't grumble quietly as some hair professional cut my long locks, and I didn't complain at all when I saw the monkey-suit that I was going to be forced into. I was momentarily proud of myself.
The designers for this reception went all out, just like the hair dressers had. A red carpet was rolled across ground, white chairs placed in neat rows on either side. From where I was standing, I could clearly see the Colorado hills nestled deep into the afternoon sky.
In my peripheral vision, I noticed Nudge peaking out of the pavilion, a smile tugging at her lips as she surveyed the guests. She began to whisper to someone just out of my sight, but soft music cut her off. The ceremony was beginning.
Angel was the first to step out of the pavilion's shelter, and onto the carpet. Her immaculate blonde spirals bounced as she ghosted down the aisle, tossing white pedals as she went. With the sun shining on her, she looked like a true angel.
Grinning as she passed, I saw my little sister as she once was; full of cheer and pep and positivity that we would win this endless struggle. She was a mirror of all that I would never be.
The Gasman met his blood-sister just as she stepped in front of the justice of peace. They were roughly two years apart, but together, Angel and her elder brother were almost identical.
A few paces ahead, the pair separated onto their respective sides.
Iggy moved forward confidently, giving the audience a sightless glance. They were all too busy to notice; their eyes were following Nudge as she made her way to the justice of peace. She looked like royalty in the way she held herself, in the way her hair stood out against her dress, even though the two browns were just a shade different.
It was my turn next; my stomach flip-flopped as my black shoes prepared to inch forward.
Max started walking down the aisle as Nudge reached the halfway point, but that didn't matter. It didn't matter that I was full of tension, that my hair was already starting to get into my eyes; all that mattered was Max. My Max.
She looked beautiful in her off-white dress. Wildflowers were intertwined in her hair, but those weren't the things that I saw. I saw her, with her face radiating as she pushed forward in heels that I knew she wasn't used to. I saw her brown eyes that always made me think of sweet milk-chocolate.
My inner walls crumbled down with each step that she took.
I offered her the sleeve of my dark-blue tux, and when she took it, I knew I shouldn't let her go; I knew I shouldn't let her become separated from my grasp. I knew that I had to hold onto her- hold onto her and cling to her as if my life depended on it.
But that wasn't me. I wasn't clingy, as much as I desperately wanted to be in that moment. I couldn't hold onto my Max forever. I had to let her go, starting now, as we neared the justice of peace.
There was no hesitance to my loosening grip, but inside I knew I should have held on just a little bit longer, fought just a little bit harder to keep her by my side. The sad truth was that I should have, but I never did. I had lost her. I had lost myself in my love for her.
Akila was the last of us to step onto the red carpeting, and all eyes were on her as she trotted down the aisle.
Her paws came to a stop at the very foot of the justice of peace, right next to her husband-to-be. Total beamed with happiness.
The justice of peace spoke up, her gentle voice rising as she talked about all that marriage meant. The whole process was long and slow, if you asked me.
Allowing my mind to stroll away, I discreetly observed the couple who were being wed.
Total was a mutant, a complete oddity, a being that never should have been created. His black wings were made out of science, his genetics somehow twisted, making him into a talking, flying mutt.
Akila, on the other hand, was pure-bred, from a long line of perfect pups. The two dogs were polar opposites. They should have never crossed paths, let alone been fated to spend the rest of their lives together.
But that was the amazing thing about fate. All things in the universe somehow worked out. A pure-bred dog could fall in love with a mutant mutt, and vice versa, and it could work.
Why could it work? I could try to wrap my head around that complex concept for years, and never see the answer. It simply worked out because it was fated. That was that.
Sometime during the ceremony, I had locked my dark eyes on Max, and she stared right back at me. She could always read me like a book, and for once, that's not what I wanted. I wanted her to believe that I was fine, sane, totally in love with her.
I was painstakingly in love with her, but our love was not destined to be. It couldn't work out.
For her sake, I played the cover story, my eyes perfectly portraying what she would read as promises of a future, of a life full of mystery and adventure. The rest I kept to myself, burying the truth behind my inner walls, the walls that were quickly rebuilding themselves.
My mind eventually traveled back to the wedding, when Total at last said, "I do." His lips were trembling with raw emotion as he spoke. Next to him, Akila nodded very firmly in agreement. The two were officially married.
It wasn't long before the reception was in full swing, and I met up with Max for a final time. My insides felt like a big ball of led.
She smiled as I approached her, quickly grabbing my hands and pulling me into her. I willed myself to not relax in her grasp, even as my tense shoulder muscles began to uncoil.
No, I said to myself, I can't break down. I can't let her in. My walls just reinforced themselves, meaning that I would let no emotion past. It would be a mistake.
Before I could dwell on it, my arms were crossed over my chest, her own hands dangling at her sides. I had detached myself from her.
This is what I had come to, I decided. This was the girl that I was in love with, the girl that I didn't want to let go of earlier. This was the girl that I was hiding myself from for the first time. She had absolute trust in me, absolute trust in her perception of me, her perception of the Fang she once knew. Her perception couldn't be more wrong, more tampered with emotion.
Leaders like Max could not be more worried about emotion than survival. She had to be keen on everyone else's needs, not just mine. I was jeopardizing her role as leader, as mother, as heroine by making her feel. By making her love beyond family means.
I turned away from her at that point, suddenly angry with myself. I muttered to her to have fun, to not worry about me. I told her I was going to go home early, a reason why already making its way up my throat.
The words died in my mouth as she pecked my cheek, calling me a party pooper for leaving early. She never got a chance to ask for a reason, instead being pulled into an up-beat dance with Nudge.
I left their sight with my back stiff, my hands stuffed into my pockets to give off the illusion that I had no cares. No cares, no worries, no fears. Inside, I was a wreck. Outside, I was cool, calm, and collected, just like everyone expected me to be.
My wings unfurled after I was already slightly airborne, the dark feathers lifting me before I plummeted back to earth.
I landed on the back porch of the safe house, the strategy sloppier than intended. My hands had to catch me as I fell to onto the rough wood surface.
I could feel my heart beating erratically in my chest as I hoisted myself back onto my feet.
Still shaky from that poorly executed landing, I stumbled into the house. My fingertips caught me yet again as I tripped over my fancy new shoes, scuffing the perfect shine that I knew would never last.
I tapped the light switch, and the darkness slowly flicked away. I found myself in the now-illuminated hallway, my silhouette perfectly reflected in a mirror that I had managed to come face to face with.
The guy across from me raised his eyebrow, causing more trimmed black hair to fall into his face. I gave a grimace, and my reflection copied the expression with acute accuracy. My black eyes burned holes into the other man's identical ones, loathing and hating him for the multiple hearts that he was about to break.
But this reflection, he had to break these hearts, in order to save the ones he loved. He had to break their love, break their trust in him, in order for them to live, in order for them to heal the damage that he had caused.
My grimace broke, a sad, sickly frown replacing it. I couldn't hate myself if I ever want to move forward in this dauntless fight.
Head hung in shame over my actions, I went to locate my computer. I had a document saved onto it already, but I edited the rough draft, checking it over once, twice, before printing the numerous pages.
I pulled a crisp envelope out of a desk drawer, and tried to write Max's name as neatly as possible. Once that task was completed, I laid the contents across the dresser, praying and hoping that Max and the flock would eventually forgive me.
It wasn't until I was in half "flee-mode" that I noticed my forgotten computer. The lights were still on as well. Footsteps had alerted me that the flock was home, though, so I had to escape, leaving my possessions behind, and the lights on.
In a hurry, I scrambled out the window and into a nearby tree. My breathing was heavy as I attempted to fade into the shadows…
And then I saw Max. She was taking my note into her hands, her arms in constant movement as she shook. She looked confused and scared out of her mind. I wanted nothing more than a chance to erase her fears, to explain myself in spoken words, and most of all, to make her understand my actions. She'd never listen to me again or trust me again, though. Not after all that I had caused.
I watched as Nudge waltzed into the room, her hair the first thing to appear through the open door. I smiled weakly at the curls that are already starting to frizz and frame her mocha face.
They talked for a little while- a minute or two, tops- before Max finally opened the envelope.
I clutched the tree trunk, my wings screaming in pain as I smashed my back into the bark. My wings could wait. I could ignore the pain.
I closed my eyes and said aloud the same words that Max was reading.
You looked so beautiful today. I'm going to remember what you looked like forever…
My gut clenched as I continued with her, the words that I wrote floating out of my mouth before I could stop them.
Max and the flock would never see me in the same way. They would see me now for what I truly was- a traitor, on a mission to survive.