This has become my NaNoWriMo project. Wish me luck guys :) -Meg

Chapter 5

I sit and talk with Icarus and Mari until the sun sinks low. Beautiful and polluted. Out of the corner of my eye I make sure to watch Gabe. He and Ezra are standing at a discreet distance, speaking quietly, occasionally throwing a couple glances our way.

I feel like we're the little kids who aren't allowed to sit at the adult table.

Mari's definitely growing on me. She's fiesty and hilarious, and she tells stories about growing up, about her mother, in a matter-of-fact way that, for some reason, leaves you hanging on every word she says. Out here, where everyone has dead eyes and a heart full of hopelessness, it's refreshing and absolutely extraordinary to meet someone with so much 'spunk' as Gabe calls it.

I still don't know what I think about Icarus. I mean, seriously, who is this guy and who gave him the right to look so freaking sad all the time? I swear, even when he's smiling he looks like a kicked puppy. He tells me about how he's not actually a half-breed, but he's just broken. He taps his forehead and says "something doesn't work right up here" and 'cause of that he can't change like a normal shapeshifter. As soon as his parents found out- he was four- they dumped him on the streets.

"If it wasn't for Ezra," he says with those sad, serious eyes, "I'd be dead." There's a funny kind of smile on his face, and it's the same sort of feeling I get when I think about Gabe and all that he's done for me, that reflects itself in Icarus's eyes.

It's hard to picture Ezra-cold, scary Ezra-as a fourteen-year-old. He just seems so, well, old. So ancient and grown-up. But for some reason it's not hard at all to picture him taking care of Icarus, teaching him, protecting him. Because it's not so different from Gabe and me.

I'm not going to say I know everything about my brother, because there are some things that he doesn't talk about, and some things that I won't pry into. Gabe's got a protective streak a mile wide, that's for sure, but what I don't get is why these people? Why now?

I don't have an answer yet.

"I can hear you thinking from all the way over here," Gabe says, frowning at me over Ezra's shoulder. "Don't strain yourself."

"Very funny," I tell him, sticking my tongue out.

Mari snorts. Ezra looks down his nose at me, carefully skirting his way out of the conversation.

"Seriously," I say, lowering my voice. "What gives?"

Gabe frowns, shooting a worried look at our ragtag friends. "What do you mean?" He asks quietly.

"Why now?" I whisper. "You've never let anyone in, 'cept me, but suddenly you're inviting them here?"

"If you don't want them here-"

"I just want to know what's going on, Gabe," I say quietly. The pinched, tight skin around his eyes smooths out and he looks a little less stressed. "Don't shut me out, don't hide things from me."

He sighs, running a hand through his short, tangly hair. "I'm not hiding things from you, Jamie," he insists. "It's just hard to explain…" He shakes his head. "I've been out here for almost seventeen years, Jamie. All I've got is you. You are the only person I've spoken to, the only person I've cared about, the only thing that has mattered to me for twelve years now…"

The answer smacks me with all the subtlety of a brick to the face. Gabe's stuck. And he's lonely. He can't exactly go for a walk around the Outskirts, not unless we're running for our lives. It's too dangerous. I can go into town, get us supplies. I blend in. But Gabe sticks out like a sore thumb. Obviously a freak. He can't go anywhere. And he's only ever had me. He can't talk to anyone else, there isn't anyone else. At least there wasn't.

Things are changing now, I guess.

"Okay," I say. Just 'okay'. That's all that needs to be said.

Gabe slaps my shoulder, wings rustling as he brushes past on his way to the so-called 'window'.

"I'm gonna have to run into town tomorrow," I tell Gabe. He hates when I go there, and now probably isn't the best time, but it's go to be done. We're low on supplies. Food, water, batteries.

Gabe looks like he's gonna have an aneurism. "No. Not so soon after the raid."

At the same time, Mari's thick curls seem to perk up. "Ooh, can I come?"

Ezra: "Absolutely not!"
Me: "Sure."

Gabe: "No."

"Gabe, if we've got three more mouths to feed, I need to go get some stuff," I insist. We're running low as it is.

"Why can't I go with him?" Mari demands, glaring at Ezra like an angry kid. She crosses her arms, seriously close to pouting.

Ezra raises an eyebrow, expressionless. "Because sending you out into the human population is a bad idea, Red."

Icarus reaches out and tugs one of her thick, scarlet curls with a grin. It bounces back into place like a spring. "Not exactly subtle," he says.

It wouldn't do to have Ms. Phoenix exploding in the middle of the marketplace… But she seems to have pretty good control, and she looks fairly human. "She could do it," I tell Ezra, glancing at her. "If you put your hair up and wear a hood you won't stick out too much."

Ezra still looks rebellious.

"I could use the extra set of hands," I offer as a measly reason.

"I don't like it," Ezra insits, shaking his head. His braid smacks against his shoulders.

Mari makes a face. "I don't care if you don't like it," she says flippantly. "I'm going."

Stubborn.

Ezra throws up a hand, rolling his eyes.

"Can I go, too?" Icarus asks expectantly, staring up at Ezra with those big, puppy eyes.

If I blinked, I would've missed it, but Ezra wibbles for a second. Like he wants to say yes, wants to make Icarus smile. God knows the guy could stand to look less pitiful. "I don't think that's a good idea," Ezra says. There's less of a bite in his voice than there was when he addressed Mari.

"I could wear sunglasses," Icarus suggests, passing a hand in front of his freaky eyes.

"No," Ezra shakes his head. "You can't protect yourself like Mari and James can-"

"Jamie," I protest. James is dead.

Icarus frowns. It's an unhappy, little-kid pout with furrowed brows and stuck out lower lip. He's so weird. But then again, who am I to talk?

"I don't even think you should be going, Red," Ezra insists, leaning on one of the moldy desks. "What happens when you blow someone up?"

When. Not 'if'. When. Does he trust his family at all?

Mari shrugs irreverently. "Then they blow up. No skin off my teeth."

"No. It's just skin off your bones if the humans grab you," Gabe points out unpleasantly. My brother, always such a ray of sunshine.

She just kicks up her feet, clunky boots well-worn and mud crusted propped against the desk drawers. "I haven't survived almost nineteen years by being stupid. I think I can handle myself."

And she probably can handle herself. The girl's like a lioness. Bold and fiery and irreverent and ferocious and pretty damn beautiful.

She cranes her neck, finding me with those deep orange eyes. "Ignore Grim. I'm going with you."

Grim, I guess that's her nickname for Ezra. Just like he calls her Red. Dangerous things, nicknames. They mean attachment and caring and family and those are tricky things to hold onto out here.

"It's a date, then," I say with a crooked smile, and then I balk, wondering if that sounded as stupid as it seemed. Jeez.

Sometimes I'm a moron.

But Mari just smiles a sort of weird, knowing smile that I just don't get. "It's a date," she agrees.