AN- So in terms of writing, I'm loving my life. (In terms of family drama, I'm hating it.) But I didn't originally plan to post this reworking of Project FREAK. This is like the fourth shot with it, and I'm really enjoying this one cause it's really like a breath of fresh air and I know a hella lot more about what I'm doing now than I did with the first version.
In terms of this story's rating, I'm going to keep it at T, mainly because that first chapter is probably as bad as it gets in terms of language, nudity and drug content. I mean, at thirteen, I think you guys can handle it. I do not condone the use of drugs, which pot really doesn't kill you but it has other issues which is why it's illegal. Scary issues, really, and it can hurt your body, though probably not nearly as badly as normal smokes. Anyways, the only thing that'll really get any worse is the violence and blood. This is a story about a vigilante. It's coming. Don't worry. Ch 3 is one of my favorites in the book so far (and yes I have every chapter planned out at the moment). Not like theirs four pages on it or anything... But I have to learn to write. I really don't want to get stuck doing paperwork the rest of my life. It isn't fun. I'm the kind of person who gets cabin fever really easily. But anyways, I'm going to end this authors note because it's getting very long. So Happy Reading!


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What the hell was I supposed to do? My throat tightened painfully as I thought over the options. It came down to this:
Leave, and never see either Xavier or Mrs. Tanners again.
Stay, and hope they accepted me, which wasn't likely.
Or jump off the closest building and see whether or not I wanted to die badly enough to not whip my wings out.

That third option was a bitter attempt to make me feel better through humor but it didn't do anything for me.

I considered, if I stayed I wouldn't have to worry about ever really starving or freezing to death. But if I stayed, I'd have to explain and I wasn't ready for that. I wasn't ready to tell someone about gettin cut open as a little kid and feel hands probing around my insides, looking for anything abnormal, making sure that my lungs were big enough, my heart strong enough, or for any kinds of tumours forming.

My stomach grumbled and started hurting.

If I ran I'd be on my own again. I'd be going dumpster diving, and sleeping in parks, in trees and benches. That was not fun, living completely and entirely off the scraps of society. Getting chased away by restaurant owners and policemen and yelled at by drunkards stumbling down the street. It was never fun. I didn't want to go back to it.

And most importantly, the Tanners themselves. I loved them. They were the closest thing I had to a family and here I was thinking about leaving them. At the same time it would be such a bitch move to expect them to take care of me the rest of my life. That was just unreasonable.

I had to pace and stood up, walking back and forth in the small space. The shoebox peeked out from under my bed and I went over and kicked it further under, frustrated.

My stomach hurt more and on top of that, I felt like I had to use the bathroom. A sharp pain was starting to jab at my temples. This was shitty. I hated my life. I hated the lab that had made me. I hated the fact I wasn't really human anymore.

I curled my hand into a fist and looked around the small room. The walls were filled with drawings and postcards I'd collected over the years. They weren't pretty or anything. But they were mine and my limited education didn't leave me many options for hobbies.

It was all I had, and all I wanted, just to stay here forever, to live with them happily ever after, but that was impossible. There was no such thing as happily ever after in real life. Even if you didn't have any problems with relationships, someone was still gonna die first. It was inevitable.

A soft knock at the door dragged me away from the hell my head was spiraling into and I went over to it and yanked it open with more force than neccesary.

"Ruby," Xavier said softly. "Could we talk a second?"

"About what?" I snapped.

"You know," he trailed off, not wanting to explain it any more. He had seen, and he didn't understand what he'd seen.

I took a deep breath and released it slowly before standing aside to let him in my room.

He came in, a careful step after another as if my floor was covered in broken glass or something.

My bed squeaked as he sat on the edge of it. He didn't say anything for a long time and it drove me insane.

"I don't really know what that was," he said finally. He continued to stare at his hands. I knew this look on him. It was his guilty, ashamed-of-whatever-he-did look.

The knot in my stomach gave a tighter, more painful twist. I couldn't help but look away from him. I spotted my own reflection in the mirror.

My face was pale, red puffiness around my eyes. It was embarrassing and I pulled a curtain of red hair over my face. It didn't help my stomach by any means. Instead when it wasn't twisted into a painful knot, it threatened to make me terribly sick. But I swallowed that feeling down and faced Xavier.

"Could you explain to me?" he asked. Lifting his face just to glance at mine but quickly went back to looking at his hands, and when not his hands, his feet.

I swallowed, knowing that this was going to happen eventually. I'd just pretended it wouldn't.

"It's uhm…" I started. "My wings, they're…" I trailed in and out of sentences trying to find the words.

"Wings?" He asked, trying to confirm what he'd seen in the bathroom.

"Yeah," I said and released a heavy breath, wishing the pain would leave me with it.

"And how did you-?" He couldn't finish the question, the words so foreign to him, so strange, so freakish he couldn't say it.

It was my turn to sit, and I did so, on the edge of the bed. My hair cut my view of his face off. At the same time, he couldn't see mine. More silence continued here.

"I don't have parents," I told him.

"I know that." He turned to me, feeling more concerned than ashamed now, so deeply confused inside, not understanding the fact that I'd been shit out of a womb with wings.

"My DNA isn't human," I said. Then the words started to fall into place, finally, like dominoes getting placed in line and all it took was a little push for them to tumble. "I'm a genetic experiment," I explained. "I don't have parents, I was made in a test-tube and transferred to a tank for ten months or so, until I was 'born' and removed even from that."

"They succesfully recombined DNA to form a viable specimen?" He asked suddenly.

I nodded. "They've been doing genetic experiments a long time, just you know, not publicly. There's no record of it except whatever they have themselves."

My throat finally loosened and I felt my breath enter and leave my body smoothly, no longer the jagged uneven breaths of my internal nightmare.

"But that's not right," he said suddenly, and stood up. He faced me, a very angry look on his face. "They can't do that."

"Just because something isn't right doesn't mean people don't do it." I pulled my sweatshirt on tighter over my shoulders, not feeling at all cold but more exposed than ever.

Xavier looked back down at his feet. "Who was it?" He asked finally. "The government?"

"I don't know. It was just Liberty Freedom Laboratories." I told him, and then pulled up my shirt sleeve and pointed to my bicep. "I have their logo here but it can only be seen under special light."

He released another breath and then sat down on the bed directly next to me, so our hips were touching.

I stiffened, disliking the contact, uncertain of what he was doing.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry they did something like this to you."

I looked into his face for the first time in the entire conversation, really meeting his eyes and looked for any sign of deceit in them. But there was nothing but genuine concern-genuine sympathy.

He wrapped an arm around my shoulders and pulled me to him, giving me a long, tight hug.

Then he released me and I felt numb inside. No longer so tightly knotted but still confused. Why couldn't he have just told me to get lost? Why couldn't he kick me out of his home and save me the trouble of deciding?

"So," he said after a minute of awkward silence. "Can you fly with your wings?" He asked.

"Yes," I told him and felt an actual smile play on my lips, confusing me further.

"Really?" He smiled too and it made me feel better. It made the tension melt away.

I nodded then. "I mean, why couldn't I?" I started, feeling my voice revert back to it's usual pissiness. "It's not that hard."

His smile spread and I could tell he understood me for once, despite my complete inability to speak in any kind if normality.

"So then… do you?" He asked.

I nodded.

"How?" He asked. "I mean, with your clothes and all."

I rolled my eyes and stood from the bed before kneeling on the floor and reaching underneath for the shoe box. I pulled it out and opened it. He cringed as the foul smell of many-times-worn-clothes-without-being-washed reached him.

"Hey, I don't know how to do laundry," I snapped and pulled the sweatshirt out and held it upso the long slits down the back were clearly visible. There were strings on the bottom that allowed it to be tied, but I wanted it to be easy to get my wings in and out of the folds of the fabric, so that if the occasion ever arose that I hurt my wings and I couldn't fly, but still had to walk around in public, I could pull them under the fabric quickly and easily and keep them out of sight. That was the same reason the sweatshirt was so baggy on me. The T-shirt and such I wore with it did not have the slits going all the way to the bottom, rather I wrestled with it to get my wings through, like a person would getting their arms through the armholes on a shirt.

He gently pulled the central flap aside and saw that it was simply cut all the way through.

"So… you go out in this? And fly around?"

"Yes," I said shortly.

"That's awesome." He stood up then. "I'd love to see it… but I'm going to respect your privacy." He stood up from my bed and gave me one last quick hug before leaving me alone and going to his own room.

I stood there a long moment, my nasty sweatshirt in my hands before I dropped it back in the box and carefully kicked it back under my bed.

From that time until Mrs. Tanners got home from work, I paced, I laid in my bed, I left my room once to use the bathroom, but that was just about it. I couldn't read or watch TV without my mind inevitably landing back on the issue at hand.

Still, as Mrs. Tanners got home, it brought a kind of relief at first, a distraction and then another horrible sinking feeling entered my chest. What if Xavier told her?

The knot in my stomach came back at the thought of it. What he told her? I was right back to fearing the whole not being accepted into their family anymore. Sure, Xavier might accept me but he was extremely open minded. Mrs. Tanners was… was she open minded? She accepted me and my pissy attitude but the whole lab freak thing was an entirely different level. Light Years from the pissiness.

She walked up the stairs, like she always did, I was so familiar with that sound. Her high heels simply thunked in the carpet until she stepped onto the hardwood and then they clicked while she walked down the hall to her bedroom. I didn't come out of my own, instead feeling my heart race every time she passed my door, so terrified of her I couldn't even deal with it.

At length, she called me for dinner. I swallowed before leaving the safety and solitude of my room. She had made a simple barbeque chicken breast, with french fries from the freezer and a can of sweet peas.

It smelled good. Potatoes always smelled good. The chicken was far from the best I'd ever had, but she did what she could with the time she had. And it was far better than dumpster diving.

I sat at the table and stared at my hands.

Xavier came in and sat across from me, he glanced at me, seeing all the signs of stress on my face. I glanced up to meet his gaze and he gave me a reassuring smile.

Could I really trust him? What if he mentioned it to someone at school or something? Either he would go to a loony bin or I would end up a lab rat again. And if neither of those things happened, he'd still take quite a hit to his social life. No one wanted to hang out with a liar and there was no way anyone would believe him.

Our gazes met a second time and he winked at me. The knot in my stomach twisted uncomfortably while Mrs. Tanners came and sat down at the head of the table.

She looked at both of us before taking a piece of chicken and plopping another on my plate. She did the same for Xavier and then finally looked across at the two of us, a sharp look in her eyes.

"Is everything alright?" She asked carefully. "Did something happen?" She asked.

Naturally, I looked down at my hands but quickly corrected that. She would definitely, undeniably see and know I was lying. Instead I looked straight at her face.

"Everything's fine," I shrugged.

Her eyes looked over me and I realized that I hadn't used any kind of pissiness in my attempt to act like nothing was wrong.

It was hard to lie. How the hell do people do it?

She let it slide then with a look at me that told me, she was not about to let it go so easily. My mind spun again, and I told myself to come up with any kind of excuse for it, but none came to mind.

Dinner proceeded silently except the sound of silverware on plates and the air kicking on and off.

At this point, Mrs. Tanners was certain I wasn't the only one affected by whatever had happened. So she decided to attack us about it then rather than later.

I was pushing peas around on my plate when she cleared her throat. "Are you guy sure nothing's up?" She tried again.

"Everything's fine," I repeated, this time with real anger in my voice, not just the surface pissiness. Even she could indentify it and her eyes bore into me, trying to find an answer to why in my face. She could undoubtedly see the retreating redness of my eyes, and the dark circles forming underneath them from my face turning pale.

My heart started pounding. I could help but swallow.

"It's not a big deal," Xavier cut in and Mrs. Tanners' eyes swiveled to look at him now.

"What happened?" She asked again.

"Oh I just…" he trailed off a second, looking for the words to put it in.

My heart thudded painfully now, seeing he was going to tell her. I gripped the knife in my hand, my knuckles turning white. How could he? He couldn't… could he? Really? I mean, it was just about the shittiest thing he could possibly do to me. Ever. Short of killing me, that is, but even that might be the more merciful thing to do at the moment.

"I kinda, sorta, accidentally walked in on her in the bathroom," he explained.

I felt my throat get strangled by his words, tightening again, just like before but much, much worse.

Mrs. Tanners waited for him to continue, but he didn't.

She looked back at me. "This true?" She asked.

I nodded, my throat too tight for words. She could see the increased tension, but didn't pursue me, as I hadn't told her anything.

"It's not a big deal," Xavier said. "It's just… extremely awkward." He even gave an awkward laugh after that and I realized, he wasn't telling her my secret. Simply, what happened that caused the tension between us.

"Is that all?" Mrs. Tanners asked, looking between us.

I nodded again, my throat getting released and my breath came and went normally again. Such a relief.

"Yeah," Xavier said. "You know, we're not really siblings," he said his voice dropping to a murmur.

Mrs. Tanners scoffed. "You two are as much siblings as you would be if Ruby was my biological daughter."

I smiled finally, letting myself feel better now.

Xavier winked at me as Mrs. Tanners got up to get a pitcher of water and poured a glass before sliding it over to me.

"You could've just told me, Ruby," she said. "I do understand what it was like to be a teen."

I looked at her face, taking a sip of water. She had the same dazzlingly blue eyes as Xavier. Her hair was closer to brown than blonde but still wavy, like his. Her skin had the same tanned appearance, even though she never really went out for a tan intentionally.

Finally, I looked at my own pale skin. So different from theirs. And my eyes were brown, my hair red. I was so different, not part of their gene pool.

But I was still their family. For now, at least.

That thought made me smile again. I'd never felt lonely with Dasher, Drooler, and Ding-Dong. They treated me well, knew I wasn't a dog but still treated me like one of their own. They were smart, except Ding-Dong, and they loved me. The person who says animals don't have feelings and emotions is a fool. They have hormones just the same as we do.

They had been my family, I realized, until I left the lab. And then I had no one but myself until the Tanners came along.

"Is everything else okay?" Mrs. Tanners asked.

"Yes," I said shortly, annoyance flaring in my voice.

She smiled, seeing me being the old me. Not scared me, or embarrassed me, or hurt me.

Everything would be back to normal with her. I was so thankful to that. Thankful to Xavier for that, especially, as he had thought when I couldn't. Sure, his entire wellbeing wasn't on the line, but he still did it for me.

For that, I would have to thank him.

The thought made me choke as I started laughing in the midst of swallowing, because me thanking a person would be as likely as DNA getting reinvented somewhere in the universe. Imagine assembling a thousand piece puzzle in a hurricane rated five. That's more probable than DNA getting formed in nature, without any structure assisting it.

I'd just have to be nicer to him for a while.

Dinner ended without any disaster, thankfully.

I slumped in my bed for the night, but I couldn't sleep, though I felt dead-tired. How could I?

Xavier knew. He knew about my wings and about the lab. How was I supposed to cope.

A heavy sigh escaped me as I looked at the clock. Two in the morning. I got up and shoved my window open. It made a horrible squeaking sound every time, and every time I cringed and forced myself to wait ten minutes before leaping out of it.

I got changed, pulling my special, modified bra on first. I was very proud of that bra. Most bras simply would not work with the whole wing thing. It's part of being a girl, I guess but I mean… it was such a pain in the ass. With a sigh I pulled the shirt on next and had to struggle to get my head, both arms, and both wings in their respective holes at the same time. Then finally, it was the sweatshirt. I sat on my bed after and very softly, their was the softest tap on my door I could imagine and it made me stand, turning my back to it before cracking it open and seeing who it was. Xavier gave me an innocent look and I let him in, keeping my wings under the folds of the sweatshirt. He cringed again at the smell of the clothes and it made me extremely self-conscious.

"Hey," he whispered. "Are you going out?" He asked, nodding at my open window.

I nodded silently.

"Cool," he said and gave me another hug. "I want you to know, Ruby, that you can trust me. I won't tell my mom or anyone. They'd have to beat it out of me and you know I can be pretty tough."

He sat on the dge of my bed. "I just want to make sure you know." He gave me such an onnocent expression I couldn't help it.

I nodded, agreeing to the unsaud promise. As long as I had faith in him, he'd support me.

He got up after a moment and said goodnight, before going back to his own room.

It took me a minute to settle down again. I was so wound up and flustered from this business. I climbed up on my window frame and pushed myself out of it and unfurled my wings. The sweatshirt tugged at first as they burst from the folds of it, but then it settled down on my back again as I pumped my wings, my feathers stretching far on either end of me.

Then I was above the houses, far above them, between the glittering stars of the heavens and the ground-dwellers below. Up here, I could think clearly, knowing full-well tht even if I screamed at the top of my lungs then no one would hear me. This was my kingdom. No one could disturb me up here.

And I could think in the clean, fresh air, think as clearly as the night was.

Xavier knew. Mrs. Tanners didn't.

Could I trust Xavier though?

It was a serious question. I knew I'd never want him to know about my lack of faith in him.

I spent a solid two hours in the air thinking over the questions and finally, I decided.

If anything were to happen to the Tanners I would be completely unable to cope. They were my life. I couldn't imagine any happy situation without them in it.

So I had to stay with them. Xavier had very clearly shown me, at the dinner table, that I could trust him not to tell people about me.

And as for Mrs. Tanners, she didn't know.

My wings pumped the air, and I glided gracefully on a warm air current, closing my eyes as the gentle breeze flowed through my feathers, feeling like they were being stroked by hundreds of tiny little angel hands.

It was so easy, up in the night sky, to feel truly separate and free of all my troubles down below. What I wouldn't give to simply exist in this limbo between the heavens and the earth.

It was so easy to believe that everything would be okay, forever and ever. Below me, streetlights slid by in a smooth movement, like oil spreading over the surface of water. There were so many houses just outside the city, lined up like legos on the ground. Everything was either golden or silver in the light, either from moon or the streetlamps. Very few people were out this late, so very few cars were on the road. I swooped down suddenly, feeling the laws of physics tug at my stomach, giving me a small rush as I accelerated straight down. I locked my wings, my hair getting blown back wildly, giving me another thing to do.

This was the life. Flying felt so good, so natural to me, and it was so fun. I started to unfurl my wings, little by little so they didn't catch the wind all at once. That would be painful and could potentially rip my wings right out of their sockets. I had an extra joint in there that birds didn't have, because the whole humanoid figure thing didn't really agree with slapping wings on someone's back and be able to use them.

It was still wicked fun and I angled my primaries, one wing with them up and the other with them down and entered a wickedly fast corkscrew.

This was the life. Flying was who I was. I straightened myself out some five hundred meters above the ground which, when you're going a hundred twenty-five miles per hour calculates to less than nine seconds before going splat on the ground below. I didn't normally fly so low, but hella, I wanted to finish that corkscrew.

The sky started to get painted a lavender shade of gray when I finally swooped back to the Tanners home and climbed in my window, pushing it shut behind me and getting changed all over again before settling down in my bed.

I felt better after that long flight. It helped me fall asleep for a couple hours before Mrs. Tanners was around to wake me up again.