Rating: PG. Hints of sexuality, implied past violence.
Pairing: Rachel x Tobias
Summary: I know the ONE thing everyone wants after the totally emo end of an otherwise cheerful book series is a really, totally emo fanfic about the pairing that really got the short end of the canon stick in the end. The preceding sentence is sarcasm.
Every time I read this over, I hate myself a little more for doing this to them. D= But it's stuck with me since I got back into this fandom and I haven't been able to get it out of my head.
Rachel could feel him breathing.
It was an amazing feeling, those feather-soft gusts of warm air on the back of her neck, tracing lines over her spine, drawn across her skin like fingertips. The way his chest expanded and contracted against her body, the rhythmic way the mattress rose and fell underneath them. The way his fingers trailed over her hip, slowly, his touch just cool enough to feel good against her overheated skin.
It felt so normal. So perfect. So human.
It was possible, lying next to Tobias, to forget ripping apart a human-Controller that couldn’t have been older than fifteen with her bare teeth and claws the size of kitchen knives. Possible to forget ripping a Hork-Bajir’s eyes out with talons designed for gutting fish. Possible to forget her mantra in those final months of the war- I am human. I am. I am human.
There had been times where she’d wondered if it was a lie. Humans didn’t do the things she had done with the instinctive, brutal joy she took in doing them. Humans didn’t laugh like she did, harsh and abrasive when Marco pointed out for the six or seven billionth time how likely it was that they were about to die. Humans didn’t date birds or sprout wings or go out to a sushi bar with non-veteran friends for chilled California rolls and gossip the day after watching several dozen handicapped kids in animal morphs get fried from the bridge of Visser Three’s Blade Ship.
There had been times, there still were times, where she wondered who and what she had become over the course of the war for Planet Earth. And there were times where she wondered… what now?
She told herself, she knew what she was, now.
Now she was human, and so was he, and all those days were over, now, behind them. They wouldn’t ever, ever, ever have to be less-than-human again. They could go to a two-hour movie and eat dinner afterward. They could watch television or listen to the radio without worrying about whether they’d accidentally hear something about a new construction or a UFO sighting the group would have to investigate, infiltrate, react to. They could apply to university, go to school, and not have to worry about whether their principal or teacher or lab partner had a slug the size of their fist in their skull. And all Rachel wanted was to be a normal girl, to be able to look at herself in the mirror and see normal human eyes looking back.
Her sisters and her mother were scared of her, these days. They avoided talking to her and were stone-silent at the dinner table, and she wanted to grab them by the shoulders and scream at them that yeah, she’d done what needed to be done back when it was necessary, but not anymore. It was over, now, she was normal now.
She wasn’t the bad guy. She had never been the bad guy. She had been the only one with the courage to get her hands dirty, and everyone else had let her, had used her to get those things done. And now they were the heroes, and she was the Other Animorph. The one Channel 4 didn’t call and leave messages for every other morning. The one without a book on the shelves or a face on the front page of the newspaper. That was fine. She didn’t want be a hero, like the rest of them. She wanted to be a normal girl.
She was a normal girl.
Tobias had come over just before ten o’clock. She had opened the window for him and been surprised by the autumn chill in the night air.
She had asked him to do one thing for her. Only one thing, and she swore, she would never ask for anything else again. He didn’t respond, at first, but she begged and cried and told him all the lines she’d went through in her head a hundred times that day, and, finally, he relented.
[I can’t redefine myself again, Rachel. How many more changes? How many more people do I have to become?]
“Just one more change, Tobias. Please. Please, just once more.”
[This is who I am. This is the person you love. A predator. A bird. I can’t be a human again, Rachel. I’ve forgotten how.]
“No, you haven’t. You’ll remember. I’ll help you, Tobias, I’m here. Just… please. For me. Please.”
Already, his real form- his human morph- was three years younger than her, fourteen to her seventeen, and there was a round youth to the lines that disturbed her. But there was no youthful innocence, no naivety in his eyes. They were hard and fierce and predatory even then, blue-gray instead of gold.
He set the timer in her alarm-clock, clumsy human fingers poking and prodding at the buttons and switches, trying to figure out the device. Then turned he it so it was facing the wall across from them. “I can’t watch it.”
She didn’t mind. She didn’t want to watch the minutes. She sat on the edge of the bed and watched him, studying the blonde hair, the shoulders, the fingers, the lines of shadow inside his ear. Everything about him was human, now. He had taken her by the shoulders and they had kissed.
And now she felt him breathing beside her, behind her, around her. The alarm went off.
“It’s been two hours,” she whispered. She shifted in place, turning the alarm clock just enough so she could see the numbers playing across the screen. “It’s midnight.”
He might have been asleep. Or, he might have been awake. Either way, he didn’t respond, except a quiet sigh. Rachel smiled and closed her eyes.
At midnight, the coach turns back into a pumpkin, the coachmen turn back into rats, and the dresses turn back into rags. Everything returns to how it’s supposed to be.
She dreamt about being a hawk- a red-tailed hawk, to be specific- killing a rat that screamed in her head, called her a murderer, said he was human, he was human, begged her to stop closing her talons around his body, begged her to stop slashing with the hooked tip of her beak, ripping him into pieces. Rachel could taste his blood, and it woke in her something terrifying, something dark and powerful that wouldn’t go back to sleep.
She didn’t respond to his screams because, in her dream, she was a hawk, and she didn’t understand the words.
She was crying when she woke up, choking on quiet protests. For a moment, the palms of her hands hurt along long-vanished scars where once a jagged piece of glass had cut deep into the skin. But already, the terrible vivacity of the dream was fading into smoke, and the smoke was fading into just a vague sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.
She woke up alone, tucked in like a child, but she could feel the ghost of warmth that Tobias’ body had left in the sheets beside her. The promise of his presence, of his gift for her, comforted her. Slowly, relishing the lazy feeling of a late morning with nothing to do, she sat up and then slid out from under the covers. The floor was cool under her feet. She looked through her closet, trying to piece together an outfit before her bare legs froze, grabbing at the first pair of skinny-jeans she could find that would look good with her half-sleeve teal shirt.
The alarm clock was still facing the wall, turned just enough to be seen from the bed. Seeing it brought to mind a swarm of mixed emotions, which she didn’t understand. Tobias was human now. They could both be normal, now. This was what she wanted, this was what she had wanted for years. But the smile that fluttered over her face was small and tight. She turned the alarm clock back around so it was back in the position it had been before last night. It was a little after ten in the morning.
Her mom was away on a business trip, Sarah and Jordan were at school. Rachel wandered downstairs slowly, listening for anyone moving around, and didn’t hear anything. On the landing she paused and thought she heard a floorboard creak, but she knew in her gut that she was alone in the house.
There was a note on the refrigerator. Tobias was taking a walk, he would be back soon. He loved her.
Rachel touched the looping lines of the ink on the notebook paper and tried to recognize the emotions they stirred in her. She didn’t understand her own heart anymore. Was this how normal people felt- a little sad and a little happy and a little worried and a little lonely, so mild, so meek? No surges of anger, adrenaline, excitement, euphoria, each separate and strong enough to knock you off your feet.
This was what she wanted.
She poured herself a cup of coffee, poured in a little more sugar than perhaps was necessary, and drank about half of it before it was too cold to be palatable. Then she cut an apple into quarters, slathered on some peanut butter, and watched Ellen for half an hour. She checked the time periodically, keeping an eye on the clock above the microwave, waiting. Tobias came back just a few minutes before ten in the morning.
That bothered her, and she wasn’t sure why.
She kissed him. He smelled like burning leaves and she tasted like apples and peanut butter.
They watched a movie in the basement. Tobias was in the bathroom during the best part so Rachel had to re-wind it and watch it again, and one scene looked so ridiculous going backwards that they both burst out laughing even though it was a really stupid thing to laugh out loud about, and it was the sort of thing that Rachel wanted to last forever.
They sat through the credits to the end because Rachel was lying on his chest and their fingers were intertwined and neither one of them wanted to move. Then Sara and Jordan got home and wanted to play Guitar Hero, so Rachel gave up the TV and she and Tobias started up the stairs.
As they left, Rachel stared at her sisters staring at them out of the corner of her eye and wanted to beg them not to be scared of her, ever. She’s been nearly decapitated before, in bear morph. She didn’t understand how this hurt more.
“Can I stay here for a while?”
“Of course. Mom’s gonna be in New York for a week, you can spend a few nights…”
“I didn’t mean days, Rachel. I’m a human, now. I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
“Don’t say that, Tobias.”
“Why not? It’s true.”
“You were always human.”
Rachel pulled on a sweater and they took a walk, watching the yellow leaves fall like rain. Tobias caught them as they fell and studied them as though mesmorized by their colors. Rachel watched the heavy purple clouds move across the sky. She wondered if Tobias would hate her if she morphed into the eagle again. He had given up his wings for her- would she be expected to do the same for him?
She hadn’t thought about it, before she asked him. It made her feel a little sad and a little selfish.
On the way home Rachel stood in line for ten minutes to buy them two Fudgcicles from the ice cream truck making its final round of the season. It was almost too chilly to enjoy them, but at least the frozen chocolate didn’t melt all over their fingers like it would in the summer. Tobias had gotten distracted by something moving in the woods while she was buying the popcicles and it took her a little time to find him, but once she had they started back home, crunching leaves underfoot.
They got back to Rachel’s house a little before six. Sara and Jordan were both hungry so Rachel ordered a large pizza and the four of them sat around watching Law and Order and stuffing their faces with extra-large-with-everything and Diet Coke.
“So, are you two, like, getting married?” Jordan asked, and Sara giggled, unable to imagine her sister in a wedding dress, having a family, being an adult.
Rachel rolled her eyes. Tobias said, “I’d like to.”
But before Rachel could respond, Detective Stabler cornered the suspect in the interrogation room and Sara shushed all three of them.
They had vanilla ice cream in the back of the freezer. Rachel wasn’t really a vanilla ice cream kind of girl and she and Tobias had eaten desert before dinner, but they had fun making sundaes for the girls. Then she sent them to bed. It was after ten o’clock, after all, and their mom would have had them in bed an hour earlier.
She and Tobias watched the regular stream of late-night news shows. They were mostly re-runs and Marco was on most of them, in a dry-cleaned suit with professionally done hair, making stupid jokes and throwing the camera his perfectly charming Marco smile.
“Yeah, well, keep in mind we were up in the North Pole, wearing bike shorts and leotards. No, I wasn’t wearing a leotard. I mean, jeez, I couldn’t dress like that into a fight! I had to dress more modestly so the females on our team would be able to keep a little restraint. I mean, how are we going to charge into battle if half the Animorphs are staring at my legs? But you understand- our spirits were pretty low. Have you ever been cold before? Let me answer that for you- no. No, you haven’t ever been cold before. I’ve been cold before. It’s not fun.”
Rachel flipped off the television, checked the time. “It’s almost midnight,” she said.
Tobias nodded. His eyes were distant and he was staring at the blank television like he hadn’t noticed it shut off. “You’re thinking it’s time to go to bed?”
Rachel flashed him a white, white smile. “I’m tired,” she said, then struggled out of her overstuffed chair and tossed the remote onto the coffee table. “Come on.”
“You go on up,” he answered, still looking at the television, still not looking at her. “I’ll be up in a minute.”
Mild feelings of… unquiet. Discomfort. Rachel didn’t move, and she didn’t know why, and for a second (or maybe two) she mourned for the times in the thick of a nearly-hopeless battle where there was no choice in whether to act or not, there was no uncertainty, the only thing you can do and the only thing you want to do and the only thing you do is fight, keep fighting, keep fighting. Those times, you know exactly what you’re feeling, and you really feel them, to the absolute maximum. “I can wait for you.”
Finally he looked at her, and there was something desperate in his expression. She was almost happy to see it, if for the sole reason that it wasn’t a hawk’s emotion. “Please, Rachel,” he whispered. “I need to be alone for a second.”
She thought she understood. Rachel walked upstairs alone, down the hall alone, into her room alone. She closed the door, leaned back against it, and sighed. She felt… a little rejected, a little lonely, a little unnerved. And a little empty, too.
She caught sight of the alarm clock on her desk. It was ten after one in the morning. She stared at it for a second, not quite comprehending the feeling of wrongness it gave her, and then she realized, and everything clicked into place. She turned around, opened her door, closed it behind her again. She quickly walked down the hall, ran down the stairs, listened for anyone else moving around- but she was alone, awake in the house.
The clock in the living room said it was twelve-after-twelve.
She jerked the front door open and stood, paralyzed, in the doorway.
The night before, the clock had announced midnight one hour after ten o’clock, not two.
Illuminated with artificial light spilling from the doorway and natural light from the almost-full moon, Tobias froze as well, and stared at her with wide, round, golden eyes.
“No,” Rachel whispered, and stepped out into the brisk fall air. Tobias spread his wings and started running on splayed talons, flapping his wings hard in the chill autumn air. “Don’t leave. Please, don't.” She could hear Tobias’ wings beating, fighting for altitude. She remembered a hundred nights of him complaining about dead air and poor eyesight. Her throat already ached from screaming. Her throat had ached from screaming for years. “No!”
He could hear her, of course. He had to hear her. But he was already flying higher, visible now against the black sky only for the moonlight traced across the edges of his wings, and he didn’t respond. Ashamed that he couldn’t be human for her, that he couldn’t give up the hawk for her? Scared of the complexities of human life, more willing to plunge into the empty life of an animal? Or scared of her?
The world blurred as tears rushed into Rachel’s eyes and her stomach twisted; but it was a wave of red-hot anger that took her and held her in place. Anger so intense she saw double, anger so harsh and blistering it rose like bile in her throat. She couldn’t shake the image of morphing owl, following him, hunting him. He wasn’t the only one that the war had turned from human to predator, after all.
Her knees hit the pavement and the skin broke open on one before she realized she was falling, and she was crying, and she was screaming, and she knew, in her heart and in her head, that she would never get to be a hero, and she would never get to be normal again.
And he was gone.