A really old fic that I started back in the late 90’s as The Animorphs series was still in-progress. Since it ended up posted on FF.N, I had to adjust the thoughtspeak punctuation, so / will indicate thoughtspeak, rather than the more familiar <>. Yep, I was a teenager when I started writing this. You’ve been forewarned 🙂

Author’s notes:

In general, I don’t like alternate timeline/alternate universe stories. But since the series is over, and almost everyone died, there’s not much else to write. But I can’t seem to let go of the Animorphs, so I decided to pick up a concept that I had dreamed up long before the series ended. I had come up with my own ending for the war, and in that one Tobias was the one that was sent on a kamikaze mission by Jake. I think my timeline broke off at about Book #44. So when reading this, remember that whatever K.A. wrote after that book NEVER HAPPENED in this timeline.

Here’s a basic synopsis of what happened between Book #44 and this story:

Due to a coup within the Yeerk government, they withdrew from Earth. No big battle or anything. The Andalites were on their way, and the Yeerks abandoned their mission. But before they left, there was a pretty intense battle between Visser 3 (who had actually lost his position and was a renegade) and the Animorphs. Tobias was hit by Dracon fire, and the other Animorphs escaped by the skin of their teeth. Soon thereafter, Visser 3 was killed by others in the Yeerk government, and the Yeerks left Earth – taking only high-ranking voluntary Controllers and leaving the rest.

The Animorphs then finished high school, and went their separate ways. Cassie and Jake to college on the East Coast, and Rachel to college in Colorado. When the Andalites arrived (secretly, of course), Marco and Ax went with them to the homeworld. The Animorphs never told anyone about their experiences. Basically, the world never knew what had been going on. Aside from some missing people (which some lunatics blamed on alien abduction), the world went on oblivious to the whole situation. I’m also assuming that the Animorphs were about 13 years old at the time of Book #1 and fought the Yeerks for five years. This story takes place about five years after the end of the war, so the Animorphs are all about 22/23 years old. I think this is just about all you need to know for now. You’ll learn more as you read…

The Reunion

Chapter 1 “Life as I Know It”

RACHEL

My name is Rachel Berenson. I’m a senior at Colorado State. My major is advertising, and I love it. For the past five years, my life has been pretty normal. I like being normal. I used to want to excel at everything I did – school, gymnastics, style… But recently I have come to appreciate the simplicity of being average. But sometimes it seems like I am destined to be abnormal. Something a little different than everyone else. If you know anything about me, you know that my past was anything but normal. And as hard as I try, I’m never going to escape that.

My story starts on a fine fall day at the beginning of my senior year. The leaves were changing, the air was cool but not uncomfortable, there was already snow spreading down the sides of the Rockies. It was the kind of day meant to be enjoyed and savored. But I was not enjoying or savoring. I was flustered.

I couldn’t believe I had agreed to go to the Raptor Rehabilitation center with Nadine. Hadn’t I spent the last five years trying to get away from things like that? Trying to forget the kinds of things that a place like that was sure to remind me of? But Nadine had an assignment for her photography class, and her car was in the shop. So being the good friend that I am, I offered to drive her.

“I’ll drop you off & you can give me a call when you’re done.” I told her.

“Oh, come on, Rach. You can’t possibly be that afraid of birds!”

Telling her I had a phobia of birds wasn’t too far off from the truth. I had a desperate fear of the memories that seeing them up close was likely to drag up.

“You don’t have to get too close. Just come with me & help me carry my stuff.”

I finally agreed to help carry her equipment. But I was determined to keep my distance from the feathered creatures. Or pictures of them. Or anything to do with them.

I’m not sure how I expected to do that at this place. There were pictures everywhere. Life-size and bigger. There were stuffed birds in glass cases. And there were rangers walking around with live birds on their arms.

Nadine dragged me to the auditorium to see a presentation on eagles. Of course I could never tell her that I had more information than any ranger here, having actually been a bald eagle myself.

I was pondering this thought as we walked past the marquee into the theater. I had no time to back out when, at the last second, I saw that the presentation today wasn’t about eagles, but about hawks.

I wanted to sit all the way at the back, but Nadine insisted that we sit up close so she could try to get in some shots during the show.

The ranger doing the presentation was in his mid-forties. And he did really know his material. But Nadine was more focused on one of his assistants. Each assistant had a different breed of hawk on his arm. At various times they brought their bird forward to show off distinctive markings or features.

Nadine was entranced by a young man about our age who was trying to keep his bird calm, though it was obviously nervous. He was tall, with short blond spikey hair and stylish glasses. Nadine kept whispering to me,

“He’s talking to that bird. He’s like, communing with it. Watch!”

I had no interest in watching that guy at all. I knew what kind of bird he had. A red-tailed hawk. And of all the birds there, it was the one I wanted to see the least of.

After the show, Nadine rushed to go meet the bird guy. I managed to lose her in the crowd, and drifted out of the auditorium. Against my better judgment, I started to wander through the exhibits.

Finally, Nadine ran up and grabbed my arm.

“Al invited us to come back to where they keep the raptors from the show. He’s going to help me get some good pictures.”

“Al?”

“Yeah, that guy who had the red hawk during the show.”

“Red-tailed hawk.” I corrected automatically.

“Right. You have got to meet Al. He’s amazing with those birds! It’s like he knows what they’re thinking. And they totally trust him.”

“Why don’t you just go and play with the birds & I’ll stay here.”

“No, you’ve got to meet this guy. I bet he can help you get over your fear.”

Nadine almost dragged me by the arm to the back of the center & through some heavy doors labeled “staff only.”

Al was working on the jesses – the tethering cords – on an eagle’s legs as we approached. I tried to hang back and go unnoticed. But I’m the kind of person that people tend to notice.

”Hey Nadine.” Al said, looking up. “Who’s your friend?”

Al put the eagle in a nearby cage and walked over to us.

“Al, this is Rachel. She’s afraid of birds.”

I groaned. Al stuck out his hand and I took it. I had the most unsettling feeling as I looked up into his gentle brown eyes. I had a sudden flashback of other gentle brown eyes. These were nearly identical – more than nearly. Rachel, get it together. I thought. You’re around these birds; of course you’re going to think of Tobias. But seeing his eyes? That’s a little on the insane side.

I dropped Al’s hand quickly. But he was still looking at me with a puzzled expression. He shook his head, then smiled.

“Well, you’re not the first orniphobe I’ve dealt with. And I have to say, I’ve cured most of them.”

“Orniphobe?” Nadine asked.

“Someone with a fear of birds.” I shot back at her. “Like ornithology is the study of birds. And phobia is fear.”

Al took us along a row of cages. Each cage had the birds’ name on it, as well as the species, and their handler’s first name.

The first cage we stopped at was a peregrine falcon named Cruiser.

Al pulled on a heavy leather glove and reached into the cage. He brought Cruiser out for Nadine to admire. She pulled out her camera and started shooting. Al really did have a way with birds. He even persuaded Cruiser to spread his wings so Nadine could get a good shot of his wingspan.

After several minutes of photographing Cruiser, Nadine stopped. “Rach, come look at this bird! He’s gorgeous.”

I tried to play the part of the orniphobe. But honestly, by this point, I was interested. Jake had been a peregrine falcon. But there had never really been time for me to examine and admire his morph. So I cautiously stepped forward.

Al spoke soothingly to the falcon as I approached.

“He knows you’re nervous. But he’s curious about you.” Al said quietly.

“How can you tell?”

“His expression. I know what he looks like when he’s curious.”

I was close enough now to touch the bird, but I had no intention of doing it.

“You can touch him if you want. He’s totally calm. I promise he won’t hurt you.”

I reached a hand toward the falcon.

“Don’t touch his head though…” Al started.

“I know. They only like to be touched where they preen themselves..”

Al looked surprised, but pleased. “That’s right.”

I stroked Cruiser’s chest, and felt an ache within my own. It was almost too much. I could almost hear Tobias’ voice in my head,

Rachel.

“Rachel.” I looked up suddenly. It was Al. He had the strangest look on his face. “For someone who’s afraid of birds, you really do know how to handle them.”

I blushed. I’d gotten too caught up in the memories, standing there, stroking the soft feathers.

“Do you want to put on a glove and hold him?”

“No… I… I’m going to get some water.” I walked away quietly so as to not disturb the falcon. But my insides were churning. There was something in the way Al looked at me, spoke to me… And being near those birds. Even the smell brought back memories.

I walked all the way out to my car. And I waited there until Nadine returned.

“Wow, Rach. I’m sorry if that freaked you out.” She said when she arrived. “But I really thought you were enjoying being with that falcon.”

“It’s OK, Nadine. It was kind of fun.” I managed to put some enthusiasm into my voice.

“Good, then maybe you won’t mind that I just signed up to volunteer here.”

“What?”

“Don’t worry, my car will be fixed on Friday, I just need you to bring me out here on Wednesday, if you don’t mind.”

Well, I’ll just bring a book & stay in the car. I thought. “No problem.” I told her.

Chapter 2 “Revelations”

RACHEL

I spent all of Tuesday trying to forget everything – push the entire experience out of my mind. But at unlikely moments, a glimpse of brown eyes, and the feel of soft feathers would surface in my mind.

On Wednesday, I brought a book. But Nadine begged again for me to come with her. When she told me she wasn’t going to be working with the live birds, I finally gave in. At the center, Nadine and I helped rearrange some exhibits, and create a display on bird watching. Our two hours were almost up when a young ranger walked up to us.

“Hey, you’re the girls from Monday, right? The photographer & friend?”

“Yeah.” Nadine responded. “Nadine & Rachel.”

“Rachel – right. Al told me you’ve got the touch.”

“The touch?”

“You know how to handle birds.”

“Oh, no.” Nadine laughed. “Rachel’s terrified of birds.”

“Well, Al’s never been wrong before. Anyway, I thought you guys might like to see some more of our residents.”

Nadine grabbed her ever-present camera bag and jumped up. I slowly followed – wondering about Al, and his conclusion that I had the “touch.”

We went back to the same place we’d been before. But luckily there was no sign of Al. But Nadine couldn’t help asking about him. She was babbling about him to our new friend, Zane, as I followed silently behind.

“Yeah,” Zane was saying, “Al’s pretty awesome. Some people think he’s got some kind of telepathic connection with animals. But he says he just spent most of his time in the woods when he was in high school. So I guess he just learned a lot through observation.”

We passed the rows of falcons, and came to some owls. I remembered being an owl. I kept walking as Nadine took some pictures of Zane with a barn owl on his arm. I noticed movement in a cage a few yards away from Nadine and Zane. It was a hawk, eating some kind of dead rodent in the bottom of the cage. My heart twisted with pity.

“Hey,” I said to the hawk as I knelt by its cage. It didn’t even look up from its meal. “It’s too bad all you’ve got is a cold dead mouse. I’m sure something live and kicking would be more appetizing.”

“You bet it would.”

I looked up. There was Al.

“You talk to him like you think he’s going to answer you.” He said.

“I doubt that.” I said.

“You know, I’ve heard stories… Birds that can talk. Read. Play X-box.”

I looked up suddenly. But he was smiling. He was joking. For a second, I was sure he knew something. Man, was this place working some major mojo on me! I had to get out.

I got up and walked away from the hawk. Away from Al.

“Hey…”

I walked quickly, until something caught my eye and I stopped dead in my tracks. There, right in a row were a peregrine falcon, a harrier, and a bald eagle. The names on the cages read, Prince Jake, Ax-man, and Xena.

I stared at the birds for a long time, until I heard quick footsteps behind me. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and heard Al whisper in my ear, “Meet me tomorrow, in the woods behind the center. Is four-o’clock OK?”

I nodded, unable to speak.

I drove home in silence. Nadine didn’t even notice. She was enthralled at her new hobby.

The next day, I sat through my classes totally numb. My brain kept trying to come to conclusions, to make up theories, to make it all make sense. But every time, I came to an impossible dead end. Tobias was dead. Marco and Ax were on the Andalite homeworld. Jake and Cassie off at college on the East coast. And yet…

After class, I went to my apartment. I still had an hour before my meeting with Al. And I wasn’t even sure I was going to go. Well, I wanted to tell myself I wasn’t sure. I knew I had to go.

I stared at myself in the mirror. I was really a different person than I had been back then. I was no longer Xena, warrior princess. I was just an average college student. With an average apartment and an average roommate. I drove an average SUV, and had an average part-time job at the Limited. I’d even dyed my hair brown, and cut it shoulder length, just to be more average. Normal – that’s what I was trying to get out of life these days. I just wanted to be normal.

But something at that raptor center was definitely not normal. And I bet it had everything to do with Al. Al… why did that ring a bell with me? Al… Al Fangor. Elfangor. Alan Fangor was the name Elfangor had used while a human nothlit on earth. When he had married Tobias’ mom. It was Tobias’ father’s name.

But what did that have to do with Al, the tall skinny ranger at the center? Sure he had blond hair, and brown eyes… eyes that seemed to see straight into my soul. But, Tobias was dead. Right? It was true that we never found a body. But a Dracon beam doesn’t leave much of a hawk to find.

I shook myself from my disturbing thoughts and jumped in my car. All the way to the center, I blared my radio and tried not to think. Tried not to expect. Tried not to hope.

I parked around back where the employees and volunteers park. Then I walked casually around the building to the woods. I gripped my cell phone, just in case this was some kind of trick or trap.

I found Al sitting on a huge log, not too far into the woods. He seemed almost as high-strung as I felt.

“Al?” I said hesitantly.

He jumped, and looked up. “Rachel.”

We were both silent. Neither of us seemed to want to start.

“Is it too late to say, never mind?” Al asked, with only a little humor in his voice.

“Oh, I’d say it is.” I told him firmly. “Unless there’s some serious coincidence and misunderstanding going on, I think I need some explanation.”

“Maybe we can just chalk it up to coincidence.”

“Maybe we should say just what we’re talking about here.”

“Well, what are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about the falcon, the harrier and the eagle… Jake, Ax, and Xena.”

Prince Jake.”

“Whatever.”

“What about them?”

“Al, come on! I know those are your birds. You’re listed as the handler on all three cages. And you know I know who Prince Jake, Ax, & Xena really are.”

“But you don’t know who I am.”

I shrugged. “I’m up against a wall of impossibility.”

“Not impossible. Improbable – yeah. It’s pretty improbable that a hawk shot by a Dracon beam would actually survive. Even more improbable that a ranger would happen to find him while he was unconscious. And that he would be nursed back to health – save for a missing wing – and kept as a mascot at a raptor rehab center. And more improbable is that this hawk was actually a human being… who eventually came back to his senses and realized he could not go on living as a pet forever…”

“No way.”

“Have I really changed that much? I mean, at least my hair is the same color!”

I ran a hand through my dark hair – amazed that he had recognized me, but I hadn’t recognized him. But he did look so different.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the haircut. Maybe the glasses. Maybe…”

“You’re still not sure.”

“Al, you’re going to have to prove it.”

“Man, it sounds weird for you to call me that. And I can’t prove it the way you want me to.”

“What?”

“I don’t do that anymore. I don’t…” He looked around as if making sure there was no one listening. “I don’t morph.”

I felt the blood drain out of my face. I sat down quickly on a rock before my legs could buckle. “You mean, you’re…”

“A nothlit. Um, squared I guess.”

I couldn’t believe this handsome stranger was throwing around these words I hadn’t heard in years. Dracon… morph… nothlit… Could this really be true?

“I know this has to be a shock to you. I knew you all had to think I was dead. You have to believe me – you have to believe that I was so badly injured, so out of it, it was months before I remembered who I was. And then – even longer before I was able to escape. By then you all were gone. I had no idea how to find you. I never meant to leave you like that.”

He sat down beside me and tried to look me in the eye. He laid his hand on mine. It was beyond my wildest dreams. Here was the love of my life, seemingly back from the dead. But I couldn’t get my brain around it. The dumbest thing came out of my mouth.

“So, is this a new human morph?”

He looked absolutely dumbfounded. Here he was trying to convince me he was who he claimed to be, begging for forgiveness for abandoning me, and I was asking this bizarre question.

“No… as far as I know, it’s the same DNA I was born with.”

“Oh god, Tobias, why didn’t I recognize you?” I wrapped my arms around him, and suddenly, he finally seemed real.

“I don’t know. I guess I’ve changed a lot on the inside. And maybe it shows on the outside.”

“Yeah, I’ve changed a lot too.”

“I can tell. But, I swear, I saw you in the audience on Monday, and I knew it was you.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“You’ve got so much less to be forgiven for…”

“Oh, Tobias, I forgive you for anything you think you’ve done. I know you would have come back to me if you could have.”

“Well…”

“No. It doesn’t matter. We were always so good at making ourselves miserable. Let’s let that be something we’ve changed.”

Al – Tobias – nodded.

“So, what’s with the name?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I was still paranoid about the Yeerks. Maybe I wanted to start over. I just didn’t want to use my real name anymore.”

“So what is it now?”

“Alan F. Tobias.”

“F – as in Fangor?”

“Yeah, but it’s just the initial. As I said, I was still a little paranoid.”

“That’s weird. Are the glasses the same deal? Trying to be like Clark Kent, incognito?”

“Actually, no.” He took off the glasses and handed them to me. I could tell they had a very strong prescription. “After being a hawk for so long, I could never get used to my human vision – or maybe my eyes really were that bad. Without these, I’m totally nearsighted.”

“And you really are human now? No morphing?”

Tobias sighed. “Yeah. It was just time. It’s like I just needed to grow up. Some kids drink, some kids do drugs, some kids jump off of things on bikes. I did the hawk thing. And then one day, I realized I didn’t need it anymore. I realized I needed to be myself. And I needed to find out who that was. Not just for two hours at a time. But for real.”

I nodded. It was sad that he would never soar the thermals again, but I was happy that he had found himself. And that he was human. I realized that just him being truly human made up for so much. If I had found him as a hawk in the tree, I would have probably been much less forgiving.

I looked up at him, surprised again at how tall and good-looking he was. He had always been cute, but in an awkward sort of way. Now, he seemed comfortable, confident, self-assured. But now I could see the old Tobias in him. Especially since I still had his glasses. When he looked down at me, he was squinting, and it was so familiar, I almost laughed.

“What?” He asked, noticing my smile.

“The way you were squinting at me just then. It reminded me of a certain bird-boy I knew long ago who was always complaining about how lame human eyes were.”

Tobias rolled his eyes. “Well, that’s just going to have to stay a memory. Cuz, I’m not putting up with these lame human eyes for another minute.” He grabbed his glasses and slid them back onto his face. “I hope you don’t detest guys with glasses.”

I shook my head. “Honestly, when Nadine pointed you out at the hawk show, I thought you were really cute. But I couldn’t watch you too much because you had that red-tailed on your arm.”

“Was seeing the hawk really that traumatic for you?”

“It was horrible. I kept thinking of seeing you fall out of the sky…”

“Oh, Rach. I’m so sorry.”

“Well, I’m glad Nadine dragged me here against my will. When I decided to face my ghosts, I found out they weren’t ghosts after all.”

Chapter 3 “Questions that Need Answering”

RACHEL

“Well, you really had me confused for awhile. I was so sure it was you in the audience, but then your friend told me you were afraid of birds. And when I finally convinced her to bring you back, you acted so weird, I almost decided I was wrong and you weren’t who I thought you were after all.”

“I was freaking out.”

“But when you were petting that peregrine…”

“I was thinking about you. I heard your voice in my head. And then you were saying my name out loud. But I didn’t know it was you.”

“You heard my thought-speak?”

“I was lost in the past.”

“No, I really was saying your name – in thought-speak.”

“But, you can’t use thought-speak unless you’re…”

“In morph. Like I am – permanently.”

“Oh… Do you mean you could use thought-speak all those times you were morphed human?”

“I never even tried it – it never occurred to me. But one day, after I had become a human nothlit, it just hit me. I was writing down all the rules and oddities of morphing – just in case I ever write a book about it –” he grinned. “and when I wrote down, “thought-speak only works while in morph” I suddenly wondered if that included human morphs. And I remembered that Ax always had thought-speak capabilities when he was in human morph. So I tried it out. I also found out that animals like it better than the human voice.”

“Is that how you enchant all of your birds?”:

“Well, a lot of it has to do with understanding them in a way that no other human does. But the thought-speak helps. It soothes them.”

“Well, I’m jealous. I wish I could morph myself so I could use thought-speak too.”

“Well, I just think of it as a slight pay-off for everything I’ve been through as a nothlit.”

My heart wrenched. How could I have forgotten so easily everything that had happened to him? His human face hid all the agony and turmoil he had suffered – both as a human and as a hawk. I grabbed his hand and held it tight.

“Oh, Rach. I didn’t mean for you to pity me. Everything I went through has made me who I am. I’d never want to relive it, but I would never wish that it hadn’t happened.”

“Then you’re a lot stronger than me.”

“Stronger than Xena?”

“Xena? Xena is gone. Kind of like what you said about morphing. I realized one day that I didn’t need her. In truth, I didn’t even like her. I hated myself for who I had become. So I made the decision to be human too.”

Tobias nodded, as if agreeing. I knew he had seen the ugliness of the person the war had made me. But he had always believed I could come back. That I could be Rachel again, not just Xena.

I shook my head to clear my thoughts. And, as I often do when things get a little too emotional, I changed the subject.

“So, what am I supposed to call you?”

Tobias looked thoughtful. “Good question. I suppose it would depend on your relationship to me.”

“Huh?”

“Well, to have a friend that calls you by your last name isn’t that unusual. Especially for a guy. So, in that case, you can still call me Tobias. But if you were more than a friend… it would be weird for you to call me by my last name.”

“Woah. Woah, woah, woah. Too fast. Too fast.”

“Hey! I didn’t say I wanted you to be more than a friend. I was just laying out a hypothetical situation.”

“But, do you want me to be more than a friend?”

“I don’t even know if you’re single.”

I rolled my eyes. “Yes. I do happen to be single. Answer the question.”

“Well, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings.”

“You’re going to have to ask me then.”

“First you want me to answer questions. Now you want me to ask them.”

“Yep.”

Tobias grabbed my hand. Slid to one knee. And I’m thinking, this guy is really dramatic. Who goes down on one knee to ask a girl to date him?

“Rachel, will you marry me?”

Woah. Woah, woah, woah. Too Fast. And yet… isn’t that what I wanted five years ago? Isn’t that where I wanted to be by now? But we’d been apart for five years. I still felt like I was looking at a stranger every time I looked at him. But, I still felt that I knew him to the depths of his soul. And somehow, even with all the changes in our lives, I still felt that he knew me.

Rachel?

I looked straight into his eyes. “Yes.”

His face went blank. I thought he might pass out. He tried to speak, but was unable to get any sound out.

Did I just do that? His thought-speak sounded so much more familiar than his voice. I touched his face.

“Yes you did.”

And did you just say yes?

“Yes I did.”

“Oh.” It was almost a moan.

“Do you want to take it back? I mean, it is kind of fast.”

“No, no, no. I meant it… Did you?”

“Oh yes. I meant it. But…”

He rubbed his hand through his short spikey hair.

“Can we wait awhile?”

He sighed, sounding relieved. “How long?”

“I don’t know. A year? I need some time to adjust. And, of course, these things take planning.”

“Oh god. Rachel, planning a wedding. This is going to be insane.”

“Oh yes.”

“I just said wedding. Wedding. My wedding. OUR wedding.”

“Oh yes.”

“This is insane.”

I raised an eyebrow and gave him an evil look. “Let’s do it!”

Chapter 4 “By Any Other Name”

RACHEL

“Rachel Tobias…” I mused several weeks later. “That sounds really weird.”

“You’re right.” Tob- I mean Al answered as he scrubbed an empty cage at the center. After that fateful day, I no longer had any reason to fear the center, or the birds. And Tob- I mean Al and I had spent a lot of time working together with those wonderful creatures.

“And I’m still not doing very well calling you Al.”

“Which is weird because that’s how you were introduced to me. And you didn’t even recognize me. Shouldn’t you associate how I look now with the name Al?”

“But see, that’s where you never understood me. Your outward appearance is like a fraction of who you really are. You’re always Tobias to me, even when you’re “Bird-Boy,” or Al to everyone else.”

“You know what? My fiancée is incredible.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“But maybe I have a solution to the name problem.”

“Really?”

“What if I changed my name?”

“I know I’m kind of a feminist, but I don’t think the husband should take the wife’s name.”

“No, I mean, what if I changed my name to something we could both agree on?”

“Like what?”

“Well, I have no desire to take back my old last name. That was something the Ellimist made up, I think, to cover up my father’s disappearance. But I don’t know if I particularly like “Fangor” either. I know that should have been my last name, if my dad had been able to stay. But… with all due respect to my dad, it’s kind of hokey.”

“Oh, I’m so glad you think so too.”

“But what if I took some other part of his Andalite name?”

“Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul…”

“Yeah, I was thinking of Shamtul. Tobias & Rachel Shamtul.”

“That’s kind of exotic.”

“I’m half alien. That’s pretty exotic.”

“Good point. And exotic isn’t bad.”

“Tobias and Rachel Shamtul.”

“So you’ll take back Tobias as your first name?”

“Yeah, I always did like it. As long as no one tries to call me Toby.”

“I’ll let Xena loose if they do.”

“Thanks, sweetheart.”

“So, when do you think you’ll do this?”

“I don’t know. I was thinking it would be cool to do it at the same time you change your name – you know, at the ceremony or whatever. But I should probably warn people ahead of time.”

“You can start going by Tobias now, and then officially change it when we get… married.” I grinned.

He pulled off his nametag & grabbed a permanent marker. He crossed out “Al” and wrote “Tobias” in big print.

“How are you going to explain this to people? Especially since they don’t know about me!”

“I promise, we’ll go public soon. Let me get you a ring first. Leave the explaining up to me.”

What he ended up doing was telling people that he and I had been friends from high school, and that he had gone by Tobias back then. People were already beginning to suspect that we had some sort of relationship, so they weren’t surprised that he wanted to go by what I called him.

Three months after our initial reunion (and engagement), he presented me with a ring. It was gold, with a big fat diamond, like most engagement rings. But it had a personalized touch. On either side of the diamond were gold wings. And a quote on the inside of the band “Feet firmly planted, my heart soars with you.”

Chapter 5 “An Invitation in the Mail”

CASSIE

I came home from school and brought in the mail. My two cats, Adrianna and Jade were waiting for me in the front window of my apartment. I sat down at the kitchen table to go through the mail. Bills, junk mail, vet school newsletter, and a greeting card-sized envelope addressed in gold ink. Real mail was rare these days, most people didn’t bother to put a stamp on something to mail it, why would they when email was free and quicker?

I was intrigued, so I ripped it open. The front of the card had a beautiful picture of two birds of prey soaring over a mountain. I knew it had to have been digitally created, because raptors never fly together. They just aren’t social creatures. Unless they happen to be Animorphs, I thought sadly. Out of curiosity, I looked closer at the birds. One was obviously a bald eagle, there’s no mistaking that. But the other was a hawk of some kind. My heart skipped a beat when the red tail feathers confirmed that it was a red-tail hawk. I’ve seen these two birds together, I thought.

My heart was pounding as I opened the card. The text inside was gold and read:

You are cordially invited to a celebration of our engagement on May 25, 2004

Tobias Shamtul & Rachel Berenson

The postscript was handwritten & I recognized Rachel’s perfect penmanship;

We know it’s a long trip just for a party, but we can think of no one else who would share our joy more.

Rachel & Tobias

Immediately I picked up the phone. I searched through the phonebook on my cell, hoping the number I was looking for was still there. YES! I hit “call” and paced the room while the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Jake!” I yelled into the phone. “Did you get anything in the mail today?”

“The invitation?”

“Yeah. Are you as confused as I am?”

“Well, as unlikely as it seems, I can only think of one explanation.”

“He’s alive.”

Jake laughed nervously. “Or our girl Rachel is really insane.”

“I’m gonna call her.” I hung up on Jake, my heart still going double-time.

Tobias

Rachel and I were driving back from the hardware store, where we’d been looking at tile for the kitchen of our new house. When Rachel’s phone started buzzing on the dashboard, I looked at the caller ID.

“It’s Cassie.” I said. I knew why Cassie was calling. She’d gotten the invitation and was trying to figure out how I could be marrying Rachel when I was dead.

“Answer it!” Rachel demanded as she navigated through rush-hour traffic.

I pushed “talk.” But I didn’t even have time to say “hello” before Cassie jumped in.

“Rachel!” She almost yelled in my ear.

“No, sorry. Rachel’s driving. This is Tobias.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone. Then Cassie said softly, “Who?”

“Tobias, Rachel’s fiancé.”

“Oh.” Cassie paused. “This is Cassie, Rachel’s friend from high school.” She sounded like she wasn’t sure I’d know who she was. Did she think I was actually some other random Tobias? I couldn’t even remember when I’d last met another Tobias. I didn’t know whether to tell her everything right then, or not. So I decided to play it cool and let Rachel do the explaining later.

“Yeah, I know. Did you get our invitation?” That seemed to throw her. I guess she was hoping for more explanation.

“Umm, yeah, actually. That’s why I called.”

“Can you come?”

“Yeah, I think so. I mean, I really want to.”

“Great. What about Jake? Have you talked to him?” I was trying to be as normal as I could, I mean, I was talking to one of my oldest friends.

“Well, I know he got the invite, but I don’t know if he can…” She paused. “Wait… I’m still really confused.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t mean to be rude, but who did you say you were?”

I glanced at Rachel, then had an idea. She doesn’t know who I am. PLEASE talk to her.

To Cassie I said, “Tobias Shamtul, Rachel’s fiancé.”

Rachel pulled into a gas station.

“Hold on,” I told Cassie. “Rachel just pulled over, she wants the phone.”

Gratefully I handed the phone to Rachel and slumped in the seat. I had hoped that reuniting with all my friends would be easy. But of course, it wouldn’t. They all had thought I was dead for five years. And I’d changed so much that Rachel hadn’t recognized me. Things were going to be interesting.

Rachel

I snatched the phone from Tobias. I knew he was struggling, trying to figure out what to tell Cassie over the phone. He’s really not a phone type of guy anyway. Maybe because he didn’t have one in his meadow while he was a hawk. I on the other hand, am totally a phone person. And I had a plan. I wasn’t about to try to explain the whole story on the phone. I was going to give as little information as possible. Mean? Maybe. But maybe there’s a little Xena left in me after all.

“Hey Cassie.”

“Hey Rach.”

“What’s up?”

“I’m so confused. Who was I just talking to?”

“My fiancé.” Ohh, what a fun word!

“Tobias Shamtul.”

“Yep.”

“Shamtul… like… Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul?”

“Yeah, that kind of Shamtul.”

“So I was actually talking to Elfangor’s…?”

“Elfangor’s son? Oh yeah.”

“Tobias?”

“The one and only. Unless there are other half-Andalites around.”

“I’m so confused.”

“You mentioned that. Listen, just come to the party. Actually, if you can, you and Jake should come a day or two early so we can have a little Animorph reunion.”

“Oh my god. I can’t believe any of this.”

“We’ll explain everything when you get here.”

Cassie sighed. I guess she realized that she wasn’t getting any more out of me. “OK. We’ll be there.”

“Great. Talk to ya later.”

“Yeah. Bye.”

I hung up and grinned triumphantly at Tobias. He looked at me in disbelief and shook his head.

“I can’t believe you wouldn’t tell her what was going on.”

“I did. I told her who you were, I mean, she knew. She just wasn’t believing it.”

“You made her guess. You could have said, ‘That was Tobias, our Animorph buddy. And he’s not dead.'”

“Oh, come on, Tobias. You kind of strung me along when I was trying to figure stuff out.”

“That was so I didn’t make a fool of myself.”

“Well, I can’t let it be easier for Cassie than it was for me.”

“Oh, of course not. You’re Rachel. You’re not about to make anything easy for anyone.”

He was grinning, so I knew he wasn’t that annoyed with me. “It’s true. I do have a mean streak.”

He looked thoughtful for a minute. “And, man, it still rocks my world hearing you call me Elfangor’s son. It’s like, still not really real.”

I nodded, trying to understand. “I guess if anyone has the right to have an identity crisis, it would be you.”

“No kidding.”

“But what about fiancé? Do you like to be called that?”

“Yeah, that kind of rocks my world too.”

“So what are you going to do when that becomes husband?”

Chapter 6 “Reconnection”

CASSIE

Rachel led us through the Raptor Center at a quick pace, I tried to take it all in the best I could. It was definitely a place where I would have enjoyed spending more time. We got to the auditorium and snuck into the back row, quietly. A young man was on stage with a large bird on his arm. Admittedly, I noticed that it was a red-tailed hawk before I noticed anything about the guy. He was really tall, kind of skinny, but was obviously muscled as well. He had really short light hair – somewhere between blond and brown. He had glasses and was wearing what seemed to be the standard uniform of the place – green polo & khakis. All in all, he was good looking. He was giving a spiel on the hawk’s hunting habits, and abilities. He gave its’ maximum speed in a dive, he described the strength of its talons. Then he started talking about its vision.

“The red-tail has incredible vision. It’s something that, as human beings, we really can’t imagine. This guy can see a rabbit from a mile away. And he can detect any movement whatsoever. That’s what really gets this guy’s attention. He can be watching his meadow, just kind of gazing out on the grass, and he can see a single blade of grass quiver as a mouse brushes by it. And he knows it’s a mouse. He can tell the difference between a breeze, and prey rustling the grass…”

I was totally wrapped up in his talk. I mean I was really engrossed. I was thinking, Not only are all his facts accurate, but the way he describes it, I felt like I know what it’s like to be that hawk. And as soon that thought flew through my brain, I was jolted back to reality. I DO know what it’s like to be a raptor. I have been one. And I knew that that guy on stage really was Tobias. He was describing his own life for almost five years. He wasn’t guessing about what the hawk thought, he knew.

I looked over at Jake. He looked like he was analyzing the guy – Tobias. Sizing him up. I wished he would just listen to the talk. Only Tobias could talk about birds that way. Almost as if they were dear friends, or family even. With such respect, and yet familiarity. I was totally convinced.

Rachel was next to Jake, and she was grinning as she watched Tobias do his thing. She seemed so completely happy. And it suddenly struck me that she and Tobias were engaged. Ever since the invitation came in the mail, I was so focused on the fact that Tobias might be alive, that it hadn’t really soaked yet in that they were going to be married. Rachel glanced over at me, and I gave her a huge smile.

Tobias finished his talk, and turned the program over to a middle-aged woman who had a screech owl. Rachel got up and we followed her out of the auditorium to the back of the center. Tobias was still holding the hawk when we got back there.

His face lit up when he saw us (or maybe it was just because he saw Rachel).

“Hey guys! I’m glad you made it! Did you catch any of the show?”

I nodded. “It was great.”

“Sorry I didn’t notice you out there. With the lights and everything, I can’t see much of the audience. ” He paused & smiled. “Besides, who can see anything with these lame human eyes anyway?”

Rachel rolled her eyes, as if it was an old joke. Which, really, it was. But it felt so weird. It had been so long. Jake, standing beside me, was still looking really uncomfortable. I don’t know if it was because he wasn’t convinced of Tobias’s identity, or maybe because he always gets uncomfortable talking about the Animorph days.

I tried to break the ice – cuz, it’s my job, Cassie the peacemaker.

“That is a gorgeous hawk, Tobias.”

He looked really proud. And I wondered, is he proud of the bird, or is he proud of having been the bird?

“Thanks, Cass. He’s great to work with, really laid back. I guess that’s cuz he was raised in captivity. ”

“Oh.” It’s always sad to me when animals aren’t free, for whatever reason. Tobias put the hawk in his cage.

“Yeah,” Tobias said softly as he pulled off his leather gloves, “It’s sad, but it happens. For some reason he was abandoned by his mother, and was injured. His shoulder was broken and it has never healed perfectly. He probably wouldn’t last too long in the wild.”

“Is it hard? Working with all these birds, knowing they’d rather be free…” I regretted it as soon as I said it.

Surprisingly, Tobias just shrugged. “Kind of. I mean, I can’t really let that get to me. We’re doing so much good here. A lot of them recover and can be released. Those that can’t, we use to educate people – to be sure people understand why they have to be protected. And after what happened to me, I know the ones that can’t hunt are better off here…”

Rachel grabbed his hand. I wondered what he meant by “what happened to me.” Did he just mean being a hawk in general? Or had something happened?

Rachel squeezed Tobias’s hand and then let go. “OK, let’s move this party somewhere else. Tobias is done for the day, so we’re free to do whatever. And I’m having thoughts of food.”

“Cool.” It was the first time Jake had spoken. “And, Tobias, let me just say, it is so weird to see you with that hawk. It’s like, there’s two of you…. It’s just bizarre.”

Rachel smirked. “No kidding. I was totally weirded out at first.”

Tobias shrugged. “I guess I just can’t get away from it. Birds are always going to be a part of my life.”

We went out to the parking lot. To my surprise, Tobias pulled out some keys and remotely unlocked a car on the lot.

“You drive?”

Tobias looked confused. “I’m, what, 22? I’m pretty sure that’s legal.”

“Umm, Cass, ” Rachel started. “He’s a…. well, he doesn’t…”

“Oh.” I said, feeling guilty. I had assumed that he could still morph like the rest of us. Really, I assumed he was still living as a hawk.

“Oh,” Tobias said, realizing what I had meant. He turned to Rachel, “Did they not know that I’m a nothlit?”

Jake went red. Well, actually, I did too. It was like embarrassing beyond imagination. It’s like not realizing someone has a disability.

“Guys, it’s no big deal.” Tobias said cheerfully. “It’s not really a bad thing.”

I was really feeling like an emotional mess. It was all just too much to take in.

He led us over to a red convertible. The license plate said “Brd-Boy.” Jake looked impressed.

“Not bad, Tobias.”

“Well, I didn’t go to college and get poor like a lot of people.”

I wondered again what he’d been doing all these years. Obviously he’d become a human nothlit, and had apparently been working for awhile. But I knew there was more to the story.

“And,” Tobias said, “Driving this at 80 or so miles per hour on the highway with the top down, is just about as close to flying as it gets.”

I felt another pang of sadness, but I realized he wasn’t meaning it that way. He seemed genuinely content as a nothlit.

Rachel interrupted my thoughts. “He says ’80 or so‘ for my benefit. I don’t want to know how fast he really drives it.”

“Always a little on the edge, huh?” Jake said, with a little bit of sarcasm. He was really acting totally weird.

Tobias shrugged. “You know me. I need a little danger in my life. But, I know my limits. And I’ve learned to stay inside them.”

I wondered what was going on. There was definite tension between Jake & Tobias. And I had no idea why. I mean, after five years, you’d think they’d just hug and be glad that the other was alive. At least, that’s how I felt about it. But then, I’m not a guy. But it was going to really bother me if they kept this up. So I pulled Rachel aside.

“Rach, why don’t you and I go in your car and send Jake with Tobias. It seems to me that they need to work some things out.”

Rachel nodded. “They really do. Before I knock their heads together. But, why don’t you and I leave my car here and …” She glanced at the sky meaningfully.

“Will it bother Tobias?”

Rachel shook her head. “I don’t think so. I talked to him about it before you got here. I told him you and I might want to, and he was cool with it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I mean, he’s been a nothlit for, I think, three years. And he’s so… content, I guess. He seems to like being himself. So, I think he really is OK with it.”

“Well, cool then.”

Rachel and I rejoined the guys. Rachel spoke up in her authoritative voice,

“OK, here’s the plan. Jake, you can ride with Tobias. Have some guy time, punch each other out, whatever. Cassie and I will take the aerial route and meet you at The House in an hour. You guys can pick up some Chinese, since Cassie and I will not have any cargo room.”

Tobias and Jake just stood there silently. Then Jake spoke up.

“Since when are you the boss? I thought…”

“You thought you were the boss? Oh, no. Not since the Animorphs disbanded. There is no “prince” if there’s no… prince…dom. Whatever. Besides, this is my turf.”

“That’s my Rachel.” Tobias said with a rueful grin. “She’s the alpha male.”

Rachel looked dangerous, almost Xena-like for a moment. “I’ll let you live this time. Next time you may not be so lucky.”

Then she ran to him and hugged him. It looked like she whispered something, but I don’t know what. He kissed her on the forehead and she came back over to me.

Tobias opened his car door. “Be careful, girls.” He said as he & Jake got in.

Rachel and I waited until they were out of the parking lot, then we went behind a utility shed to morph. I was glad we had finally learned to morph regular clothes. It made life so much easier.

“I told him to leave.” Rachel said as she started to sprout feathers. “I know he thinks he’s OK with it…” Her mouth turned into a beak. /But, I didn’t want him to have to watch./

As soon as we were both ready, we took to the sky. I will admit, I’ve done quite a bit of morphing since we disbanded. We had decided we wouldn’t promise not to. We kind of felt we deserved the joy of it after all we had been through. But I don’t know if the others ever felt about it how I do.

/Wow./ Rachel said finally. /It has been a really long time./

/Hmmm./ I said, noncommittally.

/Yeah, I bet you do this all the time./

/Not all the time. But sometimes. It relieves stress./

/No kidding! I feel, almost giddy./ She laughed, then stopped suddenly. She was quiet for a moment.

/Rachel?/ I asked, wondering if she was OK.

/Sorry,/ She said. /Tobias just called me, to see if we were still within range./

I seriously wondered if she was completely off her rocker. /What?/

/Oh, that’s right, you don’t know. / She laughed. /You know how thought-speech only works when you’re in morph?/

/Right…/ I was wondering where this was leading.

/Well, Tobias is in morph. Human morph./

/No way! He’s always been able to use thought speech in human morph?/

/Apparently, just like the rest of us, it never occurred to him until he had stayed human permanently./

/That is so bizarre. So he’s like, one-way telepathic./

/Yeah, I guess so. It’s kind of unfair, cuz he can thought-speak to me, but I can’t do it back. Except now./

/Hey Tobias!/ I called out. /Can you hear me?/

/Hey Cassie./ I was surprised to hear him. In thought-speak he sounded just like I had remembered him. I actually envisioned his hawk face as he spoke. /Jake says he feels out of the loop./

/Sorry, Jake./ I said, even though I knew he couldn’t respond. /Tobias, are you two talking?/

/Yes, if you girls would stop interrupting. Do you know how hard it is to drive and talk and listen to voices in your head all at the same time?/

/Hmm, can’t say that I do. Sorry. We’ll be quiet./

Rachel spoke up. /Cassie and I are going to head straight to The House./

/Cool. We’re headed to the China Kitchen right now. I managed to call in the order while you guys were not yammering./

/Good deal. See you at The House, Mr. Shamtul./

/OK, future Mrs. Shamtul. Now leave us alone!/

I would have grinned if I wasn’t in morph. Hearing them flirt like that was so – so – right. They really were perfect for each other. I was puzzled about the name thing though.

/Shamtul? That wasn’t his last name before./

/No. He decided to take part of his real father’s name instead./

/Honestly, Rachel, I don’t remember his last name./

/Well, he didn’t really use it a lot after he was a hawk./

/Tobias & Rachel Shamtul. I can’t believe it./

/It’s all pretty hard to believe./

/I’m really incredibly happy for you guys though./

/I thought you would be. We’re pretty happy too./ She laughed. /There’s The House./

/The House? Who’s house is it?/

/Ours. We bought it. It needs a lot of work, but it should be ready by the wedding./

/So, where are you living now?/

/I have an apartment near campus. He shares a house with some guys from the Raptor Center./

/Oh./

/You wanted to know if we were living together./

/Well…/ Ok, fair enough. I did want to know.

/Cassie, Cassie. We talked about it. And we’re not going to. At all. Until the wedding./

/Good for you./

/You approve./

/Oh, come on, Rachel. You’re an adult. You don’t need my approval./

/I know. But I really respect you, and I want you to respect me./

/That really means a lot to me, Rach. Of course I respect you. And I totally respect you and Tobias’ decision./

We landed in the back yard under the towering oak trees and demorphed. As Rachel demorphed, I saw her stretch out her left wing as it reverted to a human hand. She smiled as the feathers melted away, revealing a ring on her finger.

“Oh, The Ring. I want to see it!” You know me; I’m not usually into girly stuff. But I truly am a romantic at heart. And her ring was so perfect. It was gold, with a diamond. She could probably tell you what cut it was and what setting, and all that. I just know it was beautiful. On either side of the diamond were wings. She even pulled it off to show me the inscription inside the band. “Feet firmly planted, my heart soars with you.”

“Rach, that’s so perfect.”

Chapter 7 “Long-Distance”

JAKE

I turned on the Z-space transmitter that Ax had built into my laptop and typed a text message for Marco to contact me immediately. If he wasn’t in the middle of a project, I knew he’d call back right away. I felt a twinge of guilt – I hadn’t talked to Marco for probably six months. Maybe more. I really had let my relationships with the Animorphs slide the last few years. It just seemed easier that way. They all had their own lives, and I had mine. My life as an Animorph seemed like ancient history. And if I thought about it too much, I always felt guilty and started analyzing every decision I had made. So putting my past behind me seemed like the logical thing to do. But in the process, I’d severed my connections with the people who had saved my life more times than I could count. Probably not a good trade-off.

Suddenly my screen flashed and the thought-speak alarm went off. /Incoming transmission, please respond./

I typed in my code and suddenly Marco’s face filled the screen. It felt so good to see him, after spending time with Cassie, Rachel and Tobias. It felt like pieces of a puzzle falling into place.

“Marco!”

“Hey dude! How’s it goin?” Marco was grinning like a maniac. I guess I probably was too.

“Fine.” I wondered how I was going to break the news to him. I decided to follow suit with Rachel and feed him just enough information to make him squirm. “Hey, you’ll never believe where I am.”

“Where?”

“Rachel’s house in Colorado. Cassie’s here too.”

Marco looked surprised. He knew I’d been out of touch with the other Animorphs for awhile. “Man! How is Rachel?”

“Engaged.”

Marco’s jaw dropped and his eyes bulged. “No way!” Then he composed himself. “I guess she just couldn’t wait for me.”

“Guess not. She really found the perfect guy for her though.” I said cryptically.

“One that doesn’t eat mice, I hope.” It’s amazing to me that after 3 years living among Andalites, he still has a sense of humor. But maybe that’s the only way he can survive there. I brushed his “mice eating” comment off with a shrug.

“Hmmm. Do you want to talk to him? He’s here.”

“Yeah, man. I have to make sure he can handle our girl, Rachel.” I could only imagine the kind of torture he would put some unknown fiancé of Rachel’s through. But he wasn’t going to get the opportunity. I was about to throw him a curve that was guaranteed to floor him.

I beckoned to Tobias, who had been watching from outside the camera’s view. I got up from the chair and let Tobias slide in front of the monitor.

“Hey Marco.” Tobias said casually.

From Marco’s end came only silence. And a blank stare.

Tobias tossed his joke back at him. “I’m not sure I appreciated that crack about mice.”

Marco’s blank stare turned to confusion. I could tell he was going through what I’d been through earlier. Tobias had changed enough to make it hard to recognize him. Add that to the fact that we’d been convinced for five years that he was dead… Needless to say, it was confusing. I knew what Marco was thinking He can’t be Tobias, but I kind of think he might be. And he’d never say it out loud, for fear of looking like an idiot. But of course, I love to see Marco look like an idiot.

“Hey Tobias,” I said. “You’ve accomplished what no one has ever done before, left Marco speechless!”

Marco looked like someone who’s just realized they’re on a candid camera show. “Wait a minute… Tobias? What’s going on?”

Tobias grinned. “Yeah, it’s me, Marco.”

“Dude, we saw you get fried!”

Tobias sighed. “Not fried. I lost a wing and was captured by a park ranger. Sedated, in and out of consciousness, it was months before I remembered who I was.”

“Hey, I’m sorry man. If we had thought you could have survived, we would have come back for you.”

My stomach lurched. I had been the one to call off the search for Tobias. I was the one who convinced everyone that he couldn’t have survived. I had abandoned him. I tried to shake off the guilt. It’s OK, I told myself. He’s alive. He’s fine. He’s happy. But I still couldn’t convince myself that I had done the right thing.

I sighed and walked out of the room, leaving Tobias an Marco alone to catch up.

Chapter 8 “Visitors from a Distant Planet”

RACHEL

I pulled onto the narrow dirt road, listening to Cassie’s thought-speak directions.

/Keep going west for awhile. When you get to a large field on your right, you’re going to cut across it, then drive east along the edge of the forest./

I was glad I had an SUV. Tobias’s hot-rod would never have been able to handle this kind of terrain.

After winding in and out of trees and over dry creek beds, I finally found the clearing where Ax and Marco had landed. The ship was apparently cloaked, but I could see the arched shape of an open door. As I drove up, Marco jumped out of the ship.

Though it went against my nature, I had to admit, he looked good. He was slightly taller than I remembered, and definitely more filled out. Tobias is definitely muscular (“ripped” according to Nadine), but he’s not very broad. Marco on the other hand, had broad shoulders and thick arms. His hair was cut much shorter than I’d ever seen it, but it was still gelled and styled. Where he managed to find hair gel in outer space, I had no clue. He was grinning like a kid as I got out of the car.

“Hey Xena! Wazzuuup?”

“Hey Marco. You look good, but “wazzup” is no longer cool in any way.”

“Dang Xena, I’m back on earth for like an hour and you’re already insulting me.”

I shrugged.

“Wait… did you say I looked good?”

I shrugged again.

“I guess some things change and some things don’t. But seriously, you look good too. Who would have thought you’d ever be a brunette? But it works, it really does.”

Cassie had been demorphing as we talked, and as soon as she was fully human, she ran up and gave Marco a hug.

“This is so amazing.” She said. “I can’t believe we’re all going to be together again.”

“Yeah. It’s weird being back here. Everything’s so green.” Marco said.

“Well, that’s just the woods.” Cassie said with a touch of sadness. “I think you’ll find the city significantly less green.”

“Cities. Yeah, I remember those. And McDonalds! Please tell me there are still Mickey D’s around!”

“Oh yes, all the grease and salt you could possibly want.”

“Speaking of grease and salt,” Marco said abruptly, “We should go get Ax. He’s a little nervous about being on earth again. I’m a little nervous about him being around food again.”

“Oh my gosh,” Cassie said suddenly, “Ax’s human morph. It doesn’t age.”

“Yeah,” Marco said with a hint of sadness. “We thought of that. He’s going to have to get a new human morph.”

I was shocked. It had never occurred to me that Ax’s human morph would not age. Tobias’s had. But then, Tobias’s human morph was the result of some serious meddling by the Ellimist. So obviously the rules did not necessarily apply. It made me sad to think that Ax would have to get a new human morph. Although he hadn’t spent much time as a human, I was still used to his human morph.

We climbed up into the ship – which, by the way, was way cool. Ax was shutting down non-essential equipment in preparation to leave. When he turned around, I was shocked to notice that he looked so much like Elfangor. He also looked more muscular than I remembered, and his fur was darker.

/Rachel, Cassie! It is so good to see you./

“You too Ax.” I said, feeling slightly choked up.

Cassie gave him a hug, just as she had Marco. Trust Cassie to not feel weird about hugging blue aliens that she hasn’t seen in five years.

“You look a lot like your brother.” She commented.

/Thank you. You both look well also./ Ax turned to me. /But, Rachel, your hair has changed color./

“Yeah, Ax, that’s cuz I changed it.”

“It’s a girl thing.” Marco told Ax. “They like to have complete control of their appearance.”

Ax and Marco showed us around the ship. It was small, but there was still an open area with green grass and a small pool of water. I guess Andalites would consider that the cafeteria. Cassie and I aren’t really into technology, so the tour went pretty fast. I’m sure if Jake & Tobias had been there, they would have had intelligent questions to ask, and the interest to hear all about the gizmos and gadgets. After about a half hour, we packed Ax & Marco’s luggage into my car. Cassie and Ax morphed osprey and gave directions, while Marco and I chatted in the car.

We arrived at The House, where Tobias and Jake were barbecuing. Cassie and Ax were already there, but Ax was still an osprey. I guess he didn’t want to demorph in our backyard, even though we had an 8 foot privacy fence.

Chapter 9 “Frolis”

TOBIAS

There was plenty of greeting and talking and laughing as the Animorphs gathered together for the first time in five years. After I’d mingled a bit, Ax called me aside to speak privately. We went into the house, where he could demorph. As he did, the eeriest feeling came over me. Not only was I watching the first demorph I’d seen in years, but he looked different. I knew he’d be older – all of us were older. And I’d spoken to him on Jake’s computer. But the video quality on Jake’s computer was pretty crappy. So I was totally shocked when I realized that Ax looked just like his brother. Just like Elfangor.

“Wow, Ax. You look…”

/I know. Just like Elfangor./ He smiled an Andalite smile. /You, however, do not./

“Nope. Sometimes I wonder though, if I look anything like his human morph.”

/We will never know./

I sighed. I know it’s strange to miss a father that I never knew. But just knowing Ax, I know he had to have been a great guy to be Ax’s brother. And of course, he gave his life to try to save Earth, to try to save me.

/Tobias, I have a dilemma. My human morph has not aged. So I will require another morph, if I am to appear to be an old friend of yours./

“Oh. Yeah, I hadn’t even thought about that. What are you going to do?”

/If they will agree, I would like to perform a frolis maneuver, as I did before, to create my human morph./

“I’m sure everyone will be cool with that.” I noticed he still looked uncomfortable, almost shy. I guess it was hard for him to readjust to life on Earth after being away for so long.

“Want me to go ask them?”

“No problem.”

I went outside where everyone was still talking & laughing. I was so glad that the reunion had gone well. I knew they had all parted on strained terms, but time seemed to have healed old wounds.

I was about to shout to get their attention, but realized I had a more effective method at my disposal.

/Hey guys!/

The talking stopped and all eyes were on me. I could have started talking, but I was already in the thought-speech groove.

/Ax wants to create a new human morph. He was wondering if he could do the same thing he did before. A frolis maneuver to blend our DNA./

There was general consent and agreement, and everyone headed into the living room.

“Does it seem weird to any of you,” Marco said light-heartedly, “that we are in Xena and Bird-boy’s living room about to donate our DNA to our resident blue alien so he won’t look like he’s stuck at age 14?”

“And how about the fact,” Jake said, “that you’re here after a 5-year exchange program on a distant planet?”

“And,” Cassie said, “That “bird-boy” was presumed dead for five years, then shows up and proposes to Rachel the same day they’re reunited?”

I added my own/Not to mention the fact that he’s somewhat telepathic./

“Our lives have always been strange.” Rachel said with a grin. “But Ax is still waiting on his DNA. Let’s do this.”

Marco groaned. Everyone gathered around Ax, and he touched each one.

/Tobias,/ He said/I didn’t have your DNA before, because you were a hawk at the time. But I would be honored if I could include you in the frolis maneuver./

/Will it work? I mean, you can’t acquire DNA from a morph, right?/

/It has already been established that your case is unique. I would like to try./

I stepped into the circle, and Ax laid his hand on my arm. I’d never been acquired before, but I knew what was happening as I suddenly felt very dazed and lethargic. Ax closed his eyes as he concentrated on the maneuver to mix our DNA. Then he started to morph.

When he was done, we all stared in amazement. He looked familiar, somewhat similar to his previous human morph because he had used the same DNA. But different. Obviously, he was older now. He appeared to be in his early 20s, just like us. But there were other slight changes, and they were obviously due to the addition of my DNA into the mix. It’s hard to explain. But it was cool.

Ax spoke to me in private thought-speak. /It feels very strange to be human again. I am very nervous./

/Been there done that, Ax. It’ll take some time to get used to it again./

He cleared his throat. “It is, uh, strange, ange, to be human again, in-uh.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll feel better after you eat.” Marco said enthusiastically. “Let’s get some food!”

Chapter 10 “That’s What We Do”

TOBIAS

After dinner, we sat around talking for awhile. Then Marco spoke up.

“Hey guys, you know what would just top this all off? A flying tour of the city. It would be just like old times, you know? I haven’t morphed in ages, and I’m thinking the thermals would be just killer on a day like this.”

There was murmuring and some nervous chuckling, but then one by one, all eyes turned to me. I felt my face get hot, and I suddenly had no idea what to do with my hands.

“Oh, s. Tobias, I’m sorry. I’m an idiot.” Marco said.

“No,” I said, slowly, “It’s no big deal.”

“Exactly.” Rachel said. “It’s no big deal. Just because we’re together doesn’t mean we have to morph. I mean, our friendship is about more than that.”

I knew Rachel was trying to protect me. But I also knew that they wanted to morph. It’s a part of them – a part they don’t get to act on very often. And, in all honesty, it was the basis of our friendship. Sure we were all connected in some ways before, but it was Elfangor’s gift that bonded us all permanently.

“No,” I said, forcefully. “It is about morphing. We’re the Animorphs. That’s what we do. Except, I don’t anymore.”

“But we don’t have to.” Cassie said gently.

“Come on guys.” I pleaded. “I know you want to. Please don’t let me stop you. I’ll feel bad if you want to but don’t because of me.”

I could see that they were considering it. I noticed some meaningful glances passed between Rachel and Cassie and Cassie and Jake.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said finally, “I’m gonna go inside & work on some stuff. You all can talk about it & decide what you want to do. But I’d suggest deciding quick. You’ve only got about an hour and a half of good daylight left.”

CASSIE

Tobias stood up and walked inside. Rachel followed, but returned a few minutes later.

“I feel like a total jerk,” Marco was saying. “I mean, it was kind of obvious that he was a nothlit. But my mouth is sometimes totally cut off from my brain.”

I felt bad for Marco. I guess he hadn’t really been explicitly told that Tobias was a nothlit. And it was only natural for him to think about morphing. We’d all been thinking about it.

“No, don’t feel bad Marco.” Rachel said. “He knew it would come up. He’s been preparing for it.”

I was impressed again at how Rachel has changed. The old Rachel probably would have ripped Marco’s head off for being insensitive to Tobias. At the very least she would have agreed with his self-degrading comments.

“Maybe,” I said, “We could morph something that could include him in some way.”

“Like what?” Rachel asked skeptically.

Ax shook his head. “I do not think there is any way to include Tobias.”

Jake spoke up for the first time, “Ax is right. We have to decide to either do it without him, or not do it at all.”

I looked at Rachel. Out of all of us, she was the only person who could make that judgment. “Rachel?”

“I don’t know. He’ll either feel left out, or guilty that he’s ruined our fun. Honestly, I don’t want to go flying without him. So no matter what you all decide, I’m going to stay.”

The whole situation was getting too uncomfortable to bear. Then Marco, as usual, connected the dots.

“Well, it seems pretty obvious to me. Since bird-boy can’t fly and Rachel won’t fly without him, that only leaves the four of us who want to do it. In three days, Bird-boy and Rachel are headed out of town for a week in paradise. The rest of us are staying in town until they get back, which gives us seven days of guilt-free morphing. Cuz we know that they’ll be enjoying themselves way more than we will.”

TOBIAS

While the rest of the group deliberated outside, I worked on some paperwork for the Center that needed to get done before the wedding. Less than 15 minutes later, I heard the back door open and the whole group poured inside. I left my paperwork to see what was up.

“We made a decision.” Jake said. “We’re not going to morph until you and Rachel are on the plane to… wherever it is you’re going.”

I jumped in, “You don’t have to wait…”

Marco interrupted me, “It only makes sense. You can’t morph, and Rachel doesn’t want to morph without you. So we’re going to be without you two anyway. We might as well just wait until you leave & then we can do whatever we want.”

“But if you want to do it now…” I objected.

Cassie spoke up, “Oh come on, Tobias. If you and Rachel have to wait three more days for your fun, I think we can handle it too.”

Marco and Rachel looked at Cassie in amazement. Jake looked slightly embarrassed and Ax looked bewildered.

“What? I’m not allowed to make a sex joke?” Cassie asked with fake indignation,

Marco grinned. “Things have definitely changed.”

Chapter 11 “I Now Pronounce You”

CASSIE

The wedding was beautiful.

I know it was hard for Tobias and Rachel to decide on their wedding party. On one hand, the Animorphs were old friends, the people that knew their deepest secrets, the people they had been in life & death situations with.

But, they had been away from the Animorphs for five years. They each had best friends in Colorado, people they saw every day. Who had seen them grow and change into the mature adults that they had become. Tobias had lived with three guys from the Center for two years. They lived in the same house, ate together, worked together. Rachel had several close friends who she had met her freshman year of college. They’d leaned on each other through the stress of college, jobs and boyfriends.

When the final decision was made, Rachel had two bridesmaids – Nadine and me – and Tobias had two groomsmen – Zane and Ax. Two of Rachel’s other college friends served as greeters. Jake and Marco rolled out the aisle runner for Rachel to walk on. Two of Tobias’s coworkers served as ushers.

One of Tobias’s volunteer buddies from the Raptor Center was a minister and performed the ceremony. It took place outdoors at the wildlife reserve near the Raptor Center, and at the end of the ceremony, two recently recovered birds from the center were released.

Afterwards, Nadine took dozens of pictures. We ate cake. Marco refrained from smearing any icing on anyone, but Ax managed to cover himself without any help. We danced until our feet hurt. I actually had a slow dance with Jake, which was nice. We tried to teach Ax the Electric Slide.

Rachel had brought a digital camera and a tripod. So after the rest of the guests had departed, the six of us Animorphs slipped off to take some private pictures with Ax demorphed. Marco slipped into gorilla morph for a couple of supposedly serious pictures and eventually the session dissolved into ridiculous animal morphing photos.

There’s this awesome picture of Rachel in her gorgeous wedding gown, reclining against a Siberian tiger, with his tail draped over her arm. And there’s a hilarious one with Rachel as an elephant and Tobias trying to pull the garter off her trunk. Tobias was a good sport about all the morphing, and even relented to being the sole human amidst an unlikely flock of highly incompatible raptors.

Rachel got all artistic with the camera and had me do some really weird mid-morph pictures. I really liked the one with me in my beautiful bridesmaid dress with giant wings instead of arms. The one where I have leopard spots all over my skin is pretty cool too.

I have no idea what we’re going to do with those photos; obviously we can’t stick them in a scrapbook or frame them. But it’s nice to know that they exist. Ax and Marco will be able to take them back to the Andalite world to remember us by.

JAKE

Tobias and Rachel took off the next morning for their honeymoon in Hawaii. They left us keys to their house, and we all chilled there when we weren’t morphing and exploring the area. We had some fun, memorable times in the Rockies as wolves. We rode the thermals over the valleys as birds of prey. We even acquired some squirrels and chased each other up and down trees like goofy idiots.

When Tobias and Rachel returned a week later, we all felt a little sad, knowing that our time together was coming to an end. We all had real lives to go back to. Lives that – for the most part – took us in separate directions. But this time, we were leaving each other with fond memories and warm feelings. Ax and Marco invited us to visit the Andalite homeworld sometime. And those of us that are earthbound talked about visiting the Hork Bajir Valley one day.

It will be interesting to see what the future brings. After all that time apart, we’re still very much connected. I don’t think we’ll be shutting each other out of our lives anymore. These relationships are too precious to let them drift apart. We’re going to make it a point to remember that strange, difficult part of our lives that made us who we are today. We made a promise to meet every year for an Animorph reunion.

Author’s Note: This is the end of this story. I did try to leave it open-ended, so that possible spin-offs and sequels would be possible. But I don’t have any plans to write more at the moment. I’ve drafted a couple storylines about what each of the other Animorphs were up to before the wedding, what was going on with the free Hork Bajir and freed human Controllers, and what a visit to the Andalite homeworld might hold for Tobias and Rachel… but with my limited free time to write, and my lack of good story-telling skills, I don’t see any of those ever coming to fruition. However, if there’s someone out there with a passion to get those stories out there, and you’re willing to stay within my alternate universe, I’d be glad to work with you to create more stories.

http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2113011/1/The_Reunion

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