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How A Hawk Throws A Bouquet, and Other Amazing Wedding Facts

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Three days after I appeared, live, on the history channel special, “Ghosts of the Pool,” I got a package in the mail.

Really, I’m on the history channel way too often. It’s like the Animorphs are the new Hitler, because the history channel doesn’t show anything else. Too expensive to send the film crews to other planets, too.

Not that I’m complaining, it’s my livelihood. It’s even in my little chryon. “Anneke Jans - Animorphs Scholar, UCSB.” You probably saw me in Ken Burns Jr’s “Animorphs.” I was the one with the pixie cut.

On the show, I told Dr. Althsa 231, my debate partner and faculty co-chair, my crackpot theory, and for once, they didn’t edit it out of the broadcast (even the time delay). I said that Rachel Berenson’s April Fool’s 2001 disappearance was not proof of her death, and that if her political enemies had killed her, someone would have taken credit; that it was more likely that she ran off of her own free will.

Hear me out, though. It was strange, wasn’t it? She and Marco Dimayuga were the two Animorphs who shone on camera after the war had been won. The camera loved her, and her flawless hair and gymnastic poise. She had the Hollywood happy ending, when, three weeks after the surrender, she appeared, after being declared dead.

It was already bizarre as hell, that she appeared in thin air behind her dad during a newscast, like an invisibility illusion had simply worn off. Her clothes were covered in dog hair. Even I don’t know what to make of that. Just appeared in the rubble of the mall and stood there, in front of her dad. She was playing the camera like a violin. She probably got it from him. I’ve watched that clip so many times and the moment just seems so… goofy. Still, his face, and the hug? That was the stuff of television legend.

She got all the ticker tape parades and plaudits and celebratory feasts that her teammates hadn’t gotten. The end of the war came as a sudden relief to us, not a celebration. Three weeks later, at least in my family, we had enough food from the relief efforts to celebrate a surprise happy ending. There was rejoicing. She appeared on live TV that week, hugging her dad and answering evasive questions. The whole team posed for their first press photo immediately afterward at an undisclosed location. She got free meals everywhere she went, with no one checking her ID. For her eighteenth birthday, she bought a mall. She had her family and her planet back and everything she ever wanted.

All the same, I’ve always maintained that being dead for three weeks would change your priorities in life.

She arrived on earth after three years in hell and three weeks in limbo and had nine months in paradise. What else is there to live for? I said the answer was simple: live on earth. Be somewhere else. She could go anywhere, do anything, be anyone, and she could have. Her boyfriend from during the war had flown off into the woods during the period she was declared dead, and she’d clearly moved on. Nary a paparazzo found a trace of him and her together during her nine months here, and nowadays, whenever he does interviews in his avian old age, he lets it be known that he’ll end the interview immediately if he’s asked of her wherabouts.

Tobias Kushner was a grumpy old ex-child soldier and rarely shared much with interviewers, and that’s including the fact that he didn’t have any facial expressions for the cameras. He got maybe a tenth of the press Cassie asked for, and a twentieth of the press Marco simply took for himself. If she was dead, surely they’d all be more choked up when they talked about her, and less wistful and less often chuckling to themselves. Rachel was too important. Too important to everyone. She wouldn’t have died like this, just leaving without a trace. And that’s what happened. The animal conservation community talk she did with Cassie’s parents at the Gardens on April Fool’s Day 2001 was the last time she was ever seen in public. Tabloids reported seeing her two days later at a Joann fabrics. No one took notice of it until she simply never turned up again.

And besides, two weeks after she disappeared, there’s a blot in all the Animorphs’ schedules for a three day period. I’ve always been curious about that. Call me a conspiracy theorist. Monday, April 23rd, 2001, through Wednesday the 25th. Marco cancelled his filming schedule, Jake cancelled his classes, Dan Berenson took the week off, no one else on the team or their families appeared in public.

“Private funeral” didn’t sit right with me. It didn’t feel like a funeral. No one was sad afterward. For the rest of the year, Marco and Cassie, in interviews, would brush off questions of her wherabouts with smiles and laughter.

Therefore, I told my co-host, she had faked her death and gone into civilian life. 

Althsa shook her host’s head.

Now, Althsa is great. I find both her and her host, Ms. Jedliča Abramovič, both grand people to chat with, and every time I’m at the Aftran 427 Institute of Bodily Relations, I find myself getting tea with them. But when she’s on camera, that yeerk is a machine.

“My dear co-host has never heard of human suicide. Of the pressures of fame. Of the way that sentients like us can feel shame. Especially the shame of being a killing machine for a guerilla battalion. Suicide is Occam’s razor, to use the human phrase.”

“The Berensons are not Andalites , Althsa, or samurai, or German poets. Suicide isn’t their default reaction to a situation.”

“Conspiracy theories. You’re being a conspiracy theorist.”

“No, I’m saying that something happened, and it’s our job as scholars and historians to find out what.”

“Really,” she said, rolling Jedliča’s eyes, “this is really closer to your wheelhouse than mine. You’d think,” she said with a wink, “killing her cousin would put her a few rungs lower on the ladder.”
“That was in the Spielberg movie. She didn’t kill Tom, she said repeatedly she wasn’t on the Pool ship that night. And dollars to donuts, whoever did kill Essa 421 didn’t know Tom wasn’t on the pool ship either. Nor that “Tom” was Essa in morph. We just had him on this program twenty minutes ago, and after talking about his job as the double decoy for Visser Sixteen at the end of the war, and his own escape, he told me outright that he wasn’t worried where Rachel was.”

“That’s because he’s Jewish, they don’t believe in hell. No matter how many Yeerks you kill.” She was always touchy about Jake’s actions on the pool ship. She has every right to be. She lost 204 of her siblings that day.

“Not necessarily practicing. He didn’t turn out to be dead, why wouldn’t she?” I took a drink. “Besides, Jake was the one who gave those orders to flush -”

“Not flush , Anneke. I was talking about oatmeal. Unless Jake was the elephant who threw all the boxes of oatmeal into the pool in the Maple Ginger Massacre. Shall I call the Geneva convention on that? My great-aunt had her brain stem eaten away, and she got eaten by Taxxons with all her poolmates-”

“She didn’t immediately kill-” I got cut off.

“I think at the end of the day, Rachel’s not where we are right now. That’s all that matters. We know we’re not alone in the universe… we can cooperate. We can save our own hides, because we have each other’s backs. We don’t need anyone to save us anymore. We can save each other instead.”

I let her have the last word, how could I argue with that?

“We can be our own animorphs, then,” I smiled.

“Even yeerks like us here at the Institute. We always welcome voluntary hosts, guys,” she waved Jedliča’s arm at the camera. “Your donations are also always appreciated.”

“How much things change in twenty years,” the narrator said over the footage of us shaking hands as if we were political debate opponents obeying the spirit of social niceties.


Althsa gave me a hug once we were both backstage.

“Anneke, you understand, right?”

I nodded. She took my hand in Jedliča’s.

“You understand how hard it is. Always being the villains of the story.”

I opened my mouth.

“But do you get how insensitive that is, Anneke, to spout conspiracy theories about the life of someone who killed my relatives in wartime? Right in front of me, trying to redeem my species from the actions of a regime, and you say that your hithpsil wartime hero is out there someplace, like a ghost? It not only throws us off topic, it undoes all the progress I’m trying to make.”

She released my hand. “So sorry to throw you off topic, but it wasn’t the topic we needed.”

I nodded. Words weren’t gonna come to me.

“Look, next week, I’ll take you to that place with the Mexican hot cocoa you like. If you can convince me before then, I’ll pay for dessert.”

I swallowed. “It’s a bet, then.”

“Alright,” she said. “Good luck finding evidence I haven’t already seen. May Rachel’s ghost bless you with evidence. Pray to her in the pantheons of all your planets. I sincerely want to be surprised.” And she kissed me on the cheek.

And like a yeerk, she meant that with total sincerity. Total curiosity.

And three nights later I got a package in the mail.

Chapter Text

“To a believer - 

Do not digitize this. Do not spread this. You never saw it. But this is an affection of faith. Destroy after watching.

From a friend.”

 

The post-it note attached to the 1998-era Fujishima camcorder cassette gave me pause. It was familiar. Too familiar, to someone like me who read all the handwritten Animorphs journals.

I checked the handwriting against my memory, and then all the Animorph samples in my files.

It didn’t match any of the known Animorphs. Especially not Rachel. She knew actual calligraphy. This was shaky, like this person couldn’t even hold a pen. But not that shaky, not like they’d tried writing it with their left hand. It didn’t have the jerkiness.

There were quite a few differences, but I was intrigued by the similarity of the little uppercase D-loops that Peter Dimayuga had written in his lab notes.

Alright! So handwriting analysis is a hobby I have. Sue me.

This is gonna bug me for a while. Who sent this?

And what did it say on the tape under the note?

“Galleon’s Lap, 2001 - A Memento.”

What was that from?

This deserves scrutiny. Study. Sanctuary.

I know I still have one of those machines in the closet - so I take it out. I hook it up to the TV on the desk in my study. And I clear my desk and dim the lights and take out a notebook… and I sit. And I watch.

I tell myself I shouldn’t, but something about that urgency was making me suspect this was authentic. The kind of authentic that starts with “I can’t tell you my last name. I can’t tell you where I live.” Even if two paragraphs later they talk about Pacific View Mall in the most obvious way. That kind of authentic.

I press play and get that classic cassette tape onomatopoeia.

Ck-THWRRRRNGP.

  The tape begins. I fast-forward through the black parts, only to pause and rewind once I see light and color. My first impression is green.

A piece of paper is held up to the camera. It’s the most cryptic of invitations.

 

“The parents of the bandits invite you, __________, to dance, at 2 P.M, 1st Iyyar 5761. Come to Galleon’s lap. Potluck. No media, no intruders, destroy after reading.”

And written around those instructions, the cryptic

"הֶהָרִים וְהַגְּבָעוֹת, יִפְצְחוּ לִפְנֵיכֶם רִנָּה, וְכָל-עֲצֵי הַשָּׂדֶה, יִמְחֲאוּ-כָף”

 

Pause the tape. That’s April 24th, 2001! I was right on the date! They were doing… something. They were supposed to bring food. Something secret. Something that would, in the words of Isaiah 55:12, make the “mountains and the hills burst into song before you, and the trees of the forest applaud.”

That took me entirely too long with google and a Hebrew dictionary to look up. Is that Rachel’s calligraphy? It’s gorgeous. Her lameds flow like the Andalite shormitarquen for “existence,” with the little swoop. That was with human hands. It doesn’t have the quirk that an Andalite’s second thumb puts on those curving strokes.

And Galleon’s Lap? “Winnie the Pooh!” That’s what it’s from. That had to be some sort of forest-related code.

Play the tape.

The second shot is Marco’s head, framed by trees.

So, at the very least, this has something to do with the Animorphs.

He calls himself the cute one. He’s not good in wide-angle lens. This is “Son of the Mask” territory. Even though he’s eighteen or so, and it looks like he just freshly shaved.

“Xena: Warrior bride. The day finally came.” His eyes are animated. They dart as he rambles. “There’s some kind of purity thing going on or I’d go backstage and wish the lovely bride well, but she’s primping and preening and doing other girl stuff. Naomi probably wants her to wear her old dress.” He chuckled a little as the camera swung around. “So it’s just, uh, just Cassie and the rest of her family back there. I’m not sure if Dan’s there too, but he’s a trooper and we love him.”

Something doesn’t sit right. He says backstage, but this is just… there’s sunlight behind him, blowing out the lens. There’s trees. Green was the right impression, he’s already in the forest. I’m glad he’s on a tripod.

“I mean, I come here for the happy memories. It’s just like…” he gestures flippantly to his left, “...about five minutes that way as the osprey flies that I almost got trapped in wolf morph. You never know, I could have been a big sexy wolf on TV right now. Even more of a bitch than I always was…” He pauses for the laughter that doesn’t come. “So I did know the place! It’s like Rachel and Tobias wanted me to remember the place. Now that neither of them have that problem. I guess they do have a sense of humor after all, just not one as good as mine.”

He sticks the camera tripod down and shows off his outfit: a tuxedo pattern tracksuit that probably cost $400, and a pair of designer sandals.

“Check it out. I borrowed this suit from Leonardo Dicaprio, and it’s barely even wrinkled.”

“You could have borrowed it from Prince, tall guy.” That’s Jake Berenson’s voice. Is he here? Was he watching Marco stare at the camera like this? The audio doesn’t sound like anyone is stepping up, on twigs or whatever.

“Purple isn’t my color, fearless leader.”

“Nor is off-black, apparently. I can’t believe I survived a war with you, dude.”

The camera begins to shake as someone swivels it on its tripod. Taking up the front is a proper serge daytime suit with black tie, and a pair of weathered hands.

I stifle a gasp. Those are Jake Berenson’s hands. The camcorder doesn’t have as high a resolution as the holopainting commissioned in 2000, but you can see the telltale callouses, the way he snaps his fingers like he’s fighting to keep tiger claws from popping out. And the left pinky nail that broke off in a door Tom slammed when he was ten, how it grew back thick and twisted and chunky the size of a pea, the finger he keeps folded into itself carefully when he rests his hands on surfaces in official settings.

God. I wish I was one of the real experts on the Animorphs, they’d be able to tell you so much more about his hands than I ever can.

Jake’s voice. Oh my god, he’s talking to the camcorder but not bringing it to his face. The paranoid kid. “We had Ax put our clothes on his back before we flew here. Our families would have killed us if we showed up in our morphing outfits. And… I’m catching a few with the bachelor and friends before they go out. I’m freaking out. A lot of the staff are ex-controllers, and if there’s anyone who would…” he trails off. The audio gets crackly as a pair of hands grab the camcorder and force it up, to the underside of Jake’s face. It’s not a flattering angle.

“Jake, you dweeb, I’m the only paparazzo here. You’re not exactly anonymous by any means. We know what your face looks like.”

Jake’s eyes turn steely cold. “I’m tempted to start morphing lobster so you put that camera away.”

The scene changes to a forest glade. I can only imagine Jake made good on that threat.

I click pause. I’ve never morphed a lobster, but one of my friends in college did once and said she couldn’t get halfway through the face without wanting to look into a mirror, and she freaked out so bad she had to demorph. To quote Steph: “All of a sudden, Cthulhu makes perfect sense.” So apparently even the Animorphs were grossed out by morphing. Amazing.

What IS this tape? It feels genuine. I’ve only handled it with gloves, I hope I haven’t wiped off any fingerprints. I’m not thinking straight. I need some tea. That’s Jake Berenson and Marco Dimayuga on film, right after the war, filming each other. This is a find that… oh man. Howard Carter would be proud of how calm I was being right now.

I’ll make tea. My hands are shaking. Tea is good.

A mug of tea later, I hit play again.

Marco’s voice. “And this is where the magic happens. Not many guests here yet, except for ghosts, but we’ll do what we can.”

The camera sweeps over a glade. There’s no stage, but there’s like twenty, twenty-four folding chairs set up facing a low-slung tree. There’s no chuppah, no altar, nowhere for a priest to stand, no visible signs of a wedding, Jewish or Christian.

Another cut. People wander around, past a parking lot in the distance that the camera zips over. “Is this the lovely bride’s mother?” Marco zooms in on Naomi Berenson, in a blazer and pantsuit. “Stylish as ever? I won’t get on your bad side on a day like this.” Naomi wears a dazed expression on her face. She picks up a guitar and a sheet full of flowers and walks back to a space in another clearing, behind a screen, from which faint, tinny, recorded Alanis Morissette music can be heard. 

The camcorder is bumped. “Cabrito.”  

Marco turns the camera around to reveal… oh crap. Right there. It’s Eva Martinez, ex-host of Visser One. I’ve only met her once, but she looks so young here. But already, in so many ways, so old. Her black turtleneck looks hot for March, but it covers the neck scars she was supposedly always a little ashamed of.

“Get that gallhushag out of Miss Berenson’s face. We’re doing our own thing with just the girls. Something Jewish that I never caught the name of. It means a lot to her.” The Galard slang word for a video transcriber. Oh, that’s precious. She bats at the camcorder with a bouquet of white roses and white hydrangeas she’s clearly taken out of a car trunk just now.

“I get it, I get it, mom. Yipe.”

“I didn’t raise you to be like this,” she yells back as she strides off after Naomi. “And honestly, neither did Edriss. It’s a day every parent lives in fear of. Even the species that don’t have parents.”

“JIhal fithnuk , Visser, I’ll be sure to visit for dinner more often, I know.” His Galard accent is absolutely atrocious.

“And this is, why, this must be Rabbi Taub,” Marco’s voice says, as the camera zooms in on a short, bearded man with very kind eyes. His salt and pepper hair rustles in the wind. “Give us a Live Long and Prosper, huh, guy?” The rabbi rolls his eyes and holds up his hand in the gesture. “You know, usually I get other gestures when I ask that,” Marco says. The camera moves away.

Wait a minute! Taub! I pause the video. Taub. That was in my notes someplace. I open my “Relevant Civilians” binder off the shelf to T. Rabbi Hyman Taub, Hyman Ben Avigdor. Active in Southern California from 1978 to 2012, and a member of the Sharing from 1998 to the end of the war. (He wasn’t Rabbi Yerevan, the Rabbi at the small synagogue the Berensons attended. He had died of lung injuries sustained in the destruction of the pool, though he wasn’t in the blast zone.) But Taub wasn’t unknown. Seems he served on the three-man committee when drafting Naomi and Dan Berenson’s ketupah.

He’s certainly a lead. I’ll look for him. I entered it into the internet box. Aaaaand he died last year of a heart attack. Dangit.

Every time. I couldn’t stand this. Dead end after dead end after dead end, and still no actual sign of Rachel Berenson.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic. But this was… this was history. My nerves were shot.

Maybe Althsa was right. A rabbi? He looked so shaken. Maybe this was a funeral or a memorial service and Marco and Jake were just… Maybe they were all pretending it was a wedding to keep from losing their nerves. This wasn’t like Rachel at all, from what I knew, nobody was fashionable and everybody was just streaming into a nondescript spot. Of course Marco was peppy, but everyone else had this look on their face of intense skepticism. The contrast was disorienting. 

Play the tape. Peter and Nora Dimayuga are setting up folding tables they got out of the car trunk, and draping plastic tablecloths over them, and putting up plastic plates.

“Hey, dad, do you have a warning sign for that?”

“...a what? Marco, boy, I’m super busy with…”

“You know, ‘Andalites in Morph must keep hands and arms and heads outside of the food at all times.’”

Peter smirks. “I’ve had your boyfriend over before, kiddo. I remember. You really mean it, they’re all like that?”

Nora pokes him. “When I was captured, that was a running joke we had. Visser Three and a wading pool full of barbecue sauce.”

Peter glares at Marco, the unspoken question stewing in his eyes.

“I was just mad about the C you gave me on the trig test. No hard feelings.”

Their eyes told him he wasn’t yet forgiven, but this wasn’t a day to crack open old wounds.

“Marco,” Nora sighs, “we’ve got this and there’s nothing interesting here. Why don’t you go see how the boys are doing?”

Click .

And the next shot took my breath away.

Chapter Text

The scene changes. The lighting of this glade is much less harsh than the previous one, almost pastoral, tinged with green from the leaves overhead. The air seems moist and still; I can imagine the smell of moss and leaf scraps rotting on the ground. There’s a sawn-off stump of pine in the middle, about three feet tall, and around it, on folding chairs, sit Jake Berenson and Loren Ibsen. Champ is asleep on the ground at her side. Oh my goodness, Champ. Our history department named the staff puppy after him, but this is the first time I’ve seen him on film. He’s bigger than I’d imagined. Jake is still in the suit, and Loren in a loose blue skirt and sweater. Her barefoot attire suggests she flew north into the forest with them, but who brought up Champ, if that were the case? I’m gonna have to take notes. Perhaps they were intentionally trying to make it confusing for people. Old obfuscatory habits die hard.

And on the stump, on a little jewelry tree that looks awfully beaten up, is a red-tailed hawk, preening himself nervously.

Tobias is starting to show his age a little, but supposedly the hawk he acquired to begin with was a juvenile. He’s nowhere near as aged and venerable as he looks on TV these days. His eyes are rich now, even if his neck moves stiffly as he preens himself. (I realize I really don’t know what it looks like when a hawk ages. Gray feathers? But in his journals, he complained of not being able to sleep soundly in his new body, perhaps that’s why he looks like a human dying of sleep deprivation.)

“The bride’s not going anywhere, Tobias. You can stop twitching your tail.” Jake strokes his fingers through Tobias’ neck. Marco begins walking closer to them, and zooms in on Tobias. You can see that Jake’s aligning the feathers on his neck that he can’t reach himself. I had… I had never considered that aspect of being a bird. A cat at least can use her paws to wash the parts too close to their mouth.

A silence as Tobias presumably responds. This footage is incredible. I can see his eyes twitch as he talks and looks around.

“Do you need a drink or something?” Jake sighs.

Silence, and then a click. “<...ink I would ever get this far, man. I’m kinda hungry, my metabolism’s too fast to fast and stuff.>”

“I know,” says Marco, “it’s us humans with our big slow metabolisms.”

“<I’d fight a mom raccoon for food right about now, I’m that hungry.>”

I pause. Who am I hearing? The voice rattles a little, a strange sort of resonance. I back it up and listen a few more times. The click also rattles.

Oh my god. This camcorder has a Carpacallas device taped to it.

I heard Marco turn it on, and it converts thoughtspeech into normal speech, tapped in the microphone outlet. As smooth and efficient a piece of technology as Andalites could achieve, already balancing the sound levels, and it’s plugged into a Y2K-era camcorder. It’s hilarious.

“But she’s worth it, though.” Loren hovers. “And please don’t fight raccoons. You worry me so much with big prey.”

<Even as an eagle she was too big and intimidating for me to ever ask. The fasting makes me think of that.>

Suddenly the reality hits me. I’m hearing Tobias Kushner’s voice. His actual, in-person voice. Not the voice-to-speech synthesizer he uses for his interviews. The voice the other Animorphs heard for years and years, the one he spoke with as a human. He’s young, but he has a slight catch in his voice and a strange blended tang, a touch of Virginia in his California accent, and it’s raspy and anxious like he’s trying not to let you see him cry. I want to cry! This is… this is a treasure! I never thought I would hear his voice in person in a million years. This is the next best thing. 

“Well, she had to want it. That’s all you can do for somebody.” Loren’s voice is warm and cold at the same time, and sweet like pancakes. She reaches out a finger towards Tobias’ perch, and he takes it in his talons. They all sit still for a moment. It’s almost sacred.

“<You know what I’m gonna miss? Her eyes. She always used to complain about her bear eyes, and I lorded it over her. She had the muscle and I had the eyes. We made a team.>”

Marco chimes in. “Did anybody ever think of asking if she would try acquiring another grizzly bear? Just to see if this one had fucked-up eyes?”

“<Language, Marco, I’ve got my mom right here. And nah, don’t tell me you won’t miss her regular eyes.>”

Jake laughs. “Yeah, but you’ve got my eyes. And they kinda look like hers. Eyes you’ll only see in your memory. Or just ask Cassie to do what we did on the soundstage.”

“I’ve done a lot of things on the soundstage,” Marco says. “Including all of us. Simultaneously. You’ll have to be more specific.”

“<I repeat, language.>”

“We didn’t invite your mom, dude. That would have been weird.” Marco focuses the camera on Loren and breaks into a whisper. “You’re beautiful, Lorelei. Don’t listen to him. Run away with me.”

“Once you and Ax get hitched, I’ll be your sister-in-law. I suppose I’ll just have to get used to this sort of thing, mm?” She gives Marco a stare like she’s about to hit him with a baseball bat.

“Your son’s older than you were when you got married, if time travel is anything to go by.” Marco’s tone was so snarky I could have hunted it with a bellman and a blank map.

“Marco,” Jake begins, “no limericks.”

“Limericks? Song parodies? Jake, you dip, that’s the entire point of a chossen’s tish, to basically make fun of him until we’re okay again. Here we go. ‘Your mom lost her mind and her eyes, your girlfriend lost five feet of size, and all I can wish is that after you’re hitched, you’ll never lose loving the guys.’”

“Cute.” Loren gives a sarcastic clap. Tobias stares blankly.

<I’m supposed to be talking about the Torah, I guess, but… I honestly don’t know anything. Jake, this should be your job.>

He’s supposed to be giving a speech, but he doesn’t know what he should preach; and if -”

<You want me to suck you dry as a leech.>

“Augh, dammit, it’s no fun when you guess my punchlines.”

<Marco, please. Stop being horny in front of my mom. I’m saving myself for marriage.>

“Tobias, it just hit me,” Jake cuts in, “you’re gonna be my cousin-in-law or whatever. Is kissing you going to be breaking ketupah?”

Tobias pauses in thought. “<Hey, Marco. Two things. One. Can you send this tape up to my uncle and aunt and enclose a nice little “fuck you” message to them both? A “haha, you are cordially not invited, and I hope you get eaten by Taxxons?”>”

Jake beams and gives Tobias a one-arm hug. “I’ve been trying to get you to say something like that for years.”

“Well,” Loren grins and scratches behind Champ’s ears, “this is an occasion. My jackoff big sister and her dipshit ex-husband can be told off any old day, I’ve done it plenty of times, but it’s your wedding. I won’t tell you not to.”

“<And the second thing? This is the last time I’m gonna go human until maybe after the honeymoon. I want to give my mom a hug, and maybe kiss Jake while I’m single. And… can you set the camera aside while I morph?>”

“Save some of him for me, bird-boy. Let me know if you taste my lip gloss on him.”

“<You can do your own orgy after this, guys. I’ll be gone.>”

The outline of his feathers ripples, and his neck crunches down as his eyes melt and bloat and ashy blond hair begins to snake its way through the feathers atop his head. Jake coughs nervously and with an all but audible “click,” the scene changes to a much brighter glade. I pause again and turn away from the screen.

The implications of those last few comments are stunning. Almost a shame I didn’t catch the kiss on film.

But I understood. From the way his body rippled, I don’t know if he was clothed when he morphed back. I read something about Andalites turning their human morphing suits on and off when they morphed… I had no idea how incorporating clothes works, I’ve never turned into anything that requires it.

Play the tape.

And suddenly I hear music...

Chapter Text

Cuando tú me besas

Me siento en el aire…”

It’s a different glade, with more ivy up the trees. A scarred middle-aged woman with a fierce smile and a red turtleneck sweater is strumming her acoustic guitar on film - she’s not bad, either - and the guitar has a “this machine kills yeerks” sticker on it. I would swear on a bible that that’s Eva Martinez, former host to the late Visser One. But it could easily be someone morphed as her.

The camera pans to other women. None of them are singing along, all are vaguely confused.

The Berenson sisters. This must be what Jordan and Sara looked like at 16 and 11. They’re adorable. They’re all wearing gray, along with Naomi. It’s an interesting choice. Almost like they’re simultaneously rejoicing and also in mourning.

“Seriously, mom,” says Cassie, who sounds like she’s manning the camera, to her mother, Mrs. Michelle Luthier, dressed in hiking clothes. “It’s the easiest song ever, you don’t have to speak Spanish, you just gotta go ‘SUA-ve’ at the right time.”

The song continues through a verse as Cassie zooms in on the table, covered with flowers and white cloth.

Sitting on a perch on the table was a large and sleek Krider's hawk.

Similar to the red-tailed hawk morph that everybody gets nowadays if they try to copy Tobias - or my own red-tail morph - but very distinct. A subspecies common in the American west. Mottled feathers, almost like she was blanched and coated in powdered sugar but it came off in some spots. A tail like a salmon-flavored piña colada feather fan. And the head - It wasn’t a bald eagle’s head. It had the smaller, coyer, more confident smirk of a red-tail. But it was white. Beautifully white.

If I didn’t have a red-tail myself, the microexpressions in its eyes wouldn’t be visible. But this was a giddy, adrenaliney bird.

It looks at Cassie with an indefinable smirk, and tilts its head, milking the camera.

Like father, like daughter. 

Suddenly it hit me who this was. I had sort of suspected. But I didn’t think I would need to see it, to be told.

<SUA-ve!> she sings in unison with all the other non-Latina group of the glade.

“Eso secreto!”

“SUA-ve!” they all echo.

Yo beso y beso -”

They continue. She - who I now have no further doubts that she’s the hawk on the table - shimmies surprisingly well for a hawk. 

The song continues. Cassie moves around, filming more of it - zooming in on two Hork-Bajir up in one of the trees, whittling twenty feet off the ground. I can’t recognize them from this distance.

With one final “Suave” that probably wasn’t in the original song, a burst of flower petals explodes to the side of the frame.

<Wow, here, Sara. Throw more flower petals on me. I feel like Marie Antoinette.>

Eva huffs. “This is supposed to be raising you to a throne, right?”

<Yeah! It’s hilarious, especially hilarious, because I’m never gonna sit down again.>

Sara pauses. “What about food? Do you have to eat, you know, mice and stuff?”

<They’re delicious with fava beans and a nice chianti.>

“But there’s no more -” Jordan begins, when Cassie cuts her off and turns the camera to Rachel. “I think she’s gonna make something delicious out of whatever she’s eating. She’ll be okay. She’s your sister.”  

The krider’s hawk - unmistakably Rachel Berenson - beams like the sun.

“That was a documentary in science class, though,” Jordan goes on. “It had, like, blood splurting out of a mouse when a bird caught it -”

<Probaby a golden eagle. Golden eagles can lick a dick.> 

Naomi moves to cover Sarah’s ears, but that’s not how thought-speech works. She looks like she’s biting back a few choice words of her own in return. “Do I want to know?”

<Nothing personal. One of them killed my fiancé once. And another put him in a veterinary hospital, but that one was a wild one. The first one was a jerk in morph. It wasn’t really Tobias he killed, and he asked me to kill him later, so I guess it all worked out, but golden eagles, I tell ya, kid coulda have been a nazi or something ->

Naomi threw her daisy chain on the ground. Rachel didn’t blink.

“Rachel, these are not things to say to calm your mother down on your wedding day.”

<Mom, I told you I was going to do this. I was all ‘I’m running away to live in the woods with my boyfriend with or without your permission,’ and you were like ‘You’re my eldest daughter and you’re going to have a wedding because he’s just an orphan and he can’t provide for you because he’s a bird and what do you think you’re doing…”>

“I do not sound like that.” 

<Thought-speech, mom. It has its limits. I was all “A wedding wouldn’t change that” and I was all “Why would we even have to get married,” and you were like “Because if you’re a bird then you’re basically dead and this is a funeral.” That’s why I agreed to this. Because we killed so many people, you earned a funeral. I don’t even know what I’m doing next. If I was an author writing my character I’d have killed me off by now, probably something with a lot of explosions. But I’m not dead, so I said “sure, a wedding, as long as Cassie’s writing the invitation list and not you.>

“Please stop talking so flippantly about being dead. It’s not as fun as it looks,” Eva sighs.

“Can we go back to the golden eagle? Did you actually kill him?” Jordan, she’s aghast. “Not an alien, but you said he was a person?”

Rachel ruffles her feathers. <You have to kill a guy-who-probably-wasn’t-but-who-if-it-was-in-a-book-symbolically-coulda-been-a-Nazi before every Jewish wedding. It’s good luck,> laughs Rachel. “Aliens are people too,” Cassie says at the exact same time.

“Wait.” Naomi pauses. “The golden eagle - was he the kid that you said - you said he could morph - you said someone had morphed -”

<Saddler.>

Sara breaks the resulting silence, a vomitously loud silence. “You’re telling me an eagle hit my cousin with a car. I’m calling bullpucky on that.”

<The car crash wasn’t him. He’s the one who morphed Saddler and pretended to be him, miraculously healed, after unplugging Saddler’s life support and throwing him down the elevator shaft. Dumbass didn’t have a better place to hide the body… I mean, I miss Saddler too, but I know why he’s dead, which makes… I don’t really know. Is it bad luck to talk about dead relatives at a wedding if you never liked them?>

“Revenge? He kill your fatherbrotherson, you kill him? Violent humans,” comes a voice I don’t recognize, with a slight twang. Hork-bajir?

<I never said I killed him. I’d prefer for what happened to him to remain ambiguous.>

“Yeah, but… am I gonna have to kill people? Is this just a thing that’s gonna happen in our family now, if you have enemies like that and I don’t know if they’re dead?”

“You have to kill people sometimes, kid, it’s just part of war, but the important part is to make powerless those who abuse the frail. Don’t pressure her.” comes another voice I don’t recognize. “And by the way, I’ve finished my stick. As has my mom.”

“Best stick is tradition, Rachelmother.” says a second voice. “I could eat, but stick for the happy two to see. Maybe eat.”

“We’re still working on the tradition.” We pan over. Toby Hamee has her bladed arm wrapped around her mother, Ket Halpak, and they tiptoe over to Rachel to lay two sticks at her feet

“Back up. What do you mean, kill?” Michelle asks. “She’s fourteen.”

“Sixteen,” Jordan angrily corrects.

“I was thirteen the first time I killed someone,” Cassie chimes in. “You know, the cop.”

“And I’m three.” Toby smirks.

“I carry her in little backpack on raids when she three weeks old. She critique, she improve troop strategy.”

<Mom, face it, you people who haven’t killed are the minority in this group. It’s five to four.>

“You are not holding Miss Martinez here responsible for the people Visser One killed.” Naomi hisses. “I raised you better.”

“No,” sighs Eva. “She was there when I killed Visser One.”

“And no human court should charge you for that. Come on.” Michelle takes Naomi aside to talk privately.

“Guys, stop arguing. It’s about Rachel here, not all that alien stuff.” Sara playfully lifts up a skein of tulle from the table and throws it over Rachel.

<HEY!> Rachel yells, struggling with her beak and talons to get it off, though it’s caught on something. <Ugh, this isn’t even my color anymore. Sara, Cassie, someone, get this verkakte sheet thing off of my face.>

“Hey, I thought when you put a sheet on a birdcage, it’d go to sleep,” giggles Jordan.

<You have got to stop talking to Marco. That’s the sort of joke he would make.>

“His jokes aren’t that bad. I like them.”

<Yes they are, and I can outjoke him any day of the week. We have a complicated relationship. He overthinks things. He’s gold. And he doesn’t look half as sexy in leather as he says->

“That’s my son you’re insulting.” Eva accentuates this with a completely unnecessary minor-key spaghetti western guitar strum. “At least, I hope those were insults.”

<A son I regularly went on 2 AM missions with, and had to listen to for hours on end. We can say what we want about each other. We need each other to function.>

Eva sighs. “Fair, and you six did save my life, like, eight times. And try to mercy kill me at least twice. So it’s either six or ten on your credit side.”

<Yeah,> Rachel chirps, shedding the tulle with a theatrical sweep. <But if you hadn’t stepped in and taken backup for my place on the blade ship, I wouldn’t even be here.>

“What was Jake’s plan, again?” Eva slaps the body of the guitar in frustration. “None of you except me knew how to fly a blade ship. Irony is, you all save me by killing Visser One, but I save you by impersonating her and morphing with you.”

Toby raises her hand. “I don’t think that’s actually ironic, as much as it is serendipitous.”

“It’s like rain on your wedding day?” asks Cassie.

<Don’t jinx me.>

Eva strums a G major chord, a smile on her face, the smile a parent has when they get the reference their kid made. “A free ride when you’ve already paid?”

“Wait,” Michelle interjects from the background, walking forward with Naomi. “I’ve heard that song, Cassie, isn’t that one of those albums you play really loud when you think I’m not listening?”

<It’s my fault, I lent her the CD. Cass, you can keep it. Miss Martinez, do you know ‘All I Really Want?’>

“That was Visser One’s favorite one on the album. She used to sing it really loud after too much wine. And it’s only one chord,” which she’s already playing as she says it, “so do I stress you out?”

<My sweater is on backwards and inside out?>

They’re the only two who seem to know the song, so the others are all kind of standing there, bouncing to the beat awkwardly as the lady and the hawk sing con brio . They get through one chorus, which Ket joins with gusto on the lines without words.

A sound of a stomp, and Cassie turns the camera to Naomi. “No,” Naomi cuts in, “I don’t know why you’re relentless and all strung out. You never told me anything.”

<I wanna reel it in and spit it out - Because you could have been captured by aliens and the entire human race could have been betrayed, mom. I went over this with you twice.>

“I’m personally glad she didn’t tell you, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. You lucked out, Miss,” says Eva, still strumming that Bb chord to the rhythm.

“Even,” says Toby, “if you were a terrible siegemate.”

“Daughter, she teach me how to read. She not bad.”

“I was all but kidnapped ,” Naomi hisses. “I know my rights and I know the law.” Michelle moves to Naomi’s side, and places a hand on her shoulders. Jordan and Sara edge towards Rachel’s throne.

“I was kidnapped too, once,” says Eva, drily. “It was six years of my life I’ll never get back.” The strumming stops, now that everybody present knows the song isn’t going to finish.

“Seven years,” Ket chimes in. “All of my life from when my head big enough to hold yeerk, until your daughter come.”

“Mom,” Jordan says, holding Sara’s hand, “you’re being really on edge here, you need water or something?”

Naomi pauses and slackens, and the tears in her eyes shine in the sun.

“Miss Berenson?” whispers Cassie.

“All anybody’s saying,” says Toby, “it could have been worse.” She steps towards Naomi, making soothing hand gestures as if to quell an angry horse.

Rachel says something privately to Naomi, if their body language and shots of eye contact are anything to go by. Naomi mumbles something. Rachel nods.

Naomi speaks up. “My daughter’s a bird, everybody. And she’s getting married and leaving her species forever. How am I supposed to take news like that?”

<And I say, I could either be a soldier or I could be a celebrity. Or I could do this. And mom, you’ve seen enough of the first two in the court system to know you don’t want that.>

“Besides,” Jordan says, “maybe this’ll keep the paparazzi vans away from our house for once.”

Michelle walks Naomi over to her daughters, where Rachel is apparently still speaking privately. Cassie turns the camera off.

When the scene starts again, the conversation has already broken up, and the adults move off to the side. Cassie moves closer to Rachel while the mothers talk.

“I’m not ready for you to go,” Sara whispers, seemingly assuming no one is recording. “I don’t think mom is either. It’s gonna be lonely, like when Dad left.” 

<No, it won’t.> Rachel begins preening her hair. <You’ve got a bedroom all to yourself now, and you’ll have your friends, and Mom, and Jordan, and honestly? I’m gonna have more time to spend with you than I did when I was fighting the war. I was constantly doing Animorph stuff, and thinking about Animorph stuff - and now I don’t have to do anything but be a family member. Even a big stinky one who eats rats. We can build a big birdcage out in the back, if you want.> She tries to reach out her talon for Sara to touch.

“Wait! Here, hold this,” Cassie says, as the camera shakes. “Sara, here, let me show you.” The camera rights itself, focusing on Cassie, with someone else holding it. “Here, you have to fold in your finger when you touch her claws now, so you don’t get cut.”

<Tobias has more practice. I’m new with these.>

Sara marvels for a second. “It’s still you. It feels like you.” She’s breathing in wonder.

<I told you, I’m never going away, I’m never leaving you again.>

Jordan walks away, eyes facing the camcorder. “So, they’re being all sappy, let’s see how the adults are doing.” She turns to Toby and Ket, whittling two more sticks, humming a simple song in an alien key. Once she gets bored with that, she turns the camera towards the three moms, seconds before Eva swings down on the guitar again.

“You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life…”

“Augh. They’re playing dinosaur music,” Jordan says as she runs back with the camcorder swinging freely.

<Oh man, I still have nightmares about those.>

“Dinosaurs like in ‘Jurassic Park?’” asks Sara, as Jordan trains the camcorder on the remaining girls. Rachel now has a flower crown and she’s covered in daisies and ribbons.

<Nah, we traveled back in time and all turned into dinosaurs and Tobias almost gored me to death. And then we made the dinosaurs go extinct.>

“You said you went back in time and fought at Normandy, not dinosaurs.”

<Yeah, we did that too, about a year or so later, I guess.>

“Cousin Jake still doesn’t believe you did that.” Sara’s constantly threading the flowers through Rachel’s feathers, trying to get them to stay in. 

<Jake actually died before he did that. He got better, though. I apparently died fighting Horatio Hornblower, and got better before Normandy.>

“She did die there,” Cassie pipes up, and we see an emory board and some burgundy nail polish in her hands, presumably still wet on Rachel’s talons. “I saw.”

“How many times did you die?” Jordan demands.

<I’d count on my fingers, but I don’t have fingers. And my talons are a little wet right now.>

“I’m gonna get all six of you and compare notes. You died way too many times when you were just my age.”

<Is that a compliment for the bride? I’m going to imagine I just heard a compliment for the bride.>

Ket walks up to the throne and adds another stick, intricately carved with spirals. Cassie picks it up and her eyes bug out, before she gestures Jordan to come over and get the stick on film. And it’s gorgeous. It’s like an octopus ate a stick into smooth negative space.

“Mom was always good at those,” sighs Toby, handing hers over. It’s equally intricate and beautiful, but in a diamond pattern. “At the reservation, we’re still rebuilding the folk art.”

“Back in Yeerk pool,” Ket says, “Yeerks say, not play with food. Hork-Bajir forget. Hork-Bajir should not forget.”

“Eagle!” Cassie hisses. Jordan points the camera.

A golden eagle descends into the clearing. A vague clamor arises from six throats, three with beaks and three without.

<Aaah! I’m sorry! This is... this is the spot, right?>

The clamor ceases. No one can be afraid of someone whose thoughtspeech voice is so quiet.

<Yeah, Melissa. It’s me in here, this is the spot.>

The camera pans on the golden eagle as it alights on the ground. <Oh my god, thanks. I don’t know the forest from above that well, and neither did my yeerk. She was all city.> As the feathers melt and get sucked into the skin, leaving a naked bird, Jordan’s discreet enough to turn the camera towards Cassie and Sara.

“We were just talking about golden eagles -” Sara jumps in.

<Yeah,> Rachel agrees. <Bad history. Sorry, you just had us on edge.>

<I had -> The voice pauses. “I hgadt a ffew borffs - a few morphs,” she says as her beak finishes shrinking, “that Sissalp didn’t pick for me, and I like flying in that one.”

<Because it’s so big, right?> Rachel’s voice is now wistful.

“Yeah.” The camera turns to see a wan, short girl in a leotard, positively albino in complexion, slightly older than Rachel but as short as Sara. “I’m not big, but I wanted to be big when I fly.”

<Tell me about it. Being big feels so safe, my first morph was a goshdang elephant. I’m almost scared to go out when there’s real red-tailed hawks there, and my therapist wants me to say when I’m scared, to say it out loud, so...>

“You don’t have to be that brave.” Melissa whispers. “Purring in my arms was what the world needed -” Judging from the body language, Rachel cuts her off privately. Taking care not to disturb the flower arrangements, Melissa strokes Rachel’s chest-feathers.

“Wow, you’re... you’re so soft. That’s... you’re really a bird now, right?”

<You know, I hadn’t noticed.>

“It was two weeks ago?”

<Two weeks ago. After a month of Tobias and Cassie being all ‘Are you really positively twelve hundred percent certain’ and coaching me through all the unpleasant facts of living in a tree and eating rats. And I was like ‘Frankly, I hate being a celebrity so much, this is a vacation.’>

“Two weeks this side of forever?”

<Actually, they’re still working on that. There’s methods they’re working on back on Andal of recovering mental capacity from known nothlits. Either way, we have a human-shaped backup plan. The both of us. So don’t worry about that.>

Melissa sighs. “I worry, I just know you can do it, so... I guess... yeah. What’s all this?”

<You mean the crap I’m covered with? Photo ops, mostly. And I’m also a queen today, so. It’s also a despacho and Eva’s gonna bury it after all this, it’s a Peruvian thing.>

“What are Yeerk wedding traditions like?” Jordan asks Melissa, tilting the camera.

“They read their suicide notes and the visser ushers them into the spawning chamber, it’s… I don’t recommend it.”

As Jordan hands the camera to Cassie, Rachel tilts her hawk head. <So, Fellini, how do I look?>

Cassie pans up. “Like the girl James Bond gets with. If James Bond was a bird and had good taste.”

“You’re a delicious powdered donut,” Melissa adds.

“Nah,” says Jordan, “you look like a float in the Rose Bowl Parade.”

An understatement. Her talons on the perch are a lovely shade of Burgundy, and the perch has a spate of carved sticks resting against it. She’s sitting inside a pile of red roses and white daisies, and has red carnation between her legs, orange freesia and sweet pea threaded through her feathers, and ribbons in red and pink and orange around her neck and wrapped across her head. She’s an explosion of orange and red within brown and white. But somehow she makes it work, her plumage sleek and shiny and healthy, and a sparkle in her eyes. She spreads her wings for the camera, showing the chalk and pollen she’s accumulated. She tilts her head, looks straight at Cassie, and winks with her main eyelids. Even someone without a hawk morph could tell how human the gesture was.

“Rachel, oh my god! It’s still recording! The thoughtspeech thingy is on...”

<I said that to you privately. I wanted to see you blush.>

“Voyeur,” Cassie groans.

“What did she say?” Sara asks in all innocence.

<Mom will tell you, if you ask, that you’re not allowed to hear that thought until you get married.>

“But you’re not married yet. Tell me.”

<I’d probably get in trouble with God.>

“OKAY,” Cassie yells, entirely too loud, and turns the camera sideways. “Miss Martinez, how do you turn off the -”

“Hold on,” says Melissa simultaneously, “it’s not that button, it’s-

End of scene.

 

I’m learning more about Rachel than I ever wanted to know. And I don’t know why, but I still love it.

Chapter Text

The next scene began with Tobias in human morph, flanked by Jake and Loren.

The tape skipped ahead. It seems Marco was too emotional to show the actual moment of them meeting before the veiling. As if this was the one thing he couldn't film.

I let out a small historian's sigh. Typical. Too holy. But I couldn’t blame him.

"...and therefore, that you do not make the mistake of Isaac, the bride has been seen, and now the veil is lowered." There was the rabbi. We were in the women's glen again. There was a card table, like a camping trip, with some leather strips and a perch on it. And everybody was gathered around, except Rachel, on the perch, and Tobias, kneeling in front of her in human morph, adjusting something over her eyes. Marco panned the camera to the crowd... to Jake, resting against the tree, to Loren, who waved him towards the bride and groom, to Cassie, who grabbed his hand with the camcorder and wrenched it back towards Rachel and Tobias, giving a loud shush. The message was clear from both of them. This wasn't their moment.

 Marco obligingly zoomed in on Rachel. But it wasn't a veil. It was a hood... a falconry hood. One piece, Dutch hood, calfskin, and of excellent craftsmanship. Tobias was adjusting it to sit right on her head.

The rabbi poked him. "This is your line," he whispered.

Marco zoomed out. Tobias was kneeling before her, almost overcome. He managed to choke out a little "thank you" before taking a deep breath.

"Achotenu: at hayi le alfei refavrah."

"Revavah." Patient rabbi.

"At hayi le... le alfei revavah." Tobias looked at Naomi, who evidently gave a nod that he'd said it right.

"Be it known that you two have begun a life made of sight. Bedeken connects you to the future, it gives you the special eyes, the eyes of god," intoned the rabbi, while Tobias adjusted her strap. "With your veil in place, you will see, all your children and your grandchildren up to the end of your generations will walk with you."

<Or fly. Fly with me. Hear that, Tobias? I officially have the best eyes in the universe.> 

Tobias wiped a tear from his eye and chuckled. "You should ask Alloran if he has a monster morph with awesome eyesight."

<Ooh, maybe.>

"An eye of god asked you to kill me once," Jake sighed. "I'm glad you didn't."

<Mutual, cuz.>

Rabbi Taub sighed. Tobias winked at him. "Don't let's make this too serious. That's not really the Animorph way of doing things. I still need fingers, or can I be a hawk now?"

Marco snapped his fingers. "Nah, we're gonna need your fingers for another two and a half hours."

<Don't you dare.> Her feathers plumped out in rage.

"Hey, it's payback," Tobias shrugged as he began to shrink. "This is how we started out. One of us morphing and the other stuck as a bird."

Rachel swiveled her head, annoyed that she couldn't see out of the mask. <GrryAAGH. You totally lied. I see absolutely nothing out of this, Rebbe. I can only take this to mean we're not giving mom any grandchicks.>

"That, or all animal life on earth is wiped out." Jake said. Everyone turned to look at him, except Rachel, who did also turn to look but she was about sixty degrees too far to the left.

"See?" Marco crowed. "I knew one day he'd learn to tell a joke."

Jake, eyes tired, face wan, lifted the bottle of schnapps to his mouth. "No, I mean, that's not a possibility to rule out. Extinc- no, extermination of all hinsellie lifeforms." His yeerkish accent was mediocre, and besides, it was antiquated. I honestly hadn't heard anyone use "hinsellie" instead of "psith" to mean a lifeform that couldn't contain a yeerk since, what, 2010-ish?

"No grandchicks in the magic future mask? Rachel, gorgeous," Marco said, giving a mock bow, "if this guy can't get you pregnant, I'm always here to help with that."

<If you just said what I think you did, I'd sue for half your house,> she replied as Cassie yanked the camera out of Marco's grip.

"Hey, I'm not the one in the gimp hood. Seriously, this is so kinky, I didn't know you two had it in ya."

<I will rip out your eyes.>

THWACK!

Marco doubles over, and Cassie pans to show Naomi, holding a large stick.

 <Hey, if that onomatopoeia off to the side is what I assume it was, thanks, Mom.>

"How did you know it was me?" Naomi cocks an eyebrow at her bird daughter with an interrogative air. "That could have been anyone."

<Call it a daughter's intuition. Imagine going on missions with this guy for three years.> 

"Listening to him? I will murder whoever put you in that situation."

<First, Visser Three beat you to that,> Tobias pokes her with his beak, <and second, that's your daughter’s father-in-law you're dissing.>

"I've handled enough cases of parental abuse to know it when I see it, son."

He whistles through his beak. <Where were you for, like, the first thirteen years of my life?>

"Raising her, mostly. Full time job."

The rabbi gives a cough. "Can we move it along? We might want to bring her to Dan to finish this part, since he's still fending off the reporters, and I don't think she should be, uh, flying blind..."

"Fine," Naomi says, as she and Jake both grab one end of the table and walk. Tobias takes off into the air. Cassie shifts the camera to view Marco's dazed body, prone on the forest floor, and she gently prods him with her foot.

"But seriously, Rachel, kiddo, the hood really is a little... kinky. A veil wouldn't have been nicer? If they make hawk veils?"

<It's honestly really calming, I can't see shit. I think in the future everyone will be wearing one.>

Chapter Text

Three bushes grow close enough together to afford a modicum of privacy. Dan Berenson - that tanned, photogenic TV husband he was in 2001 - sits on a stump with a thick leather glove on which Rachel perches. He’s stroking her back with his free hand and sighing. She has her hooded head resting on his chest.

<There’s nothing we’re gonna say that Cassie doesn’t know.>

“I know. But just… yeah. This tape isn’t going around? Tapes get around.”

“Mister Berenson,” Cassie’s voice comes in, “this tape is for family viewing and Animorphs owning only. We know what we’re doing.”

He sighs. “You kids underestimate the media.”

<The media that never found it suspicious that all the eyewitness accounts of random exotic animals terrorizing the town were being scrubbed from its libraries by Sharing member employees?>

 “So… why isn’t he a human? Why are you a hawk? Dangit, why isn’t my daughter a...” He trails off.

<The walls were just way too close around me.>

“Gee, I… I don’t know what I expected you to say…”

<That I was sorry for flying away and leaving you here? The way…> She paused and choked. <The way you did?>

“I was… I offered you to…” His voice went into the lowest whispers, I had to rewind the tape twice to transcribe it. “I offered for you to come with me. I didn’t want to be alone anymore. I wanted Baby Bear with me. I didn’t know…”

<Dad, the night you made that offer, that was the night I acquired the bear.>

“You told me.”

<I wanted you to always be… uh… wow, there’s no good way to phrase this, is there.>

“Don’t say you wanted me inside you. It’s your wedding day. Hashem would send down a lightning bolt.”

She pecks his hand. <You said you weren’t saying it. Not me.>

“But now I’ve…”

<I’m not the bear. I can’t be the bear anymore. And losing my human face isn’t so bad, most of what I lose is jerks telling me I’m pretty. But losing the bear… I can’t turn into the bear anymore. It means I’m losing the last part of you I always had. That no one could take away but me. The dad that can’t leave.>

“Well, then, I owe it to you to not leave. Ever.” He sighs. “But I’m still basically losing you, ain’t I?”

<Talk to uncle Steve and uncle George. You’re the only Berenson brother who didn’t lose a son to the war.>

“I didn’t have a son.”

<Who didn’t lose their eldest child.>

“What? The hospital staff told me Tom was doing great. Like he’d wake up from the coma at any time. Like he’d…”

<Please, don’t… don’t hold your breath. You’re such a furious optimist and I love it.> Her eyelids twitched.

“But he can morph. Whatever the problem is, once he wakes up, it can… heal…”

<Dad, Melissa gave me the run-down on what it’s like to be infested for that long. At the end of it, once you’re free, she said she just wanted to sleep. To not have to do anything she no longer remembered how to do. Like her dad, a puppet with strings cut and a severe case of childhood amnesia. I don’t know how a yeerk could do that. And the key is that there’s no one who can force her to wake up. We set up a laptop to Tom’s hospital bed. Brainwave crap they looked at said he can see everything. But he doesn’t want to wake up just yet. Give him time.>

Dan huffs. “I hope he knows we’re still here. I liked him. He was like a… a boyish you sometimes.”

<The first time we freed him, I watched him punch a taxxon in the face.>

Dan chuckled and paused. “I didn’t know they had faces. Even when I interviewed that Arbron guy and couldn’t find a way to tape his microphone on.”

He just sat in silence for a bit.

“You have my blessing, by the way. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say something with it. You have my blessing. If they need it, I say you have my blessing to get married to the bird kid.”

<You’ve got two more daughters, you’ll have time to practice this part.>

“My blessing so you can be Rachel Kushner.”

<Actually, dad, I was gonna keep my last name. ...I got it from you. And if there are chicks, we’ll decide then.>

They pause and Cassie zooms in on his face.

“I don’t want you to go.”

<Dad, I won’t. You know Tobias. You trust Tobias. He’ll be the son you didn’t have.>

“He’s my son, but you’re my sunshine.”

<You’re my shining star.>

“And you’re my star baby.”

<And you’re my shiny little flashy little lovin’ machine.>

“I thought that was Tobias’ job.”

And she giggles. Evidently this is a ritual they once had.

Tobias walks in on them, again, in human morph, holding two cups of water.

<Ah! Tobias, no! It’s bad luck!> She raises a wing to block her face, teasing some of the flowers wrapped into her feathers out of alignment.

Tobias shakes his head and offers one glass to Dan (who gladly takes it) and one to Rachel. “You can’t see me. You’re still veiled.”

<I can still hear the cup sloshing, like I heard your lumpy human footsteps. And I don’t know if you noticed, but I don’t have hands.>

“I know. I just assumed this is where you were going to cry. And hawks can’t cry.”

Cassie piped up. “You mean raptor tears aren’t triggered by emotional state? Because you do have tear du-” She stops dead when Tobias looks at her, before he continues.

“So what I figured out last year with my mom is that plunging your head into slightly saline water helps activate your tear ducts, secreting lysozyme to be distributed by your nicitating membrane, so that when you’re emotional, you can feel tears coming out of your eyes, and it helps a lot with the species dysphoria stuff.”

Rachel trustingly plunges her head into the water and pulls it back out, snorting water from her nostrils. Tobias wipes the beading droplets off the hood with a small kleenex.

<I’m blinking as hard as I can.>

“And it feels better?”

<...Yes. Thanks, o my wondrous betrothed.>

Dan smiles. “You kids are the masters at coping with bizarre situations.”

“Cassie, Marco wants the camera. I’m gonna demorph and meet Loren for the walk-in, and Jake will cue you when it’s time for Dan to come in.”

“Alright,” she says. “You heard the groom. Any last daddy-daughter words you want on this?”

Dan is softly singing a Randy Newman song about loss, tears in his eyes, as Rachel - unable to hug without knocking out all her flowers - rubs her head into his chest. From the looks of it, she’s singing privately to him.

Gently, the camera turns away from them. Tobias’ face comes into view, and it looks like he was tilting the camera. “Give them a moment. It’s Marco’s turn.” Something in his voice is choked up. “I’m just… I’m gonna see mom and take off my human skin. See you after the altar.”

Cassie smirks. “Lemme guess -”

“I’ll say it. Maybe, sometimes, I kinda wish I had a dad like that.”

“Even if he left your mom and fiddled you over emotionally with conflicting loyalty and the need to fight a war to make him proud?”

“Cassie...”

“Is it cruel of me to say you did?”

“Yes.”

Click.

Well, I think to myself as I stir my tea… she’s really not wrong.

Chapter Text

The rest of the Animorphs scholarship team here at UCSB always used to wonder what Dan and Naomi’s divorce did to their kids. None of them ever talk about it publicly. Sara has said it didn’t affect her so much, but she was young. Jordan said it was mostly tiring because Rachel had to be the second parent now.

And Rachel was, of course, dead, and unable to answer questions.

Was. Not is.

Past tense.

But I can’t help but think her wedding was partly an attempt to promise that the two of them would never divorce. New, permanent body for her. New obligation for him. And all this. It must have made for some nights of crying. She probably didn’t want to subject any kids to that.

Not that hawk chicks usually notice. They don’t have much contact with their folks after they leave their nest, supposedly.

I press Play and we’re back in the altar space.

“This is Marco, the cute one, showing you the stage, personal tour. Dare you see what spooky Jewish ritual magic they actually do at these things? Well -”

He zooms the camera in on a ketupah, resting on a bed of felt on an easel, which has two sets of three parallel gouges along the bottom. In lieu of signing, they slashed it with their talons.

“Here’s the part where they signed their firstborn to Rumplestiltskin.”

When the camera changes to the glade, it’s breathtaking.

“And over here’s where the magic happens. Which is ironic, because unlike 90% of the times I say that sentence, I’m still wearing clothes.”

The sunshine pours down through the trees in golden-butter pollen clouds. But there’s one tree with low-slung branches. And the chuppah? The chuppah is tied to the branches. It’s black, oddly elongated… and… the camera zooms in.

I’ve seen that cloth.

It’s Rachel’s leotard. Her gymnastics leotard. The one she used for a morphing outfit.

I can’t exactly think of a reason why it wouldn’t be kosher for a chuppah. Especially one sized for two hawks. And it’s not like she’s going to be using it very often now that she’s trapped in morph. But wow, the symbolism must be thick enough to cut with a knife.

They went on a thousand missions with it. It’s gotta be so close to her heart. Maybe some tassels on it, I can’t tell.

Under it, there’s a card table with a white and blue oilcloth pattern. Two plastic cups, one big, one tiny. They don’t look like they hold wine, but the small one is dark.

“Drink from the blue wine and you wake up in bed, believing whatever you want to believe. Drink from the red wine, and you stay in Animorph land and Tobias will show you how deep his rabbit hole goes.”

There’s also two perches. Which… they look like they’re just jewelry trees. Very small scale. It looks less like a wedding and more like a cheap Oktoberfest. 

There’s not much else. There’s a lot of folding chairs. Near the parking lot, there’s two folding tables and a covered potluck for afters.

“Here, my dad will subject you to his pasta salad, and Nora her white-ass Midwesty snickers salad. Cool Whip was a mistake on the part of whatever yeerk invented it.”

The crowd falls in. Steve and Jean sit in the far end of the first row, carrying a laptop with some Andalite device strapped to it. It presumably carries the aforementioned livestream to Tom’s hospital bed. Naomi and Rachel and Sara take three of the four to their right, leaving a space for Dan.

On the other side, Toby gently directs Champ to where Loren’s chair presumably is. She and Ket sit down on a nearby log instead, the flat surface of the folding chair not being particularly suited for a Hork-Bajir pelvis. Eva, Nora and Peter slip into the other chairs, as well as Walter and Michelle and one young man in a yarmulke I don’t recognize. Melissa Chapman, barefoot in her leotard, having flown, sits off to the side.

The entire time, Marco’s been doing the Star Wars Imperial March on a kazoo.

“And now - here comes the groom, skinny as a broom, he has no thumbs for John Carpenter’s ‘Doom…’”

Jake and Loren carry Tobias between them, on their arms, and set him on the right perch. There’s golf applause, is the best way to put it.

“In a time of ancient gods, warlords and kings... A land in turmoil cried out for a hero...”

Dan, from the other direction, carries Rachel in his hands. He’s trembling and visibly about to cry. She pecks into his chest for reassurance.

He sets her on the left perch, but she needs a second of balance to step onto it while wearing a hood and being effectively blind. But she makes it on okay.

The rabbi steps up to the table and adjusts it so that the two birds are under the canopy. Cassie joins him and adjusts the table a bit, and then picks up Rachel’s perch.

<So, everybody,> Rachel says, <we’re doing it this way rather than have me walk around the table blindfolded.>

Cassie, holding Rachel’s perch forth, walks clockwise around the table Tobias is standing on, three times.

<You guys understand. This is me binding him to me or somesuch. It’s a Jewish thing.>

Finally setting her best friend on the table, Cassie turns Rachel’s perch around to face Tobias’. The group applauds.

The rabbi raises his hands, and the clatter stops. Even Marco’s oddly silent here.

<Now,> Tobias starts, <when Naomi told me she insisted on a Jewish wedding, I said “sure, I’ll come to temple if I gotta be prepared.” When I got there, the Rabbi asked if I was Jewish. I told him “Well, I killed Hitler, that should count for something.”>

Judging from the video and audio, all of the Animorphs simultaneously burst out laughing, except for Jake. Marco stopped shaking the camera with laughter long enough to zoom in on Jake’s exasperated face and whisper into the camera. “Jake still… pfff… Jake still doesn’t believe that part actually happened.”

Evidently, no one had told Steve or Jean, from the look in their eyes.

<Ket, I wanted to thank you, I was morphed as you at the time. Anyway, we all… yes, I killed Hitler, why are you all looking at me like that? I killed the dinosaurs, while I’m at it.> Jordan starts to raise her hand and then, after a pause, lowers it. <Anyway, we did a lot of research and questions, because it’s not every day that they ask if a hawk can be Jewish.>

He bowed his head to reveal a yarmulke the size of a poker chip.

<I think we just agreed that we have to be a little more generous with kashrut, and a bunch of the other commandments that you need hands for, and stuff. So if...>

Rachel poked him with her beak. Tobias arced his head to signal a pause and turned to her, putting his head against hers and stroking up and down.

Everyone stays silent. When the bride and groom whisper, evidently, it’s important that no one interrupt.

Tobias bows his head as Rachel began. “<What my favorite bird is trying to say, people, is to stop asking if he’s Jewish, I’m only doing this for my mom and I’m not gonna keep a kosher household. Or a house. Or non-meat products in general.> She bent her head, still in the hood. “<I did my mikvah in a birdbath. We can do whatever we want.>

<There’s gonna be blood in this,> she goes on. <Neither of us can drink wine. And also, our prey isn’t always completely dead before we eat, because otherwise scavengers will fight us for it. I don’t know if Noah’s law applies. Point is, this won’t be strictly kosher, but neither of us are strictly human. Wanted to get that out of the way. If anybody more observant wants to leave so they don’t have to watch us, this is your warning.>

“Thank you,” sighs Rabbi Taub. “Not that I approve of everything you’re doing, but... People attending, family and friends, and any yeerks that none of us know are there -” he pauses. Evidently no one flinched. He smiles again. “ Baruch haba b’shem Adonai; berakhnukhem mi’beyt Adonai. This huppah -” he gestures towards the leotard, “-is now the roof of the house of God, and all below its spandex tent are presented within his sight. May their unity be a blessing for all living things.”

The audience nods assent. Toby glances up, seemingly at nothing, and scowls, before nodding and mouthing the words “a blessing” in a considerably more conciliatory tone.

“Mi adir el hakol, mi baruch el hakol, mi gadol el hakol, ye’varesh hahatan v’hakallah.

Tobias nods, visibly anxious. Rachel seems to hear his heartbeat, and nod more softly.

Rabbi Taub takes up the larger, water-holding plastic cup, and takes a single eyedropper and drops a single drop of wine into the water.

“Baruch ata Adonai eloheynu melech ha-olam, borey p’ree ha-gaffen. Blessed one, your presence fills creation, forming the fruit of the vine.”

<Amen,> Rachel and Tobias both whisper at once.

“Blessed are you, Adonai, ruler of the universe, for making us holy through your commandments and who has commanded us concerning marriages that are forbidden and those that are permitted when carried out under the canopy...”

(“In other words,” whispers Marco, “I’m going to hell. I know they don’t have hell, but for me they’ll make one.”)

Rabbi Taub takes a sip and puts the water in front of Rachel, who bends down delicately until she can take a beakful without getting her hood wet, and Tobias, who bends down with attempted delicacy - failed attempted delicacy, it must be said.

“By your choice, only one cup is reserved for the two of you alone. You have decided to share with those who have been partners in your lives thus far.” Cassie takes the cup from him, taking a sip, and passes it to Ket, and the cup continues to move through the crowd. “And it’s technically wine, even if it’s very watered down - hawk nutrition. We praise you, source of a creation, for...” when he takes out an index card, “the loving care and teaching of parents, the ties of heart and mind and memory that link sisters, and the ties that make brothers out of teammates, and the friendships that fill our cup, and the families we discover along the way.”

Cassie takes out a small box and lifts the lid. Setting it on the table, she takes out a pair of pliers.

The rabbi gestured to the unknown male. “Witnessing, mister David Levin of Chicago and I, Rabbi Hyman Taub of Santa Barbara.” Fascinating. The only two Jewish males unrelated to the family whom they could trust. It hits one how hounded their lives must have been - that everybody else in their local synagogue would sell this to the tabloids.

Cassie removes two small metal strips. They’re raptor identification bands - lock-on. 

“With these rings, I counsel my best friend and my good teammate into their new lives as Red-Tails numbers X-59 and X-61 of the Santa Barbara national woods.” Cassie tries to chuckle, but it’s too emotional for her, and you can see her lip quiver. Evidently, Rachel shares something privately, because Cassie swallows and rallies herself. 

“Alright, Tobias. Technically this is your job, so just put your talon on top of my hand...” Cassie takes the strip and folds it around Rachel’s left leg. With the pair of pliers, she folds the top down. Tobias’s talon squeezes as she squeezes the ring shut. He visibly deflates, as if he had somehow been holding his breath.

Rabbi Taub speaks up. “Okay, now. Haray aht m’kudeshet li b’taba ‘at zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael.”

<Haray aht m’kudeshet li v’tabat ->

“Li b’taba ‘at zu...”

<Li b’taba ‘at zu...>

“...k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael.”

<K’dat Moshe v’Yisrael.>

“By this ring you are consecrated to me in accordance with the traditions of Moses and Israel.”

<By this ring you are consecrated to me in accordance with the traditions of Moses and Israel.>

Ket begins clapping, but Toby lays her claws on her mother’s shoulder to silence her.

“Rachel? Are you ready?” Cassie asks, also breathing hard.

<Ready as I’ll ever be with this thing on my head. Cuff him.>

Next to the camera, you can hear Marco open his mouth, and then shut it again.

Cassie and her do the same squeezing motion with Tobias’ band.

<Alright... Haray ata m’kudash li b’taba ‘at zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael. By this ring you are consecrated to me as my husband in accordance with the traditions of Moses and Israel.> She pauses and looks up in shock, seemingly surprised that she said the whole thing that fast. 

“Do you swear to -” Cassie begins, but the rabbi taps her on the shoulder and whispers into her ear. “Oh. Apparently Jewish weddings don’t have to do that, so I guess that’s an -”

<I don’t care,> Tobias says. <I do. I’d do anything for her.>

<That’s not what she means, but I do too.>

Peter and Eva and Nora begin to applaud reflexively at the one element they know happens at Christian weddings, but this time, everybody else joins in. Cassie leans forward and undoes the clasp on the back of Rachel’s head.

Peeling her head out of the hood, she shakes it to loosen her feathers, and blinks and looks up. She just stays there for a little bit, a smile playing across her eyes if not her beak, and parses it. All of her family, all of her friends’ families, the sunlight, the people... the way they’re not a secret anymore. Well, they’re a big secret now. But they’re with family.

She turns, and sees Tobias. Even from here, you can almost see it through her eyes. She’s still slightly bigger than him, but they’re almost the same size. Together. They belong with each other in a much bigger world.

They speak privately, you can tell. Her body language is still slightly more human than his. But he leans forward and preens her head, smoothing the feathers back into place, gently as one would pet a kitten.

“Now,” Rabbi Taub says, “I’m going to read the ketupah in a second, but that’s the first half. That’s the kiddushin, the betrothal half. They’re fiancées now. So. Now, my problem is going to be reading my own handwriting. The blessings and the wine glass will be in a little bit.”

Cassie whispers to him. He goes pink.

“I’ve been informed that we’re not using a wine glass, that instead Tobias will crush a...” He rubs the bridge of his nose to calm himself down. “This wedding is a travesty before God and I’ll carry it to my grave.”

Rachel and Tobias continue to stare at each other with hawk eyes. In fact, she turns her head upside down to focus his face in her fovea. It’s a moment for the cameras, when she spins it back up, and they chuckle, but then rest their faces beak to beak and close their eyes, the happiest birds on the face of the earth.

In a sudden jerk, Rachel shakes her feathers clean, shaking off all the cloth and flowers and detritus, giving her wings two more shimmies.

<So I would have done this before, if it was a proper Jewish wedding, and I had Cassie do it, but I couldn’t do it while blinded, but you were all waiting for this. So I’m going to just do this now.>

With a mighty flap, she and Tobias both take off from their perches and fly towards the parking lot, where there’s clear space and strong thermals.

There, while he rises, still, she circles around him... one... two... three times. And he, in turn, circles around her as she flaps to keep in one place... and then they both circle together.

Rabbi Taub watches in awe. “How awkward on the ground, how free in the air. Baruch ata, Adonai, who made the birds and gave them the bowl of heaven.”

“Baruch atah, Elfangor, who made a kid and then gave five kids the ability to be birds.” Marco chuckles. Rabbi Taub boxes his ear.

<We’ll be right back after these messages,> whispers a voice with a slight California-Andalite-Academy blended accent. Dry humor.

Marco focuses the camera on a northern harrier sitting in the treetop. Ah, that’s why Toby was occasionally seen to be glancing upward, shooting dirty looks.

“So? How did you like it?” Marco’s voice is tinged with expectation. Andalite weddings are, he knows from their long nights together, nothing like earth weddings. No witnesses are needed, just water and at least one celestial body and the breath that gives one life. They’ve talked about it often enough, in play as much as in seriousness. Each are fairly certain they’d have to either mutilate the rituals or Marco would have to morph an Andalite to do so, but the option is always there.

The harrier pauses and preens himself and looks back at Tobias and Rachel, absolutely entranced.

<Best soap opera I have ever watched, Marco my mate-by-default.>

“I’m begging you, dude. Give me a cuter nickname.”

<I do not have to. You are already the cute one.>

Kids.

Click.

Chapter Text

The scene changes. Naomi’s voice. “And I want this one on film. What does that say?”

It’s a close-up of the Ketupah. Rabbi Taub gestures from above the slash marks that serve for signatures. “It says neither of them will drag the other into fighting in any wars.”

“I want that on this tape and in writing and in triplicate and in legal English.”

<Mom, you don’t - >

The scene cuts off.

Evidently Marco didn't care to film the ketupah other than that.

The scene changes, we’re back to a clear shot from the aisle, looking at the card table. There are now seven shot glasses of (presumably) wine next to the tiny container of blood and the large container of water with the single drop of wine in it. Rachel and Tobias’ perches have been removed. Now they both stand on just one long branch made into a perch. He keeps preening her. It’s so sweet. 

Marco stands astride the stage with a film star's poise, and milks the camera, following it even as Cassie pans towards the couple.

"So. I'm first. You all know who I am, and I just learned this phonetically. I'm doing this one because I kick things off, but also because I was the one who was hardest on you both. But you two both understand I was doing it so you wouldn't go off the deep end. Being ribbed makes you human."

Rachel has to chime in. <Being roasted doesn't necessarily make you human.>

<With or without barbecue sauce,> Tobias grumbles.

"Human or not, being covered in barbecue sauce is the highlight of our Saturday nights. Sorry, Rabbi. And the main reason I'm here is because this ceremony used to have six blessings, but this one seems to always come up. So we go from six to seven. And no one ends up dead, no one ends up as an oar-durrve." From the way he said it, I knew he couldn't spell it. "Not like last time (seven is good luck, mi culo).  But I'm here to bookend things. And I won’t let the extra seventh be anyone shadier than me, or someone I’d be more suspicious of.

"So, Barukkh ata Adonai Eloheynu melekkh ha‑olam, bo'rei p'ri ha-gaffin. Blessed are You, Adonai, sovereign of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine." He picks up a shot glass of wine. He drains it and turns it upside down. He bows, probably assuming people would applaud. There's dead silence.

<Marco? You okay?> says Rachel.

"Touching my toes. I hear if you do a piece of exercise in a holy shrine, you lose fifteen pounds."

<Really.>

"Would you look at this dirt! That dirt is gorgeous. Van Gogh. Anyhoop, take it away, on my right, my partner in the biggest crime syndicate of all time: the news media. He’s one of only two people who’s interviewed me and not hit on me either before, during or after the interview. Drum roll for Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaan Berenson!"

<Marco.> Rachel speaks up. <We’re Jewish. Of course he doesn’t eat ham.>

Dan steps up to the stage, rolling his eyes. He adjusts his yarmulke and glances to the side. He looks straight at the camera, just as Marco does. A product of their training.

"I wasn't there for these kids."

Rachel extends one wing and touches his arm. He breathes and continues.

"It should have been me out there. I was old and they were young, and they were already... when I moved East, Rachel was already in the fight. And I asked her to come with me, but I should have... I should have stayed. I wish I could have known. I failed as a husband, but you get to try over again, you get to get married, but you can't try over again when you fail as a parent."

The rabbi hands him a glass of water. He drinks. 

"So, from everything you guys tell me, I would have liked Elfangor. I really would have. He's a bit of a hard role model to live up to. The one shot against him, that he zipped off into space, you can shoot against me, too. So I... I don't want to say goodbye. From now on, I'm with you crazy kids."

He pauses, presumably as Rachel says something privately.

"My bear morph?" He mouths the words, but I can lip-read. "They don't know I have it. I'd rip this suit in half."

"And so I made my bed, and I'm going to lie in it, but Tobias?" He perks up. "You're a good kid. But if you're anything short of a Jewish princess' prince charming, you have a dad to disappoint now."

<You're the first time I've ever had a parental figure who wasn't a biological parent who earned the right to not be disappointed.>

The twinkle in Dan's eyes turns to tears again as he looks at the kids.

"They say Adonai is a father who makes all things, so, Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam shehakol bara lichvodo. Blessed are You, Adonai, lord of the universe, who created everything for your Glory."

He bows his head to Rachel, who taps hers against it and holds it. The audience spontaneously applauds.

"Oh, come on," Marco's voice is drowned out in the applause.

Dan stands there, swaying on his feet, as the forehead kiss ends, until he decides to bow to Tobias. They make a shorter forehead press. But he whispers something to Tobias, and I can't make out the audio at all. But short as it was, it must have been important.

"Naomi, come on up, you're next."

She stands and pauses, waiting for him to get down. When it's clear that he won't, she goes up to him. And he just keeps his eyes shut.

"Daniel, I wanted to say while it was a wedding and I'm under a sacred space and you won't misinterpret this. All that crap... you were worth it, for them. The girls are making us both proud, that's all we need."

He shakes her hand. "You made me proud. Ten years with you was better than a lifetime with most."

"No it wasn't," she says icily, showing her teeth, and hands Dan the shot glass to drink.

Dan takes the hint and takes the swig and hands the glass back. He backs off, walking towards his seat next to Jordan's.

"Anyway,” punctuated with the click of his empty glass set on the table, “this one is for general life, as opposed to specific life. So I suppose it's great that we were made a species. Because, you know, these are two hawks that were by parentage only 3/4 human, so the law applies still..." she coughs.

"Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, yotzer ha-adam. Blessed be thee, Adonai, sovereign of the universe, shaper of Adam."

She holds out to Rachel a small lump of clay. And Rachel takes it in her beak, leaving an imprint, and drops it back into Naomi's palm.

"You kids were made from clay like this. So don't fly too close to the sun or the wax will melt."

<Paganism,> chides Rachel, just as Tobias says <Mixing metaphors.>

"Alright, fine. You two keep each other happy. But especially you," she points a finger at Tobias, "I've seen your table manners. You're a bad influence."

<My table manners are worse now,> Rachel smirks.

<Messier. And less kosher,> Tobias adds.

<And Mother Nature, so far, is the best mom's cooking I've ever eaten.>

"Fine way to treat your mom on your wedding day . Is this what all your missions were like? No sacred stuff? Just... bantering?"

"Pretty much, yeah," says Marco, and everyone nods.

"Don't mention Teletubbies lore or we'll be here for hours," Cassie whispers, from the sound of things, nudging someone (presumably Jake) with her foot.

<Mom, what happened to the legal tangent you were going to go on about how "Adam" in the blessing could mean the guy but could also mean humans but could also mean humanity and all that?>

"Rachel, I love you, but if you turn into your dad I'll divorce you too. See if I don't."

<She cannot aquire him, Miss Rachel's Mom,> Ax helpfully adds in all earnestness. <She is a nothlit.>

Cassie behind the camera can't help but giggle. Naomi sighs and takes her shot and CLACK, it hits the table upside down, and she walks down.

She’s intercepted in the walk by Loren, who surprises her in a hug and whispers some things into her ear. That seems to placate Naomi for now, before she takes her seat.

Loren looks at the crowd with her eyes shut, and unerringly finds the next glass, and raises it.

“Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, asher yatzar et ha-adam b’tzalmo, b’tzelem d’mut tavnito, v’hitkin lo mimenu binyan adei ad. Baruch atah Adonai, yotzeir ha-adam. Blessed are You, Adonai, sovereign of the universe, who shaped humanity in your image, patterned after your likeness, and enabled them to perpetuate the image out of their own being. Blessed are You, Adonai, Creator of man.”

Tobias smiles wryly. Another gesture you’d never notice if you didn’t have a hawk morph.

“So we’re humans. We can perpetuate this image out of our own being. And speaking as someone who married someone who became human… I think there’s a weird sort of truth in that. As someone who was healed by taking on the image of her own son, no longer human, there’s another weird truth in that.

“Also, I’m told that you don’t say this stuff about a kid and about perpetuation when a kid is born, because for all you know they could grow up to be a serial killer or whatever. This is what you say when you know who your kid is, finally. And I didn’t know him for so long. I didn’t know so many things for so long. But I’ve helped a lot of people in my time. And you’ve killed a lot of them. And… somehow I still trust you two.

“I guess that makes you really my kids.”

She closes her eyes and rubs Rachel’s feathers. Rachel stills herself and stretches out, so Loren can get a feel for all the feathers and all the little quirks of anatomy.

“So similar and yet so different. You kids are gonna go places.” She downs the glass and slams it. “Woo!”

The camera shakes and we hear some loud scuffles, followed by a kissing noise and a pair of snort laughs. Cassie’s back obscures the screen, then she walks down the aisle towards the front. A thumbs-up from behind the camera is… yep, that’s Marco’s thumb, alright. These kids are just… Wow.

“That was Loren, and she did the best job I can think of - helping people out, talking through their problems. I’ve respected her so much ever since we met, and when she and I gave Eva the morphing power, Eva looked at us and said ‘It’s like you two were based on the same person.’ It was so sweet. Anyway. There were miracles in the bible, and stuff. Not the bible, you guys call it something different. Of old people having children.” Cassie coughs. “And I don’t have a lot to say here, but we’re all old. Really old. On the inside. War isn’t fair or polite or any of the things it was supposed to be… So we’re all old. And you guys are probably going to be the first to have kids. And human kids would just be too much. I’m actually kinda terrified to find out what effects morphing while pregnant would have on a kid, and this is like the presentation in front of class and I don’t know what to say and - augh. You’re right. I’m sorry.” Rachel evidently interjected. “I’m sorry. Rachel, you mean so much to me, and you guys know I’ll… Anyway. I was saying. I don’t know if any of us are having kids any time soon, if only for the celebrity factor. So the fact that any Animorph is bringing life into the world - and animal life, too, the good kind - the kind you can treat, the kind that isn’t gonna fight wars or be stupid, they’re just gonna live and everything will be okay - I’m sorry - uh, Baruch atah -”

“This one doesn’t start with that,” Rabbi Taub interjects.

“Augh. I knew I would - just hold on. Just gimme a second.” She digs through a few flashcards. “Sos tasis v’tageil ha-akara b’kibutz baneha l’tocha b’simcha. Baruch atah Adonai, m’sameach Tzion b’vaneha. Let the barren one exult and be glad, joyfully gathering her children to her. Blessed are You, Adonai, who gladdens Zion through her children.”

Her pronunciation is much better than when she tries French. 

“And that was a big deal, because that’s what happened to the biblical - sorry, not biblical - historical Rachel. God gives her kids past her time. And it’s really huge. So you guys - I hope the, uh, gene pool gladdens in your embrace.” She picks up the shot glass.

<I love you too, Cassie.> Rachel’s eyes sparkle.

She gently sips it and shakes her head like a bulldog. She clearly doesn’t drink, and sets it right side up. Tobias, with his talons, gently turns the glass upside down.

Jake, already standing, hugs her. “It’s okay,” he whispers. “You did good.” And something else. Tobias and Rachel are very clearly having a private three-way conversation with someone, presumably Ax.

Jake pauses on the dais to take a deep breath.

“You’re supposed to come from dust. You’re supposed to be the best companions ever. And I’m the reason you knew each other in the first place. I think. Rachel, we were basically siblings for three years. Tobias, you were my housemate for a month.”

<You were my best friend.>

Jake smiles. “And how lucky I am to be two people’s best friend. Prince or no prince.”

Rachel touches her wing to him.

Jake picks up the flashcard. “Sameiach tesamach reiim ha-ahuvim k’sameichacha y’tzircha b’gan eden mikedem. Baruch ata Adonai, m’sameiach chatan v’chalah. Grant great joy to these loving companions, the way you once gladdened your creations in the garden of Eden. Blessed are you, Adonai, who gladdens the bridegroom and the bride.”

Golf claps follow him.

He takes the shot and plugs it back. Then, thinking twice, he fills it again from his flask and plugs it back one more time. They don’t clap for this. Slamming the glass upside down, he departs, leaving one glass.

Finally, Ax gingerly steps up to the podium.

<Although I have been asked to keep a respectful distance by all families involved, I could not but help my shorm at this time. This seventh blessing is the longest and involves the finding of family. As she found me literally and he found me in his hearts. Heart. He only has one.>

Cassie sets out, under the table, a bucket.

<Most of the Hebrew blessings I have studied are almost Andalite in their elegance and reticence, the most pleasing arrangement of the fewest elements. And they are powerful. But here, there are so many words. They are wonderful words. And I am sure you humans design them to be so wonderful to play with. “Barukh” alone is such a wonderful word. Ukh ukh ukh ukkkkhhhh.> The Carpacallas device renders his attempts at replicating that sound as if a monkey fucked a lawnmower and tried to imitate TV static. Everyone winces.

<Ax.>

<My shorm Tobias reminds me why I’m here, and why humans are the most fascinating creatures. The depths and breadths of your religious traditions alone. These are so many words, all so fascinating in the depths of their ability to convey multiple subtle concepts in a bundle of mouth-sounds. So many sounds you make!>

<AX.>

<My comrade-in-arms Rachel reminds me of why I speak. I will call the being we refer to “God” because it is what one does in a religion. Tobias, you should have already been Jewish, because that is what Israel literally means - someone who wrestles with God. And you managed to wrestle and win the morphing power back. And Rachel, you managed to get God’s life story. I presume, knowing you, that was because you also decided to wrestle God. So in a way, this is very Jewish and all of you have done a Jewish wedding very well.>

“No, we have not,” Rabbi Taub sighs.

<We have done an Animorphs wedding very well and bent Judaism to fit where all religion should fit: into increasing the harmony of the universe that sapient beings live in. And done it without any ridiculous human ceremonial artificial skin or enclosed cubic buildings nor the many shiny things that your ‘school dances’ were covered in. This is the first time I have learned that human mating ceremonies are done with the entire family. I am learning so much from you all.>

<No, they’re not, Ax. In fact, after this, we go in the back with none of them. And we don’t mate.>

<You mate symbolically, as befits a wedded pair.>

<Ax, my mom is out there!>

Loren waves her hand. “I’ve heard worse.”

Rachel sighs. <Ax. We love you. But please. Say the thing.>

Tobias adds <First say the speech, then stick your hoof in the bucket of water down wine, and then leave, and watch your tail. We’re fragile now.>

Ax nods. <For my shorm, I will do the honors with all the integrity befitting my shorm, nephew, comrade, and the family with which he is becoming joined.> He starts bowing and drawing complicated designs with his tail.

<AX!>

<I will say the words. Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher bara sason v’simcha chatan v’kallah, gilah rinah ditzah v’chedvah, ahavah v’achavah v’shalom v’reut. M’hera Adonai Eloheinu yishammah b’arei Yhudah uv-chutzot Y’rushalayim kol sason v’kol simcha, kol chatan v’kol kalah, kol mitzhalot chatanim meichupatam u-n'arim mimishte n’ginatam. Baruch ata Adonai, m’sameiach chatan im hakalah! Blessed are you, A-do-nai, God, Ruler of the Universe, who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, merriment, mouth-songs, dance and delight, love and harmony, peace and companionship. Adonai, God, may there soon be heard in the cities of Yehudah and the streets of Yerushalayim the mouth-voice of joy and the mouth-voice of gladness, the mouth-voice of the bridegroom and the mouth-voice of the bride, the rapturous mating mouth-voices of the wedded from their bridal chambers, and of young people mouth-gorging and mouth-singing! Blessed are you, Adonai, who gladdens the bridegroom together with the bride!>

Scattered, confused applause follows.

<Ax-man, that was better than Marlon Brando. No cue cards.>

<Are you sure this is not a mating song?>

<It’s not a mating song. Just. Just drink.>

Ax helpfully sticks his hoof in, and stands there, before walking offstage.

<I have helped!>

“Yes you have, Ax. We appreciate it. Now,” Cassie says to the Rabbi, “There’s one wine glass left and the blood glass, do… you’re supposed to hold the blood glass to the bride and groom, right, after the seven are done?

Rabbi Taub shakes his head. “I’m not holding up the blood. And I’m leaving after the yichud, just so I know it’s kosher. Try not to fuck that up, too,” he adds under his breath.

“Alright, you know they… can’t drink wine… this felt more meaningful.” Cassie holds up the tiny cup of blood for Rachel to drink, followed by Tobias. They both drink. “Wait. Did I do that wrong?”

“Wronger than I knew anyone could be, but screw it. You kids will just do what you want.”

“Always have,” Marco says.

<Always will,> Rachel smirks.

“Well, since the relevant father-in-law is dead and the relevant mother-in-law is Jewish, I didn’t want to do this to either of them, I thought… I wanted to find a third way. So I just did it.”

<That’s you in a nutshell and it’s why we love you.>

“Rachel…”

“Alright. Dang kids… by the power vested in me by the state of California, even though there’s no paperwork for this, no nothing, and in, not accordance, but the simulacrim of accordance with, the laws of Moses and Israel, I pronounce Tobias Kushner and Rachel Berenson husband and wife.”

“Wait, wait, wait.” Cassie groans as she takes up a small cardboard box. “Alright, Marco, zoom in. This is the famous bit. And I think you’re not supposed to shout Mazel Tov at the end, it’s a sad thing, but you guys… do what you want?”

She sets on the table the cleaned, polished, yellow, and oh-so-tiny skull of a mouse.

There’s murmurs from the audience.

Tobias flutters down from his perch.

<Everybody watching? Because I’m only doing this once.>

Rachel gives a thoughtspeak chuckle.

<Rachel? I’m not about to break with tradition here…>

She ruffles her feathers.

<Let’s do it.>

And with a loud onomatopoeia, he brings down his foot.

CRUNNCH!

Actually, no. It’s not very loud. More like a crunch.

Still, we clap. The camera zooms in on the fragments of mouse skull.

“Rabbi,” Cassie suggests, “you can take the last shot of wine.”

Taub, with a defeated look on his face, takes the glass and sips and sets it down upside down. “There. Now it’s done. Now kid, can you turn that thing off? I want to inspect this kosher yichud chamber, and… oh man. Were you just gonna…”

<Go in a tree? Yeah,> says Tobias.

<We do it all the time,> Rachel adds.

“Short kid, you with the camera. Turn the camera off. I’m about to say some very unpleasant words.”

“MAZEL TOV!” Walter yells.

“MAZEL TOV!” the clearing erupts.

Applause and raucous Hork-Bajir howling overwhelm the microphone. Rachel feebly waves a wing, her and Tobias smiling subtly with their eyes. If you didn’t have a hawk morph.

“I now pronounce you bird and bird,” Marco whispers to the camera.

“SIMAN TOV U MAZEL TOV!”

“Und now,” Marco cackles, turning the camera to the sky before turning it off… “They vant to be alone.”

Chapter Text

Click.

Now it’s the after party. Judging by the shadows, at least an hour has passed. Yichud is done.

Now, everybody stands at the folding tables, with their chairs carried over, leaving a big flat space in the clearing in front of the chuppah for dancing. Tobias and Rachel watch from their perches on the card table. Everyone mills around, wine glasses being poured, as Toby pokes Marco, holding the camera. She wants this on film.

Toby taps a wine glass with her claw.

“Everyone… everyone. My mom would like to share a traditional Hork blessing for all tree-dwellers. A supplementary brachot.”

Ket stood up and spoke. “You dwell close to Mother Sky. May the bark be tasty beneath your beaks, and your eggs have much yolk.”

Toby looked at the crowd. “It’s difficult to translate.”

<No, no,> Rachel said, <I think we got the idea. Thanks, Ket.>

“Ket Halpak must still talk.”

Tobias gave a gesture. 

“Ket Halpak apology. When Toby say, ‘Rachel is nothlit,’ I feel my heart wave, paktaluhayuh , like healthy-sapwood seventh-degree-medium-size semispongiform branch in upward breeze. Heart wave with sadness. My kalashu, Jara Hamee, dead in pool ship. But Rachel, Rachel has morph of Jara Hamee.”

Toby glanced at the audience, before taking her mother’s hand in her own and squeezing it for comfort. When Ket started again, her voice was husky and round, as a Hork breathes when emotionally overwhelmed. 

“Rachel has morph of Jara Hamee. When she cannot be Jara Hamee, Jara Hamee is a second kind of dead. And you lay Jara to rest, not by becoming dead, but by living without being Rachel, without being Jara. And Jara dies again. But it means Jara never die. Thank you, Tobias, thank you, Rachel, Jara not where I can see him. Jara’s face gone. Jara’s body gone, two times. Jara never die.”

She turned to the crowd, and raised one fist.

“Free and dead.”

The crowd burst into applause, but the sad kind of applause. It was a long speech for any Hork-Bajir to give. Tobias and Rachel turned to each other and seemed to exchange private thought-speech. Ket nodded at another private command, released Toby’s hand, and walked over to the couple. Leaning forward, she knelt, kneeblade sinking into the loam, and put her head towards Tobias and Rachel… both of whom touched their beaks to one of her horns.

Tobias spoke publicly, but still in a hushed tone. <Ket Halpak and Jara Hamee are free. And in death, all are free. I promise. Forever. In the flowers of Mother Sky.>

“Ironic, huh?” whispered Toby to Marco, the cameraman. She walked behind the camera, so it was just her and Marco looking out at the hawks and the rabbi and Ket. “My great-grandfather was the first Hork-Bajir to learn what the flowers really were. And now they’re flowers again.”

“It’s a fairy tale, Benihana. We’re all fairy tales. I guess it swings around until you need one again.”

As she stopped talking, I could hear blink her membranes furiously in grief. Hork-Bajir tears are very sticky, and serve to regulate hormones during sleep, but when you’re awake, they’re supposedly quite annoying and will glue your eyes shut. She’d clearly been talking so she wouldn’t have to feel.

“I didn’t know how much I needed a fairy tale until he was gone.” She paused. “Your mom came back from the dead. Jara won’t. But you understand death.”

“How it feels like it’ll never heal? And you never want it to?”

“As life blossoms,” whispered Rabbi Taub, “so life withers.

בַּבֹּקֶר, יָצִיץ וְחָלָף;    לָעֶרֶב, יְמוֹלֵל וְיָבֵשׁ." 

I presume she nodded, or put her claw in his hand.

“Because,” continued Marco, “I promise it will heal. It’ll still hurt. But you won’t be alone, and you’ll never forget him.”

“I just think he - he would have wanted to see this. He deserved to see this.”

“I’m not good with words, you know that. But I’m here.”

From then on, they remained silent. Everyone was silent.

Ket stood up again, as if a load were taken from her shoulders, and walked away. From the sound next to the camera, and the way everyone was looking at her, she went up the tree next to it, with an emotional scramble.

<I always wondered why you were hung up so much about how hawks can’t cry. Now I get it.> From the way people were talking over her, I had to assume Rachel was speaking privately to Tobias and to the Carpacallas.

<I won’t cry without you. I promise.>

She pecked his beak again. Clearly, this part hit her hard.

Toby walked back up to the front and coughed. “If anyone has… sorry. If anyone has anything more to say to the couple before I join my mom and start cutting bark for ourselves, I’ll just. I’ll just walk away. But thank you two. Thank you all,” she said, turning from Tobias and Rachel to the crowd at large.

“I still have my…” Cassie says, before trailing off.

Marco turns the camera towards the woods. You hear him sniff and then do some deep breathing. Then, absently, he stops the camera.


Click. The buffet table. Naomi with a large plate of food. Marco zooms in on her and she glares and whisks it back from out of camera range.

Click. Loren kvelling with the dads.

Click . Peter guiding Marco through the food, on the opposite side of the table from the steady flow of hungry humans. “Okay, so there was a miscommunication, and it’s almost all desserts except for the stack of Chinese food Dan and you ordered. Nora made snickers salad, I made your favorite Ube cake.” The camera focuses on a purple sponge cake.

“Aww, Dad… how long has it been since you...”

“Well, when I got married, my half of the family brought a Manila lechón, and I didn’t think that’d go over as well here, so I just did the pasta salad and the cake… and here’s your mom’s Leeran Sticksquid sliders. I just think they’re too creepy to eat. She said she preferred the Leeran food, that the only good thing in the Yeerk pool cafeteria was the french fries.”

“Anyone else make anything? Just our family and the catering?”

“Well, Naomi made Kugel and she just ate half of everyone’s cake instead, so… And Loren made Mac and Cheesecake, and I’m honestly terrified to try it.”

“I didn’t think anybody else would bring kugel, that’s on me,” hollers Loren from the distance.

“Please,” Marco asks, “tell me you didn’t cook this with your eyes closed.”

“I was blind. Didn’t mean I lost my sense of taste. Try it, you cowards.”

“And Toby assures me that this tree is human edible,” Peter gestures to a bowl of pale wood shavings, “but I ate it with them for a month, and I never really developed a taste for it raw…”

“And David bought an Evanston sourdough coffee cake…”

“And the rabbi brought turkish delight...”

“Yeah,” Marco groans, “this’ll be a sugar crash for the ages.”

“Ax!” comes a voice from the distance. “You go last .” 

A sigh. “Yes, Prince Jake.” 

A camera cut. There’s music playing now. Flute and acoustic guitar.

A krenzl, very amateur klezmer, on strummed chords and stuttering recorder. Tobias flying in circles around Naomi, along with her daughters. Naomi obviously hasn’t danced in a long time. She’s struggling to keep the crown of leftover carnations on her head.

Eva strums with abandon. Melissa tootles, straining to keep the tone pure and flutelike. She’s having a hard time with all the half steps in this melody.

From the right, Nora, already worn out, sits in one of the folding chairs and beats rhythm on one of the other chairs.

“¿Quieres unirte, rompe hogares?” Eva chides.

“Rhythm is just math plus time,” Nora smirks. “Why wouldn’t I care to join in.?”

“Oh, Edriss would have liked you.”

The dance continues, wheeling, with nobody really clear who goes where. It finishes abruptly with tons of clapping. 

Next, as Naomi dances with Tobias, Loren and Rachel are in the foreground.

“You don’t consider it disabled?”

<Well, it’s a different… kind of disabled. I don’t have hands. I can’t smell things.>

“But you remember things. I envy that.”

Rachel fluffs her feathers the way bird nothlits do when they think.

Click. The parents are slowdancing with their own kids, as Eva plays and sings “Gracias a la Vida,” with feeling. Loren nods and shakes her head alternately as she walks back and forth with Tobias on her arm, him shifting his weight to accommodate her and at least be a partner in the dance. Dan and Rachel, somewhat more recklessly, are trying to have her flap for altitude while he holds her feet like hands. It’s not working very well.

Click. Tobias and Rachel, in the perches, with their card table in the middle, with the camera bouncing and overwhelmed as Marco presumably joined the horah. Tobias tries to do a little Yemenite step on his perch, which he’s failing at but which Rachel does gracefully.

Hava nagila, hava nagila, hava nagila ve-nismeḥa!

Hava neranenah, hava neranenah, hava neranenah ve-nismeḥa!

Rachel laughs as someone throws flowers at her, and raises her wing to cover herself. It’s hard to tell because the camera is shaking so hard. Champ barks in the distance, and Cassie soothingly shushes him.

Click. The Mitzvah Tantz is going on now, with Rachel holding the gartel while the men dance. It’s heavy and they’re all trying very hard to dance after all that cake. Eva and Melissa are playing the last part of “Through Heaven’s Eyes” from “The Prince of Egypt.” Again. And again. And again.

“Mom,” Marco groans, “It’s been ten minutes of die-die-die-deedle-die-die, when will you -”

“If it wasn’t for you mentioning this movie, I wouldn’t be where I am now, mijo. You guys dance, we’ll do this.”

Click. It’s very close up. The gartel Rachel holds in her talon is slack.

Marco strokes her feathers. “You two watch yourselves in the mall. I’m not always gonna be there with a baseball.”

<Hawks can’t go to the mall,> Tobias said matter of factly.

<Sure we can. I own the mall. We can do what we want.>

<Can a bird own a mall? You don’t need thumbs or whatever, right?>

<If her mom is a lawyer, then totally, why not?>

There was a jump cut as Marco stopped and started recording to say something.

I didn’t know hawks could glare any more than they already do, but she managed to both glare and smile with her eyes.

Jake, holding the gartel, strokes Tobias a little and whispers something. Tobias and Rachel, from their motions, are apparently having some conversation, but private. The music continues, but they’ve stopped dancing. 

Ax bows to both of them, and a similar private conversation follows.

Cassie holds her fingers over their talons.

Loren kisses her finger and applies it to the side of each of their beaks. Tobias looks up at her.

“No, it’s okay,” Loren said out loud. 

Naomi keeps her eyes shut. Rachel and Tobias simultaneously hold out a wing on either side of her and give her a pat.

Dan stops dead, his jaw quivering again.

<It’s okay, dad, we won’t keep you. You probably have something important tonight.>

“...Yep. I have to save the world.”

<If anyone can do it, dad, it’s you.>

Tobias begins to preen her.

<I think we’re ready,> he said. <Eva? Melissa? Would you two do us the honors?>

The notes speak accord.

<This last part of the last dance is just for the two of us. You can keep dancing if you want.>

Rachel nods. <We’ll see ya.>

Eva and Melissa nod as Eva detunes and retunes several strings. Then, with some strums, she goes into “Iris.”

On cue, Tobias and Rachel turn around and flap off their perches with breathless ease. At this point they’d been hawks longer than almost anyone in the world, and definitely anyone in his case. Melissa begins playing the melody, making a few false starts, but yep, it’s their song.

No one sings along. Either it’s too beautiful for words, or no one knows the words. Remembering the Hakhnassat Kallah earlier, probably the latter.

They circle. They spiral. They lock talons and go into a death loop. They fly closer to heaven than I’ll ever be.

“You never did that at our wedding,” Michelle jabs Walter with a playful elbow.

They fly higher, they fly upward, like they don’t want the world to see them, but flash their tails like they want you to know who they are.

Marco’s camera follows them effortlessly, zooming along with them at remarkable speed. How many video games had this kid played?

Finally they move away. It’s subtle at first. But now they’re flying away. And they’re not looking behind them.

They fly forward into the afternoon for several minutes.

Rachel’s the first to look back. It’s just a short glance, but everybody cheers her on.

“Hey, look at that,” Marco says, “she didn’t forcibly morph into a pillar of salt. Jake, I guess what we do doesn’t count as sodomy.”

“Only because God never set you on fire.”

Up and up they circle, blowing high upwards as they cross the parking lot.

<Height is safety,> I remembered my flight instructor saying. <Aside from threats from below or above, altitude equals speed and speed equals escape.>

Height is safety, and thermals are love. The camera loses track of the two of them as they disappear straight up.

“Okay,” says Cassie, “hands up, and lower them when they fly out of sight. Last person gets the last egg roll.”

“I apologigize, Cassie,” comes Ax’s voice, “for I have consumed it. Soomed.”

“Alright, last of the Kugel.”

“I apologize. It had so many textures. Thank you, Miss Prince Jake’s mom.”

“Alright,” Cassie sighs, “the Mac and Cheesecake.”

“Almost all of it is a, in your words, schmutz on my morphing artificial skin.” 

You can hear Cassie grind her teeth. “I’ll make cookies for them. Sometime.”

<I’m the last one with a wing up.>

“That’s cheating,” Sara whines.

As Marco pans down, we see Loren’s Tobias morph calmly standing on Champ’s back, looking into the distance. <I can only see anything because of this morph, kid. We’re playing ball here.> She stares further, straining her hawk eyes. <Going… going… and they’re out of the park. Gone below the tree line.> She flaps her wings. <I’m very, very tempted to fly after them, but know I shouldn’t.>

“If you love them,” sighs Naomi, “let them go.”

“Well,” Jake says, “there they go. Forgotten Animorphs.”

“Tell me about being forgotten,” this David kid says.

“Sorry.”

The silence reigns a while before the scene changes.

 

Two hawks flying. The left hawk has a tiny yarmulke. The right one is looking back to the ground, at the tiny silhouettes of their friends and family, surrounded by trees and surmounted by a black leotard chuppah.

 


Marco, holding the camera, turns it on, walking past Peter and Nora taking down the tables. “-a minute, I’ll morph gorilla before you get those in the van, alright? We have therapy matters in the woods real fast.”

Sara’s voice. “They’re gonna be alright?”

Eva’s voice. “I made it to America. They can go anywhere.” The sound of an acoustic guitar being put in a hardshell case.

Loren’s voice. “It’s okay. Sit in my car. We can talk it through.”

Dan’s voice, choked up. “That sounds nice.”

Melissa’s voice. <I’ll see you guys, uh, at some point, I have finals to study for…> followed by the sound of very clumsy flapping of an amateur trying to do ground takeoff as the biggest bird of prey there is.

Marco focuses the camera on Jake, prone flat on a small hillock off to the side, Cassie sitting off to his side, and Ax in the distance doing some sort of bowing ritual.

“Just like in the Cretaceous, just the four of us…”

Cassie shrugs. “I don’t know what to do tonight, I didn’t know Jewish weddings were this short or noontime.”

“I don’t know what to do, either. Not even a dolphin orgy sounds fun right now, it’s just like… I’m happy for them but it’s like they just died.”

<It’s natural to mourn a time past,> Ax says. <I cannot remember which ritual one does when sad after a wedding, so I am just doing all of them in turn. So that will occupy me for about five of your days.>

Jake turns his head a little and groans. “There’s no more war, guys. I’m not gonna tell you what to do. I just… I don’t want to go home alone. Not after a wedding.”

“What I can’t get over is us doing this last thing in secret,” Cassie mumbles. “I thought we were done with secrets.”

“I mean, what hurts is I can’t tell the other auxiliaries. I mean, I hope Kelly is good at being me.”

“Or Pedro looking as sexy as me,” Marco says. “He’s gonna charm the pants off everyone as long as he has to unsuspiciously demorph.”

“What else did we have to do?” Cassie asks. “They’re not doing anything.”

Jake waves his hand. “We just needed them out and about for the cameras so no one gets suspicious about this big wedding-shaped gap in our mutual schedules.”

I nodded. I’ll have to check my sources.

“You paranoid child. Get some rest,” Marco coughs. “Busy schedules. I haven’t seen you guys in a month, and it scares me when that happens.”

Jake curls over and brings his hand to his face.

“No. Jake, give me that.” Cassie fishes into his face like a cat owner. “Give… me.... Thatttt…” Marco zooms in on his hand. It’s the fragments of mouse skull Tobias crushed. “You’re flashing back, Jake. Knock it off.”

“Listen to the lady, Jake.” Marco stays silent after that.

“One minute. One minute. That’s all I ask.” He playfully shoves Cassie off of himself. “Just. The skull. That’s all he did. First time he killed anything he went to Rachel and not to me.”

Cassie breathes through her teeth.

“I gave him a home - at considerable risk to myself, I might add - I fed him… God. I needed a little brother in my life so badly. Maybe he needed me once. But he needed her more. And they made each other happy.” There are no tears on his face. He’s still too stoic to say anything.

“Make, Fearless Leader. Present tense.” Marco clicks his tongue.

“Maybe it was little brother. Maybe he needed me to be something more. It wasn’t until we all just… after the war when we just admitted whatever all six of us had was... love… and then it was like… I should have been there for him, even though I did everything I could, and I was the one who got him stuck -”

“Fearless Leader, shut up, you yelled at him to demorph when you first saw him that night. He did what he wanted. Stop blaming yourself for that.”

“And if not for him,” Cassie adds simultaneously, “that day, being warmed up, I’d have been a controller for five years, and probably not by a yeerk who could have been reasoned with…”

A sort of cold fury rises in Jake’s eyes. “You don’t get it. None of you get it. All of you should have been safe.”

“Jake. None of us died.” Marco shouts it so loud he blows out the microphone on the camcorder, but such a calm shout - the “dad, put on a shirt” shout. “We won the war with minor casualties. Only five people died whose names I even remember, and you don’t get to wallow in how other people shot other people. If nothing personally bad had ever happened - to anyone, to Tom, to Tobias, to any of us - you wouldn’t have solved anything… just put down the damn skull!”

Jake stares. “Mice are what he went to Rachel for to get forgiveness. He didn’t say anything to me. That’s what hurt. That’s why -” Jake holds up the palm. “That’s why this is the last mouse he’s ever gonna kill in front of me, and I deserve to hold it and maybe make something right with myself? I think. Stop making me make words of all this. I made another snap decision, and they’re -”

“And they’re happy and in love. That doesn’t mean we’re not all legal adults now.” Cassie scratches behind his ears. “And come on. You can’t tell me Rachel isn’t sexier with a pair of talons and piercing eyes. Stone butch. No one else in the world can be her. You know that and I know that.”

Marco worms in with “And incidentally, you know you two aren’t genetically related anymore, right? You’re not even in the same species, much less kin group. No more ick, I’m just saying, because I have a horribly filthy mind and I’ve gone Hollywood...” Marco trails off as Jake just stares daggers at him. “So she wants to live in a tree and eat rats. Big deal! Go join them if you want! Misery loves company! They just want to be not alone anymore and not have people judge them for who they are and how they kill. Aside from saving the world, that’s a lot of what we wanted. So shut up and let them step on rats.”

“It’s a mouse, Marco.”

Cassie sighs. “Jake, we of all people should know mice from rats-”

Jake cuts her off with a burst of air. Then a laugh. Then a full-blown fit of the giggles. Then he guffaws. And a tear rolls down his cheek. The other two visible in the camera look on in a mixture of fascination and horror.

He holds the skull up. “David.”

“Not…” Cassie smiles wanly. “Not David Levin, the Chicago kid who’s driving back with-”

“No. David. That’s how he killed that red-tail. Crushed his skull with his talons. And we all thought it was Tobias. And… pfff… I came in and tried to… fight him, and his morph was too big to fit under the bed. And we offered him a merlin. And now he’s a rat. And now this ISN’T him, just like that… that bird wasn’t Tobias… and dammit, Marco, you’re right! None of this makes sense! And Rachel got to kill him. I think. I never got a clear answer on that. Animals! We just… step on each other, and crunch goes the lightbulb, whoops, there goes the temple of Jerusalem, and everyone just cheers and yells “Mazel Tov!” Because it’s only Jews who figured out how to laugh when they’re sad.”

“Give us Catholics some credit, Jake.” Marco snorts. “We like food and guilt and stupid family reunions just as much. And people all over get decimated by war. Infested. Trapped outside their own species.”

“And they laugh?”

“And they laugh.”

“I get it, Marco,” Jake wheezes. “I finally get it. There you go. It’s pointless. It’s done. It’s all like this. AUGH!” He flops back on the grass, fitfully breathing. “Why didn’t Tobias convert years ago, anyway? We’ve definitely got more of his sense of humor.”

“Didn’t have a knife small enough.” Cassie snorts.

That sets the other three laughing until Ax walks over.

<Er… your folk beliefs carry you through many things, but awful things still happen!>

He smiles with his eyes as they look blank.

<Is that… is that not what humor is?>

“Nah,” says Marco. “You have to provide a resolution. Otherwise, it’s just a riddle.”

Cassie bursts out laughing. “Gimme that camera. I’ll show you guys a riddle.” Grabbing the camera from Marco, she zooms in on the mouse skull. “What do you call a… oh crap.” She giggles. “I was going somewhere with this.”

<We are all going somewhere, Cassie my friend.>

“So where do we resolve?” asks Jake. “I… pff… you guys… why am I…YIPE!”

The camera landed facedown in the dirt, but judging by the noises, Cassie started tickling him.

“So,” says Marco. “on the advice of my lawyer, I’m gonna turn this off before I tell you what we’re doing at one in the morning. And it’s even more fun than dolphin orgies. Face the camera!”

Cassie pipes up, “Everybody say fleas!”

<“FLEAS!”> they all grin, in unison, smiling at the camera, punctuated by a “Not FLEAS, Cassie, ANYTHING BUT FL-” before with no cut, the video ends and flashes to an unrecorded blue.

I fast forwarded, nothing else on the tape.

Finis.


I blinked. I’d never heard Jake laugh before.

He could laugh.

How many cups of tea have I made? There’s only so much you can do when the object of your study for years just plain punches you in the face, is there?

All the way back in 2001 and they were already a four (if not six) person embarrassing celebrity polycule of trauma and mutual provocation?

Jeez. Marco really did move to Hollywood.

So. So there’s… that’s everyone. That’s the wedding. That’s all of it. It’s finished. It’s five in the morning now and I have to be at work in two hours.

I undid my blouse. Maybe it was the wedding getting to me. But there are lots of other things you can do in two hours.

Chapter Text

I had one last suspicion to test in the two hours before I showed up for work.

When I acquired my hawk morph, it was just for joyrides with friends. But this time, after I stripped off my clothes and stood on the porch, I slowed the morph as long as I could.

I tried to imagine never turning back.

I tried to imagine being trapped. Forever.

I tried to imagine accepting it, if it meant I wouldn’t be alone anymore. If it meant I wouldn’t have a million people watching my every move, waiting for an emotional meltdown, waiting for tabloid fodder.

Fittingly, my feet were the first to turn into talons.

I had wrapped the ballpoint pen in rubber bands just to make sure I could have some kind of grip on it.

Grasping my sample post-it note, with a long stroke, I began the letter T.

To a believer.

My talons wobbled a little. But I could make it look recognizable.

Then I thought of how a calligrapher would have picked up the pen. And how much smaller these letters were.

And thought of the little hooked way Rachel’s lowercase E’s were shaped.

I wrote again, “To a believer.”

The wobbles were exactly the same as on the note.

Not exactly, handwriting and all, it’s never perfect. But now I knew who it was.

What species.

I could have demorphed right there. I could have. I’d done what I wanted to do. But something told me to keep going.

I tried walking across the floor. Hawks aren’t made for running, exactly. But I could tell, walking wasn’t half as efficient as it would have been for a human. Imagine, giving up something so simple as a human stroll.

Look at the doorknob. Look how far away it is. Imagine it being that far away forever.

Okay, Anneke. I told myself. Fatalism doesn’t suit you. You can stop playing Animorph. You’re not thirteen. You can just demorph right now. That’s a privilege.

I tried to imagine being thirteen, having just learned about all this, and being the first human being ever to fly with his own wings.

And I finally understood.

It’s very lonely to be the first one. But it’s a lot better to be the second.

That’s all a pioneer is, after all. The guy ahead of you with an arrow in his back.


I demorphed. Really, being human is such a cage after inhabiting a bird. Not just morphing something. Becoming it to your core, listening to its instincts. That takes years of effort and yoga to maintain, and the risk of losing yourself in morph is way too high for me. But I had touched it. Just barely, with a wingtip.

I had touched how tough it was to be a bird.

At my desk, when I fell asleep, I dreamed of dancing on thermals and wearing a calming hood.


If Althsa’s buying dessert at that Mexican place, I decided when I woke up, I want a capirotada. They make them so nice there.

Actually, scratch that. I wanted kugel. I watched a whole Jewish wedding and didn’t get to eat any kugel. That’s not fair.


The day after that was a grind. I was bursting to tell someone, but I couldn’t. I was just “I know everything about where the Animorphs are now.” And I was surrounded by staff and faculty and students and it wasn’t my place to say it. Paperwork backed up from the day I slept through office hours and blearily, after a student woke me up, listened to Taxxon death metal to try to stay awake. I fell back asleep the instant I got home and left my strudel in the toaster. 

Wow, is this what it felt like to be an Animorph? All made of secrets, dying of sleep deprivation? No thank you. I’d contemplated it, but it’s always different once you’ve got a secret for yourself.

Two history lectures and two one-on-ones with students, and a call from a friend in the field, and the rest was paperwork. It was a relief not to get the buzz I used to get when I went on TV, don’t get me wrong. Most of the people who call you after seeing you on the history channel are the kind of people who desperately need you to sign off on their shoddily-researched book about how the Animorphs were actually all secret controllers at the end of the war. That Atlantis was real and had nukes, and Rachel was about to lead them to war on the surface world. That the Phaistos disc was written by Andalite hippies. And most of my mailbox is like that these days.

“Another ‘The Berensons and the Yeerks were proxies for the Elders of Zion having a turf war with the Freemasons’ manuscript?” asked my aide, coming in, seeing the crudely drawn mimeograph cover.

“Big one. I think it’s not even the same person who sent in the ones we got last month.” I dropped it onto the table with an onomatopoeia.

THUD!

“Do you think this guy was in touch with the last guy, or do great crackpots just think alike?”

“God, Sharon, I’m not gonna actually read this thing. What do they think historians do all day?”

She shrugged and adjusted her yukata sleeves, the enos enarf pattern. “Historians? I assume they think we just get world-changing evidence anonymously delivered to our offices. And they’re gonna be the next one. And everyone’s gonna find the TRUTH, man, and also buy some essential oils.”

I laughed, but not too hard. The only thing she didn’t get right was home versus the office. 

“Oh, Christ,” Sharon whispered, flipping through the pages. “It’s handwritten.”


When I got home, I took a bath and went out onto the porch with a cup of ramen. I’m not good at taking care of myself. I sat down on the wicker chair with my phone and got ready to rot away another three hours until my phone ran out of juice. I just… it was a long week so far. Five days after the show aired and I had my world blown out of the water.

<Green isn’t your color.>

I froze.

<I mean, that bathrobe must be a gift from your mom. But yeesh.>

I spun around. “If you’re trying to rob me, I have my finger on 911.”

<Lady, why would I rob you? I made you. We made you.>

“Clap on!” I clapped to turn on the lights. A Krider’s Hawk was perched on my side table. I hadn’t even noticed it.

<Aw, no fair. You can clap and I can’t.>

I breathed in through my nose and tried to avoid spilling ramen on my leg. I didn’t succeed.

<My reputation precedes me?>

“Sorry. I don’t talk to ghosts very often. Speak, speak, thou fearful guest.”

<Scrooge. Scroooooooge! Yeah, I don’t know what you’re quoting.> The impression she gave of Marley in Chains, with beak agape and wings hunched, made me laugh in spite of myself.

“Longfellow.”

<I never read Harry Potter, sorry. Clash of egos.>

“Why are you here, that’s my point. Why would you come to someone who knows too much about you six and show us even more?”

She tilted her head. <But we have to banter. That was the best part of our books.>

“You mean too much to so many of us. I’m not gonna ask why you did this first, much less how old you are…”

She smiled, which only someone with a hawk morph would recognize. <Age? Just say Andalite medical technology is amazing. Cellular regeneration even for nothlits. Our immune systems are ridiculous, which definitely helps when you’re constantly running around alien planets and shit. So yeah, we were even crueller to rat boy than we knew. We’ve got some decades left in us. It’s like “Death Becomes Her” or something. But you.> She put her beak very close to my ear, which was still threatening even if she didn’t sound any louder in thoughtspeech. <I wanted to ask how you figured it out. Where I was.>

“...What? I don’t know, I had a theory, it. It just didn’t seem like you. Why were you there, did you see the footage?”

<The bet sounded fun.>

I froze. “You were listening?”

<We’re everywhere, at all times. Spooky. And I wanted to help you win, because I was bored. Take it from someone who doesn’t carry a wallet - friends help friends win bets to pay for things.>

“They don’t make little tiny hawk wallets, for people in your situation?”

<Lady, compared to a bald eagle, being a hawk? I’m an Andalite with an arm for a tail. I can’t lift for shit. Also, speaking of shit, just a by the by… the hot chocolate at La Puta Oaxaca. It’s just Abuelita. They mix in cayenne pepper, nutmeg and coffee creamer. You could just save yourself five bucks and make it at home. They’re ripping you off.>

I had to smile. “Do you miss… you know… food?”

<Only when I talk to Ax. But I had a good, like, eighteen years on him of eating human food. So I’m philosophical about it all.>

“So what… you were eating solid food right out of the womb?”

<Pfff. You say that, but you haven’t tried weaning your chicks out of your crop. They actually do eat solid food.> She ruffled her feathers. <By some definitions of the term.>

“They’re…”

<Before you ask, they’re not psychic. Or magical. They’re just hawks.>

I couldn’t wipe the curiosity off my face.

<They’re the grandchildren of the Beast Elfangor.> I didn’t know hawks could look so exasperated without moving their mouths. <If you get taken by the yeerks, and I told you any more than that, the entire universe is screwed. Hostages. Birdnapping. Not on my watch.>

“You say that like you know I’m… Oh. The TV show. You followed me for three days?”

<I took a risk. Our couples therapist said it would help us heal from the war if we took a few risks and it was still safe.>

“But not that risky.”

She ruffled her neck feathers in lieu of a smirk.

I threw on a different tack. “Alright, fine. This is your risk. So I won’t ask where the woods are, but are they at least… nice?”

<The voles are fat, the sunsets are great, I’m big enough not to compete in his ecological niche, and my husband can turn into a Hork-Bajir and strip the most comfortable bark for our nests.>

“No kidding. Does he still use that morph?”

<We live in a tree. It’s useful. And sometimes he carves things. Abstract aliens from various angles. There’s a nude of me that turned out great.>

I blinked and gestured up and down at her.

<Human nude. From memory. I still modeled for him.> She winked. <I was over eighteen, don’t worry.>

I blinked. “So, you model, and you hunt, and what else?” I couldn’t imagine just sitting in a tree all day.

<And I’m working on my novel. Pecking a keyboard.>

“Not your memoirs?”

<Nah. This one’s about a Hork and a mermaid who fall in love.>

I snorted. “I take it it’s explicit.”

<Steamy. There’s nukes in it.>

“Nudes?”

<Nukes. That’s another story.> I wanted so desperately to ask her about Atlantis but I kept my mouth shut. <But I’m doing okay. I entertain alien visitors. We watch TV, ostensibly so we can fill Ax in on the soaps he missed when he visits earth. We preen. Preening is an art. Takes hours if you do it right.>

“Alien visitors?”

<We don’t say who we are, of course. But ever since Tobias disappeared, we say we’re the resident experts on red-tailed hawks, a human and a yeerk who got stuck in morph and found each other at the Nothlit support group. And if you came all the way from Andal or wherever to see what the Animorphs did, we’re a respected tour stop for terrabiologists.>

“Terrabiole.”

<You’re terrabiole. There are some nice people in the alien biology groups, when they’re not building viruses and stuff. They probably come to your history office a lot.>

“And they never suspect -”

<You’re the first person to even pose the subject on TV. In fact, you’re gonna have to find a way to keep promoting that subject so that you don’t suspiciously stop all of a sudden, without implying any evidence that would make you a target for a loyalist yeerk or an impersonator in morph.>

I couldn’t resist a snort. “Who are you, the expert at hiding every detail of your lives?”

She hopped towards me, feathers bared on all sides, swishing her head in figure eights. <Oh, morph something tiny and hop in my mouth. Yeah, I’m the expert. You’re the one who spent years poring through my diary for hidden clues. You saw how much effort we put into being unsuspicious.>

I paused. Even after the tape, I couldn’t believe this was her, but I totally could. New body, same Rachel.

“You don’t feel bad, do you, that I basically made a career out of prying into your lives?”

<Bad? Pff. We were worried but we expected someone’d do that eventually, and if what you do makes it less likely that someone invades earth, I’m chill. Tobias? He’s like “No one has to know how much I suffered,” and I’m like “Bitch, we know, aunt’s dead, uncle’s dead, you’re a bird, it’s fine.”>

“You say that like you killed Joan Ibsen and Garth Kushner yourself.”

She looked at me. Her accipiterine face was devoid of expression. Terrifyingly so.

“... You didn’t.”

<I’m a bird. I plead the fifth. Also, stenog, if you read back Miss Jans’ comments, I have neither accused nor been accused of any illegal activity in this courtroom not previously pardoned by the Court of the Interplanetary Sapient Being’s Alliance in Fingal vs. Berenson.>

“No, I mean, you literally couldn’t have killed them. You’re a bird. You couldn’t have given somebody finger-eating alien worm parasites or… what did the other one die of?” I couldn’t even remember.

<Aztec god threw a mirror at them? I don’t know. Wasn’t my fault. I made Tobias a chilled meat cake to celebrate when the obituaries ran. Which, let me tell you, was a pain without hands.>

“Was that slang, or…”

<Chicago slang for a cocaine overdose. There was this David kid we knew from temple, David Levin, not the David Andersen who found the cube, he was our second witness on the tape. Not an L.A. guy. Didn’t care about tabloids. Said he had his own stuff that could have made the tabloids if it got out. I got it from him. “Aztec God Throwing Mirrors.” Something like that.> She paused. A wicked grin crept into her hawk eyes. If you didn’t have a hawk morph, you’d never have noticed it was even a grin, much less a wicked one. <Aztec gods…>

I stood up. “Should I know them?”

<Before I tell you, morph hawk.>

I could only swallow and nod. I kicked off my slippers and threw off my bathrobe and began the morph, and she watched me through the whole thing, with an intense gaze. Halfway through, I stepped onto the wide railing so I wouldn’t have to hop over it when I left, before my legs shrank to bird size.

<You look good by moonlight.>

I probably blushed under my still-growing feathers. <Aren’t you married?>

<Objection, your honor, she’s leading the witness.>

She flew off with the grace of someone who’s spent years and years in bird of prey morph. I flew off immediately after her, once I finished my morph, with all the skill level of someone who only took her hawk morph out on weekends, making a noise like an amateur fan dancer.

<Rookie,> she smirked, as we flew out of the subdivision, into the mountains, and up towards the full moon on the ocean currents. For night, the wind was still alive. Baggywrinkly.

<So.> I threw out. <What was it you could only tell me during a dramatic moonlight flight? The thing the Aztec Gods reminded you of? Was it that thing Ax said on the tape about God’s life story?>

She paused for dramatic effect and banked into an air spiral. <Let me tell you about Ellimists.>

I followed her in. <The old Andalite fairy tales?>

<Even more. Let me tell you a story. This was just after my dad got the job in New York.>

<Because it’ll explain things?>

<No. Because now that you know about me, you need a new conspiracy theory to spout. One no one else will ever believe in a million years.>

That flight was the best, and most mentally jarring, 110 minutes of my life. The next 110 minutes after I remorphed in a tree were the same.

And so we continued, on until morning, hawks borne against the Santa Ana, tales spun ceaselessly into the past.


“Yeah,” I told Althsa, “The note on the original tape said to destroy it.”

“But the note didn’t say not to make copies.” She sipped her chocolate.

“I trust you. I slightly doubt there’s a yeerk in your head.”

“Jedliča resents that.”

“Sorry, Jedl, I meant that for Althsa.”

“Okay, but… what next?”

I smiled. “You still have to destroy it. Otherwise the Animorphs will literally kill you.”

“A’ight. So. When I get home and watch this,” she waved the DVD in Jedliča's hands, “before I destroy it, and it doesn’t give me any evidence, you’re gonna owe me a twenty.”

“Twenty,” I agreed.

I never did pay.

Yeah, it was overpriced chocolate. But it was still good chocolate on a friend’s dime.


Later I made kugel at home. Non-predatory birds sang outside my window.

I lifted a forkful to them.

“Uh… l’chayim.”

If they were nothlits, they didn’t tell me.

Eh. Can’t win ‘em all.

 

fin