Latin Spice and Ebony Essence
By The Steel Angel




Authors Notes - This is the sequel to "A Siren's Song". So go read that one first, damn it! Once you've done that, sit back, and enjoy the lemon.... I mean fic. Fic...


I dreamed that night. Well, it wasn't so much a dream, as it was a flashback. I think that I was around twelve or thirteen. It was a few months before the five of us stumbled upon Elfangor's damaged fighter, where the whole Animorph chapter of our lives began. It wasn't anything big, just a small conversation that Jake and I had while walking home from the mall... something I never would have remembered, if what happened between Cassie and I hadn't happened. Jake and I were walking home from the mall, since that's the only place we really hung out. I remembered the conversation we'd had.

"No matter what, we'll be best friends forever, right?" I'd asked him. He took my hand in his, and squeezed.
"Best friends forever." Jake said.
"No way we're ever gonna let girls come between us, right?" I'd asked.
"No way." Jake said with a nod.

It seemed like eons ago. I guess from a teenage standpoint, it was. Five years had gone by since, but it felt like an eternity. Oddly enough, these two years since the war ended had seemed to drag on longer than the war intself had. I suppose war tended to accelerate time. Only then, did I notice mny alarm clock blaring. A symbol of reality, shatterng the simplicity and tranquility of my own subconscious mind. The alarm clock represented the harshness of the real world, reminding me of the seriousness of what I had done. Jake and Cassie were broken up, that I was sure of. But I knew that my boy Jake, missed her every minute he was awake. He'd never love anyone else.... No, he'd given his whole heart to Cassie.
"You knew that, Marco. And you still slept with her." I mouthed silently, and opened my eyes. I was still in bed, and still lying beside Cassie. Her back was pressed against my chest, and my hands were locked around her waist. We looked like two lined-up shrimp. I unlocked my hands and satu up on the bed, careful not to wake the sleeping beauty next to me. "I look like hell," I muttered, and stood up. I yawned and rubbed my head as I walked into the bathroom, still nude of course.
I closed the door behind me, and turned on the shower until I saw steam rising to the ceiling. I had always enjoyed the relaxing properties that a hot shower had brought with it. I stepped inside, closing my eyes as the water hit me. The very feeling of the water seemed to open up my feelings. "Damn it, Marco... how could you get yourself into this?" I cursed myself. "How could you betray Jake like that? You couldn't be more of a snake..." I said, even though I knew it wasn't true. Jake and Cassie had broken up for a reason. Jake might have loved her... might still love her... But did I love her too? I said that I had.... but did I really? I shook my head at the thoughts.
What was I going to do? Deny my own feelings, deny the possibility of becoming happy so I don't push my already depressed best friend into a suicidal state? No... of course not. But I knew that I couldn't do anything to hurt Jake... "But you already did." I whispered to myself. Then, I thought of Cassie. Sweet, gentle, caring Cassie. A friend that I trusted with my life, and had many times over. She had said, last night, that she loved me. Of course, coming from a woman, that could mean any number of things. Did she love me like she loved every animal she'd ever come in contact with? Did she love me, like she had loved Rachel? As a deep friend? Did she love me as she had loved Jake.....as a lover? "Asshole!" I yelled, and slammed my fists into the tiled wall of the shower. GOD DAMNIT, THAT HURT!!! If Jake wasn't in the equation, this would be so much simpler. I leaned my forehead on the wall, panting slightly.
The scalding water seemed like my enemy now. Trying its best to burn and wash away my flesh. My pride. My ego. My very free will. It wanted to erode me into nothingness. So that I'd become the coward. So I'd run away from myself. From my feelings. My feelings for Myself. My feelings for Cassie. My feelings for Jake. Fleeing was an option. Take a step back from the water to avoid the searing heat. All it would take was one step back. One small step...
My eyes opened.
"One step... that I'd never be able to reclaim." I said. I stood up straight, and moved deeper into the water. I wasn't a runner. I was-am-an Animorph. Savior of the planet. I didn't get this far in life by running away from my problems. I had to face this head on. And Jake? He'd survive. He'd been through worse than this. He'd sent people off on suicidal missions, and called them "Decoys". He'd killed seventeen thousand Yeerks with a flick of the wrist. He'd ordered his cousin to murder his brother, and both had died in result. Hell, we'd even gone through peuberty together.
Then, as if some mighty Deity had ordained it, the heat dissipated. Lukewarm water splashed my face as I turned off the shower, and wrapped a green towel around my waist. I walked back into the bedroom, to find Cassie sitting up on the bed, looking down at her hands. She looked up at me as I re-entered the bedroom.
"Good morning," I said softly. She didn't answer me. She stood up, and walked over to me. She was wearing a sheer nightgown, from what I could see. How did I know what sheer was, you may ask? Well, that's a trivial fact that I'd rather not go into. Let's just say that it involved me, Mandy Moore, a jar of honey, and a Gucci store in Verona. As she continued to approach me, I backed up slowly until my back was pressed against the closed door. She reached out and pressed her hand against my chest, right over my heart. I realized that I was panting now. My old claustrophobia was kicking in. "Hi...?"
"Marco...." She whispered. "Last night was.... amazing. No one has ever made me feel like that. Not Ronnie. Not Jake." I gulped. Not Jake? This was news to me. During the war, Cassie and Jake had been like Ax and a Cinnamon bun. I kept trying futily to escape, backing into the closed door. I felt like a caged animal. Until, of course, the door broke. I fell backwards, letting out a scream, but Cassie grabbed my wrists, breaking my fall. She looked into my eyes, and I met her gaze.
"You know that Jake still loves you." I said simply. What else was I supposed to say? She hung her head, leaning the top of her head against my chest. Now, I had two choices. I could run away screaming, or I could stay and comfort her. Time to be an adult, Marco. I told myself. I wrapped one of my arms around her waist. She sighed, and leaned up, resting her head on my shoulder.
"That might be true." She whispered after a few minutes of silence. "That might be true... and I still love Jake. But... whatever connection that Jake and I had during the war was severed when he sent Rachel off on her death mission. Before yesterday, I hadn't spoken to Jake in eight months. Eight months, Marco!" She exclaimed, looking up into my eyes. They were brimming with tears. Great, all I needed was for her to start crying. Wonderful. "But you..." She said, lowering her head again. "You're the only one out of the five that I still talk to on a regular basis. Ax has his own life. He's a Prince. A Captain. Just like he's always wanted. He's back where he wanted to be from day one. Tobias.... I haven't seen Tobias since Rachel's funeral. Rachel is dead. My best friend in the world, dead! But you..." She looked up at me again. I was beginning to wonder if the blood was rushing to her head from leaning up and down so much. "Not a week goews by when I don't talk to you, be it by phone or email." She said. I really was lost for words, which is a funny sensation for me. Everything she was saying was true. Cassie and I haad moved on after the war. Jake hadn't. He still bore the responsibility of the war on his shoulders.
"Cassie.... what are you trying to say?" I asked. She blinked slowly, tears rolling down her cheeks. She stared up at me with those sweet, gentle, caring eyes. She put a hand on one of mine, stroking it with her fingertips lightly.
"I'm saying that.... it's true, that I might have feelings for Jake. I don't think any amount of time will erase those feelings. But here... now...: She paused, sniffled slightly, and began again. "I've known you for what, fifteen years? We were never close..... you were just my best friend's cousin's best friend. I would have never thought that I'd be....falling in love with you," She whispered. There it was, all out on the table. Choose your response carefully, Marco.
"Cassie... I can't live a lie. I can't pretend in front of Jake that we're just friends, when in reality, I want to be so much more.... Jake will deal. I love you." I said. I was shocked that I had said it. I didn't think about saying that last part. It just sort of.... came out. I thought of my parents. How my mom and dad had reacted when they saw each other for the first time after we'd killed the first Visser One. It was like they forgot about everything else around them, including me. I knew, that if I asked my dad to choose between his best friend and my mom, he'd pick my mom a hundred percent of the time. That bond.... I could feel it beginning to form between Cassie and me.
"Oh, Marco..." She said with a slight smile, and pressed her lips against mine. I returned the kiss warmly, wrapping my arms around her, pulling her closer to me. She broke the kiss a few minutes later, and uttered something that I never thought I'd hear Cassie say. "Marco.... you were my first. Be my only...?" She whispered. I blinked, but kissed her again. Then, I released her with a sigh.
"Cassie, I've got Hardball, Scarborough, and Hannity and Colmes today. For now, we should concentrate on our jobs as Animorphs. Our love lives tomorrow." I said. She sighed, and nodded.
"You're right. I have Oprah, Letterman, and Gretta today." She said, not moving away from me. Problem one, solved. Feelings were mutual. "I should probably get back to the hotel... the last thing we want is for the tabloids to get ahold of this, and blow it out of proportion." She said. I nodded in solemn agreement.
"I can see the headlines now. 'Interracial Animorph Couple Gives Birth to Half Human Half Wolf Baby!' or 'Cassie's done with Jake, but will Marco be the next victim? Find out tonight, on Hard Copy'." I said. Cassie giggled slightly, and kissed my lips again softly.
"I'll call you later tonight, I promise." She said, and released me. I nodded. She smiled warmly, and walked out. I stood there, watching the doorway for a few minutes, half of me wishing that she'd come back. Finally, I snapped out of my delirium, my other half reminding me that I had a very busy day ahead of me.
"Better get moving, Marco. Your loyal public awaits." I said to myself, and began to get dressed.


***


I looked down at my watch. I was exhausted after taping two interviews earlier in the day. Five minutes after Cassie had left, I got a call from Fox News. Bill O'reilly wanted me to appear live on his show that evening. I accepted, of course. Bill's show was always fun to do. Plus, you can't exactly say "no" to the top rated cable news show on TV. It was eight thirty at night, Eastern Standard time. Cassie was in Chicago, most likely. She was to appear on Oprah. I was recording it at home.
Sitting across from me, was the most popular journalist in America, and the interview was about to start. "In the Personal Story segment this evening, as you all know, riots have begun to break out all over the United States celebrating the third anniversary of the end of the Yeerk War. This day should be a day of celebration for the entire human race. Unfortunately, as we've seen in the past two years, countless people end up losing their lives in this 'celebration'. Joining us tonight, is one of the original Animorphs, Marco Marez. Thank you for being here tonight, Mr. Marez." Bill said.
"Always a pleasure, Bill. And call me Marco, please." I said.
"Now then. What's your take on these riots?" He asked. I thought about it for a few moments.
"Well, of course I'm dissapointed. I mean, this isn't what we fought for, you know? We fought so that all humans could have a chance to live in freedom and peace. We don't want our victory to be an excuse for a repeat of the Rodney King riots." I said. Bill nodded.
"I agree with you, but what do you say to the kids - primarily lower middle class teenagers - who say 'Who are the Animorphs?' or 'Who cares?'." He asked. I laughed softly.
"Honestly, Bill, I'm not too concerned about them. I mean, I know how boring it was for me to study the individual leaders and stuff during the Vietnam war, or World War II. So I imagine that's the legacy of the Animorphs. To bore highschoolers to death in future schools." I said. Bill smirked.
"I'll be sure to ask my daughter about that in a few years. Now, onto more recent issues." I blinked. Recent issues? This wasn't in the script. "Now, there's a rumor going around that I could personally care less about. But since America is so celebrity obsessed, and since this is the No Spin Zone, I thought you should have a chance to defend yourself on a neutral playing field." He said, and pulled out what looked like a News Paper. On the front page, was a picture taken outside of my mansion. Outside the bathroom. Cassie and I were both standing in the room. She was wrapped in a towel, while I was wearing a muscle shirt and boxers. I remembered that moment all too well. The headline read "A Tryst Between Hero's?"
I felt myself begin to perspire. No! No sweat drops! One sweat drop would incriminate me for life! My legs had turned to jelly. Luckily, the only people who could see that was the Camera Man and Bill himself. "Well Bill... as you know, you can't really trust the New York Media as far as you can throw them. Especially the tabloids." I said.
"We aren't here to judge, Mr. Marez. I could care less who you're involved or not involved with. All the public wants is a simple yes or no answer." Bill said. I gulped.
"Bill, the New York Enquirer-" I began. He cut me off.
"You're dodging the question, Mr. Marez. This is the No Spin Zone." He reminded me. What should I do? What would Cassie do?
"It's..." I was cut off by the customary music that signaled the end of a segment on Bill's show. I'd never been so relieved in my life.
"We thank you very much, Mr. Marez, for stepping into the No Spin Zone. As always, we'll let the audiance decide. Next up, in the Back of the Book segment, the recent reelection of George W. Bush has the secular left in an uproar, even though the Economy has recovered, and Iraq is stabilized. When we come back, we'll have Dick Morris' analysis." He said, as the show went to commerical. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and stood up, shaking Bill's hand. I walked out of the studi, to find a woman standing near the Green Room.
"Ah, Mr. Marez? You have a phone call." She said, presenting a cordless phone. I blinked. A phone call already? I took the reciever.
"Talk to me, baby." I said, answering in my normal phrase.
"Hey Marco." It was Cassie. She sounded a bit worried. I couldn't say that I blamed her.
"I take it, you saw?" I asked, knowing full well the answer.
"Yeah... why didn't you tell the truth?" She asked. My jaw dropped. Cassie WANTED me to tell the truth?! That's when I realized the undenyable truth, that I would never, NEVER understand females.
"I thought you wanted to keep this a secret, at least until we've smoothed things out between you, Jake and I." I said.
"I did... but then I got to thinking." Uh oh. "In our current situation, why deny it? The media is going to be brutal about it. Why put our friends, family, and ourselves through that ordeal? Now that the tabloids have gotten ahold of it, I think it'd be best if we just went public about it." She said.
"You've got a point. I'll bet people across the country are already speculating. What should we do?" I asked. Both Cassie and I started to think.
"Schedule a press conference?" She suggested a few minutes later.
"You know, I always hated it when celebrities went on the air to talk about their love lives. Took time away from perfectly good episodes of The Real World." I said.
"This is different. We aren't going to announce our engagement or anything. We're just going to quell some rumors." She said. I gulped.
"E...Engagement?" I repeated. I could imagine the glare she was giving the reciever right now. The female glare of death.
"Of course. I love you, and you love me, right?" She asked.
"O...Of course I do. But engagement already? We haven't even had our first date yet." I said.
"Are you saying that you don't want to marry me?" She asked. God damnit! She was twisting my words around so that I had no right answer!
"Yes! I mean, No! I mean, Yes, I want to marry you.... but we're only nineteen. I think we should wait a few years." I said.
"We'll see." Cassie said simply. I knew that it didn't matter what I said. Cassie was the woman. We'd get married when she wanted to get married. Sure, I'd resist just like every other man in history has resisted, but eventually, like all the other men, I'd break down and give in.
"When do you want me to schedule the press conference?" I asked.
"Tomorrow morning, around ten. I should be back in New York by then." She said. I nodded.
"I'll take care of everything." I said.
"Good. I'll see you late tonight then." Cassie said.
"I love you." I said softly.
"Love you too." Cassie said, then hung up. I walked back out of the green room, and handed the phone back to the woman standing in the hallway. I made my way down the Fox News building, and out the main door to where my limosine was waiting. Already, I could see people on the streets giving me strange looks. What was the big deal? It wasn't like Jake and Cassie were in a serious relationship.... I wasn't the "other man", was I? I leaned back in my seat, sighing and putting a hand to my forehead, as the dirver sped me toward my home. Could this day get any more chaotic?
I felt like I was in the middle of a Soap Opera. Maybe after this whole thing was over, Jake could finally move on with his life. Maybe I'd get my best friend back, and not the shell of my best friend, like I had now. Was everything really so much simpler during the war? We were all so much closer. I knew Jake, Cassie, Rachel, Tobias, and Ax better than they knew themselves at times... and the same went for all of them. We were a family. I smiled slightly when I thought of Rachel. We were never the closest of the group, but we wound up on the same side of arguments more times than not. I really did miss her.
"Another nail in Jake's coffin," I said. Even if this did free Jake from longing for Cassie, he still had Rachel's death on his conscience.. There had to be something we could do to help Jake out.
"Mr. Marez?" A male voice said. I snapped out of my daydreaming. My driver was standing over me, with the door open. We were back at my mansion. I sat up, rubbing my head.
"Thanks Donald." I said, and stepped out of the car. It was about nine thirty, dark in New York. Something about tonight made me shiver. It wasn't cold. Just the feeling of being watched. I shook off my figurative cobwebs, and opened my front door, which I never kept locked. It was dark inside.... unusual. Most of the time, the maids or butlers turned the lights on when it got dark. Must have been their night off, I guessed. I made my way upstairs, and to my master bedroom, to find the door already open. Odd. "Is anyone here?" I asked. No answer. I shrugged again, and walked inside, taking my shirt off. "Damn, it's been a long day." I muttered to myself.
"It has." A voice said. I jerked so much, that I swung my head into one of my dressers.
"Son of a!" I yelled reflexively. What the hell? I squinted, my eyes adjusting to the dark. There was someone sitting on the bed. I knew who it was, of course. I knew that voice better than I knew my own father's. "Jake."



To Be Continued....