-title: The Realization
-author: indulgance rodent
-email: hprice16@yahoo.com
-summary: After a battle, Jake goes to talk to Tobias and realizes something he hadn't noticed before.
-disclaimer: *walks up to podium, shuffles some papers and tapps the microphone* i hereby declare that i own none of these characters that this story employs. they are the property of ms. applegate and scholastic, and i will gladly give them back when i've finished with them.
-author's note: okay guys, this is slash. If anyone doesn't like the idea of two guys together, he or she should hit the back button and go read something else. I don't think I made it too graphic, it's not nc-17 or anything like that, but some people are offended by the very notion. You have been warned. Also, from now on, updates will be noted in the summary, but not added on as a new chapter. They'll simply be added to the bottom of the story in the same fashion it's set up in currently. Enjoy ^__^


The night air was cold against his face as Jake shut the back door to his two-story house. With a shiver, he silently cursed the night's chill and crept stealthily around the side of his home. Safe in the shadowed space between the building and the garage, Jake decided that owl was the best way to morph for a midnight fly, stretched, and began to shift forms. The process was so familiar to him by then it hardly took any effort what so ever and it was only a matter of seconds before an owl rested where the boy once stood.

Fighting for over three years had made it routine to do things such as this. Sneaking out of the house was something Jake was sure all seventeen year olds had done at least once in their lives, but definitely not for the same reasons. With his new shape, Jake launched into the air and wondered what he would have been doing at that very moment had he been one of those "normal" teenagers instead of a warrior in the most secret war in the history of earth, but then quickly dismissed the very idea. ((No use playing What If games, Jake,)) he thought to himself, a silent sigh echoing through his mind.

((No, Jake, you're not normal,)) he silently scorned again, ((the night's happenings, if nothing else, proved that.)) It was a magnificent battle, if you were to look at it aesthetically, a plethora of events jammed into an hour and a half's worth of fighting that made his "General" side both proud and simultaneously ashamed. Sure, they'd won, but at too many costs.

That was what his private mission was about that night. Only a few hours prior, they'd gotten a crushing blow in on the Yeerk force, but one of their clan hadn't been seen afterward. He hadn't died, Jake was sure. But he did have a hunch that something rather significant had occurred while the rest of the Animorphs had escaped and Tobias had been left behind in the Yeerk Pool a bit longer.

As Tobias's territory came into view, Jake reduced his altitude, then swooped to the ground. Deftly assuming his natural body, he once again felt the chill of the November air on his bare arms and legs and face. Walking further toward Tobias's area of the forest, his thoughts drifted back to the battle. The plan was to use one of their three newest discovered Pool entrances and infiltrate, posing as Controllers. Once the Animorphs had chosen the entrance (a "storage" room in a video game store), they decided who would pose as a Controller, and who would be a Yeerk inside of their heads. The end result was that Cassie morphed Yeerk and rode in Rachel's brain, Ax in Marco's brain, and Jake in Tobias's head. It didn't seem too complicated, if the young warriors had only known...

A pain shot through Jake's foot, jerking him out of the thoughts he'd drifted into. "Stupid stick," he muttered bitterly at the twig he'd stepped on, hoping that it found his words somehow hurtful or insulting. Shivering, he quickened pace, and then slowed at the sight of his goal.

Leaning against the tree he perched in at night, Tobias stood with his back to the direction from which Jake approached; yet the boy's leader knew that Tobias sensed him drawing near. He approached slowly, afraid that he might somehow startle his friend, careful not to step on any more stray sticks in his bare feet. "You made it out," Jake said quietly to announce his arrival formally.

Tobias, still in the clothes that Rachel had given him so long ago to wear in human morph (a black tee-shirt, baggy dark blue jeans, Vans shoes, and thick hemp necklace--giving in to his tastes that obviously varied from hers), turned around to look at his friend. He didn't speak, just shrugged and sat on the ground next to his perch tree. Walking over to his side, Jake felt the soft splatters of midnight rain falling onto his shoulders and face, then sat next to Tobias. "Care to tell me what happened?" he asked gently, ignoring the sprinkling water from above.

Sitting in quiet contemplation for a bit, Tobias finally replied, "I had to hide, so while you guys were fleeing, I ducked behind a storage shed and found a safe place to hide out until I got brave enough. Then I sprinted toward the exit, making sure to stay low behind the rows of sheds and cages. Finally, I reached the stairway and bolted up." With a sigh, he fell silent again, letting it sink into his leader's mind a bit. "Obviously, I fell into the same fucking trap that I did during our first battle," he added bitterly, swiping some strands of hair from his face and turning back to face the boy that had come to visit him.

"What do you mean?" Jake asked, knowing in the back of his head exactly what Tobias meant but not wanting to admit it outright. When he didn't reply, Jake reached out and touched Tobias's back lightly to get his attention, figuring he was lost in his own little world. To his surprise, he found that his friend was trembling ever so slightly. Why, he wondered? Anger, sadness, the wind chill? "Tobias?" he asked softly.

Slowly, Tobias came out of his daze and said, "I'm worthless now, Jake. Getting out of the Yeerk Pool took longer than two hours." With a sigh, he went on. "I don't know what to do. I can't fight now, my power is gone, and I have no place to stay, no way to get food... What's going to happen to me?" The look that he then gave Jake nearly broke the soldier's heart. Photos from magazines of starving children, and those Precious Moments figurines popped into his head. Tobias's eyes were filling with tears that he hoped wold blend in with the rain, which fell harder now, and they looked to Jake for some sort of solution. Simultaneously hopeful and hopeless, Jake thought subconsciously, Tobias had never seemed so ... beautiful.

((What?)) he then thought to himself. ((Where did that come from?)) To his friend, he only said, "We'll think of something, Tobias. You should know better by now than to think that we would even consider leaving you out here to starve in a tree." More silence followed the nod that Tobias offered without a word. Jake didn't want to disturb his meditating friend, as he was obviously deep and thought and not to be trifled with in his frame of mind. So he simply watched him, observed Tobias while he sat there in the rain, silent, motionless. One word echoed throughout Jake's mind: "beautiful."

((Yes,)) he thought confusedly, ((Tobias is very beautiful. The way the rain makes his hair damp and fall like that, his eyes, his thin-but-toned structure -))

((NO!)) another part of Jake's mind screamed in response. ((This is wrong. It's not right to think about Tobias that way. He's your friend, your fellow warrior, and ... a guy.))

But the more he thought about it, the more that Jake's admiration for Tobias grew. Plus, he was filled with an overpowering urge to protect him. ((Here Tobias is, in a terrible situation he doesn't deserve but will inevitably blame himself for, turning to me, his leader, for help,)) Jake thought with an inner sigh. He wanted very badly to suddenly come up with a brilliant scheme to fix the problem right away, but nothing came to mind. Instead, he thought up a temporary idea about living arrangements for his friend. As Tobias withdrew from his trance of thought once more, Jake gently instructed, "Go to the hayloft in Cassie's barn and get some sleep there. Tomorrow morning we'll hold a meeting and discuss the problem at hand, and you can spend the night with me. The night after that, you can go to Marco's. Sound good?"

Tobias nodded and stood to leave for the hayloft. "Thanks, Jake," he mumbled softly. With that, he began to walk off into the woods, then paused to face his leader and whispered, "Jake?"

"Yeah?" he replied curiously.

"I can't fly anymore," came Tobias's nearly inaudible statement. Losing his battle with his emotions, he didn't want Jake to see him cry and instead turned his back and stood very still. For Tobias, flying was something meaningful on multiple levels. With the way he grew up (neglected and uncared-for by his aunt and uncle, bound by petty rules made up mostly to have needless power over the boy), the sense of freedom that came along with the gift of flight was so very deserved to Tobias. It justified some sort of conflict deep inside. With his hawk form, he could escape to the skies and clouds, soaring over thermals and riding wherever the wind and wings took him... but not anymore. Tobias was once again chained to the ground, and his only release was snatched from him cruelly.

He trembled more visibly now, mostly from the effort of trying not to cry. Giving in a bit to the nagging in his stomach, Jake stood up, walked to Tobias's side, and wrapped his arms around him. Reciprocating his leader's actions, the youth hugged him back and finally cried. Through his sobs, Tobias mumbled softly about things like not knowing what to do, feeling useless, and wishing that the "whole damned war" would just go away. Most of it wasn't understandable, but Jake made consoling sounds and patted his back softly, allowing the shuddering Tobias to literally cry on his shoulder. Above all, Jake marveled over how good and right it felt to have Tobias in his arms...

This thought disturbed Jake. He didn't think that he was gay, because he'd never been attracted to a guy before, yet he'd crushed on and loved girls. His relationship with Cassie had been wonderful, and they'd been together for over a year before drifting apart. Girls caught his eye, not guys. Except for Tobias, which didn't make any sense to him at all...

His tears tapered off slowly and soon Tobias, exhausted from the evening's stress and his weeping, rested delicately in Jake's arms, his body leaned against that of his friend. As his chest began to rise and fall more rhythmically (not hiccuping and shuddering as it did while he sobbed) and he seemed to be falling asleep, Jake instinctually adjusted his own breathing pattern to match that of his fellow warrior. He then rested his head on Tobias's, letting his mind wander, thankful for the tree behind them that would help to support their weight better.

((Why am I feeling this way?)) Jake asked himself curiously. ((Is it Tobias?)) Thinking back, he'd always admired the boy a little, but it wasn't anything recognizable, just a small respect that had slowly and silently grown into more. As he thought about this, he examined the slumbering boy in his arms. Well, he certainly wasn't macho, Jake quickly observed, and Tobias seemed almost feminine when compared to Jake. Tobias was tall and thin, but not scrawny - his muscle was lean and catlike, in contrast to the oxen that called themselves football players. Plus Tobias's features were deep and intense - sea blue eyes that squinted ever-so-slightly, holding the sorrows and wisdom of a fallen angel, behind long eyelashes, high-ish cheek bones and an almost pouty mouth. His sandy-blond hair, usually parted in the middle (but not perfectly), hung to about the middle of his ears and often fell in his face. It was usually a little messy, but given his style, it suited him, and it complimented his facial features nicely...

The other Animorphs had suspicions that Tobias could, perhaps, be mildly bisexual, but they never said anything about it to him. Where they got the idea wasn't quite clear, it was just a "vibe," as Marco put it, and they didn't have any real proof--after his relationship with Rachel had ended, Tobias hadn't gotten involved with anyone, male or female. But this wasn't anything important, it didn't change him at all in their eyes--at least not that Jake was aware of. He was still Tobias, the Bird Boy, their eyes in the sky, and ultimately, their friend.

((Hey, maybe that's it,)) Jake considered as he shifted Tobias's weight from his right arm to his left, ((maybe I'm mildly bisexual like Tobias is suspected to be?)) Yet somehow that didn't seem to compute either. After analyzing the whole situation for several minutes, Jake finally concluded that he was, in fact, straight... except for his interest in Tobias. This seemed acceptable to Jake, and gave him a temporary feeling of calm and resolution.

Emerging back to reality from his thoughts, Jake strained to look at his watch and note the time. It was 2:13am, earlier than Jake had thought it to be, but late enough that he should begin his trek home. In one fluid motion, he gently detached the now-rain-soaked Tobias from his side, steadied him a bit, and scooped him up into his arms as he would a small child. It wasn't hard to carry Tobias at all, because he was rather light and was too busy sleeping to put up any trouble. Cradling the boy to his chest, Jake began the long walk through the woods and meadows toward Cassie's barn. He walked as quickly as he could manage while maneuvering around various rocks, sticks, and trees, careful not to wake his passenger. Halfway there, however, his cargo began to awaken on his own accord. Tobias's eyes opened slightly and he cast an extremely confused look at Jake, glanced at his surroundings, and shifted his gaze back to his leader. Pausing momentarily, Jake offered to let him walk the rest of the way, but Tobias shook his head, mumbled incoherently, and fell back asleep in a matter of seconds. Grinning, Jake continued walking until they finally reached the barn door.

"Tobias," he whispered to the boy as he shook him gently, "wake up, we're there." When Tobias didn't stir, Jake sighed and fumbled with the sliding door handle on the side of the barn, trying not to drop his friend in the process. Opening it with his elbow and holding it in place with his foot, Jake ducked into the barn and walked cautiously through the dark. Setting Tobias on a bale of hay, he sat for a second and let his eyes adjust to the light and then once again tried to awaken his friend.

Slowly, Tobias's eyelashes fluttered a little and he sat up. Looking around and stretching a bit, he gathered his wits and remembered what was going on. Standing, he met Jake's uneasy gaze. "Uhm, I don't really want to be alone right now," he mumbled, still in the process of waking up. He then shrugged and climbed the ladder up into the hayloft.

Jake moved nearer to the ladder once Tobias had disappeared over the top and opened his mouth to speak, but hesitated. Finally, he asked quietly, "Do you want me to sit up there with you until you fall asleep?" Latching his index finger around the nearest rung of the ladder, he added, "Keep you company?"

The yawning face of his companion peeked over the ledge of the hayloft, nodding as he replied with a simple "Sure." As Jake began ascending, however, Tobias went on, his eyes cast toward the floor of the hayloft. "I really feel stupid about this entire thing." After a pause, he muttered, blushing, "Especially embarrassed about crying like I did."

"Don't feel dumb about being upset," Jake countered dismissively as Tobias pulled him from the ladder and helped him onto the wooden floor. "I would be if I was in your position, no doubt about it. You have every right to react to your situation, okay?"

"Nothing ever seems to work out for me, does it?" Tobias reflected bitterly to nobody in particular, rubbing his eye and obviously not trying to go back to sleep. "My parents, school, my aunt and uncle, the whole thing with Rachel, and now this fine mess." He sighed heavily and addressed Jake directly, asking, "Did Rachel ever tell you why she really broke up with me?"

Jake thought for a moment and shrugged. "All she told me was that you weren't the same guy she knew a few years ago, that you'd changed too much."

A small tug pulled at the corner of Tobias's mouth and his brow creased. "Half truth," he muttered distantly, "the rest being that, well, I told her something that she didn't particularly like." Glancing up to see Jake looking back expectantly, an eyebrow arched, he quietly revealed, "Well, I told her that I'm bisexual, Jake." Immediately after, his words much more rushed and defensive, he added, "But I don't see why she got so upset about that. It's not like I was interested in anyone--male or female--other than Rachel. I've never been with a guy, never told anyone before her, but she refused to accept that. She was disgusted by the fact that I -could- be attracted to guys." Another deep sigh, then he went on, saying, "I sort of swore off love and the whole relationship thing since then because it hurt so much to lose Rachel over something like that. It was like I revealed a deeper part of myself to her and she just spat on it, and I can feel it every time I look at her. It hurts, Jake, I trusted her. Thinking back, I can't even remember why I told her in the first place."

"I'm sorry, Tobias," Jake murmured as he caught himself staring at his friend. The way Tobias moved his hands when he spoke, every so often shaking his head (causing a few strands of hair to fall into his face, which he quickly swiped away out of habit)... it just had Jake downright mesmerized. He and Tobias were sitting Indian-style on the floor, facing each other, so he knew that despite his ranting, Tobias had noticed him staring.

Suddenly, Tobias looked Jake squarely in his eyes and asked, "Does it bother you at all? I should have asked before I spilled my guts, because some people are just weirded out by the whole thing..."

Jake's face grew hot as he felt himself blush. "No," he replied, "not at all. The only reason most people freak out is because they're insecure about their own sexuality, and they need to take it out on someone." Offering a shrug, he left it at that.

Hesitating at first, Tobias asked carefully, "Well, uh, what about you, Jake?"

"Straight," Jake replied automatically, then felt bad as Tobias nodded and looked away. ((He trusted me with his secret, I might as well return the favor,)) he thought. "Well... I don't know. Guys don't really appeal to me, except--and this is going to sound so stupid--except that there's this one guy that I can't seem to get out of my mind."

This caught Tobias's attention again, and he gazed at his friend curiously. "Who, if I may ask?" he inquired shyly, and Jake couldn't read the expression on his face.

((Do I want to tell him flat-out?)) Jake silently contemplated. No, he decided, it would be better for Tobias to figure it out for himself. "I'd feel stupid just saying it, so how about you try guessing?" He felt his blush deepen further, glad that the barn was dark, but regretting having said anything about it in the first place.

A slight grin played on Tobias's lips as he began to feel more relaxed and comfortable. Jake hadn't freaked out at him, and even confided that he wasn't completely alone. "Marco? That's the obvious first guess, since he's your best friend and all." When Jake shook his head in reply, Tobias began to think aloud. "It's not Ax, I'd hope, or your brother..." He laughed a bit at that and added, "That would be very wrong..."

"Eugh," Jake confirmed, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the thought. "No, try again."

"Is it Erek?" Tobias guessed, then immediately said, "No, he's an android. Is it Jack, that kid that lives down the street from you?" Again, Jake only shook his head in reply, so Tobias sighed and said, "I give up then, Jake. Who is it?"

Jake had to clear his throat before he began. "Well, he's gentle and seems kind of fragile at times, but he's really very strong. I admire that most about him, his strength, because he's gone through so much, and if it was me, I'd have snapped long ago. He seems to trust me, and I'd trust him with my life--I have on several occasions, actually." Jake paused, not believing he was actually going through with this, and continued with the clues he was dropping like anvils onto Tobias's head. "He doesn't know how important he is to his friends or their cause, which is everything to him..."

Tobias had that unreadable expression on his face once more, and it grew progressively harder to tell what he was thinking. He wasn't showing any reaction, which Jake knew was deliberate. "Oh," was all he'd uttered. Now it was Tobias's turn to blush, and he busied himself with pushing around some hay as he turned several shades of red and pink. Soon, a shallow, oval-shaped nest was formed in place of a bed. Silently, the blond teenager stripped off his shirt and nestled down into the dry hay. It was nearing 3:30am by then, and he was finding it increasingly difficult to keep his eyes open.

"You know," Jake spoke softly as his fellow soldier got comfortable and began to drift off once again, "the sacrifice you made tonight wasn't in vain, Tobias. We freed so many people, put in a crushing blow to the Yeerks, and I'm really proud of us. Especially you, for what you've given up--twice." No reply came from the still body of Tobias, only the more rhythmic breathing that came with sleep, and Jake sighed. "Goodnight," he added quietly, standing to leave. On impulse, and feeling more brave now that Tobias was asleep again, he paused, crouched down, and placed a soft kiss on Tobias's left temple (the closest thing to him, as Tobias was laying on his right side). Then he made a very quick exit, via his owl morph.

As Tobias heard the beating of wings leave the barn window, his eyes shot back open. Bringing a hand to his temple, a small smile curled on his lips. Content, he finally fell asleep.


Awaking, Jake sat up with a start and blinked several times before realizing he was no longer asleep. He wiped the cold sweat from his brow and looked around at his familiar surroundings. The sight of his bedroom brought him back into reality and calmed him down. ((What a nightmare,)) he thought to himself with a slow breath. Rays of warm sunlight shone through the slits in the blinds on his window, and the chirping of birds indicated that it was an autumn Sautrday morning like any other. Jake pushed back his covers and sleepily walked to his closet, grabbed a pair of jeans, and pulled them on over his boxers. The clock on his computer desk read 7:24am.

On a whim, he opened the blinds and gazed out the window. At first he squinted at the brightness of the light, but then he could make out the figure of a person walking slowly toward his house. Through blurred, tired eyes, Jake saw the form of a tall, lean male with messy, sandy hair and a black shirt walking up his driveway. ((Tobias?)) Jake wondered, going from the window to his closet once more--this time to retrieve a shirt. Pulling a dark red tee on, he softly padded down the stairs and opened the front door. "Hey," he greeted casually.

"Hi," his friend replied quietly, looking at his feet at first but bringing his gaze upward to Jake's face. It was warmer than the night before had been, and the midnight rain had left a few puddles here and there. Tobias squinted more than usual through the morning light. "Can I come in?"

"Oh, yeah," Jake said, feeling foolish that he'd just been standing there. Taking a few steps into his house, he opened the door to allow his friend in, shutting it behind him. "What's up?" he asked, trying to sound casual.

"Well, Cassie's dad seems to be an early riser," Tobias reported in a hushed tone, lest another member of Jake's family happened to be awake. "He was in the barn at like 6:00am, so I tried to keep out of sight until he went back into the house, then climbed down and left. I wandered around a bit and decided to come pester you."

"Ah," Jake replied with a nod. "Cassie's dad is always up that early when it's warm enough, I should have warned you about that. Sorry." He blushed a bit and said, "I was about to grab something to eat, you want some?"

Tobias smiled and nodded, removing his sneakers and placing them neatly by the door. "Yeah, that would be great, thanks. I'm starving."

The two of them walked into the kitchen and Tobias sat at the table while Jake looked through the cupboards for something to eat. "I'm not really in a cereal mood," Jake said as he gazed at the boxes of Cheerios and Corn Pops. Reaching upward, he grabbed a couple packages of chicken flavored Ramen noodles and pulled them down. "Are these okay?" he asked Tobias.

"Yeah, whatever," Tobias replied, "as long as it's edible. I'm really not a picky eater at all. I ate mice for a while, remember?" He laughed at this and tucked some hair behind his ear.

Pulling a pan out of a drawer and walking to the sink, Jake nodded. "Yeah, but I'm sure it didn't taste all that bad to you, Tobias." With that, he turned the tap on and ran some water into the pan, then brought it to the stove and set it down. As he turned the flame on beneath the pan, he said, "Now, you'd never catch -me- consuming a rodent. Unless I was paid some nice amount of money for it."

This brought a laugh out of Tobias, and the tension between them was easing. Both were trying not to think about their conversation from the night before, and trying to keep things normal. Tending to their breakfast, Jake said, "Hey, turn on the TV. It's way too quiet in here." He pointed out the remote, which was on the counter, and instructed him to put it onto Mtv2, a channel that plays nothing but music videos 24 hours a day. "Not too loud, though, because I'm not sure who else is awake right now. Can't go about disturbing the peace."

"Right," Tobias replied, turning the volume down a touch. It was playing the song "Sober" by Tool, and Tobias sang along almost inaudibly. "I am just a worthless liar, I am just an imbicile. I will only complicate you, trust in me and fall as well. I will find a center in you, I will chew it up and leave, trust me..." When their food was ready, Jake sat across from him and slid him his bowl. "Smells great, man, thanks."

"No problem," Jake replied. "After we're done eating, though, we should go get the others for a meeting. You know, assess the situation and whatnot."

"Yeah, I'm sure they'll be thrilled to hear that I'm causing more trouble," Tobias cringed and twirled his fork around in his food. He forced a smile and added, "Marco should be fairly entertaining, though, he loves to give me a hard time."

"It's not your fault," Jake stated. "You didn't, like, set out to get trapped again. Besides," he added as an afterthought, "they wouldn't do anything in front of me. I'm pretty sure they're more well-behaved than that, even Marco."

"If you say so," Tobias shrugged, "but if you ask me, the shit hasn't begun to hit the fan. We just had a huge battle, they're not going to be in the best of spirits. Sure, Cassie will be sympathetic, but Rachel will most likely be apathetic or scold me, and Marco will just make some lame jokes. How fun."

((Why is he always so hard on himself?)) Jake wondered. ((It's just a meeting, it's not anything really important.))

The rest of their meal was eaten in near silence, until Jake's mother came into the kitchen around five till 8:00am. "Hey, Jake, why are you up so early?" she asked, looking at her son and his companion with a small amount of confusion. "And who's your friend?"

"Oh, this is Tobias," Jake introduced, and Tobias gave a little wave. "But actually, we were just leaving. Meeting some friends at Cassie's and maybe going downtown." He cast a glance at Tobias and they both stood, abandoning their nearly-finished bowls of noodles and walked to the entryway, putting their shoes on. "Bye Mom," Jake called as they walked out the front door.

"Well, that went well," Tobias joked as they walked down the street. More people were awake now, and it wasn't as empty. Cars drove through puddles and the occasional pedestrian brushed past them. "Can you tell I'm not really wild about having a meeting right away?" he asked quietly, pushing his hands into his pockets. He looked downright bashful. "I kind of want to get used to being human again before we announce it to the rest of the group, you know?"

"That's fine," Jake nodded. He looked at his friend, and immediately saw that the wall had gone up again. Tobias was off in his own world, looking down as he walked and obviously thinking about all sorts of pleasant thoughts. Ridicule, humiliation, all those happy things. Wishing that he could help his friend in some way, Jake found himself looking Tobias over as they walked. He couldn't help it, Tobias was so visually pleasing that Jake's eyes were constantly drawn to him, his body, the presence he had about himself. Not quite sure where they were walking to, Jake led the way along the street and turned toward Cassie's house in case his mother had looked out the window after them, as she often did.

After walking a significant amount, they ended up at Tobias's territory. Jake had noticed that his friend was subconsciously heading in that direction and just went with it. It wasn't until they'd gotten there and Tobias realized where he was that he snapped out of his thoughts and back into the present. Even then, he didn't speak, but walked over to his perch tree and sat at the base. Letting out a half-growl, half-sigh, he finally muttered, "The world seems so small when you're alone."

"You aren't alone Tobias," Jake chided, a few yards away, "and you know it. There are enough people that care about you to make up for those who are dumb enough not too."

Tobias looked up at his leader and said, "You know what I meant."

"Actually, I don't," Jake replied, kneeling next to Tobias. He had to resist the urge to touch him, although every cell in his hand itched to reach out and touch his cheek or his hair. It was only by pretending to crack his knuckles that he managed to keep his hands to himself. "Why do you feel so isolated? You know you have us to turn to, to talk to about anything." Jake made sure to stare Tobias right in the eye as he spoke the last sentence.

"Stuff like last night, where you and I just talked," Tobias began, looking at the ground, "that doesn't happen pretty much at all. The only person that I always felt I could talk to has stopped speaking to me. Cassie just looks at me like I'm another one of her pets that she gets to take care of and chat with in the barn. Marco..." He picked up a stick and began to break it into pieces. "I've never gotten along with Marco very well. Ax is an Andalite, he doesn't understand a lot of human things."

"What about me?" Jake asked cautiously. He didn't want to start something that would make his friend upset, but he couldn't help but try bringing up the conversation from the night before. Every word and action had been permanently etched into his brain.

Shrugging, Tobias continued to make splinters of the poor twig he had in his hands. "I know what you're trying to get at," he said simply, tossing what was left of the stick aside. "I'm not as stupid as I may seem." He looked up at Jake once again and just sighed. Quoting the song he'd been singing along to at the breakfast table, Tobias looked away and said " 'I will only complicate you.' I don't want to corrupt any more friendships, Jake."

And with that, he stood and walked away, leaving Jake to stare after him.


For the rest of that day, there was no sign of Tobias. Jake had morphed falcon and searched the woods and meadows, but to no avail. Figuring that the soldier didn't want to be found, Jake gave up and returned home. ((What did I do?)) he asked himself. ((Last night he seemed almost eager to talk about it, but today, he was so defensive.)) Laying on his bed, Jake stared at the ceiling and occupied his mind by counting the little bumps and lines that were created in the textured paint. The sounds of Incubus played from his stereo, a song that he didn't know the title of.

"Consequence, you'll see, has been stranger than sci-fi of any kind..." the singer told him before Jake threw a pillow at the stereo. When he did it, it simply skipped ahead a song. "So don't let the world bring you down--not everyone here is that fucked up and cold. Remember why you came and while you're alive, experience the warmth before you grow old... So do you think I should adhere to this pressing new frontier, and leave in my wake a trail of fear? Should I hold my head up high..."

Jake growled to himself and turned off the music. Why did it seem like the band was talking right to him?

Then, an idea struck him. Grabbing a piece of paper, he turned the CD back on and put it on track 6. He scribbled down the lyrics and then re-copied them into better penmanship. ((If Tobias wants to use a song against me, fine. I can play that game too,)) he thought. Folding the paper up neatly, he stuck it into his pocket and walked out the door. Luckily, Tobias wasn't at his territory. Jake placed the note at the base of his perch tree and then walked away, congratulating himself silently on finding what may be the solution.


Tobias had been brooding in a bookstore when he saw Cassie walk in. Setting down his book, he tried to slip toward the back, but she'd spotted him. "Tobias?" she called, walking briskly toward him. "Hi, what are you doing here?"

"Oh, nothing," he replied casually. Waving a hand at the shelves of books, he added, "Just catching up on some reading is all."

"Ah, sounds like fun," the girl nodded. Upon being sent an inquisitive look, she added, "I just haven't seen you use your human morph for something like reading before is all." She paused and looked him over. It was apparent that something wasn't right, he seemed in a rush to leave. "Tobias, what's wrong?" When he only gave her a blank look, she prompted softly, "Come on, don't play dumb."

With a sigh, Tobias shook his head, "It's nothing, just a little down is all. Nothing a book and a cup of coffee can't solve." He forced a small grin and turned to walk away, wishing that the world would just leave him alone for a while.

Wandering around downtown for a while, Tobias finally decided to go back to his territory. It was the only place that really felt like home, like he was really safe there. Weaving around trees and other various woodsy things, he finally made it to his tree and slumped down against it. Upon hearing the crinkling of paper beneath him, however, he stood and looked down at a now-crumpled folded piece of lined paper. ((What now?)) he wondered, reaching down and scooping it up. Turning it over in his hands several times, the boy finally opened it and read what was written in a familiar handwriting.

"Meet me in outer space. We could spend the night, watch the Earth come up. I've grown tired of that place, won't you come with me? We could start again... How do you do it--make me feel like I do? How do you do it? It's better than I ever knew... Meet me in outer space. I will hold you close if you're afraid of heights. I need you to see this place, it might be the only way that I can show you how it feels to be inside of you... You are stellar..."

Tobias knew the song and heard every word in his head. Folding it back up, he shoved the piece of paper back into his pocket and leaned against his tree, allowing a few stray tears to loose themselves down his cheeks. ((Jake, why don't you listen?)) he asked silently. ((Why do you have to make everything so hard?)) He then sat, knees to chest, at the base of his tree for a few hours until night fell.


It was well past midnight when he heard it. Jake was lying awake in his bed, staring at his ceiling once more, listening to music. The "plink ... plink" of two stones being tossed at his window caught his attention and he sat up. The night was warmer than the one before, yet he had gone to bed with his clothes on--jeans and his dark red shirt. Pushing back the blanket, he walked to the window and pulled up the blinds, then opened the window and poked his head out. Sure enough, Tobias peered up at him from below.

"That was easier than I'd thought," the blonde said simply as he brought his half-cocked arm down and dropped the extra pebbles in his hand.

"What are you doing?" Jake hissed down to him. Not that he minded having Tobias there, trying to get his attention, but what if he'd awoken someone else in the house? He had to work extra-hard to push away the wave of hypothetical situations that bubbled in his mind like shaken Dr. Pepper inside of a dropped two-liter.

"Come down here," his friend replied, "and meet me at my territory." With that, he ran off in the direction of the aforementioned rendezvous.

((What..?)) Jake wondered. He'd expected some sort of response out of Tobias when he'd placed the lyrics at his tree, but this was a little out of the ordinary. As quietly as he possibly could, he shut the window and blinds, then crept out of his bedroom. The stairs would be more difficult, because the fourth from the bottom squeaked, as did the second from the bottom, so he would have to step very carefully. When he finally reached the door, he slipped his shoes on and, ever so carefully, opened the door, stepped outside, and shut it.

Rather than running, as Tobias had, Jake chose to walk--albeit quickly. He did quicken his pace once he reached the woods, however, as he'd started to grow anxious about what would happen. What did Tobias have planned? Another cold remark and a lecture? A conversation about how he appreciated the action, but didn't feel the same for him? More secrets?

Pressing through the darkness and the trees, he finally reached the clearing in Tobias's territory that held his perch tree. There was Tobias, sitting on the ground, leaned back against the tree, another one of his unreadable expressions on his face. He stood when Jake began to approach him. Without a word, Tobias walked over to Jake and hugged him--certainly not what the boy had expected. "Thank you," he whispered into Jake's ear.

A small smile formed on Jake's face out of relief. "For what?" he asked, returning the hug, letting the boy linger in his arms. A million and a half thoughts flew around in Jake's brain, and he found himself getting a little light-headed... but in a good way...

"For making me get out of my phase of self-pity and helping me realize that maybe you really mean it," Tobias replied. He pulled out of the hug and looked Jake in the face (not in the eyes, though, he wasn't sure he could do that). Blushing into several shades of red, Tobias asked quietly, "Can I... can I kiss you, Jake?" When Jake nodded, Tobias leaned forward and softly brushed his lips against those of his friend, a little surprised when Jake reciprocated.

It was so tender, so sincere, that Jake was a little surprised himself, but then he found himself not thinking, just acting. Drunken on the moment, he closed his eyes and parted his lips, inviting Tobias to take the kiss further. The blonde boy was happy to oblige, slipping his tongue past Jake's lips and running it slowly over Jake's in a rhythm that matched the rising and falling of his chest as he breathed. It wasn't the sort of kiss that you saw on television--all lust, crazed hunger, practically swallowing the other person. No, this was different, slower, with something else behind it other than lust. Their lips and tongues danced slowly, each movement deliberate, and Jake leaned back against a tree, relishing it. He'd waited for this, but he had no idea what it would be like. When he felt Tobias's hand move from his shoulder to his collar, tugging lightly on his shirt, he removed it automatically, then pulled Tobias's off as well. Jake had seen Tobias shirtless before, but this was different--he gazed at him for a moment, taking in the sight of him, his lean, toned torso. Then he caught Tobias's mouth up for another kiss, more aggressive this time.

Where he was going to take this, Jake didn't know. But when he felt Tobias's fingers brushing the skin over his back and shoulders, a shiver crawled up his spine. "Lay down," he instructed quietly. They didn't break apart as the two of them kneeled and lowered to the ground, Jake on top, supporting his weight with his hands on either side of Tobias, who lay on his back.

Still, in the back of his mind, Jake could hear something nagging at him. ((Be careful,)) it said, ((don't lose yourself. This can't go too far. You're already pushing your limits.)) As Jake began to kiss Tobias again, and nuzzled his ear, the voice faded a little. "This is so wrong," Jake whispered.

"What are you talking about?" Tobias replied, unaware of the fact that Jake hadn't meant to say it out loud, "this is so incredibly right..." He reached up and ran his fingers through Jake's brown hair, pulled Jake's face back to his and kissed him deeply.

"Yeah," Jake managed to say between kisses. It was almost ridiculous how passionate they'd gotten all of a sudden. Bending his elbow a little to lower himself closer to Tobias, pinning him, he began to kiss and nibble his neck, getting a low moan out of the boy. "We shouldn't...go too far..."

"Right," Tobias agreed, wrapping an arm around Jake's waist and pulling him closer to himself. "You should be going back ..." Running his fingers lightly up and down Jake's back, he began to push the boy away a little, knowing that it wouldn't be easy for either of them to stop once they got too caught up in what theywere doing.

Breaking apart, Jake and Tobias gazed at each other. "You're right," Jake sighed, sitting up. Tobias sat up as well, smiling a little. "Uhm, where does it go from here?" Jake asked.

"Don't ask something like that, Jake," Tobias replied, shaking his head. "One thing I've learned is to never try to plan out the future; it doesn't listen to you." Leaning in for a final kiss, he brushed Jake's lips softly with his own.

"True," Jake replied, standing to leave. He helped Tobias to his feet as well, the added, "Maybe it's best you don't stay at my house tonight." With a grin, he turned and walked home.


The sun beat down on Tobias's eyelids, forcing them to open ever-so-slightly and squint at the morning, and the rock that jabbed into his side woke him up the rest of the way. Grumbling and sitting up, he rubbed his eyes a second and looked around at his surroundings. He'd fallen asleep by his perch tree in his territory, heeding Jake's advice against sleeping over that night--things had been weird, their mutual realization kicked their hormones into a higher gear than they'd expected them to go. ((If Jake wasn't such a good kisser,)) Tobias thought, ((I would almost regret letting myself be so impulsive... almost.))

He stood then, brushed the dirt and grass from his jeans and torso, and stretched. Scooping his black tee-shirt up from the ground a few feet away, then pulling it on, he wondered what he'd do about breakfast--though he could always go pester Jake again. It was then that he remembered the meeting that they never got around to holding, and Cassie in the bookstore thinking he was in morph. "Ughhh," he muttered aloud, pulling his shoes on and tying the laces.

Walking through the forest, he let his mind drift about as usual, thinking mostly about the day before--all of the things that were said, the strange occurances, and most of all the Ramen noodles Jake had fixed for them. Tobias put a hand over his growling stomach, as though the action would somehow quiet it, and pressed on through the trees until he came to Cassie's farm. Not wanting to be noticed by any stray parents, or even Cassie for that matter, he stayed behind the treeline and went around the feilds to the road, then walked right past on the sidewalk.

Digging into his jeans pocket, he disovered a few coins and some bills, and seriously considered McDonald's or some small cafe for breakfast, but decided against it. The back of his mind was nagging at him, reminding him of how much he wanted to see Jake again. With something of a sigh, he walked toward Jake's house for the second morning in a row.

Quietly strolling up the sidewalk to the front door, Tobias was met by Homer, Jake's dog. "Hey Homer, c'mere boy," he whispered, patting his leg to call the dog. The golden retriever happily obliged and trotted over, sitting obediently at Tobias's feet while the boy scratched behind his ears and along his neck. "Good boy," Tobias added, crouching down to be more at the same level as Homer. He continued petting and scratching the dog for a few moments, then looked up at Jake's window. ((Light's on,)) he observed, and stood to walk around to the side of the house.

Scooping up a handfull of pebbles and small stones, he took careful aim at Jake's window. ((Fire one,)) he thought, flinging one up and hearing a satisfying "plink" as it hit. He paused a moment, and after no answer came, threw another. ((Fire two.)) Finally, Jake opened the window, stuck his head out, and grinned.

"Hey," Jake called down, resting an arm on the windowsill. "What are you doing?"

Habitually tucking some strands of hair behind his ear, Tobias replied, "Taking a walk, building up an apitite. Don't suppose you're awake enough to let me in, are you?" As an afterthought, headded, "Unless you've got something better to do. That is, I don't want to impose..." Blood rushed to his cheeks as he felt himself blush, and then he un-tucked the hair behind his ear to let it hide some of his face as he looked at the ground for a moment.

"Oh, no, you wouldn't be imposing," Jake said with a wave of his hand, "you should know that. Let me get dressed, see who all's awake. I'll meet you down at the door in a few minutes." He vanished behind the dropped blinds, emerging from the front door minutes later. "It's almost 9:00am, d'you want to just go somewhere and eat? We can gather the others afterward. Have that meeting."

"Right, the meeting," Tobias replied, nodding a little. "Sure, I guess that's cool. I don't really have a lot of money, though..." He trailed off and dug into his pockets, fishing out his money to show his friend. "So uhm ... how about someplace cheap?" His blush returned a little, lightly tinging his cheeks and nose.

Pausing as though to debate to himself, Jake finally nodded. "They make some good pancakes at McDonald's. Come on."

The pair walked casually along the sidewalk toward the city, minds buzzing. Tobias reached out toward Jake's hand subconsciously a few times, startling himself when he felt flesh brush against flesh, and finally just cossed his arms over his chest. Neither of them spoke for a long time, and it was Tobias who broke the silence. "You're awfully quiet," he mumbled, "what's on your mind?"

Jake put his arm around Tobias's shoulders, buddy-buddy-style, but his face didn't mirror the gesture. "I was thinking about what you said before, about being afraid of what the others would think about us." He stopped walking and chewed his lip for a moment before going on. "I was thinking... well... I was thinking that they don't really need to know." Jake felt his face go hot as he realized how that sounded. "Not that I'd be ashamed of you or anything," he added hurriedly, "but it could cause tension in the group, particularly between myself and Rachel. It's never good to have tension when there's the possibility of a mission coming up." Wincing, he realized once more that he'd made himself sound insensitive. "I'm just... I'm just going to shut up now."

After a moment, Tobias just turned and planted a kiss on Jake's nose. "No, I understand, trust me. It's not like anyone else goes around announcing their relationships to the group. Well," he added as an afterthought, "except for Marco, but that's different. When he gets a date, it ought to be declared a national holiday." He grinned and ducked out of Jake's arm. "It's fine, okay?" He looked down the road, then gestured at the familiar golden arches. "C'mon, I'm half-starved here."


When she finished tending to her favourite raccoon's broken hind leg, Cassie picked up a broom and began to push the hay and dirt on the floor into a neat pile. The gray stone floor eventually peeked through satisfactorily, so the girl leaned the broom against the wall nearby. She was just approaching a row of birdcages with some seed and sedated rodents when the door squeaked open and two boys strode in. The first was tall, trim, and strong with dark brown hair, while the other was a bit shorter and thinner with messy blonde hair and eyes with a slight squint. Both were grinning, but silent, the blonde boy sipping orange juice daintily through a straw from a McDonald's cup.

"Hey guys," she said brightly to Jake and Tobias, who'd walked into the barn and collapsed onto a bale of hay. She smiled at Jake, who politely showed his teeth in return before looking away. "You two are here pretty early, what's up?" The falcon in the cage nearest to her gave a small, impatient cry, trying to reach the food in her hand through the metal bars.

"I was thinking that we need to have a meeting," Jake replied, casually taking the McDonald's cup from Tobias' hand, removing the top, and taking a swig before handing it back. "Talk about the mission, what worked for us and what went wrong. Also," he added, and Cassie thought she saw him glance at Tobias, who'd busied himself trying to pet an injured fox through a cage, "we've got a minor problem that needs to be dealt with." He gestured toward the door and said, "You ought to call Rachel and Marco, tell them to be here as soon as possible. I'll search the woods and meadows for Ax." Before Cassie could respond, the boy had already begun morphing. She sent a confused look to Tobias while a peregine flew through the loft window, but the blonde only shrugged and sipped his orange juice.

Within fifteen minutes, the group was assembled in the barn, lounging on hay bales and looking tired. Marco seemed particularly disgruntled about being roused from bed before noon. "So," he muttered, rubbing his eyes, "what's this all about? I have a dream date with Angelina Jolie to get back to." He pushed some raven hair from his eyes and stared intently at his leader. "If you don't mind, I'd really like to return to that before she gets impatient and leaves me for Josh Hartnett or something."

Jake chose to ignore Marco's comments, cleared his throat, and spoke. "First of all, I want to congratulate you all on such a successful mission. By Ax's calculations, we freed over four thousand humans and three hundred Hork-Bajir. Two high-ranking controllers--one being Visser Seven--were killed." His eyes kept straying off the group toward the floor, but his speeh remained consistent. "I'd estimate that equipment-wise, we did hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the pool and their external base." His tone was firm, informative, not proud and congratulatory. Cassie tried once more to smile at him, but she couldn't manage to catch his eye.

"Well, don't seem -too- happy," Rachel murmured through a grin. "If we did so great, why are you stuck in robot-mode?"

Jake glanced back at his cousin. "Hmm," he started, then paused. "Uhm, well, there were certain consequences that came with our victory. Our Hork-Bajir allies suffered many casualties, and one of us has been put out of commission." At that, all eyes lit with realization and slid to the blonde boy in the back. An unreadable expression on his face, Jake mumbled to the barely-listening group, "Due to circumstances beyond his control, Tobias was forced to stay in human morph longer than two hours." Something heavy caught in Cassie's throat and slowly sank into her stomach, and she wasn't sure if it was caused by the news that had just been layed out, the unreadable expression on Jake's face, or the desperate look Tobias was sending to his leader. "Of course," Jake said quickly, raising his voice, "we'll figure something out. Nobody in this group will ever be left behind or forgotten. First of all, it's getting colder and I don't think the barn is warm enough at night. Marco, think of a story and arrange for Tobias to stay with you for the next week or so." Marco seemed about to say something, but decided against it and simply nodded. "Secondly, we need to know how the Yeerks are dealing with the last battle. This means a spy mission as soon as possible--probably bug morph at the next Sharing meeting." The group all nodded solemnly, aside from Tobias, who stared steadily at Jake and was gnawing on his straw.

"Anything else?" Cassie asked quietly. She felt that there was something heavy weighing on Jake's mind that he was reluctant to speak about. Something significant. During his speech to the group, he sounded as if he were on auto-pilot, and his mind was definitely somewhere else.

"No," he replied. "That's pretty much it. You guys can go." As the last words trailed from his lips, Jake seemed to relax. Rachel stood and left quickly without a word, while Marco approached Tobias and mumbled something about arriving before dinner before making his exit. Stepping back to the row of cages behind her, Cassie lifted a bag of birdseed and began to carefully ration some out between a sparrow and three robins. Out of the corner of her eye, she could have sworn she saw Jake briefly grasp Tobias's hand and whisper something into his ear as he brushed past him toward the door, but quickly shook it from her mind.