By The Steel Angel

Authors Notes - A one-shot Animorph fic dedicated to Anirarepair's Animorph Rememberence Month. I hear this song occasionally on the radio, and now that I look at the lyrics, it's inspired me to write a couple very special to me. Enjoy!

"All the world's indeed a stage, and we are merely players. Performers and portrayers. Each another's audiance outside the gilded cage." The radio blared. I tried to cover my ears, but that was pointless. My mom would see and just turn up the radio louder. See, that's the reason I can't listen to seventies rock. Stupid, inconsequential verses like that. Humanity had no idea how correct that verse was. All the world was indeed a stage, and we all really are players. Chess pieces in an intergalactic game between the Ellimist and Crayak. God and Satan.

My name is Jake. And I'm a pawn.

I shouldn't be complaining. I was in the car with my mom. We were driving back from the shopping district, back to the suburbs. How I got dragged along shopping with my mother was still a mystery. That woman and a shopping mall equals a very unhappy Jake. I didn't remember much about the events preceeding my apparent volunteering for the trip, and honestly, I didn't want to. I was exhausted, both physically and mentally. We had just gotten through the worst crisis we'd ever been through. An Animorph turned Rogue, and the Yeerks plotting to make controllers out of the leaders of the free world. We'd pulled it off, but it had taken a toll on our bodies and our minds.

So I really didn't have to try and sleep on the way home. Sleep was a luxury these days, and let me tell you, you don't appreciate sleep more than after you've been awake for about seventy two hours straight, fighting an army of space slugs, a fellow Animorph, and school, above everything else. The widow of the car wasn't exactly a pillow, but it got the job done. Closing my eyes felt like heaven. Felt like it was the first time I'd gotten a chance to sleep in a week, even though I'd slept the night away the previous night.

My eyes snapped open as I heard the tires squeal. My body was thrown forward and smashed into the windshield. "Aaaaugh!" I cried, as the glass shattered, lacerating my back. The car was still moving forward. I scanned the area quickly, through the windows that weren't cracked. Why was the drivers side window so close? And why was there a Dodge logo on the dash? My mom didn't own a Dodge.

I heard a car horn blaring. My eyes darted out of the passenger side window. All I saw were two giant blinding headlights. I heard tires grip the pavement, but it was too late. The force of the car hitting the one I was in from the passenger side threw me against the driver seat. Broken glass flew at me, cutting my face, hands, and arms. I knew I had to get out of the car. I was in the middle of an intersection, and with the damage that the car had just recieved, for all I knew, this car could have been turned into a ticking time bomb. God only knew if the gas tank was on the right side or left side.

I searched frantically for the handle of the drivers door, and found it after a few moments of fumbling. The door swung open as I fell backwards out of the car. I saw too late, the third car that was coming straight at me. I covered my head as I fell, and felt the wind of the third car as it scraped the door off of the car I was in like metal on a grinder. I fell against the asphalt and opened my eyes, to see the speeding rubber of the tire heading straight for me. I didn't even have time to scream.

"Jake. JAKE!" A voice yelled. I opened my eyes. Was I in heaven? My eyes took a moment to focus on... my mother. I blinked a few times, then looked around. I was sitting in my mom's car, driving back from the shopping district. A dream. It had all been a dream. "Are you okay, Jake? You're sweating." My mom asked. I put a hand up to my head. She was right. It was a cold sweat. I took a deep breath, steadying myself.

"I'm fine... just a little nightmare." I said. My mom looked at me, a look of concern spread across her face. I realized that I was panting. I shook my head furiously to try and clear my mind, but it wasn't helping. I'd been chased my Hork-bajir, almost eaten by an Orca, mauled by a Lion, and almost eaten by a falcon in the last forty eight hours, and I was letting some stupid nightmare get under my skin. It didn't make sense. I'd had nightmares before, and none of them were like this.

My mom didn't say anything. She looked dejected, but that was normal. She probably just thought that 'her baby' was growing up, and was finding less and less use for her. At worst, she thought I was on drugs or something like that. Oh, how I wanted to tell her the truth. I wanted to tell her about the war. About the Yeerk invasion. About Tom. But I couldn't do that. It would be too risky. Adults have a tendancy to disregard anything a teenager says. If I told her, she'd want to do things her own way. And her way, could prove fatal to me and my friends.

After a few more moments filled with an eerie silence, she finally pulled up into the driveway at our house. Tom's car was gone, which meant he was probably out doing something for the Sharing. A front organization for the Yeerks. My dad's car was gone too. I looked down at my watch. It was Sunday. He'd probably gone over to one of his buddies' house to watch the game. It was the kind of thing that we used to do before the war started. Before my availibility for recreation started dropping.

I stepped out of the car, wiping the sweat from my forehead again. I walked up the narrow walkway the led to my doorstep, following my mom. She opened the door, and I walked inside, immediately turning right to walk upstairs. "Are you sure you're okay, sweetie?" My mom asked from the base of the stairway. I was already on the fourth step. I turned my head around so I could look at her. I put a smile on my face.

"I'm fine, Mom. I'm just gonna go take a nap. Trying on clothes all day can wear a guy out." I said. My mom smiled, and gave a slight chuckle. I smiled back, and turned back to walk upstairs, the smile instantly leaving my face. I climbed the stairs and turned the corner at the end, walking down the hallway to my room. My door was open. I walked inside, and closed the door behind me, locking it. I walked over to my desk and picked up the cordless phone, staring down at the buttons. "Who to call..." I wondered aloud.

My mind seemed to blur. It was as if someone had put me on a merry go round, and kept spinning, and spinning, and spinning. Only I was still standing still. Still holding the phone in my hand. I looked down at the numbers again, but I couldn't focus on them. The phoned was wavy. It kept burring, until it started to get dark. Darkness engulfed the phone, then my hand, arm, shoulder. My whole body was encompassed in a darkness that blocked the entire room from my vision.

Then in an instant, I could see everything again. But I wasn't in my room. I was standing on the sidewalk. I didn't know WHERE, but I knew that I was on a sidewalk, in front of a moderately sized house. It was the middle of the day. The sun was almost directly over me, beating down harshly. It felt like it was 110 degrees outside. But that was impossible. It was November. It had only been seventy five degrees the day before.

I saw the door to the house open. Out stepped a dark skinned man, looking about twenty, maybe a bit older. He was clean shaven, well dressed. He carried himself well. Behind him, stepped a girl. A girl that was etched in my mind. She had been for a long time, and would be, for a long time to come. Something wasn't right. She looked older as well. Her short black hair had grown out, and now fell just below her shoulders. She was taller than she had been. She was smiling.

"I can't believe it's already been a year," Cassie said to the man, as she took his hand in hers, and began to walk toward me on the sidewalk. The man squeezed her hand, and smiled. He leaned over, and gave her a light kiss on the cheek. I didn't blink. I couldn't move. What was going on?

"It's been the best year of my life, sweet heart." The man said. They continued to approach me, like they couldn't even see me. When they got close enough, I could clearly see the large diamond ring on Cassie's right hand. My heart dropped. She was married? But... I thought...

"Cassie..." I whispered as they walked within five feet of me. She didn't look up. Didn't even flinch. I bit my bottom lip. They continued to walk, until at last, they walked right through me. Like I didn't exist. Like I was a ghost. A spirit. Just a mass of air that they couldn't see. Was I dreaming again? This couldn't be real. But it felt real. Just like the dream with me in the car crash. Why did it feel so lifelike?

And then, in an instant, I was back in my room. Standing, holding the phone in my hand. My fingers were hovering over the buttons. I gasped, and released the phone instinctually. It fell to the ground with a loud thud. I sat down on my bed and put a hand to my head, breathing hard. What was happening to me? Why was I having these weird dreams? And how could I have a dream when I was wide awake?

"Silly boy, who said anything about them being dreams?" An strangely familiar voice said. I looked up from my bed.

"Drode. I should have guessed it was you or your puppet master." I said dryly. The Drode chuckled, and walked over close to my bed, stopping when he was at arms length. The Drode was Crayak's personal lackey.

"See, that word is such a human term. Lackey. It implies that I don't have the intelligence to fend for myself. That's ignorant to think, Jake. Jake the Yeerk Killer. Jake the Animorph." The Drode sneered, taunting me with his usual barrage of titles. So, he could hear what I was thinking. Good. Then I didn't have to say anything else to him. "And to answer your other question, you can't have a dream while you're awake. Now, visions of future events... sure."

"Visions of future events? The things I've been seeing are parts of the future?" I asked. He didn't have that power, did he? No one could see the future. Even the Ellimist couldn't show us a definate future.

"That meddling Ellimist showed you a scene that he hoped would convince you to leave your planet and live in his little zoo. No, Jake. He knows the future as well as Crayak. Your epitaph was written the moment you were born." The Drode said.

"I don't believe that. The future isn't set in stone. We can change it." I shot back. The Drode only smirked.

"Not believing in fate doesn't make it any less true, Jake the Killer. What else would you like to know? Tobias' exile? Ax's return to his people? Marco's celebrity status? You already know the fates of yourself and your precious Cassie." The Drode said with a laugh, and then contorted his face in a sinister grin. "Or perhaps, you'd like to know the fate of my favorite Animorph. Your dear precious cousin Rachel." The Drode said.

"Go away." I said dismissively, and laid back on my bed, putting the pillow over my head. I didn't hear anything more from the Drode. After a few minutes, I moved the pillow, and gasped again. I was no longer laying on my bed. I was on an army cot inside what looked like a log cabin. But that wasn't my biggest surprise. The biggest surprise, was that not three feet away from me, a two person meeting was going on. A meeting between Rachel, and... me.

I saw myself talking to Rachel. It was surreal.

"Jake, what do you want?" Rachel asked. "And before you even ask, no, I don't want to talk about my feelings. And if I did, you're not the person that I'd want to turn to. I don't like what you've turned into, Jake." Rachel said. That took me back. What HAD I turned into? Rachel and I had been at each other's throats for a while, but I always figured that we could bury the hatchet at any time I chose. But now that I looked into her eyes, I saw nothing but hate and contempt.

"I need you to go with Tom, on the Blade Ship." I heard myself say. What was I talking about? What did Tom have to do with anything. "He's going to betray the Visser. I need you there to take him out before he can destroy the Pool Ship." The other Jake said coldly. I couldn't even breathe. I was talking about sending my cousin Rachel, alone, on the Blade Ship. It was a suicide mission. "You're the only one who can. We need Ax on the Pool Ship. Cassie can't do it. Marco can't do it. Tobias won't do it. And I need to call the shots on the Pool Ship."

"It's suicide." Rachel said simply. The other Jake nodded.

"I know." He said.

"You're asking me to do something where I know full well, that I'm going to die." Rachel said coldly.

"Yes. I am." The other Jake replied, equally as cold. I didn't sound like that. I wasn't a heartless monster. I watched the scene carefully. Rachel's eyes gave off no emotion. It was like she was a robot. Had I really driven Rachel to this state? An emotional state where she'd just... given up? It couldn't be... I had my limits. I knew where the line was. I wouldn't cross that line, no matter what happened.

"I'll do it." Rachel whispered.

"Thank you." The other Jake said softly.

"Don't thank me, Jake." Rachel said acidly. "You knew that I'd say yes. It's your job to know how everyone will react in any given situation. This is no different. You knew how this conversation would pan out before you even called me in here." She said with an icy stare. She had a point... it was my job to know how each of my friends would react, no matter what situation we were in. "But I pity you, Jake. I really really do. If we pull this off and end the war, you're not going to be able to go back to a regular life. You've grown far too accustomed to using people. Come to think of it, you'd make a great politician." Rachel said. The other me stood up.

"We all have our roles to play, Rachel. If we can stop the Yeerk Invasion, then we've played our parts. It doesn't matter what happens to each of us individually." The other me said.
"Do you really believe that, Jake? That we're all just actors on a universal stage? That we all have different parts to play?" She demanded. My other self said nothing. "What am I then, Jake? You're the leader. Ax is the Soldier. Marco is the joker. Cassie is the moralizer. Tobias is the loner. What's my role, Jake? What part do I play?" Rachel demanded. There were tears streaming from Rachel's eyes. Tears of anger. Of regret. Tears of hatred.

"You're the warrior, Rachel." My other self said, and walked over to Rachel. She wiped at her eyes furiously, but that didn't stop the tears from coming. He placed a hand on Rachel's shoulder. She jerked her head to the side, refusing to look at him. "That's all we are, Rachel. We're the Ellimist's pawns in his fucking chess game... but that doesn't mean we're useless. Sometimes a pawn can become a Queen." The other Jake said, and kissed Rachel's forehead lightly. She didn't say anything, but then again, she didn't have to. She just leaned into his arms. He wrapped them around her, holding her.

Just like before, the scene dissapeared as soon as it had come. I was in my room again, laying on my bed. The Drode was no where to be seen. Still, I was having trouble believing what I had just seen. It couldn't be real. I could never become that cold, that ruthless. I couldn't make the call to send Rachel on a suicide mission to kill Tom... Tom was the whole reason I got involved in this war. I couldn't make that call...

Could I?

I rolled out of bed, and quickly got to my feet. I changed my shirt, seeing as the one I was wearing was damp with sweat. I slipped my shoes on, and walked out the door, down the stairs, and out the front door. I had absolutely no idea why I left the house. Who I was going to see. Cassie? The girl who was going to grow up and marry someone else? Marco? My best friend in the world? He hadn't been in the visions... was that a good or a bad thing?

After a few minutes of walking, I found myself in the front of Rachel's house. Her mother's car was in the driveway, along with her father's. It must have been his visitation time. I hadn't seen my Uncle Dan in months. I walked up the narrow cement walkway, to the large wooden door. I rang the doorbell, and heard the sound of footsteps coming from the stairs. The door swung open, to reveal my youngest cousin, Sara. Rachel's sister.

"Hi Jake." Sara said with a smile.

"Hey Sara... is Rachel here?" I asked. Sara looked behind her, toward the kitchen.

"She's talking to Daddy in the kitchen." Sara said, and stepped aside. I took a step into the house. Instantly, I felt the air grow cold. I heard voices emminating from the kitchen. One male, two female. Uncle Dan, Aunt Naomi, and Rachel, it sounded like. I stopped in the archway of the kitchen, and looked inside. Uncle Dan was leaning against the kitchen island, and Rachel was sitting at the table. Aunt Naomi was busy preparing dinner. Uncle Dan was facing me, so he was the first to notice my presence.

"Jake!" He said excitedly. Both Rachel and Aunt Naomi's heads turned backwards to look at me. Uncle Dan walked over to me, and grasped my hand, pulling me into a hug. I patted his back half-heartedly. "Geeze you've gotten big... It's been a long time since I've seen you or your brother. You bigger than Tom yet?" He said with a laugh. I plastered a smile on my face for appearances. I didn't want to seem rude.

"Not yet... he's still got a few inches on me." I said. Uncle Dan only laughed harder.

"What brings you over here, Jake?" Aunt Naomi asked. Her voice was a bit colder. Ever since the divorce, Rachel's mother and my family weren't on the best of speaking terms. They interacted, but only when they had to. It didn't matter to me, Naomi had been my aunt for as long as I could remember, and the divorce had never affected mine and Rachel's relationship. There were plenty of other things to affect mine and Rachel's relationship. I looked at her over Uncle Dan's shoulder. Her gaze was like looking into the face of a stone statue.

"Oh, nothing... I was just in the neighborhood, thought I'd stop by and get a few notes from Rachel for history class." I said. Rachel took the cue, and stood up.

"Come on, I'll get them for you." She said. I pulled away from Uncle Dan, and walked out of the kitchen. Rachel was walking faster than I was. She was already halfway up the stairs, and didn't turn around. Didn't say a word. I followed cautiously, and acsended the stairs, rounding the corner to her room. The door was open. I walked inside her room. The door slammed shut behind me, causing me to jump. I spun around, and saw Rachel. "I must say, you've got quite a pair to show up here so soon." She whispered.

"Rachel, this isn't about that..." I began. She exploded.

"Then what's it about, Jake?" She demanded. "Are you here to apologize? If you are, then don't even bother. You're not sorry, Jake. If you could do it all over, you'd make the same damn calls. You wouldn't change a thing." She said. "You really have become a leader Jake. You've learned to seperate yourself from your emotions." She said tauntingly. I didn't respond. She was right. I would make all the same calls again, if I was given the chance.

"Rachel... the Drode was in my room." I whispered. She didn't seem to register this. She just stared at me. "I've been having these weird dreams... no, not dreams. Visions. Visions that so real... I can see, touch, taste, smell, and hear everything as if it's real life... the Drode said that I was having flashes of the future," I said, trying to stop my hands from trembling. Rachel waved her hand at me dismissively.

"He can't show you the future. Not even the Ellimist can do that." Rachel said.

"He said the future the Ellmist showed us was a lie... he said my epitaph had already been written..." I said, closing my eyes. "I see... in the visions... I see Cassie getting married... I see, my dying in a car wreck... " I said, and looked up at Rachel. "But most vividly... I see myself, and you... I guess near the end of the war..." I said, taking a deep breath. Rachel just leaned back against her dresser, and folded her arms.

"And?" She asked.

"We're in a cabin..." I began. "And we're talking about one last mission... a mission that only you can do..." I said, and closed my eyes. "Marco, Cassie, Ax, Tobias and I are going to invade the Pool Ship... but I know that Tom is going to betray Visser Three aboard his own Blade Ship... So I send you alone, with Tom... one lone animorph versus the entire crew of a Blade Ship..." I said. Rachel looked down.

"And?" She pressed.

"And... you agree. We both agree that it's a suicide mission... but we both agree that it has to be done." I said.

"I don't see a problem, then." she said softly.

"Don't see a problem!" I demanded. "It's nothing BUT a problem! I can't send you off on a suicide mission! Especially not when your target is my own brother!" I yelled, my hands shaking. Why was she confirming my actions? "I'm not a robot... I'm still human. I have emotions. I couldn't send you away on a death mission... I couldn't do that to anyone. I love Marco. I love Cassie. I love Ax, and I love Tobias... and I love you, Rachel." I whispered.

She didn't say anything for a few minutes. Then finally, she walked over to her bed, where I was sitting. She sat down next to me, and placed a hand on my thigh. "You may not think that you can make that call, but the fact is, you can, Jake." She said softly. "That doesn't make you a bad person, or a good person. It makes you a leader." She said. I placed one of my hands on top of her hand, and squeezed it lightly.

"I don't want to lose you Rachel..." I said.

"I know... and you won't." she said, and gave me a soft smile. "I don't die so easily, Jake. You know that." She said. She had a point. All I'd seen was me and her talking about the mission. I didn't see the mission itself being carried out. For all I knew, Rachel slaughtered every Yeerk on that ship. I felt her return the squeeze to my hand. Then, like I'd seen my future self do, I leaned forward, and gave Rachel a gentle kiss on the forehead. She didn't complain. "Jake... when you say that you love me... what do you mean?" She asked.

"I mean that I love you. I'd give up anything and everything for you, just like I'd do for Marco, Cassie, Tobias, or Ax." I said.

"Oh... then I guess... I love you too," she said. I smiled softly, and looked down at her. Her crystal clear blue eyes were moist. They were watering. I don't know what came over me at that point. But I leaned down, and I pressed my lips against Rachel's. She didn't pull away. She just let me kiss her for a few moments, before I felt a weak return of the kiss. She presses her lips back against mine, our hands still grasping one another's on her thigh.

We didn't move for a while. I don't know how long. Five minutes? Fifteen? Maybe a whole hour? Time wasn't a factor, not at this moment. We just maintained our positions, never breaking the kiss. I think we were both afraid that if we broke the kiss, we'd never get another moment together again. Our lips were unseperable. Our tongues gently danced with one another, first in my mouth, then in hers. It became a struggle for dominance. My tongue pushing hers back, then hers pushing mine back. Our eyes were closed.

When at long last the kiss was broken, we pulled our heads back slowly, and opened our eyes. "I..." I began, but Rachel put a hand up, putting a finger to my lips.

"Shh. We just had a moment. Don't ruin it." She said, and smiled slightly. I smiled back, and wrapped her up in a tight hug. She hugged me back. For the first time since the visions started, I found myself not thinking or caring about the future. The only thing I cared about was the present. This one moment in time, this one moment that I was sharing with my smart, pretty, cousin. My cousin, who Marco calls Xena: Warrior princess. My cousin, who's the strongest, bravest person that I know, or will ever know. My cousin Rachel.

Epilogue Seven Years Later

My name is Cassie, and I am, was, anAnimorph.

In a way, there are only two of us left. Ax left Earth right after the victory. He's back among his own people, a hero. A prince, the last I heard. I was happy for him. He'd finally stepped out of his older brother's shadow, and attained the greatness that he deserved. Marco was living the life of a celebrity. It had always been his dream, to be famous, and now he finally was. He'd been able to put the war behind him, and move on. Just like I had.

I'd moved on as well. The war with the Yeerks seemed so far away, and I guess now it was. I was just thirteen when it began. I was sixteen when it ended. I was twenty one now. The war had been over longer than it had been going on in the first place. My life had finally fallen into place. I worked at Yellowstone, the natural reserve for the Hork-bajir now. And, I'd met Ronnie. We'd gotten married a year ago. It was our one year anniversary the day before today.

Tobias, no one had seen since the end of the war. It was only to be expected. I didn't blame him. He's not the only one that can hold a grudge. I truly hoped that Tobias had found peace somewhere, wherever he'd gone. Rachel's death had broken him. Crushed and severed the one tie that Tobias had to the rest of humanity. He loved her, more than life itself. It became painfully clear at the moment of Rachel's death back on the Blade Ship. Tobias had morphed to human, just so he'd be able to say goodbye to Rachel as a human. He had cried. And he'd said "I love you."

It was all a direct result of Jake's actions. Jake had ordered Rachel to go with Tom. He hadn't told anyone about it, and neither had Rachel. They thought that by telling either Tobias or myself, that we wouldn't let them do it. That because we, by loving them, would somehow have stopped them. Were they right? Would we have tried to stop them? I didn't know. I know that Jake had made the right call. It had gotten us the crutial victory that we absolutely had to have. But it had cost him his soul.

He'd lived out the last seven years in a quiet depression. He'd never gotten over her death, nor would he ever. Tobias hated him for it. Did I? No... I couldn't hate Jake. I loved Jake. I always would love Jake. But I couldn't be with him. Not anymore. Maybe that's what caused Jake's depression. He hadn't just lost Rachel. He'd lost me. He'd lost Tobias. And he'd lost his soul. It was a shame. Jake shouldn't have been reduced to this. He was a great leader. He should go down in the history books as the leader who saved Humanity from the Yeerk threat. But because of one call, he'd go down in history as a broken man.

I picked up the newspaper on my front porch, trying to put the thought of my old love out of my mind. I'd long since given up trying to mourn Jake. But what I saw next almost made my heart leap out of my chest. It was all over the front page. I read the article frantically, trying to search for something positive... but it was all negative. I bit my bottom lip, and picked up the phone to call Marco. He was a time zone behind me. He wouldn't have seen the article yet.

"Hero of Humanity Dies at 21!"

Late last night, Jake Berenson was driving home To his garden villa in San Bernadino, when the brakes in his Dodge Viper failed. He blew into an intersection doing nearly seventy miles an hour and was hit by oncoming traffic, He managed to get the drivers side door open, but fell backwards out of the war, where another screeching car claimed his life. The leader of the Animorphs and the savior of all human kind was killed instantly. Continued on page 3D...

I put the phone down after calling Marco. He'd been contacted by Jake's family the previous night. I hung my head in solemn rememberence. Maybe now, Jake could finally find peace with himself. Would he go to heaven? Would he go to hell? I didn't know. But something told me that he'd get the chance to reunite with Rachel, wherever he was going. I couldn't help but cry. I'd given Jake my heart, and perhaps he still held a part of it. He was my first love, and I'd love him till the day I died.

"God bless you, Jake... God bless your soul..."