I do not own Animorphs. Or Harry Potter. Or a raven, although I really want one. This story is a shameless self-insert, though I am not a shapeshifter, telepathic, or magical—despite popular opinion amongst my friends. I'll note anything I think is relevant as true or not, just so people don't get too alarmed. Tsume is not my name—I stole it from the Japanese language after watching Wolf's Rain, mainly because I like the way it sounds. I'm a girl, in case anyone is wondering, or I would have stolen 'Kiba' instead, but that one sounds masculine however I look at it and 'Tsume' seems at least a bit ambiguous.

Shifting Times

Hi. My name is Tsume. Don't ask my last name—I can't give you my real one. I won't even promise that it's my real name I've given, just as my friends in America will not promise that their names are Jake or Marco or Cassie or Rachel. Tobias might promise his name is real, but he's a hawk and hardly needs to worry about it—and who's to say he'd be telling the truth?

As you may have gathered from my name, I am Japanese—well, sort-of. I don't look it, except that I'm short and have dark eyes. And don't expect me to speak the language—I was adopted shortly after I was born. My birth-mother was living in America on a student Visa when I was born. She wasn't married and knew she couldn't take care of me… so she didn't try.

Odd though this may sound, I'm grateful for that. It was an open adoption, I knew of her. She did what was best for me, and it was perhaps the hardest thing she'd ever had to do. She named me, though, and it was a strong name, though it may have held a trace of bitterness for the birth-father I never knew or asked about—but she wanted to keep me, I know that much. She writes letters, sends gifts on my birthday and for Christmas, even though she can hardly afford to. But she couldn't take care of me, so she saw to it that someone else would—and made it so she could check up on me, though my brother wasn't so lucky.

My parents couldn't have children, you see, so they adopted. My brother's birth-mother… I guess it just hurt too much. She couldn't stand the thought of someone else having her baby, so she closed the adoption and tried to forget. She had to have loved him, though, to have given him up. There's nothing harder for a mother… well. That aside.

Tsume. Claw. A strangely fitting name, considering. I'm an Animorph, the silent one, the story that was never told. For my own protection, of course. I was only a child, after all, even by the others' standards.

My family lived outside of town, in the foothills before the mountains. My brother and I played in the forest and we loved to explore. One day I—we—strayed too far.

I saw something, an animal of some sort, and flickering light.

Ever heard the saying 'curiosity killed the cat'?

It was my fault. I know it was. We went closer, to see what it was—and then it was light and heat and fire and panic and I tried to get my brother to run but something was wrong and he couldn't and he shoved me down the hill.

I fell and rolled and somehow ended up stuck under a log and I couldn't get out and my brother was up there with the fire and there was nothing I could do…

I think it was the single worst day of my life.

I was eight years old.

Marco found me as I was trying to get out, not that I understood what was happening. He picked the log up and tossed it aside and scooped me up in one massive gorilla paw and kept running, his gait thrown off by only being able to use one arm.

I was numb when they brought me out of the woods with a broken leg and I don't even know what other damage. Burns from the fire, internal bleeding… they ran through their options and told me the truth and gave me a choice. I let them turn me, in too much shock to do anything other than nod until it registered that my brother wasn't with me.

By then I'd already touched the device, and my sudden struggles threw them off until they realized what I was saying.

They got me to touch the raven Tobias brought in, to morph it and back out, then took me to the hospital and told some half-truth story about hearing me when they were out camping and noticed the fire… told the truth insofar as the finding me and fire part, and the 'incoherent and in shock' part. I was mostly healthy, I suppose, though covered in soot and dirt, some scratches and minor bruising from when they took me from where we hid in the forest out.

I had to tell my parents about my brother, of course, when they came to the hospital. I don't think I made much sense—I was still in psychological shock. It didn't really occur to me that he wouldn't be at home when I got there…

Not 'till later and I actually did get there. And he wasn't there. He just… wasn't there. Ever again.

Gods, even when we could barely walk he'd always looked out for me, saying it was his duty as a big brother. Three years old and he somehow knew that word, knew it and knew what it meant. At ten, he'd followed through with his self-imposed duty—followed through and it killed him.

If it hadn't been for Marco and the raven morph, I don't know what I would have done. My parents were wrapped up in their own grief and funeral plans after they found his body… they didn't have much time for me. Marco showed up at the door, having somehow wheedled my address out of some orderly at the hospital, and my parents let me go with him.

Marco distracted me, took over the role of big brother for the one I'd just lost, taught me to shift quickly and with clothes. Shoes were out, but my thin leather moccasins shifted fine… and the raven… it was so simple. I didn't have to think so much—I could just be. Even the things that panicked it were no trouble—it was no different that the all-encompassing terror I felt when there were too many people around, and that was something I'd learned to control even then.

Marco was a lifeline, and soon the others became an extension of that, all of them treating me like a younger sibling to be looked out for—even Ax. Though I never did learn how to spell his name…

My little web of lifelines ended up with me in the middle of a battle, once, but it was small and accidental—a stumbling upon a group of controllers, both human and Hork-Bajir, and it was a group of humans, a hawk, and an Andalite. Bad news.

There could be no survivors… and it was the first time any of them had had to kill humans.

That was about when they decided I needed a good battle-morph.

That was also a little over two years ago. I moved to England with my parents not two months after that—they couldn't stay where they'd lost a child, and my father had family over there. I wrote them—mostly Marco—and we worked out a code. Complicated enough that it would take some serious effort to break it—over a hundred and sixty symbols, a good dozen of them duds or punctuation, only twenty-six actual letters, and the rest concepts or letter combinations—some could be used as both. Simple once we had it memorized and burned the papers, but almost impossible for anyone who didn't know it.

Even so, we kept most of the letters to the non-sensitive variety, mundane things… though when I complained of things falling down whenever I got distracted from work I was supposed to be doing, Marco laughingly informed me I was afflicted with 'OCD'. Overactive Coincidence Disorder.

I miss him—them. All of them. My parents have been a bit distant ever since my brother's death… I know they don't mean to blame me. I don't think they do really, I think they just haven't gotten over it.

… and I don't think I have, either. I blame me, whether or not they do. It was my fault we were out there to begin with…

His death wasn't my fault. Mom and Dad have told me that. Marco and the Animorphs knew better than to try.

Not my fault. But it was still my responsibility.

And they can't deny that. No one can.

Not that they haven't tried, mind. But enough reminiscing. I prefer not to think about most of that time, though I refuse to forget my brother. I loved him and I have good memories from before then—but now things seem to be getting strange again.

Strange, but not Yeerk and Controller strange. Strange as in magic strange.

I had turned ten the March before, and it was nearing mid-summer. I was in the yard when a small barn owl swooped down and landed in front of me on the porch railing, staring with too-intelligent eyes and hooting imperiously, holding out one leg.

Said leg had a letter tied to it.

That meant this wasn't one of the guys, visiting and perhaps playing a trick. A Yeerk wouldn't be able to survive in a skull the size of the owl's, so that was out.

I took the letter.

xxxx

All right. Yes, I am adopted. Yes, it was open. Yes, I have a brother who was also adopted—closed. No, he's not dead—actually he's doing quite well and has a daughter of his own, now. Yes, we lived in the woods and had our share of potentially life-threatening experiences as children, though none of them involved fire. Moose, trees, falling logs, pitfall and deadfall traps, and swamps—but not fire. No, I really don't know who my birth-father was, and I don't care enough to ask my birthmother and bring up what my mother says are bad memories for the poor woman. Yes, I really do panic if there are too many people around, though I've gotten pretty good at hiding it—until I start to hyperventilate, anyway. As I said, shameless self-insert. Oh, and my Dad really does have family in England, though I've never met them and have only been to London once, and that was for a school-hosted educational tour—of Europe. We didn't stay in London long enough for me to do much aside from wish to get out.

Not that London's a bad city, it's just… I appear to be allergic to it or to something that's in it in the spring. I got off the plane and didn't stop sneezing until we got to France.

The point of this chapter is to give you a feel for the character, who will branch a bit from my personality to a slightly darker and more outwardly stoic one—the one I tend to get when I'm feeling depressed for whatever reason. This self-insert is more a 'what I could have been' than a 'what I am'. I have no doubts that my brother—even at that age—would have done anything to protect me. Now he's got his kid to worry about, but he still takes good care of his little sister.

I'm putting this story out with the intent of feeling out the crowd—it's written for my own personal pleasure. If it is not well-received, I might not leave it up. If it is, wonderful.