A Measure of Faith

In his last minutes of life, James wonders if he should feel betrayed. He'd known this day would come - when the secret weapons became the disposable ones, the ace up the sleeves nothing more than a distraction with which to play the rest of a shrewdly collected hand. He'd known Jake, known him, in a way he couldn't explain, upon their first meeting. That this was a fight that would go to the very end. That Jake would lead him there.

That he would say yes.

Of course he'd say yes. There was something glamorous about it all - becoming animals and saving the world and finally being able to do something, to mean something, in a way few could ever even conceive of. To go from a cripple to a hero. That was what he'd always wanted, wasn't it? What he'd fantasized about?

And Jake. Damning him with brown eyes that took in everything, from Colleen's lies to James' authority to how to calculate the endgame, and what to do with twenty-something disabled kids once you get there. The words "cannon fodder" might have been too harsh. But then again, maybe not.

James didn't force the others. He didn't. But he knew his own decision would sway them. His need to be the hero, for himself, for his grandeur. His need to - what? Impress a boy? Jake, at sixteen the commander of a ragtag army more weathered than any nation's soldiers. With the weight of the world on his shoulders, and a gorgeous black girl at his side, and that hair that always made you want to reach over and brush it out of his eyes but Jake, Jake didn't care about that because he was too busy, always too busy, thinking. Planning. Praying.

James didn't know, couldn't explain, why he would die - had already died? - for a boy that would never love him. But he knew that Jake had rescued him from his hell on wheels. Had delivered the morphing technology that let James walk again, feel the ground beneath his feet again, like his own personal messiah healing the crippled and the lepers.

But that's stupid, he knows. Jake is no Jesus of Nazareth. Your saviors lift you up from the Valley of Death, not lead you into it. The gods you pray to don't destroy you.

And they certainly don't wear that same damn t-shirt, the green one, for days on end. There were greater things at stake, and stresses and battles and sleepless nights all trumped the urge to find a decent laundromat, he knew. But still, that goddamned green shirt. He hated it on Jake. And smiled every time he saw it.

Colleen had known. James suspected that she'd always known, the way that mothers and big sisters do. And just like they would, she'd given him the disapproving look and the exasperated sigh and the hands-on-the-hips-we're-talking-about-this-now. But unlike other boy's stories and confrontations on the matter, this one meant so much more. There was so very much to lose (had he lost it already?).

"We're going to do this," she'd said, after reading his face, and it wasn't a question.

He didn't force them.

But she would never have let him come on his own.

It was a measure of faith, James decided. Not a blind leap - but a vote of confidence the minute his eyes locked with the leader's of the Animorphs. He liked to think that he saw something there that spoke to him, inspired, challenged. Even now, as the heat from Dracon Beams danced around him, and he could smell smoke churning and flesh beginning to burn, he liked to think it was more than just teenage attraction that had led him to this moment. That he'd really had a purpose, somehow.

He wouldn't have done the same thing in Jake's place. That much was obvious. He didn't have the guts for it, the ruthlesness, the years' worth of cold that seeps inside you from fighting too long and too hard with nowhere else to turn. But it wasn't betrayal if you expected it all along.

And anyway, it was something about those eyes. And the smile, on the rare occassions he'd gotten to see it. James still couldn't bring himself to feel regret. He wouldn't give back his one shining, white-hot moment in the spotlight, in the headlights, in combat under enemy fire. Think about the sun, he thought to himself as the world lit up.

He hoped, distantly, in the back of his mind, that they won. That at the very least, he had not led his friends to their ends in vain. But there were no answers in death, were there? No all powerful being to call intermission and check the scorecards and say, "Yes, absolutely, you made a difference. You were good. You mattered."

No one got answers like that. And so James had to have faith. For a little while longer, at least.

He could do that. Yeah. For a little while.