Imagine a picture of Jeanne turning into a leopard.

63: The Homecoming

AUTHOR'S NOTE

Here it is at last: The first ever book staring Jeanne. I'll apologize in advance; I don't speak a word of French.

I think I did a good job with this one. I really added a lot of depth to Jeanne and I'm proud of myself for it.

Enjoy or go to hell.

If I owned the Animorphs, you wouldn't be reading this for free.

And if I owned Streetlight Manifesto, I'd have better things to do than write fan fiction.

Chapter 1

My name is Jeanne. I cannot tell you my last name or where I live. Even if I told you what I call myself these days, it would be a lie. My life is a lie.

People who pass me on the street do not know who I am. They think I am only another pretty face. They don't know that I am part of the smallest, most elite army in the galaxy: the Animorphs. They don't know that animals swim through my blood. I can turn into a leopard, a fly, an owl, a red-tailed hawk, a cockroach, and even a Garatron, an alien.

I'm not like the other Animorphs. I wasn't picked by fate or chance; I was chosen by Jake. I was a student in a class he taught on morphing. Another student, a man named Santorelli, and I joined Jake on what we thought would be a short mission to rescue his friend, Prince Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill. Instead, we ended up in another Yeerk war.

But not even the Animorphs know all of my secrets. Only Tobias and Rachel know the full truth. Only they know that I was trained as a Yeerk assassin.

I'm not even sure if I can call myself an Animorph. I'm not sure that term still applies. About half of our army is made up of the original Animorphs: Tobias, Rachel, and Marco. The others two are new.

One of them was Alloran-Sirinial-Fangor; Tobias's half-brother. Prince Elfangor's Andalite son. He's a computer genius and a good fighter. But he is young; a kid. He is no older than the other Animorphs were when they entered their own war.

The second is David. He was an Animorph for a few days. He turned against them. Not long ago, Cassie turned David back to our side. Unfortunately, David is trapped in the body of a rat. At least he can morph.

What happened to the other Animorphs? Aximili was captured. Now he's the host of Esplin 9466: the Visser. Jake died destroying an entire hangar of Yeerk ships; he passed on his leadership role to Tobias. Cassie left the war to be with her fiancé, Ronnie Chambers.

Santorelli was dead, too. He and Tobias had set off to hide a weapon called the Time Matrix in the sun. Tobias returned. Santorelli did not.

I had known Santorelli for about a year. He became like a father to me in many ways. I never had the chance to know my own father, you see. He was taken from me by the Yeerks. Just like Santorelli.

The other Animorphs didn't know how much that hurt me. I hid my pain and pretended that I was over it. Just another sacrifice of the war.

But when I was alone, I sat in the dark and cried. That was how I usually got to sleep. I couldn't let the others see me cry. They were all so strong, so brave. Cassie was the only one who had ever seen me when I let the mask drop. Now, she was gone and I was alone.

I was alone that night. I was in my room of the motel Marco had rented. He, David, and I lived out of motels now. Sometimes, I envied Rachel. She lived with Tobias and Alloran aboard the Reliquary, their ship. It may have been an odd life, but at least it had some stability.

In my hands, I held a tattered old hat. It had belonged to Santorelli. He had given it to me before we went off on our last mission together. I don't know if he knew it would be his last mission. I certainly didn't.

It was a dark green hat. It was darker where my tears struck it. "Santorelli…" I whispered. "If it had been me and not you, could you go on?"

I knew the answer. When it came to his duty, Santorelli was as bad as any Andalite. He wouldn't give up. That's what kept me going this long.

Someone knocked on my door. I wiped the tears from my eyes and jammed the hat back on my head. "Enter."

Marco came in. I think it's a little odd, now. Back when I didn't know any of the Animorphs, he was my least favorite. He was notoriously unprofessional, for one thing. He was loud, he was rude, and he was insensitive.

Now he was one of my favorites, for all of the above reasons. In the middle of such a terrible war, someone like that is a breath of fresh air.

"Hey, Jeanne. Tobias just called. He wants everyone over at his place as soon as possible. It sounds like something big."

"Any idea what?" I asked.

"Yeah, I think I do. You know that restaurant we all hate?" He was speaking in code, of course. We could never be too careful and Marco was the most paranoid of us all.

"What about it?"

"Well…he heard they're opening a second one."

Chapter 2

We met aboard the Reliquary, the ship that Tobias, Rachel, and Alloran called home. As usual, Rachel had a hot meal waiting for us. And, as usual, we were afraid to eat it. Rachel was good at many things. Cooking was not one of them.

Tobias, our fearless leader, ate without hesitation. Slowly, the rest of us joined in. "Okay," he said. "As you know, Alloran rigged our computers so that they would get all the information the Yeerk computers did. We know from this information that the Yeerks are going to open a second front."

"Bring it on," Rachel said. "We can take them."

Marco shook his head. "No, we can't. And they know it. We can barely hold our own here. If they open up a whole new invasion, that's the ballgame. We might as well call it quits."

Tobias nodded. "That's why we have to stop this before it even starts. We have to go to where it's happening and shut it down. Now."

David sighed. "Guraff will be in charge. Or the Visser himself. I can't imagine the Visser trusting anyone else with this. It won't be easy."

I respect David because he knows our enemy. He worked for the Yeerks not too long ago. He understands their inner workings. Also, he has a similar mentality.

"Where is this invasion going to take place?" I asked.

Tobias gave me a sleight smile. "Our home town. Another reason we have to stop it now. I'm sure none of you want your families to get infested. Possibly for the second time."

"How do we stop them, my Prince?" Alloran asked. He was in his human morph as well, looking like a younger Tobias.

Rachel smiled. "Blow stuff up." Then, she looked questioningly at Tobias. "Right?"

He nodded. "Complete sabotage. Find where they want to set up their Kandrona and destroy it. Find out where they're building their pool and level the place. Find out what Yeerks are in charge and take them out. Don't give them an opening. Don't let them breathe."

Marco nodded. "Sounds like fun and all, but that will attract a lot of attention. This was has to stay secret."

"We can make it look like an accident," Rachel said. "Right Jeanne?"

I shuddered. "Oui. We can make it look like un hazard."

"Oh, she's speaking French again," Marco said. "Say something else."

"Marco, now really isn't the time," Tobias began.

"Hey, I just learned that we're about to lose this war. I can't think of a better time."

Rachel glared at him "Marco? Do you remember the deal we made?"

Marco turned just a bit pale. "Oh, come on, Rachel. I'm not—"

"No excuses. You know the rules."

Marco hung his head. "Fine. Carry on, oh fearless leader."

David, Alloran, and I exchanged glances. I was certain that this was somehow related to the first war, since only the original Animorphs seemed to understand it.

Tobias sighed. "As I was saying, this new invasion is back home. The Visser will probably start it himself. Guraff will take over here, where they're well situated."

"This won't be easy," David reminded us. "Stopping an entire invasion? Not easy at all."

"When has it ever been easy?" Marco answered darkly. "We've got no plans, no targets, no idea what to do."

"Well," I said, "we could try to end the invasion here instead. We crippled them not long ago.

Rachel shook her head. "I want to keep the Yeerks out of my home. Leave this for later."

Marco answered her. "It isn't about what we want. It's about what we can do. But I think it'll be easier to end this new one. I say we go home."

I nodded. "It will be easier to prevent than to cure."

"That's true," David agreed. "Take it from a guy who used to carry the plague."

"You were not a plague rat," Marco argued. "I know. I caught the rat you morphed. No plague."

"Maybe I picked something up on that island," David responded. "You never know."

"Could we concentrate here?" Tobias asked. "We were taking a vote. Rachel?"

"We stop them at home first," Rachel said. Then, more forcefully, "They are not getting their hands on my family." She looked at me. "On any parts of my family."

"I will go where my Prince commands," Alloran decided.

Tobias nodded slowly. "Then we're going for it." He smiled. "Everyone, pack your bags. We're going home."

Chapter 3

Since Marco and I lived out of motels, we didn't have any trouble packing. David, being a rat, had no possessions. Rachel, Tobias, and Alloran lived on the Reliquary, so they didn't need to pack. We were ready to leave that night.

Everyone seemed excited about going home. Everyone except for Tobias and Alloran. But then, they never show much excitement.

David was practically hopping up and down. ((Marco, I can't wait to see your mansion.))

"It's bigger than I told you," Marco promised.

It seemed like they were becoming friends. I was glad. When Jake died, Marco lost his closest friend. He still had me, but I know that he and Jake shared something I could never share with him.

Marco and David were sitting at the table, eating something that I decided it was better to ignore. Tobias and Alloran were piloting the ship, although it was perfectly capable of doing that itself.

I had been trained to read people when I was being trained as an assassin. It helped to know your target. I saw what Tobias and Alloran would rather I not have seen.

They weren't excited about going home. Of course, to them, it wasn't really a home. This ship was their home. And they, at least, understood that this would be no pleasure mission.

Rachel and I were sitting on the beds. She was on hers, and I was on Tobias's, which was next to it. "So," she said, "I'm having a little problem."

"What is it?"

"Well, I can't decide whether or not to tell my mom that I've been living with Tobias. I don't think she'd approve and I don't want to spend this trip fighting with her. But I'm not sure if I could keep it a secret. Or even if I should."

"I don't know her, so I cannot say how she'll react. But I don't think it's something you should keep quiet about," I told her. Rachel was my step-sister; my father married her mother. Naomi, her mother, was the one she was worried about.

I am aware of how odd it is that I am related to her. It seems like it must be the most ridiculous of chance. But those sorts of things tend to happen around the Animorphs. Tobias suspects a higher power is at work. I cannot say I disagree, after meeting several higher powers myself.

"Okay. Next problem. When we get home, our family will want us to stay with them. I'm fine with that, but what about Tobias and Alloran?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, they can get by on their own. They could stay here on the ship or with Marco and David. But…I don't know, it just feels wrong. We've been living together ever since I came back from the dead. It would be weird if I woke up in the morning and they weren't there."

"Perhaps you should tell Naomi that. She might understand. I think my father would support you. You are adults, after all."

"Yeah, but…the last time my mom saw me, for more than a day or two at least, I was sixteen. I was just a kid. I know I'm an adult, but she probably doesn't realize it."

"I think you should tell her all about it," I decided. "We have too much to lie about as it is. We should be honest when we can. Tell her about you and Tobias and ask her to let him and Alloran stay with us. If she says no, you can always sleep here on the Reliquary."

"Yeah. Then you'd have the bedroom all to yourself," Rachel joked.

"I'd share it with you," Marco offered, coming out of nowhere to sit down next to me. "So, ladies, what are we talking about? Me?"

"Yep," Rachel answered brightly. To me, she said, "He's definitely gay. Did you ever notice that he's never actually had a girlfriend?"

Marco leered at her. "Well, if you're offering, Xena − Ow! My shin!" He turned to me. "Well, if Rachel isn't interested you and I could – Ow! My other shin! What is it with you and the shins lately?"

"I was aiming for your head. Maybe if you were taller it wouldn't happen so much."

"Tobias, your wife's being mean to me!" Marco whined.

"He started it," Rachel called back.

"Did not."

"Did too."

"Did not."

"Did too."

"Did not."

"Did –"

"Children," Tobias called, "don't make me turn this car around. We'll go right back to fight the other invasion if you two don't settle down."

"Hey, I just remembered something," Marco said suddenly.

"You didn't graduate high school?" I offered.

"Not that. We're on a road trip. Tobias, can we stop and see some stuff?"

"Like what?"

"I don't know…the world's largest…something or other. I'm sure we'll pass one."

"Maybe."

Marco sighed. "That always means no."

Chapter 4

((I remain unconvinced. That could not possibly have been Earth's largest ball of twine.))

"It was, Alloran," Rachel sighed for about the tenth time.

((You could not possibly know that for a fact. To have documented every single ball of twine on Earth would be a ridiculous task. Even humans have more sense than that.))

"Wrong again," I told him.

Tobias nodded. "Never under- or overestimate humans, Al. We're capable of some pretty weird, ridiculous stuff."

((I apologize, Prince Tobias,)) Alloran began. ((But I must insist that it is ridiculous. That cannot possibly be a documented fact.))

Tobias is Alloran's Prince. He was the first non-Andalite to be given that title. Jake had been given it, too, but that had been only honorary. Tobias actually had an Aristh under his command, which made his title official.

"Hey, Al, we're off the clock. You don't have to call me Prince now," Tobias told him. "We're just with friends now."

((With all due respect, my Prince, is that not always the case? And, if you do not mind, I like to call you my Prince. It makes me proud.))

"Uh…okay…well then…" Tobias trailed off several times. He does not do well with praise. "I guess…if it makes you happy…carry on."

"Aww," Rachel teased, "he's blushing. I didn't know you remembered how to do that."

"I'm just full of surprises. By the way, we're there. This will be a fun little surprise for your family."

"Our family," Rachel insisted, looking from Tobias to Alloran to me, making it very clear what she meant.

There was Rachel's home. My home, too, I guess. We had dropped Marco and David off at Marco's mansion and now we were going home at last. The Reliquary was parked in the hangar Marco had in one of his basements.

Rachel didn't knock, of course. It was her home, no matter how long she had been gone. She just walked right in. I wasn't far behind her. I had lived in this house for only a day, but the rest of my family lived here. It was my home, too.

"Rachel! You're back!" her sister, Sara, shouted. Sara hugged Rachel and, after a moment of hesitation, hugged me, too. She was my step-sister, after all.

She called over her shoulder. "Mom! Rachel and Jeanne are home." Sara glanced over her sister's shoulder at Tobias and Alloran. "And they brought company."

Naomi, our mother I suppose I should say, came into the room. "Oh, I didn't expect you. I would have gotten Jordan from gymnastics." She embraced us as well.

Sara led us to the couch. "Does this mean that the war is over?" she asked us.

Rachel and I glanced at Tobias almost in unison. He shook his head. "No, it isn't over. But we've reached a bit of a truce, for now. Guraff is…reasonable, to an extent. We all figured we needed a vacation."

I don't know why he lied, but it wasn't my place to question him. Especially not in front of our family.

Naomi nodded. "Okay. I can live with that. So, Rachel, you and Jeanne will be staying here, right?"

"Yeah. And mom, there's something I wanted to talk to you about," Rachel began. "I was hoping you'd let Tobias and Alloran stay here too."

"Well… Why, Rachel? Couldn't they stay with Marco or someone? I know he has enough room."

"It's not that. It just…the three of us have been living together. Tobias and I take care of Al and it would be kind of weird of they weren't with us."

"I don't know, Rachel. What kind of precedent would that be setting for Jordan and Sara?"

"The precedent that, when you're an adult, your life is your own?" Rachel offered.

"But where would they stay?" Naomi asked.

Rachel turned to Tobias. "Is the couch good enough for you?" she asked.

He shrugged. "I've been sleeping in trees for the last seven years. A couch is fine."

"What about your Andalite?" Naomi asked.

"Firstly, mom, he isn't our Andalite. He isn't a possession. His name is Alloran-Sirinial-Fangor. And secondly, Andalites don't sleep in beds. They sleep standing up."

"Wouldn't your legs get tired?" Sara asked Alloran.

((We Andalites are stronger than that,)) he answered. ((I assure you that it is no difficulty for me to stand.))

"Don't you need room to graze?" Naomi questioned him.

((If necessary, I am able to feed in my human morph. Sometimes, I find that preferable.))

"Can you do it now?" Sara asked. "I don't want to get confused at breakfast."

Alloran looked at Tobias. He nodded and Alloran began to morph. It took about two minutes. He looked like a younger Tobias. Whether it was intentional or not, there was a very strong family resemblance.

Sara nodded. "Oh, he's cute. Can we keep him?"

Chapter 5

Rachel, Sara, and I were working on our sleeping arrangements. Like the last time we were here, Rachel and I would share Sara's room. Sara would sleep with her sister. And now, Tobias slept on the couch with Alloran nearby.

Sara and Rachel were talking. "So, I guess things are getting pretty serious with you and Tobias, huh?"

"Yeah, you could say that. What about you, Sara? Any guys in your life?"

"That depends. Is Alloran seeing anyone?'

Rachel swatted her arm playfully. "Sara, that's a big N-O. He'll probably end up being your brother."

"Let me think…He's Tobias's half-brother. And there isn't even one strand of DNA that they have in common since Alloran is an Andalite and Tobias is a human."

"Mostly human," I agreed.

"That means that if things work out between you and Tobias, Alloran will be my sister's husband's half-brother who, by the way, isn't even the same species. I'm okay with that. Besides, I was mostly joking."

"I know," Rachel sighed. "It's just…I was your age when I met Tobias. And you were always so much like me… I just really don't want to have to break Alloran's arms."

"Quoi? Why would you have to do that?" I asked.

"It's my rule. Guys I know can date my sisters, but I get to break both their arms," she answered.

Then something occurred to me. "Was that the rule you and Marco were arguing over earlier?"

"What? No, that was…something else."

"You're lying! He does like me!"

"Well… Of course he does. You'd have to be an idiot not to see it," Rachel answered.

"Oh, you should totally date Marco. He's SO cute," Sara gushed. "And rich."

"No. No one dates Marco. Not for all the money in the world," Rachel insisted.

"What do you have against him?" I asked.

"It's just…he's Marco!" she answered. "He's the shrimp. He's always making jokes no one thinks are funny. He never takes anything seriously. He tries to weasel out of any commitment he can. He showers himself with useless stuff just because he can."

"OuiI, but that does not bother me," I answered.

"But its Marco," she repeated.

"Rachel, perhaps you do not know Marco as well as you believe you do. You remember him as a thirteen year old kid. But he isn't a child anymore. He's an adult. And what he's been through, what you've all been through…he isn't that kid anymore."

"He may be an adult, but that doesn't mean he's grown up at all," she pointed out.

"No. But I find it refreshing. His jokes, his sense of humor…it is good to have around. I enjoy his company."

Sara shoved a phone in my hand. "So call him."

"I will break his arms," Rachel vowed.

"That is a price I am willing to pay," I answered. I dialed the number.

The phone rang for a couple of moments. Then, "Hey, it's Marco. This had better be good, Rachel, because I'm naked right now."

"This is Jeanne," I told him.

"Oh, sorry. Then don't worry, I'm not naked. I'm actually in a tux right now. What are you wearing?"

"Why are you in a tuxedo?" I asked.

"My parents are coming over for dinner and I decided to dress up for once. Just to freak them out."

"Ah. How is David?"

"He's fine. I put him in the wall and he's having a blast. That guy's really just a big child. You wouldn't believe how easy it is to amuse a rat."

"I see. I was wondering…"

"I should give that a try some time. Go on."

"Would you like to take me to dinner some time?"

There was a silence on the other end. I waited. Then, "Yeah, I would. Except that your crazy step-sister would break my arms. It's a little rule we have."

"I am aware of it. I do not care."

"Then neither do I. Broken arms heal, right? Why don't you come over tonight? You'd like my mom. The two of you have a lot in common, I think."

I laughed quietly. "Isn't that moving kind of fast?'

From behind me, I heard Rachel say to Sara, "I guarantee he just said something about sex." Sara giggled.

"Hey, Rachel and Tobias set the example. I'm just trying to keep up. Come on, don't you want to beat Rachel?"

I smiled. "Okay, I'll come."

"Good old sibling rivalry. Works every time. Okay, I'll see you in two hours."