Title: This Heat

Summary: Marco is haunted by her. Her skin. Her eyes. Her laugh. She's always there—especially in the heat of summer. Rachel/Marco

A/N: My first Animorph fic. Be gentle. Post-War.

Marco drummed his fingers lazily across the table.

It was a warm summer evening. The restaurant was overcrowded and loud, providing a good distraction for him. Large open windows lined all the walls, but did little to relieve the sweltering heat. He had one arm cocked up on the back of his seat, while the other remained restlessly moving along the white tablecloth. It was too hot and stuffy to be wearing a suit, which is why his jacket was slung along the backside of his chair and his sleeves were rolled up casually. He was sweating too—maybe from the temperature or maybe because he was a little anxious.

He cleared his throat, took another sip from his water glass, and tried to ease the small prickle of apprehension that had started somewhere in the base of his stomach.

It had been a long time since he had been out alone.

Marco wasn't sure what made him come here tonight. He was trying to escape his big, quiet and empty house probably. Maybe he thought he'd run into someone he knew. He was a social guy, surrounding himself with a crowd of people was easy enough. And on a night like this, when he couldn't quite seem to sit still and the heat was stifling him, he didn't know what else to do. He conceded to watching the random, thoughtless people in the restaurant. He had an almost morbid fascination with them.

They all lived mundane, trivial lives, probably.

None of these people smiling and laughing and clinking their glasses together seemed to remember that it had only been two years since the war. Two years since the invasion ended and he and the rest of his companions became famous.

Two years since Rachel had died.

Two years.

He tried not to think about it either, to be honest, but he was always carrying his ghosts around. Mostly it was her. She was everywhere. Every girl had pieces of Rachel—in their eyes, stuck between their teeth. Every set of lips was hers. He tried dating all sorts of women, but none of them seemed to stick the way Rachel had. Especially during the summer time. It was like Rachel lived in the summer air, when it was harsh and sticky and sweet.

Like now.

It had been two years and eighteen days, Marco remembered.

He had to forget her all over again every one of those days. He had to forget her many times each day. She was relentless, but he would expect nothing less from her.

It wasn't as if he loved her.

He hadn't loved her the way Tobias had loved her. Or Cassie had. He probably loved her even less than Jake had loved her. Sure, there was probably a time when he had wanted her, the way any teenage boy would want someone as beautiful and intimidating as Rachel. She was sexy and thrilling and being next to her made his whole body feel wound up like a spring ready to explode. But he was scared of her too.

He was scared of what she could do.

To him.

The way she could probably slam him up against a wall and undo him.

But then she died.

Two years ago Rachel had died. His life did not fall apart with her death, the way Tobias or Jake's did. When the war ended he was allowed to curl up into his reality, with his parents, with his fame, with his jokes.

But there she was, everyday. He had to forget her over and over again.

He remembered too much (that shallow alcove near her neck, and the honey colored freckles that dusted across her elbows. Sometimes he even remembered the laugh she would give him, like it was a prize. She didn't laugh out of guilt or sympathy; she laughed because she thought he was funny).

He remembered things that couldn't possibly have happened. He'd be in line at the grocery store, and suddenly he was forgetting the way Rachel's hair went wild beneath him, her chest and cheeks flushed from the warmth of their bodies together. He'd forget that she smiled at him, yes that smile. He'd forget that she smelled like orange groves and sunlight.

They weren't real, he'd reason with himself. You're forgetting parts of Rachel you never had.

But still they came. Memories that didn't belong to him but he kept them anyway. He savored them. He relished in them.

"Goddamnit," he muttered under his breath, reaching up and running his fingers through his hair and then yanking on the ends. Hard. "Stop being an asshole," he reminded himself.

Marco remained slumped over his seat. He pressed the palms of his hands against his eyes, forcing them down so tightly it hurt. He didn't know what was wrong with him. He just kept telling himself that the ghosts would go away with time. She couldn't keep haunting him forever.

"Hey there."

He jerked up, startled by the proximity of the voice. It was a woman.

Spirals of light coursed through his eyes, as they tried to readjust and focus after opening again.

And that's when he saw her.

His heart seemed to plummet. Something small and dark came to cocoon itself in his stomach. It was something like melancholy and something like longing and it festered there, in the furry tangle of organs under his ribs.

He was a sensible person. He knew it wasn't her. He knew Rachel was dead. But still his body ached, and the dark melancholy was there—heating his throat and his lungs and his heart.

Her arctic eyes were warming. Her mouth softened, lips parted. Her voice came out low and languid. "Did you hear me? I said hello."

"Hey," he managed hoarsely.

He stared dumbly at her. She was tall, blond, gorgeous. He had dated girls like her before. He had been charming and witty with them. He had smothered them with that charm and fucked them in his bed.

But this girl. This girl.

He wanted her to be Rachel.

He wanted her.

"So uh, I saw you sitting over here alone from the bar," she started, a confident tilt in her chin. "You looked tasty."

She was smiling a pretty girl smile, an innocent pretty girl smile, and she was talking about eating him like a goddamn snack or something. Marco felt a primal kind of hunger start to wolf its way through his body. Did she have to be so fucking gorgeous?

"What's your name?" Marco demanded, standing suddenly. He winced, realizing how eager he had sounded. He tried to relax himself, stuffing his hands in his pockets and slumping forward. His heart was still hammering; the longing was still sitting there in his esophagus, working its way up into the cave of his mouth. But Marco was an expert as swallowing that all down. It was as easy as putting on a confident smirk.

He could fake anything.

The girl pulled her lips under her teeth, dipping one knee so her hip was pressed right against him. Marco felt his smirk falter at her proximity, her boldness, her goddamn... hips. God. Did she know what her hips were doing to him? Of course she knew. She was a beautiful girl who could bend and snap him in half with only the flutter of her eyelashes. And he couldn't deny how good it felt. He had almost forgotten this. He had been lonely for a while now, ever since he had broken up with his last girlfriend. He didn't realize how much he wanted that kind of physical contact again. How much his body craved it.

And here he was, pinned under her stare, the same blue eyes he had to forget everyday. And her goddamn hips.

"I'm Riley."

He chuckled a little, trying to guide his mind away from this soft, warm body against him. His mind would not obey. It was filling will those almost-memories, made real tonight, right here, in this heat. She reminded him of sucking on peaches as a kid, the sweet sticky juice running from the corners of his lips. He wanted to roughly press her body against him and feel something right and soft and something that belonged there.

"Hi Riley," he murmured, openly studying her.

He was noticing the differences now. She wasn't Rachel, he realized, even though he already knew that. She stood more openly than Rachel ever did. Her lips were more swollen, like she couldn't stop biting them. And she seemed... nice. Too nice. But there was something wasn't there?

He managed to sound sure and confident, despite the kind of buzzing that was going on throughout his entire body. "So you just couldn't resist me, even from across the room, huh?" He waggled his eyebrows at her to let her know he was partly kidding.

Riley lifted her chin up, the way Rachel might. "I was... curious," she said, looking at him thoughtfully. "You looked like you didn't really want to be here."

"I don't," Marco admitted, scratching at the back of his neck. He bared his teeth in a fierce grin, "This heat is fucking killing me."

She laughed. A tiny melody of a laugh.

It was a prize.

Marco snatched at it and stowed it away, down in his stomach, where the melancholy and longing sat. It warmed his insides, made him want to devour her right here against the table, even with everyone watching.

"It's killing everyone," she said, arching an eyebrow at him. "Why don't we just get the hell out of here?"

Marco hesitated. He knew why he wanted her. He knew she wasn't going to cure him. He knew she wouldn't make him stop remembering or fill in his missing pieces. The war did that to people, he guessed. It hollowed you out, made you care less and less about the things around you. It made you lonely. He was used to sinking away into the recess of his lavish life and shoving that all aside. It didn't bother him like it would bother someone like Cassie. He preferred it over the turmoil that used to rule his daily life.

But in each moment with this girl he was forced to remember and forget again. It was thrilling to him in a way he hadn't felt in a long time. The battles, the adrenaline, even the rage, were there. He was remembering the point of Rachel's incisors, and forgetting how it must feel to have her bite down into his skin. He was remembering and forgetting the kind of practiced grace she had when swaying her hips.

"I'll go with you," Marco finally said, his voice coarse and uneven. Something was folding up into the hole in his stomach. Something like honey. He was watching Riley darkly, mostly that tortured and torturous little mouth of hers. She tossed him a small smile, the corners of her lips barely curled upward. It was almost a Rachel smile. Almost.

God he wanted her. Her eyes. Her skin. That mouth.

He wanted her to undo him.

He reached out and grabbed his jacket, tucking it into the crook of his right arm.

Maybe it would be a night of meaningless intimacy. Maybe it would never actually quench him, just like none of the other women had. But what the hell did he have to lose? He didn't want to be alone and now he didn't have to be. She could haunt him in his bed, under the heat of his mouth and down the slope of her skin. She could ignite his sheets with that infuriating scent—the sunlight and orange grooves—and she could lap her tongue along him like he was a dish of shallow milk to drink in the dark. Rachel could haunt every crease in his skin and eat him up like a snack.

Riley was not Rachel, he reminded himself.

Then he smiled.

But she would do for now.

Morning. Hot, sweaty, sunny morning.

He rolled over lazily and felt something against him.

Something unfamiliar was in his bed. No, not something, he realized. Someone.

He opened his eyes and found himself holding in a breath.

She was there.

Anxiety bloomed in the base of his stomach as he stared at the woman in his bed. He was greeted by her naked back and quite suddenly, by the smell of her skin, the heat of her body—a combination that left his head spinning. Golden, tousled hair was tumbling down the slope of her shoulder and little red lines were folded against her skin, where the wrinkles of the sheets had pressed and left fading marks. She was breathing wide and deep, still in the thick of slumber, and oh god, he couldn't help but feel the hot hit of desire drive a scalding fire through his body.

Rachel is in my bed.

A more sensible, more awake part of his brain didn't like this conclusion, but he had little time to examine those objections. Rachel was in his bed and he didn't want to waste time debating the likelihood of such an event. Instead he reached out in the space between them and let his finger trace the small lines on her back, winding slowly down her spine. She stirred a little.

The hot morning light was streaming through one crooked opening between his curtains. It was like his own personal spotlight, highlighting this dangerous, feminine creature in his bed, washing out all hard edges and leaving only smooth curves behind. It was almost blinding, especially to his tired and groggy eyes, but he wouldn't mind if this image was burned onto the back of his eyelids forever.

She hummed, a tired, mouth-watering little sound. She was awake now. And then she rolled over to face Marco.

Something felt wrong to him then. But he was distracted when she started speaking.

"You have devil hands," she purred.

He chuckled, low and in the back of his throat. "What? Can't handle them?" Marco challenged, putting on a wiry smirk. Rachel would never back down from a challenge.

She barked a quick laugh. Another prize. "Please. You're lucky I even let you touch me with those devilish hands."

"Lucky, am I?" Marco murmured, trailing a few fingers down the length of her arm and back up. "I think you're the lucky one." Then his hand continued, traveling over her body, studying the contours of every curve. The valley of her clavicles. The swell of her breasts. The tiny little groove in her hip. Every inch of skin that passed under his finger tips was a reminder of last night, of what had happened. And slowly he began to remember this.

It was like his brain woke up. His hand dropped as he looked at her. Her. Not Rachel. Someone else. What was the name again? Those swollen lips, the ones she bit. Not like Rachel. She was nice. Too nice. Her name was Riley. Then his mind began to strangle and shake him until he was fully aware of the reality of the situation.

This isn't Rachel you idiot, you fucking loser, this is just some girl, some stupid, blond girl who shares the same eyes, same laugh, same skin.

You shouldn't have done this...What the hell were you THINKING?

WHAT, Marco?

They stared at one another in the white light of morning, the moment stretching out before them. She smiled, slowly letting her mouth split and Marco felt the inside of his stomach become cold. Something unnamable, something binding, was passing between them and he knew it was too much, too much, too much. She was beautiful and striking and familiar in a way he now felt guilty for. She is not Rachel he reminded himself yet again, but now he felt like he was forcing it. The idea seemed to stutter and then stall in midair, hovering in front of this mostly naked woman wound up in his sheets. Despite the knowledge, the guilt, the shaking realization in this bright, white light… he still wanted it not to be true.

He had let himself indulge in the fantasy, let himself pretend that Rachel was still alive. And now he was stuck on this dangerous path, a twisted, melancholy road that made his insides ache and plead and beg for more. This girl, gold and warm and soft against him was overwhelming his reasoning. She was there. Her smell. Her heat. Her anger too. It was unmistakably hers, even though he knew it could not really be hers. But god he wanted her, he wanted her again, on every harsh and sticky night of summer he could claim.

In one quick movement, he rolled over and captured her body underneath him.

She made a small startled noise that seemed to stick to the roof of his mouth like a sweet spot of honey. How could she undo him with these tiny noises alone? And now she was staring at him, those same familiar eyes, and sucking in an anxious, tight breath. He felt the hot, angry hunger start to consume him, the same that he had allowed himself the night before. Marco was drowning in her, in the orange groves, in the heat of her body in the morning light. He was being sucked into the blazing whirlpool of her again and he didn't care. He didn't care. He wanted to stay here, burning, bright, forever.

He reached down and stretched one arm above her head, and then the other arm, slowly, crossing her wrists together. He paused there, holding her wrists tightly, like she was an offering for a god. For seven breaths, in and out, he just looked at her. She was so beautiful. So much of everything he wanted, what he craved. He never let himself want Rachel like this before; he had always guarded that want from the outside world. It existed only in the recess of his dark mind, where he could mock it relentlessly and laugh it away. He knew it was stupid. She had been with Tobias. She had been too much, too beautiful, too wild, too untamable.

And it wasn't as if he loved her.

But now? Now she was right here. She was letting him pin her under the weight of his body, her hands bound by his hands. With her arms pulled up, and her exposed breasts against him, she was more than herself, more than just a girl in his bed. She was his own, someone he knew, someone who he didn't have to fake it for. She wasn't a random, thoughtless girl at the restaurant, smiling and laughing and clinking glasses with her friends, not remembering what two years ago had meant to him. She knew. She had been there. She had died there. And with her death, she had destroyed the remaining ties he had with the group. Jake, Cassie, Tobias, Ax— they all lived separate lives now. But he wanted someone to understand what they had been through together. He wanted someone to know the dark melancholy sitting in his stomach.

And she knew.

He let himself kiss her.

Her. Not Rachel.

But close enough.

They were not the hurried, desperate kisses of last night, rushed with adrenaline and anger. These kisses were slow, so very slow. He wanted to make this moment last—this broken, dishonest moment. He wanted to draw it out as long as he could, to fill in each broken, dishonest piece of himself. He dragged his lips over hers and the soft curves of their tongues met in the shallow spaces between their mouths. She made those small noises, the noises that made him dizzy with hunger and grief. And then his tongue was breaking into her mouth, filling it, claiming it as his own—soft and warm and wet.

He wanted to plead with her. He wanted to plead for something dark and rotting inside of him. He needed this girl. He didn't want to reside in the richness of his life anymore, the rich emptiness, the rich isolation, the rich hysterical, completely unfunny joke. It was easy for him to pretend, to fake it, to laugh all goddamn day long. But it wasn't easy for him to be alone. It wasn't easy for him to lose her and forget her day after day, even if he pretended it was.

Please, Rachel.

She would have understood. She would know what had happened to him, what was still happening to him. Two years had passed. Two years. Only two years of space between him and the nightmare that used to rule their lives.

Our lives, Rachel.

And so he kissed her.

He claimed her with his mouth.

Their bodies, flush and hot, rolled into each other, rising and falling together in rhythm with their tongues. And Marco knew it was wrong. He knew he could not really claim her. But in the blinding white light, washing out the reality from under his feet, with the heat of summer consuming every inch of his body, this was all he cared about.

This heat. This moment. This girl.

The small sliver of pleading was there too, cocooned in his stomach, along with the melancholy and longing. It burned there, trying to escape up his throat, so he could whisper it between these slow, harsh, heated kisses.

Please, Rachel. Just let me have this moment.

Even if I never had you.

Even if you're already dead.

A/N: Maybe this was an extreme example of Marco and his loneliness, but I'm convinced he was more troubled by Rachel's death than he let on. And I'm convinced he wanted her back when they were Animorphs, even if he never said that want out loud. Out of everyone, I could imagine only Marco allowing himself to indulge in the fantasy that Rachel was still alive. And so this.

Review to let me know what you think.