Disclaimer: The Animorphs and all related things belong to K.A. Applegate and Scholastic, not me. I just want to hang out in their world.

Author's Note: Two of the characters in this story are Arbron's mother (Riyad-Aribem-Garsen) and father (Melloret-Bantec-Carpian). Both were originally written in my earlier piece "Wives and Mothers". While this can be seen as a companion piece to "Wives and Mothers", it can also be read as a stand-alone.

Never before had an Andalite funeral required that much cloth. Usually, a strong, compact, body lay on the grass, tightly wrapped in the white shinba fabric. The arms were wrapped close to the torso, the legs close to the lower body, and the stalk eyes close to the skull. The tail was left extended and wrapped separately, with the blade completely uncovered; the lasting symbol of an able-bodied warrior. The entire wrapping took very little fabric, and the body looked secure. This funeral, however, required great reams of shinba, wrapped again and again around a thick, bloated corpse. Sharp edges poked out along two sides, threatening to tear the soft cloth and expose mottled orange flesh to the open air. The funeral attendants moved with exaggerated care and delicacy as they arranged the body on the ground. The last thing they wanted was for the guts of this beast to burst open, further corrupting what already seemed like a bastardization of a sacred funeral rite. Never before had a Taxxon been given an Andalite funeral. Those assembled quietly hoped that this would also be the only time. But no one was going to begrudge Riyad and Melloret the chance to say goodbye to their son.

This was actually the second funeral to ever be held for Arbron-Bantec-Deromar. A memorial had been held years ago, when news had first reached the home world that the young aristh had died in battle. The records stated that he had been killed in combat against Yeerk-controlled Taxxons and Hork-Bajir. It had been a warrior's death. And out of the three fates that had resulted from that incident, death was not the worst, by far. There had been no body to memorialize, but in a war fought in space, that was more and more common. The service had been beautiful. Riyad still remembered all of the family and friends that had gathered around her as she and her husband knelt to plant the mourning flower in the soil. She could not help but bitterly keep track of how many of those faces were not present the second time around. A service for a lost little aristh was a thing of tragic beauty, the kind of event that everyone came to. A service for a worm was a different matter indeed.

Forlay and Noorlin were there, at least. They had been there the first time as well, along with Elfangor. Elfangor, already a hero by then, had come to their scoop personally to tell them of Arbron's fate. It was now clear that the story had all been lies, but it had brought Riyad and Melloret comfort to hear. The details leading up to the death were always hazy; to this day, no one would give an adequate answer for why two arisths, two aliens, and a war-prince had gone to the Taxxon home world. But Elfangor had been very clear about how Arbron's life had ended. He had fought until the very end, against wave after wave of Controllers. Their son had fought bravely until the moment he fell, always defending freedom and upholding his Andalite honor. That was the phrase Elfangor had used: defending freedom and upholding his Andalite honor. Many nights, Riyad had whispered that to herself. What more could a mother ask of her son? After Elfangor's funeral, Riyad had passed on the blessing to Forlay and Noorlin.

{Your son died defending freedom and upholding his Andalite honor.}

Those words had meant so much to her. To all of them. Now they rang hollow and empty. Because Arbron had not died defending freedom. Arbron had died among worms.

After the sudden end to the war, waves of information worked their way back to the Andalite home world. Five juvenile aliens and Forlay's youngest son had worked together to stop the entirety of the Yeerk Empire. Alloran-Semitur-Corass had been freed from his enslavement. The Escafil device was being offered to Yeerks in exchange for their surrender. And in the midst of all of this news, brushed aside by most, were the words "rebel Taxxons" and the Andalite name "Arbron". Once again, Melloret and his wife had been summoned to the Endolas Space Port and confronted with a line of military personnel. They explained, in the most dispassionate voices possible, that Aristh Arbron-Bantec-Deromar had not, in fact, died years before on the Taxxon home world. Instead, he had been trapped in Taxxon morph. And rather than try and contact his people, he had gone native, assimilated into the Taxxon society, although society was perhaps too generous a term. No, he had not cooperated with the Yeerks. But that did not change the fact that he had clearly made the Taxxons his people. He had sided with the worms. Even after the war, with the truth revealed, he sided with the worms.

Riyad was pulled from her memories to realize that the funeral was about to start. The honor guard stood by, uncomfortable, but committed to the fact that this was still technically a military funeral. The five of them stepped forward, and rested their cloth-wrapped tail blades on the side of the corpse in a sign of respect. At least one of them visibly shuddered as the Taxxon flesh shifted at the pressure. Riyad was struck with a sudden, crazy urge to shout at them, tell them to just leave. They clearly did not want to be here. No one did. So they might as well leave. Instead, she held her husband's hand, feeling Melloret's strength beside her. His strength and his overwhelming grief. What he would have given to trade jokes with his son again. It had always felt like Melloret's sense of humor had died the day Arbron had. The first time, that was.

The leader of the honor guard started reciting the funeral ritual, but Riyad could not bring herself to listen to these same words a second time around. They had been hard enough to hear once. Instead her stalk eyes looked closer at the small crowd. War-Prince Alloran was present, as was his wife, Jahar. The two stood together, but a little farther apart than would be expected of a married couple. Perhaps it was not the easiest thing to jump back into a previous life. Too many changes and one no longer seems to fit at home.

The honor guard set into a full chant, celebrating life and lamenting death, all while standing over a creature that any Andalite would have killed in an instant. This was sick. Her son was an Andalite, a strong, brave, true Andalite, an Andalite who had been lost long ago, and she was not going to stay there while they memorialized that wretched creature using her son's name. She tried to do it quietly, but there is nothing inconspicuous about a mother leaving her son's funeral. She slipped her hand out of Melloret's, trying not to look at him with her stalk eyes as she carefully picked her way through the crowd. But he did not try to stop her, nor did anyone else.

She wandered away from the gathering, no set goal in mind. They would most likely carry on with the ceremony, burning the body and spreading the ashes in a traditional pattern. She did not particularly care to imagine what burning Taxxon would smell like. The diplomat ship from Earth had kept the body frozen to prevent decay, and, as crude as it sounded, the body had been thawed before the funeral. Just one more indignity piled on top of the others.

As if responding to her very thoughts, her wanderings took her over a small hill, and she found herself looking up at the hull of the diplomat ship itself. It had come here directly from Earth, not wishing to create a spectacle by landing in one of the cities. The crew was all gone, either at the funeral she had just left or returned to their families. But they seemed to have left some tools out on the grass; curled in the shadow of one of the wings were piles of some sort of tubing, covered in green and black patches. It was not until one shifted, that it became clear that they were more then left over supplies.

The largest one turned as it uncoiled, and Riyad looked into the unblinking eyes, set high on its flat head. The creatures did not appear to have any limbs, just an incredibly long body and tail. It moved slowly, but with the languid calm of a predator, a threatening grace that sent chills through Riyad's body. She began to back away, hoping it did not prove faster then it seemed, when she heard a thought-speak voice in her mind. It sounded clipped and stilted, without the fluid thought and expression of an Andalite, and it took her a moment to realize that it was the limbless creature speaking to her.

{Andalite. Ceremony is complete? Ceremony for Arbron?}


{Ceremony for burning meat. It is over now? We need to find Andalite nesters. If meat-ceremony is over, we can go find them.}

{…Do you mean the funeral? You are here for Arbron's funeral?}

{Yes, yes, that is word for ceremony.}

{Waste of meat,} one of the other two added. {Even in new body, meat is important. Bad to burn it when others could eat.}

It was with a wave of nausea that Riyad realized she must be speaking to Taxxons. What other creature could be so crude when speaking about a funeral? She had heard before about the deal the Taxxons had made, the trading of their support against the Yeerks for access to Escafil devices. Nothing to help her son, of course. Maybe with the war over, scientists could finally devote some time to solving the nothlit issue. Not that the Taxxons wanted to solve this issue: being trapped was their solution.

The largest one was still looking at her, so she felt compelled, by some twisted sense of decorum, to answer.

{No, the funeral is not yet over.}

{Alright. When it is over, do you know where nesters will go? We come to find nesters.}

{I am sorry, but I do not know what you mean by "nesters". And I really should be leaving.} She started to walk away, when the third of the nothlits spoke up.

{Parents! That is word, word for nesters who spawned Arbron.}

{Yes, parents. Arbron said Andalite nesters know small ones, look after, not just lay eggs and leave. Take care of, like…like a Hive for one. Arbron was Taxxon, but his nesters still Andalites, and we want to talk to them.}

Arbron was Taxxon. Everything came back to that. Her son had been a Taxxon, spent so much of his life helping creatures like these, creatures so foul that even they did not want to be a part of their species. He fought to find these things a safe haven, led them and bonded with them. For all she knew, her son had been a "nester", and she had Taxxon grandchildren slithering around on some alien world. The diplomats should not have organized an Andalite funeral; they should have just left him to be eaten, disposed of in the manner of his chosen people.

The creatures looked up at her expectantly, clearly waiting for an answer. If she did not tell them who she was, they would just go to the funeral itself, asking others and generally disturbing the already strange ceremony, only to eventually be sent back her way. She might as well hear what they wanted to say, get it out of the way as quickly as possible.

{I am Arbron's mother.}

{Mother is another word for parent, yes?}

{Yes, a female parent.}

All three of them moved closer, briefly making a sort of rasping, hissing noise between them. She did not know why they did not simply thought speak to each other, but perhaps this rough animal language was more familiar. The lead one moved closer and raised its upper body up so it looked directly at Riyad.

{All decide it good to come to ceremony, show respect in way of Andalites. We come for group of Taxxons, as part of hive. More want to come, see ceremony for Arbron, but the Andalites only want three to come.}

{Not want any to come} one of the others corrected. {We convince them.}

{Arbron not die in battle or in fight. Die by weapon of crazy human. But before he die, he save all of Taxxons. Arbron was messenger of Living Hive. Both he and Hive want what was best for Taxxons, even if that mean not being Taxxons.}

{He act like parent to all Taxxons.}

{Yes, like parent. He care for and teach and lead. He defend freedom.}

{…What did you say?} She did not know what to say, but the former Taxxon did not seem to notice. It just continued its stilted speech.

{Arbron defend freedom. Yeerks want to take Taxxon brains, use meat-hunger to control, turn Taxxons against Hive. Arbron stand strong, act as parent, keep Taxxons free even when he could not be made free. Arbron was last Taxxon.} At this moment, all three of them bowed their heads down with their long necks. {Arbron last one with Taxxon body. New spawn be born snakes, not Taxxons, not have Taxxon mind. But if Arbron is what others think when they think of Taxxon, that is an honor. Good to have him be last Taxxon.}

The third of the creatures looked back up at her. {We know Arbron not talk to Andalites for long time. Andalite parents apparently close to spawn, but his perhaps not know what happened or what he did. We come to tell parents of Arbron so they always know. We sorry if not right to talk to Andalite parents like this, but seemed like good thing for you to know.}

{Yes, it…it is good to know.}

Riyad knew it was probably by some coincidence that they had chosen those words. Perhaps Arbron had told them enough about Andalites that they would know what concepts were likely to resonate with a grieving Andalite mother. But regardless of how they landed on those words, Riyad was glad to hear them. Elfangor had been right about her son's death; just a few years too early. Arbron had not abandoned his Andalite honor; he had carried it with him, heedless of his form, and spread it throughout the stars.

She thanked them, the strange creatures who had traveled so far to talk to her, to give her this small bit of peace. She then invited them back to the funeral; better they should be there, those who really knew Arbron, then a group of Andalites who were only there to appear respectful. She knew that Melloret should get a chance to talk to these people who had known his son so well, who had seen him at his very best. And she wanted to say goodbye. Now, she felt like she could perhaps lay every part of him to rest: the Andalite, the Taxxon, the aristh, the warrior, the leader, and the son.