Author's Note: This chapter is dedicated to two people. Firstly, Alikat522, my faithful beta and the author of O, For a Muse of Shredder Fire, the one-shot that informed this fic. If you love Tobias and Ax downtime, I highly recommend reading it. It's listed in my favorites.

Secondly, Natural Blue 26, who writes a Rachel so lovely she made me rediscover the character.

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Study Group

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"So, does Jake know that you're having us do your homework?" Marco asked from the couch, eyes not leaving the television.

Rachel grimaced, eyes similarly stationary, but focused instead on a heavy textbook in front of her. "Tobias and Ax are just checking my answers, and I don't see you doing my homework. Would you like to be?"

"Sure. It'll remind me of the good old days of the Daily Goo and locker rooms. Only without all that."

Rachel laughed. "Like hell I'd actually let you touch my homework. This stuff actually gets graded, you know. You'd get your slackerness on it and all of a sudden, I'd be getting straight C's and failing gym."

"I didn't actually fail-"

Tobias interrupted. {Marco, she's seen you spell America with two R's. You're not touching her homework. Answers would just change themselves to the wrong ones.}

"I was in elementary school-"

"You were in eighth grade American History," Rachel corrected. "I was there."

Marco frowned. "I could at least check your math."

"Do you seriously miss school that much? And Ax is already doing that."

{I would like to clarify that I could have corrected this arithmetic as a child. Your school system seems to believe that its students are mathematical imbeciles.}

"He's missed a few of his arrogance sensitivity classes," Marco noted.

{I sort of miss the learning part of school,} Tobias mused. {Not the school by any stretch of the imagination, but there were actually a few teachers I liked.}

"Tobias, if you were looking for a way to not get pounded, being a teacher's pet wasn't it. Ow!"

Rachel retracted her fist from Marco's side.

{Anyway,} Tobias continued a bit huffily, {I actually really liked Mr. Feyroyan's class. We got to read some pretty cool books in that one.}

"Feyroyan was the teacher who matched tailored jeans with sandals and white socks, right?" Rachel asked while Marco rolled his eyes. "I never had a class with him."

{He was pretty good. Really animated, enthusiastic guy. I think most kids actually learned something in that class.}

"Imagine that," Marco muttered, flipping the channel.

"All I know is that I stopped paying much attention to school readings around when they introduced us to Shakespeare. It's not that I don't like theatre, but I didn't understand enough of it to really get the drama or the humor or whatever. I mean, I still read it, but I skim most of it," Rachel said, highlighting a particularly insightful sentence. "But Lady Macbeth freaked me out."

"See too much of yourself?"

Rachel moved to punch Marco in the side again, but he anticipated and slid nimbly to the armrest of the couch, out of reach. "I'd take Lady Macbeth any day over that guy from a Midsummer Night's Dream."

"Huh?"

"You know, the one with a donkey head," Rachel still kept one hand clenched into a fist, waiting for Marco to get closer. "Anyway, he was an idiot. Much like someone else I could point out here."

{Nick Bottom? Yeah, he was an idiot, but he was too much of the group leader,} Tobias commented.

{I believed Peter Quince to be the leader,} Ax said, still reading through Rachel's assignment with his stalk eyes. {Was I wrong? I have difficulty understanding most of Shakespeare's comedic works.}

{Well, Quince was the leader, but Nick Bottom took charge. I guess Marco could be Rosencrantz or Guildenstern, but they both were occasionally insightful.}

"Whoa, whoa, wait," Marco said, holding up his hands. "This is way too literary for me. And how does our resident alien know more about Shakespeare than I do?"

{Because you slept through class and we got him a copy of the Riverside Shakespeare?} Tobias fluttered down to the table next to Rachel, using his talon to indicate a sentence that needed readjustment. {Your grammar's a bit off here. So how is Dante's Inferno, anyway?}

"Eh," Rachel shrugged. "Dante follows this girl into hell, witnesses terrible things, barely escapes horrible scenarios. Pretty standard stuff."

"So pretty much us any time you say 'let's do it'," Marco said dryly, pulling the book from off the beaten-up, warped coffee table they'd been using.

"You know what the weird thing is? I get the feeling that Dante's hell would be a lot more interesting if we were, you know, normal kids. But with the lives we live, getting chewed on by Cerberus is kind of small potatoes." Rachel carefully erased every trace of the offending sentence and neatly rewrote it.

Marco flipped through the book. "Getting bitten by mosquitoes is seriously a punishment?"

{I have never understood why your Christian god exacts infinite punishment for finite sinning. Even if the punishment is as inconsequential as mosquito bites,} Ax added, pushing a page with a few circled answers over to Rachel. {It seems to be an inherently unjust system.}

{Yeah, I never got that either. It doesn't really work with the whole 'loving god' thing, does it?}

Rachel tapped her pencil eraser to her lower lip thoughtfully. "Not to mention the unbaptised babies. That just doesn't seem right."

"You're forgetting his biggest crime," Marco said. "Scheduling church to be at nine a.m. on a weekend."

{I didn't know you went to church,} Tobias said as he fluttered back up to the backrest of the sofa. Rachel reached a hand up to discretely stroke his wing feathers.

"You didn't go?"

{No one in my family ever cared enough.}

"My mom's Catholic, but she used to let me sneak my GameBoy into sermons, so it wasn't that bad. We stopped going when I was eleven because sleep is way more important." Marco, satisfied that Rachel had forgotten about jabbing a fist into his side over the Lady Macbeth remark, settled back into a comfortable position on the couch. "Hey, Ax, do Andalites ever have to get up early and go do religious crap?"

Ax snorted in that slight, condescending way that Andalites do. {We perform our rituals, but they are not the primitive, needlessly complicated, highly contradictory ceremonies that humans engage in.}

After a pause, he added, {I did not mean to offend. I understand that religion can be as important to humans as rituals are to my own race.}

"Not like anyone here cares," Rachel said.

{So are the rituals religious?} Tobias asked. {I always got the feeling that they were more, I don't know, about tradition. Cultural? Is that the word I'm looking for?}

{They don't have anything to do with a deity. But there is a spiritual element in the honor of the warrior and the will of the people.}

"Our gods get lightning and brimstone and your gods get…democracy?" Marco asked.

{We don't believe in gods. There are some more uncivilized Andalite cultures that cling to theistic cultures, but we don't give physical bodies to virtue. We perform the rituals because they are inspirational and honorable, and because they remind us to appreciate the elements that sustain life.}

{I've always thought the rituals were sort of cool. You should teach me more of them sometime. The only element I'm in touch with is air,} Tobias said. {Not that I'm especially spiritual, but I could try.}

"Do any of us humans here give actually damn about spirituality?" Marco said as he grimaced at an illustration in Rachel's book. "We've all met the Ellimist, and that's grounds enough for reconsidering religion."

{If I thought he actually was God, I'd probably have been a bit more polite.}

Marco shrugged. "Whatever. He ticks me off too. I'm hoping he's not actually all there is, or we're really screwed."

"Yeah, champions of the Iskoort or not, we don't have a great track record for unquestioning obedience," Rachel said.

{Most Andalites believe Ellimists to be children's tales. We have not been a religious society in many generations, so the Ellimists are the closest we have to omnipotent beings. Or a singular Ellimist, though there is something distasteful about a single omnipotent being.} Ax tilted his head.

"Don't forget Crayak," Rachel muttered darkly.

Ax continued. {Perhaps there is some truth in human folklore as well.}

"What, like fairies and leprechauns?" Marco asked.

"Well," Rachel said. "We know dwarves exist because I'm sitting on the couch with one."

"Oh, shut up, Xena," Marco said as he tossed Rachel's copy of Dante's Inferno at her.