Note: I didn't intend for this to immediately follow last chapter. This story is, more or less, meant to be an overarching series of one-shots, but, hey, if the characters decide they want something, sometimes you just gotta go with it.
Rachel has no memory of ever returning home when she comes to on the couch the next morning and that should worry her.
She's too tired to feel anything except… well, tired.
With a groan, she rolls over and swings her legs over the side. It takes a monumental effort to even make it that far and she questions the wisdom behind even waking up.
There's the smell of freshly brewed coffee hanging in the air and coffee… coffee sounds really good right about now.
Yeah. Coffee. She could definitely go for some coffee right about now.
Rachel forces herself to rise from the couch, freezing when she realizes who else is in the kitchen.
Loren sits at the counter, mug of coffee resting by her hands.
She doesn't look like much, this woman who Elfangor once loved.
Rachel wonders what their life must have been like.
It's hard not to be intrigued by the woman who was the beloved of the great Andalite war prince.
She and Loren have never been at odds with each other, but they've never cozied up and been buddies either.
They've fallen into this pattern of ignoring each other.
It pisses Rachel off, now that she thinks about it.
This whole avoidance thing… it's not really her thing. She prefers confrontations.
So she decides to confront.
"Hey." She slides onto the stool across from Loren, making an effort to sound… what? Conversational? That's a laugh.
At least to sound like she isn't going to bite her head off.
Tobias' mother eyes her warily. Like she's worried Rachel actually might bite her head off.
It's a look Rachel's seen more than once. In the eyes of her friends. Allies.
Her own mother.
Is that really what they all think of her?
Should she be surprised?
She was Jake's weapon first and foremost, nevermind his cousin. Everything else be damned.
The darkness scared them, but they were damn well willing to use it if it got the job done.
If it brought them a victory.
Loren's eyes scan her up and down.
"You look… rough."
Rachel bites down on a cutting (and bitter) remark, which is her first instinct, but picking a fight with her boyfriend's mother is not how she wants to start her morning.
Besides, it's true, she realizes. She fell asleep wearing the same clothes she went jogging in. Practically unheard of for her.
There are dirt stains on the knees of her pants.
It would have horrified her before. No, it would have been unthinkable before, because, of course, this would have never happened before.
Now all she can feel is this sort of numbness. A distance, like it's not even happening to her.
Which is funny, isn't it? It's just clothes. Just clothes.
"Coffee?" Loren offers, holding up her own mug, like Rachel needs an example.
Jake, stop her!
Tom's last words.
Her fingers curl.
"Sure," she says. It's a struggle to keep her voice toneless, her face expressionless. A blank mask. That's what she needs to be. A dam keeping the flood at bay. "Why not?"
Loren rises and Rachel immediately feels like a shitty person. She's perfectly capable of getting her own cup of coffee. But she still feels numb and, though she won't admit, she's glad Loren is getting up for her.
It saves her the trouble (and the humiliation) of learning just how shaky her legs are.
Loren grabs a mug from the cabinet.
"How do you like it?"
"Black is fine."
She doesn't usually take it black, but she can't bring herself to care.
Loren slides the mug to her and Rachel wraps her fingers around it.
She sips it slowly and fights a grimace. She chokes it down anyway.
Loren sits back down.
"So…" she begins.
"So," Rachel agrees.
It's an awkward attempt at a conversation starter. One that fails.
Neither one of them seems to be able to think of anything to say after that.
Rachel's eyes drift to the window, as if she expects to see a familiar red-tailed hawk perching in the tree outside.
Tobias is likely out hunting his breakfast. Depending on how successful he is, that could take a while.
"You were out late," Loren observes, finally breaking the silence that's fallen over them.
"Pointing out the obvious?" Rachel shoots back, a spark of her old self flaring up. She regrets it then.
Loren isn't looking to pick a fight with her.
Rachel pushes the coffee away from her. There's a sick feeling growing in her stomach and she can no longer stand to remain cooped up inside.
She needs the sky.
"I'm going flying." Usually, she wouldn't bother, but she can't leave Loren with no explanation. "Thanks for the coffee," it feels like her tongue gets stuck around the name, "Loren."
A minute later, she's outside, barefoot and stripped of her outer layer of clothing. It's become second-nature to wear their morphing outfits under whatever else they're wearing.
The bald eagle is already pictured in her mind.
She closes her eyes and feels the changes to her body take place.
There's no rhyme or reason to morphing. The stomach-dropping free-fall as she shrinks, the uncomfortable twisting and shifting of her bones and organs and the itch of feathers sprouting from her pores.
The way her face protruded, nose and jaw narrowing, skin hardening into keratin to form the hooked beak of a bird of prey. The way her eyes sharpened, rotating to the sides of her skull, or her hair receded.
All of it completely random and all of it unsettling.
A minute later and the morph is complete.
Rachel spreads her wings and takes to the sky.
Note: I'm kind of nervous about Loren's characterisation. I love her so much, but it's been a long while since I read The Diversion. I'm really hoping I got her right- I did reread The Andalite Chronicles recently, but she was pretty different in both if I remember correctly, which is... understandable given everything that happened in between- but I'm not sure.
Anyways, like I said, I love Loren. I was mad that the final book had nothing on her relationship with Tobias. I mean, I get that he was grieving Rachel and if he'll never get over it, fine, but come on, Applegate, he had just found his mother again.
Let Tobias be happy. Please.