Note: It boggles my mind that I completely forgot what a psychological horrorfest book 6 was. It's one of my favorites, probably for precisely that reason, but also... no other book in the series has really captured how completely and utterly terrifying the idea of being a Controller truly is. Back to Before and The Departure went that route, but they just don't compare. They just don't. (Don't get me wrong- I adore those books, even if I do think that Cassie made... some of her worst decisions in The Departure.)
Also, the major Tom feels. I love me some Berenson brothers.
Timeline: An add on to the penultimate chapter of The Capture.
Her name. The first word he'd spoken on his own in three days. His voice sounded hoarse.
He touched his throat.
Screaming. Had he been screaming?
No. Not him. Temrash. With his voice.
"Yes." Cassie squeezed his hands, dark eyes warm and caring. "I'm here, Jake."
She didn't ask if he was okay. Both of them knew that he wasn't.
"I'm…" He opened his mouth to lie anyways-
-and he remembered.
The searching eye… Searching…
For what? Him? Was it searching for him?
Jake inhaled, a shudder running through his body. He was thankful for Cassie's hold on his hands.
Otherwise, he knew they'd be trembling.
Don't think about that. Don't. Just don't.
Even as he turned his mind away from it, he knew he would never forget that eye. He could keep it to himself, he could pretend it had never happened, but he would always remember.
He purposefully focused on Cassie.
She noticed and smiled, gentle and soothing.
"It's okay, Jake." She rubbed his arm. "I'm here."
"It was Tom's Yeerk," he blurted, in one breathless whisper. His eyes drifted to the spot where they had watched Temrash wither and die. He redirected them, focusing on Cassie again.
"Jake…" She gripped tighter. She looked stricken. Pained.
"I'm going to get him back." He felt a sick satisfaction that Temrash had died. Temrash, who had tormented his brother into submission, held him prisoner in his own mind. Exactly as he had done to Jake.
He was glad he was dead. He was glad it had hurt.
The hatred that arose in him was strong enough that it scared him.
He didn't think he had ever been a person who welcomed hatred, but it was hard not to welcome it now.
Was that what this war was turning him into? Someone who could see the pain of another creature and rejoice?
His stomach turned, bile rising in his throat. He turned his head, retching before he could help himself.
Cassie's hand was on his back, rubbing gentle little circles. His flesh quivered and he hunkered over miserably.
The taste of bile was still on his tongue and a thin stream of vomit still trickled down his chin.
Disgusted, he wiped it away with the back of his hand, rubbing it off against his jeans.
"It's okay, Jake," Cassie said, reassuring him even though it wasn't. None of this was okay and Jake was seriously starting to doubt anything would ever be okay again.
Everything Temrash had shown him…
Tom was still trying to protect him.
Jake made to stand on unsteady legs. He couldn't sit still any longer. After three days a prisoner in his own body, the need to finally move of his own volition was overpowering.
"I'm going to get him back," he said and if his voice shook, he chose to ignore it.
"I know." Cassie's hands drifted to his upper arm.
Something unspoken passed between them.
Cassie asking for permission.
Jake granting it.
She wrapped her arms around him and he pulled her closer automatically.
"It's gonna be okay, Jake." Her head came to rest on his shoulder. "We'll get him back, okay? You'll get him back."
Something warm dripped down his cheek.
He was crying.
He shut his eyes,face hot.
If the others saw him…
"The others are outside," Cassie said, as if she'd read his mind. She pulled back, even though Jake wanted nothing more than to stay in that embrace with her, and looked him in the eye. "They want to see you, but they'll wait until you're ready."
He appreciated her. He appreciated her so much.
Jake managed a shaky grin.
"Hey, Ax didn't make me look too bad, did he?"
Easier to deflect than it was to deal with what actually happened.
Cassie rewarded him with a small, careful smile of her own. Like she knew what Jake was doing, but was willing to humor him anyways.
"Your mom thought you had gone insane."
After that, his grin didn't feel entirely forced.
Maybe it should have concerned him, how easy it was to fall into the pattern of pretending that nothing was the matter.
He was the leader. He didn't want to be, but he was. The unshakeable leader. Nothing was supposed to phase him.
Not even a Yeerk in the head.
It didn't matter that Cassie saw through him. That she recognized the act for what it was and that the look in her eyes was telling him she didn't approve.
It was an act he had to play. For her sake. For the sake of all of them.
Because a leader had to be strong.
When a leader crumbles, the rest soon follow.
"Jake," Cassie whispered. That was it. Just his name. But he understood anyway.
Cassie didn't ask this time. She just offered. Her arms were a refuge and Jake stepped into them.
She held him close. She let him cry without judging him for it. She let him feel safe.
The Animorphs can't afford for him to crumble. But maybe, with Cassie, he could let his walls down, at least for a little while, and be safe.
Note: A little unsure about characterisations, but... Jake has been through hell. He deserves the chance to fall apart in private. *sighs* I was a little nervous about writing Cassie- she's my least favorite of the main six (Yes, the Cassie hate train has gotten old. I promise it won't come up much.) and because of that, I'm unclear about how I feel about Jake/Cassie. There are times when I love it and then times when I don't. But I hope I presented it well.