Note: This has taken me far longer than I thought. Sorry.
Timeline wise, this takes place after book #13, The Change. I did always wish we got to see Rachel's immediate response to Tobias in his human body.
Tobias knew the moment Rachel recognized that it was him.
The way her jaw dropped, the way the blood drained from her cheeks.
It wasn't easy to catch Rachel completely shell-shocked.
He smiled. Or tried to. He didn't think he remembered how.
At the very least, he felt the muscles in his cheeks flex, felt his lips twist in a way that a beak couldn't.
He hoped it was a smile. Or at least something resembling a smile.
"Hey, Rachel," he whispered and it was his voice. It felt foreign, scratchy from disuse. His tongue felt clumsy around the words.
But it was his.
She wouldn't be able to hear him. There was too much distance between them and he didn't want to raise his voice and risk disrupting the ceremony.
Thought-speak was an option, since… since he was in morph.
The thought was somewhat bitter. More than somewhat.
He was in morph. His human body… He was a morph.
He'd thought the Ellimist would make him human again.
He'd thought wrong.
Oh, he had the option to become human again. Permanently if that was what he wanted. Two hours without demorphing and he'd be a nothlit.
With no way out this time. No deus ex machina ready to swoop in and give him the power to morph again for a price.
But he would be normal.
Normal while his friends lived on fighting. Maybe dying. How could he do that? How could he bail on them when he was the one most outspoken in favor of using Elfangor's gift exactly as it had been intended? To fight the Yeerks.
Rachel couldn't answer him and she couldn't hold the ceremony back. Whatever was to happen between them would have to wait until later. She gave him one last look and he caught the fleeting glimpse of regret spread across her she was gone, leaving Tobias with a flutter in his stomach.
She received her award, she smiled and she shook hands and she looked great while doing all of it because she was Rachel and she always looked great, no matter what she did.
But then she was pushing through the crowd with single minded purpose, using elbows where needed, until she was at his side.
"Tobias," she breathed. She reached out to touch his shoulder, then snatched her hand back, like she was afraid he might not be real.
"It's me, Rachel," Tobias said quietly.
She inhaled sharply. "So he really…" She stopped herself before she could say anymore and a mask slid into place. "Outside."
They wove around and through several people. They stopped in the hallway and Rachel snatched his hand up. She held it in her own, running the pad of her thumb over the knuckles, marveling.
Slowly at first and then with a crushing force, she pulled him into a hug.
"It's really you," she whispered, breath warm against his ear. She pulled away and she looked up at him. Her eyes were bright.
She looked happy, very happy.
Very few people had ever looked at him like they were happy for him. Very few people had ever tried to hurt for him.
He was still getting used to it with Rachel.
It made him feel warm. It made his heart sink.
Two very different reactions to the same thing.
"It's a morph," he blurted. He had wondered how to tell her, but now it spilled out. He watched her face fall.
"It's a morph," he repeated. He wasn't completely able to hide the bitterness in his tone. "So I'm not really me." He smiled self-deprecatingly.
Rachel looked pained. Then angered.
"You are you, Tobias," she snapped. "That never changed, regardless of what body you're in."
"It's not fair." She dropped his hand and clenched her fists. "He promised you…"
"He promised me what I wanted most." Tobias cut her off. Never once had the Ellimist promised to make him human. Tobias had just assumed…
But that was something that was becoming perfectly clear about the Ellimist.
He didn't deal in absolutes. He dealt in loopholes. He wasn't direct. He was vague.
"And he left me with the choice, didn't he?" Tobias didn't know why he felt the need to defend the Ellimist.
He wasn't really defending him. Was he?
Rachel seemed to think he was. "Don't make excuses for him," she snapped. "You know he's pulling us all around on strings like we're his puppets."
"I know," Tobias says wryly. "Believe me, no one knows that better than me."
That much was true, he was sure.
He had been yanked around practically by the nose as he struggled to lead the first two freed Hork-Bajir to a place of safety. He had been a tool of something (no, someone) far more powerful than he and he hadn't liked it.
But they now had two freed Hork-Bajir out of Yeerk reach. He could morph again. He was back in the fight.
Did that mean it was worth it? Was he willing to become a pawn if it meant one more victory for them?
Was it worth it?
Note: I debated about leaving this here- it felt incomplete. But leaving it on a question- an unanswered one- felt right for the story.