"You're kidding."

"I swear, Tom, I'm not."

"I don't believe you."

My kid brother grinned. "I wouldn't have either, but I smelled him afterwards."

"Midget, there's no way she would still be alive..."

Another grin.

"We told him we knew how to get the smell out. Ax-man was especially convincing. Said that the smell would remain in the blade ship forever if he got in there."

"Was he bluffing? He had to be."

Jake shrugged. "I'm not sure Ax knew either way, to be honest. But it worked."

I shook my head. "Man. This is the kind of thing I miss. Cassie as a skunk spraying Visser Three. Cassie! As a SKUNK! Spraying Visser Three!"

Jake grinned. "It was pretty incredible."

"Did you guys tell him how to get the smell out? Please tell me you didn't," I begged.

We were sitting on the couch in the basement, of course. Everyone was there, but it was just me and Jake who were doing the talking. Tobias had witnessed the event, and they'd told my parents earlier. They had these looks on their faces where...you know when your kid is being bullied and they finally punch the bully? And you don't know whether to ground or kid or give them a reward? That's basically how my parents looked.

Plus, you know, barely hidden amusement that Midget's sort of girlfriend had sprayed the most feared and hated alien overlord in the galaxy...as a skunk.

"We told him to take a bath in grape juice," Midget explained, still smiling his face off.

"Which means, the next time you see him, he'll be purple and just as smelly!" I chortled. "Oh, man. I hope that, somewhere, there's a tape of this. Probably not, but this is just too great not to go unrecorded for all of history. I mean, Jake, once you defeat the Yeerks and do your biography, you will have to devote at least a chapter to this mission."

Tobias grinned. "That would be something the publishers would promote to get people to buy copies. Learn how the Animorphs worked with the Andalites to save the world...and managed to skunk spray Visser Three along the way."

We all burst out laughing then, including my parents.

Good. Things had been way too serious since the whole logging mission started. Not only did Jake and his friends officially win this one, they had bragging rights as to why he smelled like skunk.

That was a definite win for everyone, this time.

"What I don't get," my dad asked, once we'd calmed down, "is why he didn't just morph. Wouldn't the smell vanish as soon as his body changed?"

Jake furrowed his brow in concentration. "I get the idea that he sees morphing as more of a way to inflict harm on others than get out of problems."

Tobias nodded. "When Ax poisoned him as a snake, Visser Three left his host and the Yeerks had to go off in search of some antidote. He told me that Alloran was too weak to do much aside from beg for Ax to..."

"Not to kill him?" I asked, gently.

"No. To kill him," Tobias answered, face tightening. "But, Ax couldn't. Not without the Yeerk being there."

Yeah. This was weird. Plus, there was the whole issue of Elfangor having enough energy and concentration to be able to explain Yeerks and morphing to Jake and his friends, but not focus enough on any kind of animal so his injuries could vanish.

Clearly, Andalites didn't see morphing the way we did.

Given how many times Midget and his friends almost died, this was a very good thing.

"That's good," I finally spoke up. "Visser Three's a complete maniac, but he's losing to you guys. Whatever you're doing, you should keep it up. Besides, this means that his host still has the hope of being freed one day. Everyone who's being enslaved by those slugs deserves that hope."

Midget squeezed my hand, tightly.

I, of course, squeezed back.

"I think this calls for ice cream," Dad announced. "Tom? You up for some?"

"Always up for ice cream," I laughed. "We still got mint chocolate chip?"

"Just bought a container last week," Mom promised, with a smile.

So, when Mom and Dad and Tobias went upstairs to get the ice cream ready, Jake stayed downstairs with me.

Of course, I gave him only the tenth hug that day.

And Jake rolled his eyes, but squeezed me back, just as tightly.

"I worry about you, Midget," I told him. "But, I'm glad everything went as well as it did."

"Me too, Tom," my brother answered, with a relieved smile.

"How many missions has that been so far? Like, twenty?" I pressed, wrapping an arm around him.

Jake rested his head against me. "Ten, I think."

I held him close. "You need a break."

"We still have to be skunk parents for the next few days," Jake reminded me. "Good thing that's pretty low risk."

I rolled my eyes. "Can't believe Cassie convinced you to do this."

"They are pretty cute," Jake laughed.

"Yeah, well. If you get sprayed..."

"I know, Tom." He rolled his eyes at me. "Don't use grape juice."

I gave him a little nudge. "Use morphing, instead."

A few moments later, the rest of the family arrived with the ice cream. I kept one arm around Jake as we ate, and soon afterwards, he took a long nap next to me.

It had been, for him, a long but good day.

A/N: Short chapter, but I figured this kind of got to the meat of the Tom and Jake interactions of it. At least, as far as the two of them would be involved. It was a Cassie book, after all. Now, the next chapter will be somewhat of a turning point for Tom's life. Let's just say he'll be getting a lot back.

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