Chapter 3: MARCO

I can't even begin to explain how great it felt to be standing back on Earth. I mean, don't get me wrong, I was all for leaving to go find Ax. And yeah, we ended up finding something worse than the Yeerks. And we left without saving Ax. Wow. This whole mission was a complete bust! Well, except for us getting Rachel back. Still not sure how exactly The One managed to pull off bringing back the dead, but I wasn't about to question it.

This is usually the part where the old Marco would say something along the lines of: "She looks reeeaal good too." But I just didn't have it in me anymore. I was tired of exploring unknown places and creatures and fighting in a war. I was tired of everyone looking to me to lighten the mood with a joke. I wasn't the same Marco I used to be. I had matured. So yeah, I was glad to be back, because all I want is to be back in my mansion and chilling in my pool with some babes at my side. Was that too much to ask for?

Still though, something seemed different since we had stepped off the ship's platform and onto actual concrete. There was a small group of people waiting for us and then one of them came up to greet us. She was an older lady, but not like grandma old, more like that teacher you might've had a crush on in middle school. But there was something familiar about her. She reminded me of someone I met before. Then again, I did meet a lot of people after the war. What, with the TV shows and movies and interviews I had done. But that didn't fit right either. I couldn't quite figure it out until she got a little bit closer. That's when it hit me like a punch in the gut. She didn't look like someone I knew. She was someone I knew. It was..

"Cassie?!" Jake was the first to notice and blurt it out loud. "Is that really you?"

"Yeah Jake. It's really me." She seemed shocked, yet happy. Like, when you lost a girl's phone number on the bus, but then you happen to run into her a few weeks later at the mall. Well, maybe a bit more excited than that.

"How did you guys get back here? And why do you guys look the same age as when you left? And is that.. I mean.. Rachel? Is it really you?"

This was weird. Like, really weird. Twilight Zone weird. Cassie walked up to Rachel and they hugged each other for a while. It's pretty safe to assume that Rachel is going to be doing a lot of that. When they let go, Cassie walked to each of us and gave us all hugs. Yeah, even me. Once the formalities were over, she took a step back and cleared her throat.

"So, uumm, how is this possible?"

Jake began telling the group every last detail. From the moment we left Earth, to coming across The One and seeing Ax. He told them all about the white room and what we were all told. How Rachel seemed to have just appeared out of thin air, and then moments later, so did we outside of Earth's atmosphere. The only thing none of us could understand was why Cassie seemed older than all of us.

If I may interject Ma'am? The Andalite that was standing to the side next to Cassie walked to the front of their group.

I believe that I may know the solution to this rather peculiar situation.

"Please", Cassie gestured her hand outward. "Enlighten us all."

While we were scanning the Yeerk ship, I noticed that the ship itself seemed to age appropriately with our own time. However, the occupants inside did not. I believe that when they all transported to the 'white room', it created some sort of Sario Rip. You see, while they were inside the room, time seemed to have stopped and only moments had passed for them. Whereas, everything outside of the room had continued to take place in the natural timeline.

I had seen enough time travel movies to know what question had to be asked next. I'm assuming that Santorelli had too, because he beat me to the punch.

"What year is it exactly?"

The current Earth year is 2015.

We all gasped. Actually, I'm pretty positive that was a massive understatement, as I was ten seconds away from blowing chunks all over my shoes.

"That's crazy dude!" I couldn't help myself. "You're telling me that we've been gone for maybe six months, but thirteen years has passed by?"

"Thirteen years?" Rachel sounded even more upset than I was. "The last thing I remember was getting mauled by a Polar Bear.. in 1999." She looked over at our group. "Was I really gone for three years before you guys found me?"

This was all too much. And unexpected.

"Look," Tobias finally spoke his two cents. "I'm not sure why this happened, but I'm going to take it as a win. We may not have been able to rescue Ax, but we know that he is still alive. And we were able to get Rachel back. Who cares if time changed? We lived with Dinosaurs. We swam with Leerans. Is this really all that much crazier?" He laughed. And even though I hated to admit it, he definitely did have a point. He continued on with his speech.

"I say we take some time to rest and then we can all regroup in a bit and take it from there. Rachel, do you think you have it in you to fly back to your house with me?"

They smiled at each other and Tobias began to demorph.

"Wait!" I swear, Cassie yelled so loud that I'm pretty sure the people inside the building stopped what they were doing. Tobias stopped and changed back into his full human body. "I don't think that's a good idea Tobias."

"Why? I've already been in morph for over an hour, so I need to demorph soon."

"Yeah, about that. When did you morph into your human self? Was it before or after the white room?"

"It was while I was inside of the room, but why does that matter Cassie?"

"It matters because time moved forward a lot while you guys were inside that room Tobias. So in theory, you were a hawk in 2002 and then you morphed. This means that if you demorph now in 2015, your hawk self would age rapidly to sync up with the current timeline. And you were already a full grown adult Red-Tailed Hawk. I'm sorry Tobias, but if you demorph.. You might die."

Tobias just stood there. He didn't say anything. None of us did. We just sort of disbanded over time. Jake went inside with Cassie and the others from her work. Santorelli and Gerard left to go see their families. I was going to talk to Jake before I left, but I decided that him and Cassie might need some time to catch up. So instead, I said goodbye to Rachel and Tobias, morphed into an Osprey and headed out.

I landed on the front lawn of 18218 West Bakers Street. I wanted to let my dad know that I was back, before he found out by watching the news. I walked up the steps and knocked on the door. A little girl answered. Was this my little sister? Him and Nora did end up getting back together after the war once she was freed from the yeerks. A part of me was always upset that him and my mom never got back together, but I knew that he was happy and that made it easier to deal with. But was I a big brother now? Maybe I wasn't ready for all of these sudden changes.

I smiled at the girl. "Hi. Um, is your dad home?" She looked over her shoulder, yelled for her dad, and then she ran back inside. A man I didn't recognize came to the door. Not like in the same way as Cassie. This man wasn't an older version of my dad, because he wasn't my dad.

"How can I help you young man?"

Young man. That thought made me laugh a little inside. Given the news I had just found out, I should be 33 instead of 20. But hey, I'll take it. "Hi. I'm looking for Peter Ramirez. He used to live here a few years ago."

"You knew Pete too? He was a good man. We were actually basketball coaches together back in the day. But if you're looking for him, then I'm going to assume that you don't know."

"Know what?" I tried to think about where he might be. "Did he move away?"

"Unfortunately not. You see, Pete passed away two summers ago. He had developed cancer awhile back, but he kept saying that he was holding on to say goodbye to someone. He never told any of us who that person was, but we all assumed that it was his boy. I'm not sure if they ever got the chance to see each other one last time before he passed though."

I took a deep breath as I tried to hold everything inside. How could I do this to him? How could I have just up and left him without an explanation? He had held on for me? All those years that he probably wanted to give up, he had held on. And for what? I was still too late. And here I was worrying about myself. I barely spoke to him after the war. I was so wrapped up in the fame and the money. Yeah, I said goodbye before leaving to find Ax, but it wasn't like a forever goodbye. Just a sort of see you later, quick hug kind of goodbye.

I know that it was probably rude, but I just turned around from the front door and walked away. I didn't morph into anything or fly away. I just walked and walked and walked.

A/N: I know that some people would be upset about Tobias becoming a Nothlit again, but it felt like the right thing to do in order to keep the story moving along. I also decided that Marco needed some sort of trauma in order for his character to grow more from just the "funny guy" and into a more grounded character.