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[personal profile] last01standing
Title: How the Sky Looks Different from the Ground [2/?]
Rating: PG
Characters: Tobias, Rachel, Aria, DeGroot, Tobias's uncle and an ever so brief cameo by Ax this chapter.
Summary: The AU where Tobias isn’t an animorph.
Disclaimer: I am not KA Applegate and plan to make no profit for this endeavor
Author's Note: Parts of this chapter taken from the Animorphs book #23, The Pretender.
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How the Sky Looks Different from the Ground
TWO


My uncle was watching TV with a beer in one hand and a slackened jaw when I finally got home. “Someone came asking about you today.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

“They left you a letter,” he said. “I don’t want to hear anything else about it.”

“You won’t,” I promised, grabbing the letter as I pushed into my room.

The room was a mess. There were clothes, mostly product of the salvation army, scattered through on the floor. I started throwing them in a duffle bag. The laundry mat was a few blocks away. I figured I could get my homework done while I was at it. I think I still had the quarters for it.

I opened the letter first. Some lawyer named DeGroot. I read it quickly and did a double take.

They were in possession of a letter from my father.

My father who was dead. Who had been dead for a long time. I always figured that was why my mom hadn’t stuck around as well. I didn’t harbor a hell of a lot of good will toward the man. It was silly, yeah, but I always kind of blame him for my life. The ungrateful, dead bastard.

DeGroot’s contact information was at the bottom of the letter. Call and make an appointment. Couldn’t hurt, I figured. If I was lucky he’d left me some money.

I called the lawyer and set up a meeting during the school day. I could have probably scheduled one for later but anytime I could skip out on class was a good day for me.

***


The next morning, I took the bus downtown. DeGroot’s office was in the heart of the city. I stopped at the strip mall across the straight, eyeing the candy in the check out line of a department store. I hadn’t eaten breakfast and my stomach was growling its annoyance. I didn’t have the cash to buy it and for a long second my fingers itched to just grab it and sneak it into my pocket but I’d had the strange sensation that I was being followed. I looked over my shoulder and saw a northern harrier perched on the ledge of the building the next street over. But that was ridiculous. Help! I’m being stalked by a bird of prey. I already got picked on for being a day dreamer. This wouldn’t help my cause.

I put the candy bar back on the shelf and walked out of the store and into DeGroot’s law practice. The secretary eyed me skeptically. I guess I didn’t blame her. I was wearing a threadbare hoodie that used to be blue and a pair of jeans that had a hole in the knee.

I told her my name and asked for Mr. DeGroot.

“It’s pronounced DeGroot,” she said waspishly. “It rhymes with boat.”

“Oh,” I said mildly, trying to keep the annoyance out of my voice.

“Let me just check with Mr. DeGroot,” she said. She picking up her phone delicately with manicured nails. “Mr. DeGroot, there’s a young man named Tobias out here. He says—Oh. All right.”

She hung up and looked at me with renewed curiosity. “I guess he does want to see you. Right through that door.”

DeGroot was younger than I’d expected. I’d imagined a decrepit old man with a wizened smile but he was in his twenties or thirties. His jacket was thrown casually over chair. He was wearing a white dress shirt and red suspenders. He didn’t look like a threat but that bothered me more then anything. Outside the window, I could see the harrier perched on a building across the street.

DeGroot got to his feet and smiled.

“So, you are Tobias.”

I shook his hand a twisted my face into a smile. “Yes. I'm Tobias.”

He looked me up and down, frowning at my attire. I shot down.

“I’m glad I could get a hold of you, Tobias. Have a seat, please. Would you like some water? A soda? Coffee? No, I guess you don't drink coffee at your age. A soda? We have Coke, Diet Coke. And we might have some Dr. Brown's cream soda. I'd have to have Ingrid check.”

I frowned a little. I didn’t really know why I was so nervous. It must have been Grace and the rest of this past year finally getting to me. I kept expecting him to pull a gun or something. “No thanks, I’m fine.”

DeGroot nodded and leaned back in his chair. “I understand you’ve been staying with your uncle.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Does this have something to do with why you wanted to see me?”

DeGroot nodded, slightly taken aback. “No actually. I represent your father’s estate.”

“My father’s dead,” I said.

“Tobias..." DeGroot leaned across the desk. I unconsciously leaned back. “Your father, that father, the man who died? That may not have been your real father.”

“What?”

“I have a document. . . it’s a strange situation. Very strange. Look, Tobias, I'm going to level with you. My father used to run this office. He's dead, too. He left this document along with the rest of his client’s papers. But on this he wrote me specific instructions. Very specific. On the date of your next birthday your father’s last statement was to be read to you, if at all humanly possible.”

I didn't know what to say.

“Are you all right?” DeGroot asked. “This is a lot to take in.”

Something was... off about this. I couldn’t help but think of Chapman taking to me about the Sharing and Jake moving through the school like a completely different person. “I’m fine.”

DeGroot looked like he didn’t believe me but he shuffled through his papers and continued anyway. “On top of this, there’s a new complication. I was contacted by a woman named Aria, who says she is your cousin. Your great-aunt's daughter. Apparently she's only just learned of your situation. She's a very acclaimed nature photographer
and she's been on a long-term assignment in Africa. She wants to meet you.”

“Oh.” My stomach turned over. This was something I’d dreamed about as a kid. Something I’d always wanted. A mysterious relative come to take me from this place. My mom coming back.

“She'd like to meet you tomorrow. At the hotel where she's staying. If that's okay. It's the Hyatt downtown. Do you know where that is?”

“Yes,” I said. “I think I can find it.”

“Do you need an money?” DeGroot hedged. “A place to spend the night?”

“I do have a house,” I said. “I can take care of myself.”

“In that case, Tobias, I’ll see you on your birthday for the reading.”

“Of course,” I said. “Goodbye. It was nice to meet you.”

He shook my hand again. His palms were just slightly damp. I went back out to the strip mall. The harrier was still perched on the building across the street staring at me. I waved at it. It was stupid but it made me feel better. I didn’t like this. I mean I wanted it more then anything. Wanted to have a mysterious father materialize out of the wind and a cousin who actually wanted me.

There were too many coincidences. Too much happening all at once and I probably would have jumped at this a year ago but things were different now. Stuff out of my daydreams I didn’t believe.

Stuff of nightmares on the other hand, that I did believe.

I went looking for Grace. I needed to talk this over with someone, needed advice from someone even more paranoid then I was, but today Grace was nowhere to be found. I didn’t worry about it. I knew she tended to lay low during the day and wouldn’t bother expecting me this early on a school day.

If I’d have just kept looking, maybe none of this would have happened.

***


My meeting with Aria was, to put it plainly, the oddest two hours of my entire life. When I made it to the hotel Aria had her camera the ready and barely time to introduce herself before saying she’d been pulled to an urgent job. I’d been expecting this of course, been expecting to be blown off because I knew how my family worked.

But then she’d looked over her shoulder and asked I wanted to come with her.

Which is how I found myself at Frank’s Safari Land staring at what the billboard proclaimed: The Living Razor; Deadly Midget Freak.

“What the hell is it?” I muttered to Aria.

The thing was almost three feet tall, wrists and ankles sporting razor sharp blades that looked like they could do some serious damaged even despite its miniscule size.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” Aria admitted leaning closer the cage.

The creature inside stared back at her. I hung back trying to keep the worry out of my face. I’d seen these things before. Grace had called them Hork-Bajir. I’d only seen them once before back when I’d demanded proof of her story. That had been the last straw for me. The point that had forced me out of my comfortable state of denial.

They were all infested. This one was no different. It was dangerous. It had to be.

Frank, of Frank’s Safari Land approached us slowly, eyeing Aria’s camera with distaste. “Look, lady, I'm not trying to bust your chops here. But if you want to take pictures, that's extra.”

“But, Mr. Hallowell--”

“Call me Frank,” he leered.

Aria glanced sideways at me and said, “Okay, Frank. I'm a professional nature photographer. I would be happy to give you some copies of the pictures in payment.”

The man sneered. "I need a picture of the freak, I'll take a Polaroid---“

I stopped listening, instead bending in toward the caged creature. It followed me looking almost hopeful, not at all what I would have expected of a yeerk host. “What is it?”

I glanced back up to look at Frank and Aria. Aria shrugged. "I don't know. I've never seen anything like it.” She turned to Frank. “But you know, you shouldn't call it a 'freak.'"

"Not politically correct, huh?" Frank said knowingly.

“It looks like an alien,” I blurted.

They both went silent, staring at me. Even the creature was staring at me. I felt a blush creeping up my neck. I didn’t like being the center of attention.

“I couldn’t definitively say no,” Aria allowed.

“Alien, huh?” A smile crept up Frank’s slimy face. "Hey, that's not a bad idea. Lot of crazy people out there believe in all that UFO, space alien crap."

Aria shook her head. “Well, as long as you're changing things, maybe you could show a little humanity to these animals. They need bigger cages, more light, more fresh air. At the very least."

"I'll think on that," Frank said with an expression that said he'd do no such thing.

Aria, put a hand on my shoulder and steered me out of Frank’s Safari Land. When safely out of earshot, she hissed, “That son of a bitch.”

I let out a snort of laughter before I could stop myself. Aria slapped a hand over her mouth, looking sheepish. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Really?” I asked. “Because I agree with you one hundred and ten percent.”

“It tears me apart to see animals treated like that, Tobias. I’m really sorry you had to see something like this. Rest assured I’ll find a way to bring it up with the proper authorities.”

She checked her watch. “I really hate to cut our time short but as you can tell, a rather pressing matter has come up. If it’s all right with you, I was planning to come hear your father’s letter. Maybe I could speak with your uncle about a change in residence. That is if you’d like it.”

I would like it. It was every orphan’s dream to be whisked away from their tattered reality by a distant relative. I shoved my hands into my pocket. “Getting in touch with my uncle’s going to be the hard part about all this.”

She called me a cab and instructed the driver to take me home. After we were three blocks away, I redirected him to the mall. I didn’t really like the idea of spending the rest of the day in my uncle’s presence. I bummed around in the arcade for a few hours, I still had some quarters left over from laundry last night and I could probably make it a whole month before I needed to start scrounging again.

My game of choice involved killing zombies. I’d had some people comment on that before. If people bothered to think of it, they certainly wouldn’t peg me as someone with a knack for this sort of thing. They wouldn’t peg me as someone good at lying either but it’s amazing what necessity can do for you.

“Hey!” someone called from across the mall. “Hey, Tobias is that you?”

I turned around just as on screen a zombie took a bite out of my arm. Dead. Another quarter bites the dust. Rachel was smiling at me from just outside the arcade. I looked back at the game screen, half convinced I’d lost myself in some sort of fantasy but when I turned back around, she was still there.

And she was still there. I looked around on the off chance there was another Tobias in the area. When I was satisfied there was not one else around, I said, “Hey, Rachel.”

“Didn’t see you in school yesterday,” Rachel said. “What happened? Did Chapman decide to suspend you after all?”

I forced a laugh. “No. I was sick.”

Or I’d called myself in sick. Same difference really.

“You look fine today,” Rachel said.

“Well, I feel fine today.”

Her eyes narrowed but her voice remained playful. “Cutting class, huh?”

“Why are you acting like we’re friends?” I blurted before I could stop myself.

That stopped her in her tracks. “What?”

“Yesterday was the first time you’ve talked to me in more then a year. And now you’re saying hey in the mall and you’ve always been nice to me but that doesn’t mean we’re actually friends.”

Rachel shifted her weight from one foot to another. “And I’m not allowed to try to change that?”

“Not this week. No,” I said, rubbing at the back of my neck. “Look I’m sorry, but I just—I’ve got to go.”

“You know, you’ve changed, Tobias,” Rachel called after me.

I turned around, but kept moving away from her. “You say that like I’m the only one.”

As I walked toward the exit and the bus stop, I felt like I was hyperaware of the entire scene. I saw a poster for the Sharing on the wall. I counted three different people looking in my direction. I shoved my hand in my pocket and put my head down.

And then I saw something familiar out of the corner of my eyes and I stopped dead in my tracks. The news was playing in a big screen television in the window of an electronics store. In the top right corner was a familiar face with her dark hair and wide smile.

Grace.

I ducked into the store, walking to the display so I could hear the audio.

The body of twenty-seven year old Grace O’Neil was recovered in the woods a half mile out of town today. O'Neil who was first reported missing over a year ago was the subject of a nationwide search---

The televisions were twisted in front of me, pictures blurring into one. Grace was dead. Grace who’d escaped the yeerks. Grace who’d been my first real friend. Grace who was the only person I still trusted.

Dead.

I couldn’t breathe. I found myself stumbling toward the bathroom, my stomach churning. I dry heaved into the first stall thankful I hadn’t really eaten all day.

Grace was dead. She’d escaped the yeerks to what? Die a year later? It didn’t seem fair. It felt like she should have gone down fighting. Not erased as if she’d never been there. The scene slowly stopped spinning. I pulled myself to my feet. On the door to the stall there was a flyer for a meeting of the Sharing this Friday. I rubbed at my eyes and stared at it.

A meeting this Sunday. Open to all people. Newcomers encouraged.

I snatched the flyer from the wall. The Sharing was a yeerk organization. Which means there was going to have to be some sort of proof somewhere in the vicinity. If I could just find proof of what was happening, I might be able to do something. I might be able to change something.

I felt myself relaxing somehow. I could do this. I’ve fought losing battles before—well, more accurately, I’ve lost losing battles—but this was something I needed to do.

I washed my hands and walked out of the bathroom. “Hello,” a voice said from somewhere behind me. “Lo. Hello.”

Turning around, I came face to face with an oddly familiar guy with weirdly pretty features. “What?”

“You appear distressed. Stressed. Is there anything I can do help you?” He paused and then added. “You. Ew.”

“No,” I said, trying to eliminate the distress from my voice. “No I’m all right. Thanks. I guess.”

“I wish you success in your endeavor,” the weird guy said. “Deavor.”

I put my head down, shoved my hands in my pockets and made my way out of the mall.

***

3 |

See you all next Wednesday. =)

(no subject)

26/2/09 21:59 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] chicafrom3.livejournal.com
Awww. I love Ax's cameo, and I like how the Animorphs seem to be keeping an eye on Tobias, even though he doesn't understand or appreciate it. And Grace's death was a moment of real shock; poor Tobias, having lost the one person he trusts!

A little constructive criticism, though; parts of this chapter drag a bit, specifically the bits that retread #23 with nothing of significance changed. Even just mixing up the dialogue a bit so it's not word-for-word from the books would likely help with that.

And
The body of twenty-seven year old Grace O’Neilwas recovered in the woods a half mile out of town today. Lincoln who was first reported missing over a year ago was the subject of a nationwide search---
I'm a little unclear on this. I assume that the "Lincoln" in the second sentence is meant to refer to Grace? In which case, is her name Grace Lincoln or Grace O'Neil? Are they calling her Lincoln for a different reason?

Regardless, I'm really enjoying this AU; I think it could go in any number of fascinating directions, and I can't wait to see how Tobias handles himself at the Sharing meeting. :)

(no subject)

12/3/09 02:01 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
I feel kind of bad about the Grace thing if only because she was a character designed pretty much only to be killed.

Thanks for catching that discrepency. Different versions of the draft had different names. Whoops.

And THANK you so much for reading and taking the time to comment!