Disclaimer: Characters and situations are the property of K.A. Applegate and Scholastic Books. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's note: This story is a birthday present for my friend (and biggest fan) Emily. You want to archive it, ask her for permission, then please tell me where it's going (I need to know where my electronic stories go in case I ever magically become a published author).

This is a sequel to my story, The Tocsin, and may not make much sense if you haven't read that one. It starts during the first chapters of the Animorphs book #41, The Familiar and goes wildly AU from there.

The Anchor

by Beth Epstein

I was glad the Sharing meeting let out early. It saved me and Nestreen the trouble and extreme risk of sneaking out.

Therefore, we only had to beg off giving Sarah Plimpton a ride home by citing a looming paper deadline. That was, of course, a lie. But we could hardly tell her that we'd promised the Animorphs a clothing delivery and a ride home if we could swing it.

It's not that no one at the Sharing knew they were planning an attack-- the meeting had been interrupted for a quick conference of the high up muckety mucks. We weren't a part of that meeting. Nestreen isn't a high enough level Yeerk. But rumor had it that the Andalite bandits had attacked a warehouse downtown and more Hork Bajir shock troops were needed to defend it.

Go, Midget.

And the Yeerks had no clue that the bandits weren't Andalites. Well, not all of them. They were either five humans and an Andalite or four humans, one red-tailed hawk, and one Andalite, depending on how you wanted to count Tobias.

It's a long story on how I managed to find out about them. The short version is Nestreen is a member of the Yeerk Peace Movement, and now I am as well. Nestreen's official duty is YPM/Animorph relations. My unofficial duty is Animorph big brother.

That night, either duty boiled down to the same thing: be available for drop off and pick up. Or at least have the car outside the Sharing meeting stocked with inconspicuous clothes.

I got into the car and pulled onto the highway.

<Watch your speed, Tom,> Nestreen wheedled as I accelerated and pulled out into traffic. Then into the left lane to pass a slow poke. <We don't want to have an accident.>

<Judging from what I overheard, I need to get there ten minutes ago,> I replied. <This sounds like their worst mission ever.>

Nestreen tutted. <Want me to take over?>

<Try it and I'll put you in a glass of saltwater when you least expect it,> I retorted, pulling back into the left lane in front of the pokey car.

<Then be careful,> he retorted, as I slowed the car to a few miles above the speed limit.

It was twenty minutes before I pulled into the parking lot of a 7-11 a few blocks from the warehouse. In a nondescript part of town where I shouldn't encounter any other controllers.

Except Vinnie, who was the night manager of the 7-11, but he was one of us. The Animorphs were not inside checking out the comic books as they were supposed to be.

I frowned.

<They are probably hiding, their morphing clothes might have attracted undue attention,> Nestreen soothed.

I sighed as we got out of the car and surveyed the area. The 7-11, and buildings around it, were small and dingy, but lacked such obvious bad neighborhood clues as broken glass and security gates.

<I'm allowed to worry,> I said.

<You're going to make yourself sick.>

<Nestreen, are you sure you're not a female?>

Nestreen sent me the image of a pig. I rolled my eyes and opened the trunk of the car, hoisting the duffle bag of clothing concealed inside.

I heard a bird cry above me and looked up. Soaring about 100 feet above the buildings was red-tailed hawk. <Hi, Tom.>

Tobias isn't as cheery as he usually is. He's been that way since I failed to help the Animorphs with the antimorphing ray and he had to go in alone. He was tortured.

I'm not capable of thought-speak, so I just waved as subtly as I could.

<Follow me.>

Nestreen and I followed the hawk, and eventually came to an alley with the other four Animorphs.

Ax leaned against a wall in his strikingly eerie human morph, staring curiously at Rachel and Marco.

"I'm telling you, Xena, we needed to cut our losses," Marco insisted.

"Are you insane? We could've beaten them, I just needed a little more time!"

"Rachel, the door was closing..."

"So?" Rachel said, starting to tower over Marco.

Tobias landed on her shoulder. He must've said something in private thought-speak, because Rachel folded her arms and frowned.

"What's the matter, Xena? Bird boy..."

"Do you guys want more controllers to find you?" I scolded. "I've got clothes, why don't you two get dressed and take a chill pill?"

Marco rolled his eyes, but he and Rachel approached the duffle bag and dug through to find their bags of regular clothes that they'd left with me earlier. Neither of them said a word.

It was then I noticed Cassie.

She sat against the wall of a brick building to my left, arms hugging her chest. Tears fell in a river down her cheeks. Jake was standing a few feet away from her, glaring, his arms crossed.

Rachel and Marco had already finished getting dressed, but Jake and Cassie hadn't moved.

"Midget? Cassie? Clothes?" I asked. It seemed like the kind of thing that could be best dealt with after we dropped off Rachel and Marco, with just the three of us in the car.

Jake stepped forward and pulled a bag out of the duffle bag. He recognized the clothing as Cassie's. "Think fast."

He threw it at her. The bag bounced off Cassie's shoulder and landed at her side.

Cassie didn't even respond.

Whatever had happened, it was bad.

I thwapped Jake over the head. "What's wrong with you?"

"Me?" Jake fumed, shaking a finger at me. "What's wrong with HER? We're in the middle of a war. There are times when if we don't kill Hork Bajir, they're going to kill us! Our kind. Our families. She needs to get used to it, not turn into some sniveling crybaby!"

"Jake, ease up on her!" Rachel said, and sat down next to Cassie, as if she had just noticed her friend's predicament.

I shook my head and thwapped Jake over the head again. I realized where this was coming from. But Jake was too freaked out to be self-aware. I needed to get him to look in the right place.

"Ease up on her?" Jake fumed.

"Yes, Midget," I said.

"She..."

"Stop it! Cassie wouldn't be Cassie if she didn't see both sides of the issue. You want to know what's keeping you guys from turning into them? You all ask me about this all the time. It's seeing the other side. It's fighting in defense of the planet and not just for kicking Yeerk butt. Cassie helps you see that. And she wouldn't be Cassie if she wasn't reacting like this. And Jake, isn't that what you..."

Jake clapped his hand over my mouth and glared at me before I could finish the thought. I winked. OK, I could see how me blabbing to the whole group that Jake was in love with Cassie could be a problem. But how else was I supposed to snap him out of it?

Cassie sobbed. Jake dropped his hands to his sides, then strode the distance between him and Cassie. He sat next to her, taking her into his arms. "Shh, it's OK. We're not turning into them. Do you think those Hork-Bajir are crying over us? --- I mean their Yeerks." Jake stumbled over the correction.

Cassie shook her head, and her tears started to trail off. Jake sat there, letting one arm drop to his side, and using the other hand to make soothing circles on her back with his palm.

Marco opened his mouth to say something, but I hightailed it over to him and clapped a hand over his mouth. Rachel grinned and gave me the thumbs up.

We both knew that now was not the time for Marco's lame sense of humor.

I glanced at the end of the alley over my shoulder. And realized there were a few people passing by. And a few of those people were giving us double takes.

"Hey, guys, I think we'd better get going, before we start attracting attention," I said.

Jake nodded. He took Cassie's t-shirt out of her bag and handed it to her. Cassie pulled it over her head obediently. Jake followed that with her jeans.

While Cassie was pulling those over her biking shorts, I handed Jake his bag. He his clothes on over his morphing outfit quickly.

"Midget, your shirt's on backwards," I teased.

Jake rolled his eyes and turned it around.

Cassie, in the meantime, had gotten her shoes on.

"OK, Animorphs, let's get in the car and make like a bunch of teenagers on a road trip," I said, folding the duffle bag so I could carry it in my hands.

As we hit the parking lot and I put the duffle in the trunk, Rachel glanced at the 7-11. "Who wants chocolate?"

"Slurpees," Marco said.

I rolled my eyes, but I knew they'd had a rough night. "OK."

Nestreen nudged at the corners of my mind, but it was more of a suggestion than a command.

<Why?>

<What else are you doing to do with your allowance?>

<Nudge,> I blasted at him. Out loud, all I said was, "My treat."

The End

Like this story? Thank Emily for being so insistent that I write this sequel. If you feel like it, feel free to drop me a line as well.
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