Animorphs – Beauty and Beast

<Not to sound like a five year old, but…are we there yet?>

<Almost.>

I angled my wings for a slow descent and circled lower. My eyes don’t work the best in the low light of evening – that’s more the domain of owls than hawks. But I had a reason for flying late tonight when most hawks would be settled in their trees avoiding the night predators.

I had a date.

Well, we never specifically said it was a date, honestly. But two people, a boy and a girl, going out to a remote area to see something really cool at night, together – that qualifies as a date, right?

I hate feeling so unsure of myself, but when you’re as disconnected from humanity as I’ve gotten, it’s hard to remember exactly what constitutes what most people think of as “normal.”

I wouldn’t have even known about what would happen tonight if it weren’t for Ax and his internet obsession. Ever since he cobbled together that laptop-esque computer for his Scoop, he’s been on it almost all the time. He claims he’s researching, trying to figure out how far the Yeerks have penetrated into the controlling parts of the tech world, but I see Astronomy sites and more than occasionally the official site of quite a few soap operas on that screen.

Sometimes Ax forgets just how good my eyes are.

I hit a pocket of dead air and drop about three feet. <Dead zone, watch it.>

Rachel, a bald eagle about ten feet above me, flaps a couple of times. <Where?>

<It’s alright – the eagle knows what to do. Just keep coming down. We’re almost there.> I angle my wings and swoop back around to make sure she cuts through the dead zone alright.

<Whoa!> I see her wobble a bit as she drops, but then the wind catches her wings again and she’s steady once more. <Ugh, that put my stomach in my throat.>

<It’s just a dead air zone. One of the reasons I don’t like flying at night. It’s like an anti-thermal.> I flap a couple of times and aim myself back toward our goal – a small boat, or, rather, the remains of a small boat out in the middle of this mountain lake.

<Is that a houseboat?> Rachel asks, and I can almost imagine her squinting her eagle eyes, trying to get a better look.

<I think it was, once. It’s just a wreck now. I’ve been up here every night for two weeks – it’s abandoned and run around on that little atoll.> I fan my tail to make use of the sparse night winds, especially this high up in the mountains. It’s easier to fly higher, but we’re below the tree line now and it’s taking skill to stay aloft. I drop my talons and land softly on the upward tilted roof of the abandoned houseboat, and Rachel landed beside me a moment later. <OK, we’re here.>

Rachel cocked her head and looked around. <It’s going to be really dark down here in a few minutes.>

<Demorph. We’ll be fine, I promise.> And I start my own morph to human. As awesome as what we’re going to see would be with hawk’s eyes, hawks don’t have arms.

In a few moments, we’re sitting on the slanted roof, our legs dangling over the edge, side by side. I glance up at the stars and try to remember how to smile – not that Rachel can see me. The moment our raptor vision turned to human, it became far too dark to see any details of each other – though her blonde hair still had a slight halo glow in the moonlight.

“It’s nice and quiet out here,” Rachel said quietly. The only sound was crickets in the surrounding woods and the quiet lap of the lake water against the grounded houseboat.

“Yeah.” I laid back on the slanted roof, and patted next to me. “Show’s about to start.”

“What show?” She gave a laugh. “Why do you have to be so secretive sometimes?”

“Because it wouldn’t be a surprise otherwise.” Now I do smile. It comes so naturally when I’m with Rachel. I forget to make human expressions a lot otherwise. When you spend all of your time as a hawk with almost no facial muscles, it’s far too easy to lose affectation entirely. Though that has saved my life a few times.

Rachel laughed again, a quiet sound, and then laid out next to me. Her head landed on my outstretched arm, and she took the unspoken invitation to snuggle up against me. We were both wearing nothing but our morphing suits – hers a leotard and mine an odd combination of bicycle shorts and a too-tight tank top, but the night was warm and comfortable.

It made me happy to know she snuggled against me not for warmth, but just to be with me. My fingers played with her long hair as we looked up at the sky. This would have been a nice date in and of itself, but I knew it was about to get better.

“Oh!” It had begun. Rachel gasped as the first barrage of shooting stars began to light up the night sky. “A meteor shower! I didn’t know there was going to be one tonight.”

“Not that any of us keep up on current astronomical events,” I said wryly. “I only knew because I saw it on one of Ax’s astronomy websites a month ago.” It had taken the better part of the last three weeks to find this prime viewing spot and stake it out to make sure it was abandoned. I’d asked Rachel on this date two days ago, after an assault on the Yeerks that nearly killed both of us.

It hadn’t been the most romantic timing…but I didn’t really care. I couldn’t imagine what my life would have been like if I lost Rachel. I didn’t see myself clinging to the human world for long if that ever happened.

Hawks don’t mourn for long.

“Mmm. Ok, this is definitely worth the night flight,” Rachel sighed contentedly, watching as wave after wave of shooting stars crossed our wide open field of vision.

“With all the danger that comes from up there, it’s nice to remember there are beautiful things, too. Everything’s a balance,” I said quietly. “Death and life, danger and safety…”

“Beauty and the beast?” she whispered, and I could feel her turn to look at me.

It was such an accurate statement to describe us on so many levels.

Beauty – there she was, the middle school goddess, the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. The kind of girl who goes through life with her own personal spotlight on her – and people notice it and treat her like she’s the star of the show.

The Beast – me. A wild red-tailed hawk, bloody beak and talons. The picture of natural savagery – grace and cunning coming together in a perfectly designed bringer of death. A predator, murderer of small rodents and just about anything else I could catch.

But there was a beast in the beauty as well – Rachel wasn’t some vapid valley girl with her little stereotypical clique that thinks about nothing but boys and fashion. Rachel was a warrior. I’ve seen her tear a Hork-Bajir’s arm off and club it to death with its own blades. I’ve seen her tear out the throat of another Hork-Bajir while one arm is wrapped around her middle holding her own guts in. I’ve witnessed the terrible beauty of Rachel in a fight – equal parts beauty and beast in that as well.

And I suppose there was a beauty in me as well – who’s never looked up at a hawk riding the thermals and wished they could fly with them. Seen that red tail backlit by sunlight and didn’t think it was a kind of fierce beauty in and of itself. There was even a beauty in the way I kill, when I thought about it. A swift and merciful end, talons piercing skull, slicing spine. I brought a quick death to those I killed so that I could survive.

“Yeah,” I said finally, pulling Rachel close against me as the meteors streaked across the sky above us. “Yeah, definitely.” I turned my head and pressed a soft kiss into her hair. She smelled like strawberries and cream today. “Just like us.”

I could hear the smile in her voice. “Just like us.”

And I didn’t have to ask to know that, as we laid out there like the last two people on earth, watching space rocks streak to their deaths in our atmosphere, her thoughts and mine weren’t a duality at all.

They were just the same.