I was really struck by something I read in one of your earlier replies to an ask, which was "we’ll never know what Rachel would have done after the war ended", and I wondered if perhaps you may actually have some thought about what might have happened if she did? How WOULD Rachel, who thrived in war, adapt to the mundane life after?
After a while Rachel’s aunt and uncle get so used to her stopping by that they just make her a copy of their house key; it’s easier than answering the door all the time or leaving a window open for her, besides which they’re grateful because she’s there almost every day to bully Jake out of bed and into the world to go do something. Most days it’s just attending Habitat for Humanity builds in the devastated areas downtown or visiting kids from the local hospital who idolize them both. Rachel doesn’t mind dragging Jake out of his room at all, because while Tobias is good for taking random college classes or exploring new parts of the country with her, there are still plenty of stupid things that she can only talk Jake into doing. Together they surf during hurricanes, skydive without parachutes, swim to the bottom of the ocean as orcas and throw themselves off cliffs as birds of prey.
Rachel doesn’t pretend to understand what he’s going through, because she quite simply can’t—if she even tries to think about what it would be like if it was Jordan or Sarah she’d had to kill during that last battle, she tends to lose the ability to breathe. But while she can’t give him empathy she can give him this: the scream of wind rushing past their bodies as they hurl toward the ground at nearly a hundred miles an hour, the incomparable thrill of the ground approaching them faster than an oncoming train, the moment of simple euphoria during that millisecond decision to once again open one’s wings and tell death not today. He doesn’t smile much, and never laughs, but that’s always been true to some extent. She doesn’t concern herself with making him smile, but with forcing him to gasp for air in his refusal to give up on life, to morph when not doing so would mean drowning in the cold Pacific, to swerve a second away from spattering on the ground. Because she’s the only one who understands the power of those moments to make them forget everything in the world except the heady rush of being so goddamn alive they can barely even stand it.
It’s strange, really, how tough and showy they can be around each other most of the time… and how vulnerable they can become when no one else is around. Rachel’s pretty sure she’s the only one who ever saw Marco cry after they all watched Eva’s body tumble hundreds of yards to its apparent death, and she knows for certain that she’s the only one to whom he says “it’s like we never really got her back at all,” the day his parents announce their divorce. In public Rachel and Marco become even more themselves, one-upping each other to see who can come out with the most embarrassing story in round after round of interviews and bantering at lightning speed as live studio audiences laugh and cheer. Rachel gives a hysterical, exaggerated account of Marco’s failed attempt at gatecrashing William Roger Tennant’s award banquet; Marco comes back with a heroic narrative of how his llama-self saved an entire television studio from the crocodile Rachel conveniently forgot to mention she had puked out backstage. When talking about the time Helmacrons invaded Marco’s nose, they each manage to make the whole mess entirely into the other one’s fault.
In private, they sit on the back porch of Marco’s primary house once a week and work their way through a bottle of triple sec they’re definitely too young to own. It’s during those long evenings as the sun sets over the Newport Beach mansions that they air the things to each other they’ve never told a living soul before. Marco talks about the hard bright-edged joy of watching 17,000 yeerks sucked into space and only being able to imagine their screams. Rachel confesses to having cried herself to sleep after she and Ax dropped David on that island. They air their sickest thoughts, lance their most pus-rotted wounds, spew poison at each other because they know that they are both strong enough (hard enough, cold enough, ruthless enough) to take it and give back in turn.
Rachel’s honestly not sure how far Cassie would have gotten, politically, if not for her help. Because that girl might have passion and conscience and common sense to spare, but Rachel’s not sure she’s met a more appearance-clueless person in her life. The world of politics runs on fashion and makeup, though, especially if one happens to be a woman, and any time Cassie’s about to go tell the United Nations why they need to update the Universal Declaration of Human Rights today to include the hork-bajir and taxxons, or to scold Congress into giving the ex-hosts war reparations and not murder charges, Rachel is there in the background helping. She shows Cassie the power of stalking into a room in a pair of towering heels, the ways to make a string of pearls or a Chanel handbag into a weapon of power. Cassie laughs incredulously every time Rachel shows up at her house with a literal truckload of perfectly-tailored business suits and evening gowns, but over time she starts to understand just how much her reputation for being as elegant as she is fierce can work in her favor.
Rachel, in turn, starts to put out patents for the kind of clothes Cassie would love: comfortable and practical items that can be worn for years without needing replacement. Rachel figures that if she’s an international trendsetter already (and she is: her line of perfume makes millions every year, while black leotards are debuting on Paris runways) then she might as well have her best friend and the world of high fashion meet in the middle. Of course Rachel doesn’t explicitly mention that her patent-leather pumps with arch support and heel padding are inspired by the experience of trying on Cassie’s Timberlands, or that her choice of size-16 models for all her advertisements comes from making dresses that would fit Cassie and sizing up or down from there. But what’s most amazing to her is that the other dressmakers and shoe lines start to emulate her choices, emphasizing the comfort and sturdiness of everything they make even as they tout it as “cutting edge.” If Rachel has dragged Cassie into being a fashion icon, then it turns out Cassie might just have dragged Rachel into being a social justice warrior along the way.
Ax seems somewhat dumbfounded when Rachel explains that there’s an Earth tradition that any ship’s captain can perform a marriage ceremony, and that even if there’s no law on the books about this particular power she wants him to do it anyway. She’s not sure herself how her and Tobias’s small private ceremony (at least, that was the intention) has grown so much, but even she has to admit that somewhere between the 230-person guest list, the custom chuppah to be hand-embroidered by a team of local artists, the five-tier cake imported from a German bakery, and the dress which is personally designed by Alexander McQueen, things might have gotten slightly out of hand. Ax takes the duties very seriously, practicing the strange mouth sounds he has to recite more than once in advance and promising solemnly that he will not eat any of the cake until Rachel and Tobias have had the chance to cut it.
He serves as their best man as well (probably breaking with tradition, not that they care) and the speech he makes afterward is surprisingly heartfelt. «There has been no greater honor in my life than to fight by your side,» he tells them, «and I owe you both my life many times over. I owe you more than that, of course, for you have made this strange planet my home when I came to you lost and alone. I am not sure what humans traditionally wish for each other with a bond such as this, so I will wish you this much: may your lives be long, may your battles be easily won, may you be loved and feared in equal measure, and may your chili always be perfectly seasoned.»
It’s not like they get jobs, or hold down formal obligations, or do anything more structured than attend occasional classes at UCSB or consult with the fashion agency that sends Rachel freelance checks. So there’s really no reason they can’t continue their odd lifestyle, only in the same form at the same time for two hours at most. At least, that’s how it is for the first several years… and then one day Rachel comes out of the bathroom, a tiny white stick in her hand, and they both realize their lives are never going to be the same again. Tobias is terrified, of course: he’s been abandoned (voluntarily or not) by two parents, four guardians, and countless authority figures, and he’s got no reason to believe he’ll be any different. But he knows what the first step will be in committing to raising this baby for real. And so he morphs human for the very last time.
In the years that follow, after their daughter eventually gets a little brother as well, Rachel and Tobias become more boring than they ever could have hoped for. Rachel starts working full-time as a fashion designer, while Tobias finishes an advanced degree in graphic design and gets a job with the marketing branch of the same company. They go to PTA meetings and teach their daughter softball, buy a sedan with good gas mileage and a two-story house in Mendocino County where the reporters can’t find them. They still get restless sometimes, leaving the kids with Loren or Sarah for a week or two at a time to go white-water rafting on the Colorado River or to climb mountains in Tanzania, but they always miss the kids enough to come home before long. They donate thousands of dollars to end world hunger every year, and they fundraise millions more. Someday they’ll retire. Someday after that they’ll die. For now, however, they’re alive, and that’s enough.