Mertil pawed at the tuft of grass poking up from the snow. It had been a long, hard winter in the mountains, and he wasn't adapted to survival in such harsh conditions; weather on the Andalite home world was much milder. The Animorph Cassie had brought blankets and hay and oats for him, making the dangerous journey every couple of weeks to bring him fresh supplies and make sure he was well. And then this morning, Tobias had spotted this little patch of spring while hunting his own breakfast. It was still cold, though, and he pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders.
He missed Gafinilan. It had been nearly three earth years since his death, and mostly, Mertil was alright; mostly he could not think about it in the daily struggle just to survive. But this was a moment he would have shared with Gafinilan.
This would have been a happy memory.
Mertil remembered the morning he woke up and Gafinilan didn't; he'd found Gafinilan simply curled up on the ground, gasping and shaking, drifting in and out of consciousness, rambling incoherently about past battles and their time at the Academy. In the last few hours he'd slipped into a deep sleep; he'd looked peaceful, like he hadn't looked in years. Mertil knelt by his side, stroking the fine white hair back from his forehead and holding his hand, even though it was a human gesture, and Gafinilan had always frowned on Mertil's interest in human culture, valuing the knowledge only so they could adapt to life on earth. When Gafinilan had taken his last, shuddering breath, Mertil had held himself completely still, refusing to dishonor Gafinilan's final moments with hysterics, even though he felt--empty didn't begin to cover it.
He was alone, on a doomed alien world. The person who meant more to him than anything else in the universe, who'd saved his life, given him hope, still saw him as someone worth loving, was dead. The only other of his kind left on the planet could barely stand the sight of him, would have preferred he'd had the decency to die of his wound instead of lingering in disgrace as a vecol.
Briefly, he considered ending his own life. Better to die by his own hand, surely, than wait for the Yeerks to complete their conquest. Death came to everyone eventually; why not meet his end on his own terms?
But he stayed his hand. All this time on earth, he and Gafinilan had survived, thrived even, when they'd had no reason to hope for such an outcome. Giving up now, taking the easy way out of his life and grief would be a betrayal of Gafinilan. So he chose to endure.
He emailed all of Henry McClellan's colleagues and acquaintances at the university, explaining that there had been a sudden family emergency and he would be leaving the country for the next few months to set his affairs in order. There had been one or two replies of well wishes and safe travel, and then nothing. So he at least had a respite in which he didn't have to worry about human meddling. Gafinilan had saved up quite a bit of human money, some legitimately earned, most not, and he could continue his secret existence for at least the next several years, paying what expenses came up via the internet. Gafinilan had left him well provided for.
And then came the day that the Yeerks finally escalated the war. Henry McClellan's house was in the ring of destruction the Yeerks created, trying to destroy the Animorphs and make it impossible for anyone to approach the Yeerk Pool undetected.
The force field held, however. Mertil even managed to fiddle with the projector so that the secret part of the house looked like so much rubble.
So he waited. Still unwilling to take his own life, still clinging to impossible, stupid hope, Gafinilan's legacy.
And now he lived under open sky again. He wasn't even alone anymore. The nothlit Tobias couldn't heal the part of him that was still hurting, that would always hurt, but he too, had lost a part of himself. He too was an outcast, viewed with pity and disgust by his own kind. Sometimes they talked, always at night, so the darkness protected them, so that the things they told each other seemed comfortably remote, as if it was some other Tobias or Mertil they were talking about. And during the day they were both too busy surviving to dwell on their private griefs.
But still, there were always moments like this, little, seemingly insignificant moments when Mertil couldn't help but think of the might-have-beens, like sharing the simple delight of the first taste of fresh grass after a winter of hay and oats.
After overcoming impossible odds, soul wrenching loss and loneliness, Mertil didn't even know what to hope for anymore, but as the sun rose over the crest of the trees, even though this moment was bittersweet, he hoped.