Jake dismounted from the direhorse's back, turning around briefly to unstrap the sack of supplies from the beast's back. The hunt had gone well for the Omatakaya, them having taken two sturmbeest, one of which he shot from the back of his banshee as he dove over the wetlands. Jake opened the sack and peered inside, the strips of smoked and preserved meat smelling irresistible to him. He'd started his journey to the link shack in the early morning, and had just arrived in the woods surrounding it a little after noon.
In the past, he'd spoken with Grace about whether or not humans could eat any Pandoran animals. She said that most of the common meats had tested fine for human consumption, but that it wasn't something base operations put a priority on exploiting given the availability of imported Earth food. He took a small strip of meat out of the sack, smelling it briefly before putting it whole in his mouth. He needed to be careful, or there wouldn't be anything left for his friends by the time he got to the shack.
"Stay here," he said to the horse as he tugged his queue away. The horse snorted in reply, and set it's head down to the ground, looking at the surrounding vegetation for something to eat.
The previous evening, he'd asked Neytiri if it would be acceptable for him to take a portion of meat back to his friends. He thought it appropriate to ask, seeing how he was the one who'd taken the beast down. She wasn't opposed to the idea explicitly, although he could tell she wasn't enthused. Mo'at was within listening distance, and asked him who he intended to bring it to. When he mentioned Grace, their resistance seemed to soften, and they said it would be fine. Before the he'd gone to sleep that evening, Mo'at had approached him, asking him to deliver a message to Grace, and to his other avatar friend.
He sensed that Neytiri didn't feel as cold toward Grace as she led him to believe. He knew that Grace had been very much involved in her younger life. He guessed that Neytiri still regarded Grace highly, but had kept her distance for other reasons.
The trees up on this mountain were much shorter than down in the valley below, where they grew to unbelievable heights. The trees here seemed to peak at about a hundred feet tall, and the ground was a bit drier, evidenced by the dry leaves and twigs which snapped and crunched underfoot. The path had become too thick with brush and small trees for the horse to continue, so he was was just going to go the rest of the way on foot. It wasn't a big deal, since he was pretty sure he was near the top of the cliff anyway.
As he walked along, he became aware that the brush had been parted recently. Certain twigs and leaves had been brushed out of the way and tangled with to each other, meaning something had walked through there recently. He set his ears straight up, and slowed his pace some so he could hear better. His mind went to the bow on his back, thinking that he may need to drop the sack of supplies in a hurry of something attacked.
He went through a bend in the recently used trail, and nearly jumped when he saw someone a few meters away, kneeling close to the ground. His worry evaporated instantly as he recognized Grace's avatar. Her attention was absorbed by a few glass vials with bits of leaves in them. His footsteps, which seemed incredibly loud to him, didn't get any reaction from Grace. He paused, wishing that his presence was noticed sooner so as not to startle her.
The problem was solved for him as a twig snapped underfoot, and this time, Grace heard it, her ears angling toward him before her head spun around, her eyes wide open in shock. Her mouth fell agape for a moment as she looked at him, then she seemed to regain her composure.
"Kaltxi, Ngenga lu tupe?" She inquired curiously.
Jake smiled, almost laughed as he realized that she didn't recognize him. "Oe lu JakeSully," he replied in his best Na'vi accent.
"Jake! Kempe si nga,...Uh," She put her hand to her forehead, clearly dazed by his sudden appearance. "What are you doing?"
He couldn't wipe the grin off his face, "I'm here to hopefully give us some real food to eat," He held up the sack of dried meat. "Sturmbeest," he explained.
Grace looked between him and the sack of food. "What the hell marine!" she said, her mouth still agape as she looked at him. "You lose your clothes somewhere?"
He realized in amusement that this was the first time she'd seen him since he'd been living among the Na'vi. "I got rid of those the first day," he said with a grin.
She started chuckling, "Jesus, with the warpaint and the loincloth..." She shook her head. "Norm and Trudy have got to see this."
"How far away are they?"
Grace pointed up the slope. "Only a kilometer or so," she said.
"A Kilo...Jeez," he said, thinking how off his distance estimation had been.
"Come on," Grace said, gesturing with an amused smile. She bent down, putting all her plant samples in her back sack before putting it on her back and standing up again. "I'm sure they'll appreciate the fresh food."
"Yeah," Jake said, following the trail behind Grace. "Well, to be honest, it's more for me than it is for you guys."
Grace turned and looked at him wryly. "Frozen bean burritos not doing it for you?"
"No," he said flatly. "No I'd like to eat something that actually has a taste to it."
"I know how that feels," Grace said. "Having to eat for two bodies, and then the second time, having to eat something that tastes like paper."
"Yeah, hopefully, this will add a bit of variety."
Grace turned around quickly, a bit of concern showing on her face. "What kind of spices did they put in there?"
"Uh well...this is just salt...I'm pretty sure."
Grace eyed him warily. "You have to be careful. A certain spice that a Na'vi or an avatar can eat all day might kill a human."
"Yeah...I'm pretty sure this was just salted. I watched everything they did to prepare the meat."
"I assume this is part of the animal you took down?"
"Sure is," he said proudly.
"Well, good work taronyu."
Grace turned her eyes intently to the trail ahead and picked up the pace. The trail was literally an indentation in the brush, worn there from the frequent trips Grace made into the forest. For the next kilometer, the trees and shrubs became progressively thinner, and shorter.
"Grace, there's something Mo'at wanted me to tell you. She stopped abruptly as she turned around, the beads in her hair clattering gently. Her ears stood straight up and forward, and her tail became motionless. "She says you and Norm are invited to the after-hunt party they're having this evening." Grace was immobile for a moment, and he could see the shock in her eyes. Finally, she came back to to her senses.
"I never thought they would see me again," Grace said, her voice a little less jovial than it had been.
"I don't know a whole lot about what happened between them, but apparently, Eytukan gave the OK."
"It's hard to believe, after all these years..." She trailed off as she stepped forward. Jake could see the clearing ahead, and the expanse of open sky which was just over the cliff side. In the distance, the sky to the south over the mountains was dark and cloudy, although in this spot, the sun shone brightly and warm. A gentle gust of wind kicked up, bringing with it a pocket of fresh air, contrasting with the loamy sweet scent of the forest floor. The grass surrounding the clearing reflected sunlight and shimmered like waves in the gentle wind.
As they both approached the clearing, they saw two figures lying in the grass, Norm and Trudy, both wearing exo-packs. Their focus was entirely on each other, and neither of them noticed the two ten-foot tall leonine aliens approaching them.
Jake grinned widely, and looked to Grace. Grace simply rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Those two have too much time alone."
"I see an opportunity," Jake said, grinning in glee over the the joke that had entered his mind.
"For what?" Grace asked. Jake motioned silence, putting his finger over his lips. He set the sack of supplies down, and crouched low into the grass, circling around to come up behind the two. The wind provided cover for the sound he made as he stalked forward. He came to within a few feet of the two, still holding onto each other, possibly speaking sweet nothings to each other.
Jake put on fiercest look he could manage, pinning his ears flat to his head. He let out a ferocious primal snarl, half between a hiss and a roar.
The reaction was nothing short of expectation. "Holy fuckin shit!" Trudy yelled out, scrambling to her feet promptly. Norm wasn't quite so physically apt, and fell over almost as soon as he got to his feet, taking Trudy back down to the ground.
"We are friends!" Norm said in highly accented Na'vi. "Please don't hurt us!"
Norm and Trudy lay on the ground, tangled in a haphazard heap, their mouths wide open in astonishment for the briefest of moments. If ever there was a picture he wanted to take and hang up on the wall, this would be it.
"I have come to see how the tawtute mate with each other," Jake said, trying like hell not to grin. He felt his lips quivering, but Norm didn't seem to notice, staring with what must have the holy of holy feelings of disbelief. "You may proceed!"
"Uh... Oh...uhhhhhh." His ability to speak seemed to leave him, and he simply made a strange groaning noise.
"It's me guys," Jake said, releasing the grin which had been threatening to burst.
"Oh my god!" Norm said, untangling himself and standing on his feet.
"What the hell Jake!" Trudy shouted as she stood up, her Marine attitude taking over.
Jake could only smile, laughing almost to the point of falling over in the grass.
"You...You think this is funny?" Norm asked incredulously. The sound of Grace's laughter drifted on the wind from the edge of the clearing.
"That's not cool Jake," Trudy warned.
Trudy's warning broke him out of his laughter, but he still grinned. "What, can't I have a laugh?"
Grace approached, holding the carry sack of meat. "What were you two doing?" she asked. From her lofty vantage point over the two, she seemed quite like a stern mother giving a lecture.
"Well, uh, we...we were uh," Norm said lamely.
"If you two are going to be outside, don't you think you should be keeping an eye out for predators."
Trudy was too smart to give any back talk, but Norm seemed to be asking for a verbal slapping. "We were."
"Uh huh," Grace said, not buying it. "If this moron here," she said, pointing at Jake, "can stomp up to you two and give you that kind of scare, what do you think a viperwolf could do?"
"Oh gosh," Norm said, turning pale.
"It's tempting to get lulled into the paradise sense, but you have to remember to pay attention and not set yourselves up like that."
The two looked from him, to Grace to each other.
"Jake brought us some food," Grace said more calmly, gesturing to the sack. "Smoked sturmbeest."
Jake stood up, allowing the grin to linger on his face. "Norm and Grace also have an invitation to a little get-together the clan is having."
Norm's face was priceless. "Are you kidding? They're actually letting us in?"
"Yeah," Jake confirmed.
"Here," Grace said, handing the sack over to Norm. "Take this inside."
The man took the sack, opening it to look inside briefly before running excitedly up the steps into the link shack. "I'll connect with my avatar in just a minute," he called out from the open airlock.
Jake watched as Trudy's slight grin turned into a smile, and then to an all out laugh. "Jake," she said gesturing to his general physique. She laughed even harder. "Get some clothes on."
Suddenly being in the presence of several fully clothed persons caused a bit of self awareness. He unconsciously put his hands behind his back to cover his mostly exposed rear end.