"here there dwells a shell of a form"

Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: PG
Time Frame: Missing scenes
Characters: Neytiri, Jake S.

Summary: His human body was so small, so fragile. Under her hands his skin was like paper, his bones like glass . . .

Notes: I was just filling in some scenes between the final battle, and Jake's rebirth. It led to opportunities for all sorts of fun things. (For those of you who follow my work, I have a few more of these oneshots, and then plans for a longer story as well. So stay tuned!)

That and a big ol' dedication goes to Jedi X-Man Serena Kenobi for this fic! She is officially the best Avatar writer I've found on this site, and if you haven't read her stuff yet, you should!!

Disclaimer: Nothing is mine but for the words.


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"here there dwells a shell of a form"

by Mira-Jade

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She had thought that she had known true fear in her life before. This emotion was something completely new – something raw and hoarse that made her blood speed up until its flow was painful. There was red before her eyes, a quiver to her limbs that seeped down to invade her bones, before sinking into every fiber of her being.

She remembered little of the human Colonel's death, save for the fierce desire to protect her own that erased every other sense – sight, and sound, and even thought. She only knew something savage and overwhelming that guided her hand, and burst into relief when the man hit the ground dead.

There was something more wrong, more dangerous than the dead man's intentions though. She realized it when Jake's body was unresponsive, his eyes resolutely closed.

He was one of them, he had said.

Immediately, she took off for the mass of metal that sullied the forest behind them, knowing that there she'd find Jake – as he truly was. Sure enough, there was a human man on the floor, pale and listless, with twitching limbs and a face turned in an expression of agony.

"Jake!" she exclaimed as she climbed over the overturned consoles and the glass. Her feet slid on the floor, finding no traction within the human contraption. She dropped to her knees by his side when it became apparent that there was something wrong with him. She reached a hand to support his head and draw his body to her – and Eywa, but he was so small against her hold, now. His human body was so small, so fragile. Under her hands his skin was like paper, his bones like glass . . .

"Jake?" she said again, her voice frantic as she looked for a sign of injury, of something wrong that she could fix . . .

His lungs quivered as if he were trying to suck in a breath through water. He was drowning. Suffocating. Air, she realized. He needed to breath. Her world's air was toxic to him . . . Briefly, she recalled the lessons from Doctor Grace on Earth and her people. Earth's people, so fragile and weary, building monsters of unnatural metal and fire to make up for what their bodies so clearly lacked . . .

Her hands trembled when she pressed the mask over his face. They had not yet trembled the whole battle through.

"Jake!" she exclaimed, hoping that he would respond to her voice, her touch.

"Jake, please!" there was something frantic in her tone, turning her voice into a whisper of a yell. She recognized the terror there. That, at least, seemed to draw his mind from where it was seeking infinity. Her breath caught in her throat as his eyes widened, shock and desperation showing in the white about his pupils as he fumbled desperately at the mask on his face. When he was successful in pressing a button she had not thought to look for, fog steamed up the mask as he let out great, shuddering breathes.

Neytiri had never been so relieved in her life. "Jake?" she whispered again.

She could feel his lungs quiver as she drew him to her, doing her best not to deprive him of his breath even as she felt the need to curl up inside of him and stay there until she could no longer.

When the strength returned to his limbs, she felt his arms hesitantly return her embrace, bewildered and exhausted.

She had never felt more secure in her entire life.

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She had known from the first that there was something wrong. Even after Jake had breathed again, he had not had full control of his limbs. His hands were assured and steady – the warrior she had come to know and love down to every bone - but he could not stand. His legs refused to work for him when she got to her feet, assuming that he would follow her now that he was better.

Instantly, she had recognized the emotion in his eyes as shame. Even in this human body, she could still feel traces of him in her mind with the bond they shared as mates through Eywa. It was dim, but she could feel his disgust as clearly as if he had shouted it from the heavens.

It was a disgust with himself, she realized with a pang that was sharper than any enemy's blow. His disgust and revilement cut like barbs through her skin as he took a deep breath, and reached out listlessly for the chair that had been overturned in the scuffle.

Immediately, she understood. She moved to help him, but stopped when she felt a hand on her wrist.

"Please, Neytiri, I've got this."

She nodded, biting her lip as she watched Jake struggle to pull his body into the metal chair. His arms were strong, but his legs refused to help. He was so tired from the battle before . . . So tired when she was so used to seeing him as nothing less than absolutely strong. Here was her world's savior, her people's uniter, and the man she had pledged her very life to . . . struggling just to raise himself from the ground.

She was surprised when she felt something wet and burning behind her eyes. Eywa, but wasn't she out of tears by now? She was so ready to be happy again . . .

A moment passed, and Jake finally righted himself in the chair. When he reached down to push the wheels along, she understood its purpose. He could not walk without this artificial aide. Truly, in this form, he was as helpless as the babe she had first compared him to.

Outside of the bunker, she could hear the great flapping of wings as several of her people's warriors set down. There were cries being taken up from the forest, from the skies. Ikran screamed triumphantly in the distance; their victory calls echoed in her bones alongside Eywa's constant song.

She closed her eyes, and saw it as well as felt it.

"We have won," she said softly. "The land rejoices."

He nodded, a crooked smile threatening to pull at his lips. Distantly, she wondered just how much of the world he could 'feel' in his human body. Pandora was apart of her, as was he . . . but he was so dim in her mind now, where before he had shown as a small sun, warming everything and casting a light that never dimmed, never wavered . . .

She took in a deep breath, desperate to right this.

"I can hear them," he whispered softly.

Yes, but could he see?

"Come," she said. "The cries are in your honor, Toruk Makto."

He snorted softly at that, somewhat sardonically. "Toruk Makto," he murmured softly.

"Yes," she said, and her voice was firm. "You are."

He looked up at her, and his eyes were like that of a child. Unsure and lost.

"Come," she said firmly, and her voice broke no turn for argument. "They wish to share their victory with you."

Jake blinked, his eyes slipping away from hers. He was silent for a moment, and she knew that his mind was far from their victory. "How can you bear to look at me?" he asked, his voice soft.

"You ask such silly questions," she said, her tone teasing. "I see you, where you may not see yourself. Come. Now."

He was looking at her as if he had never seen her before.

So she reached out and touched his hand, wrapping her much larger fingers about his own. His touch was delicate, a thing that would blow away unbidden with the wind. "I love you," she whispered. "Na'vi, dreamwalker, or human; you are apart of me," she tapped the side of her head with her free hand. "Forever, remember my words? They were not words spoken emptily."

He nodded, but did not reply, the words on his tongue much too heavy for speech.

She understood, and stood by his side as he wheeled out to the forest. She didn't blink when the chair stuck in the thick undergrowth, nor did she move to help him. Every rigid line about Jake's form said that he needed to do this on his own. His head was held high, his leader's presence shining in his eyes if not in the broken turn of his body. The warrior's eyes were wide with confusion when they came out, but her glare dared any of them to say anything.

Wisely, they did not. The worst she saw leaking through their gazes was a pity that their reverence could not completely hide.

When one of the younger warriors walked by – one whom she recognized as one of the initiates from the group that Jake was a part of for the Ikran bonding - she stopped him, stooping down to convey the importance of her words. "Please, take that body to my mother, and tell her that I need her help," she gestured to the still form of Jake's Avatar in the grass where his Ikran was crouched over it protectively, his fangs bared to any who would approach.

She straightened, "May Eywa be with you," she whispered.

"And with you," the young one replied.

Neytiri watched her lover's body take off with sad eyes before turning back to Jake and those waiting for them. There was much to discuss.

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The cold metal corridors of the human compound were easier for Jake to navigate, and so he kept to them more often than not, overseeing the transportation of the remaining humans and the destruction of the weaponry that had soiled Pandora's skies and lands for far too long.

Neytiri came up to join him two evenings later, more at ease within the collection of lifeless metal when the dying sun threw everything into rich hues of gold and flame. It seemed more natural somehow, less alien. The scents from the falling night – the hearth flames and the forest blooming under the moonlight cut through the unnatural scents that blanketed the human compound in acrid tones.

Jake's face looked softer at this time of day; not so harsh, not so defeated. She knew how badly the destruction of the Avatar psionic machines had hurt him . . . she also knew how badly he was trying not to let it bother him. His determination ate at her mind, as solid and catching as ever.

Even now, he was still the same man she had loved so very dearly. The same man she now loved so very dearly. While his form was alien to her – so small, and pale! Was there anything on her world so devoid of color, minus the sands by the sea? – his face was as familiar to her as her own. She would know him anywhere – the curve of his lips, the weight of his gaze, they were home to her. No matter what body they were worn on.

She wasn't quite sure how to tell him that.

He hadn't exactly been avoiding her, she knew, but things were . . . strained. She did not care for it. At all.

There was a wide chamber at the very top of the compound near the roof that served no purpose but to give a visitor a view of the jungle moon past the pits of sand that the base was built in. Past the human sore on the jungle, the land was bright with nightlife, alive with stars and unclouded skies and never-ending forests.

She breathed in deep as she sat down next to him. She could smell the jungle spice even from here.

Jake turned from looking at the forests to look at her. His eyes – small, white covering almost all of their expanse, but so very clear – were heavy, but curious. When she sat on the ground, she was eye to eye with him.

"Your mind is heavy this night," she said softly, her voice sounding alien next to the electronic beeps of the machinery and the artificial play of cold air through the vents in the room.

He shrugged. "There's a lot to think about," he said simply, and that was the truth.

She inclined her head to it. "The humans will be gone tomorrow." Save a few that had chosen to stay, and were welcome to do so.

He nodded. "Yeah, they'll be gone." His voice was hollow sounding, as a traveler pondering on a direction between two paths.

She felt some hope at it.

Hesitantly, she reached out and rested a hand over the tops of his legs, feeling the unresponsive limbs under her touch. "This. How did it happen?" she questioned.

He blinked at her, and she raised her eyes to meet his gaze head on. "It was an accident, was it not?" she asked, clarifying.

"Yeah . . . it was an accident," he murmured.

"In battle?" she questioned. Jake had said he was a warrior, and no warrior would function as this lest this was the result of a battle wound.

"Yeah," he said. His eyes slipped away from hers.

She felt that same shame from him again, and she wondered at it. Such wounds were honorable, as they were a mark of bravery and survival both – of blessing. She knew that he did not take his as such.

When she thought he would speak no more, he finally said softly, "I served for a time in a place called Venezuela back on Earth. It was a very bad conflict, many died . . . many were worse off than me."

War. How the word left a sour taste on her tongue.

"It was a useless battle," he said, his voice growing stronger. "Humans fighting humans over dead land, for nothing . . . It's a very bleak place, Earth. Dead in a lot of ways."

Almost the fate her own home had suffered. She shuddered at the thought.

"I was leading my squad, and we took cover in the remains of an old church." At her confusion, he clarified, "Um, a holy place, as you'd call it. We thought that we had the last of the unfriendlies taken care of, but we didn't. I don't remember much . . . there were sniper-shots, and my guy was on the receiving in of an incoming one, so I jumped in front of him. I woke up in the hospital to Tom standing at my bedside, telling me that my spine was hit. That my legs were useless . . . That I would never walk again."

She could feel his sorrow in her own mind – for his loss, and the loss of his brother, a light in his life that was gone now. She breathed in deep at it.

"But I did walk again," he said, his mouth twisted crookedly in a sad sort of almost-smile. "I came here in my brother's place and I . . . I walked again. I lived again. I got too close," he ended on a whisper, his eyes flickering up to meet hers hesitantly. "I'm sorry I let you get close as well. You can't like being stuck to . . ." his voice tapered off as he passed a hand over his body in a disgusted gesture.

She blinked at him. "You should not apologize for something cherished," she said, her voice slightly rougher around the edges than she had intended it to be.

If he heard the bite in her tone, he said nothing to it. But there was something tender about his eyes, thawing past the hurt sort of ice that had built up there.

She would have none of it no longer. "If it were possible," she whispered, her voice gaining in both strength and tone,"to give your life to your Avatar, would you do it?"

His eyes were frank when they locked with hers. "In a heartbeat."

"As with the Doctor . . . Grace," the woman's name sent a note of mourning into her tone. So much had been lost . . . "She was lost to us even before we attempted the switch. But you, Jakesully, are far from lost. You have given so much to Eywa . . . now, should you wish, if she were to give to you in return . . ."

He was smiling crookedly, the move so foreign on his face to her. "I thought Eywa didn't take sides?"

She returned his smile. "She did once," she whispered. "I simply ask for the same gift twice."

This time, when his hand found hers it was of his own violation. She sighed as she felt him in her mind more clearly through the contact. Eywa, how she longed for him to be whole once more . . .

He deserved so much more than this form had to offer. Here he was a shell, and she understood why he had been so desperate to learn her ways – so desperate to return and gain her trust again. They were all he had. His family was gone, his world was torn asunder, and here he sat now, betrayed by his own body . . .

Yes. Eywa would bless one that was hers at heart so much more than anyone else she had ever met.

Gently, she wrapped her long fingers around his, and squeezed with a promise.

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She could feel the exact moment when the switch was made.

The whole of her clan was gathered before the Tree of Souls, chanting in time with Mo'at, who was dressed in ceremonial garb before them. Everywhere, the dark night was colored with light as Eywa's people glowed, as her ancient ones shined their white souls in the trailing tendrils of the holy place . . .

Before her, Jake's human body was growing pale, listless as it died. The color from it faded as the ground rose up to grow over him, reclaiming him as one of its own. Under her hands she felt his Na'vi body, still and listless as she laid one hand over his chest and another at his face. Her careful eyes searched for a flicker of movement, for an inhalation of breath.

Around her, the forest stilled.

At her mind, her bond with him erupted into rich life past the void plain which it had become for a terrible, horrifying second.

He took in a breath – Eywa's gift to him, and to her. She felt the life spark and flare in him as he opened his eyes. She was the first thing he saw, the first sight of his new eyes, the first moment of his new life.

Their life.

"I see you," she whispered.

He raised a hand to hold hers to his face, and then he whispered, "And I you," in return.

She helped him to his feet, and he took a deep breath in and out at the feel of his body – whole and free once more instead of a blazing spirit inside of a shell of a form. Complete, once more. As it always should have been.

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FIN

~MJ

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