Chapter 8: Ey'wa's answer
A/N: This is the part where I blatantly fast-forward past a bunch of scenes, thereby losing myself the UFO award. But whatever; nobody wants to read a re-telling of the movie. It's audience-appropriate.
P.S.: Shout out to .smexy, who is basically the reason this fic has been getting written.
Grace opened her eyes blearily. She could see a blurred face moving above her. A blurred, blue face.
'Neytiri?' she said faintly.
The face cracked into a broad smile.
'I see you, doctorGrace. You are still with us.'
'Yeah.' Grace took a deep breath, trying to get her bearings. She was lying in a link unit in the tiny research base, which now had jungle pressed up against the windows, still with a bullet hole in her stomach. But the sight of Neytiri did more to make her feel better than anything else so far had done.
'Hey,' she said. 'I didn't think I'd be seeing you again.'
'The people will help you, Grace,' Neytiri promised.
'They've let us into the well of souls.' Grace turned her head, and suddenly Jake was right there, beside her bed, grinning like an idiot. It alarmed her to think how far-gone her perceptions were, that she hadn't noticed him there at all.
'Jake, you…' Words failed her for a moment. 'Jarhead. How on Earth did you manage that?'
Neytiri had never seen Jake's human body before. She kept glancing at him with curiosity, horror, pity, fascination at the inventiveness of the chair with wheels that he moved so dexterously…but with love, too, and such a deep respect that Grace realised immediately that something must be up.
'Jake is Toruk Maktao,' she said quietly.
'Jake is…' Grace stopped. 'Oh no. You didn't.'
Jake looked simultaneously sheepish and so proud she thought he might start crowing. 'Yeah, I…I linked with a Toruk. It seemed like the right thing to do.'
'Ey'wa has spoken.' Love and respect had won out over horror for Neytiri. She placed her hand on Jake's shoulder. 'We will protect our home. And we will save you, doctorGrace. She will save you.'
Grace paused, closing her eyes, collecting her scattered thoughts. The people would help her. Even after everything that had happened. Respect, gratitude and a thousand other emotions that she couldn't begin to name surged up inside her, and for a few seconds, words failed her.
She took a long, ragged breath, looked up into Neytiri's green-golden eyes (trying to ignore how they reminded her of his eyes), and offered her a weak smile. 'I… I can't thank you enough, Neytiri. And Jake. And the People…'
'Don't worry about it, Grace,' Jake said cheerfully, his eyes crinkling up the corners as he smiled.
'Tonight,' Neytiri said, switching to Na'vi, 'we will take you to the Tree of Souls, and Mother will make a spell. We are going to ask Ey'wa to preserve your soul, and let it live on in your unharmed body.'
'My…my unharmed body?' Grace echoed.
'We have the thing you call avatar,' Neytiri said. 'She is safe. She is sleeping.'
'Our avatars are safe?' Grace said, looking to Jake.
He grimaced. 'Well, mine was lying on the forest floor, covered in ash, but they brought yours.'
'When will this happen?' Grace asked Neytiri, and then, before she could stop herself, 'do you think it will work?'
'We must wait for the planet to rise, but…' Neytiri's face was troubled. 'Mother says we must hurry.' She ran her large blue hand up Grace's arm, pressed it to her chest, then turned to Jake. 'She is tired; can't you feel?'
'Yeah.' Jake swallowed, his eyes darting to avoid theirs. 'Look, I'm going to head out and keep watch. Norm's up there now; he needs to get some rest.'
He spun out of the room. Neytiri turned her head like a child to watch the quick motion of the chair, then turned back to Grace.
'I brought some medicine,' she said. 'It is the ground bark of a tree, to ease the pain. And this is a tea – ' the Na'vi word for a hot infusion of leaves – 'which will make you feel better.' She slipped an arm under Grace's shoulders and moistened her lips with liquid from a hide flask. It was bitter, lukewarm, yet at the same time refreshing. Grace managed a couple of mouthfuls before she started to feel sick, and then Neytiri carefully loosened her bandage and began to sprinkle on the poultice she had brought.
Grace watched Neytiri hazily while she worked. Even though it had been years since she had taught in her school, she still couldn't think of Neytiri as anything but the eager, gawky little girl she had been. It was so strange to see her towering above her like this. And she looked like a queen.
'Neytiri,' she said suddenly. 'Neytiri, I'm so sorry.'
Neytiri swept her braids back from her face. 'One tree. Our mother is stronger than that.'
'I didn't expect the people to forgive me.'
'You did not have a weapon. You were trying to warn us.'
'Do all the people forgive me?'
'The T'sahik said it was the will of Ey'wa that we should try to save you. Nobody argues when she says that.'
'There must be some who are still angry.'
'Angry, yes. But they know they must bite back their anger. They know their anger is unjust.'
Grace sighed, closing her eyes as her consciousness began to waver again. Biting back one's anger made negotiations possible, but it was no atmosphere for love. She didn't dare mention Tsu'tey name, but her thoughts were full of him. He couldn't have been blindly angry, or he wouldn't have let Jake come back, but she doubted that, proud and testy as he was, he would be all forgiveness.
It serves you right, she thought, for getting in over your head and falling in love with someone who should be the enemy when you're too old for it anyway. And for getting shot.
Whatever was in Neytiri's poultice, it was doing its job. The pain was receding a little, but there was a deep cold in her bones. Grace closed her eyes. Whatever else happened, she had to hang on until sundown.
They woke her at dusk. Jake had linked with his avatar, and he lifted her in his blue arms as easily as a child. Trudy – she was so glad that Trudy had come through for them, after all that – strapped an Exopack over her face and then watched, wide-eyed and vulnerable, as Jake carried her away. Outside she saw Norm, also in his avatar, and carrying hers.
She heard Neytiri's soft voice calling, and saw her standing at the edge of the trees, looking nervous…and no wonder. Right next to her was the Toruk. Only when Jake had linked with it would Neytiri approach. She stepped cautiously forward and helped to manoeuvre Grace up into Jake's arms. Then she sprang up behind them. The Toruk could bear the weight of three Na'vi easily. Grace felt awe.
They flew for five minutes, a dream journey through the bioluminescent darkness, with the wan face of Polyphemus looming ahead. And then the ikran dipped. Peeping between her lashes, Grace saw a pink blur rising up to meet them. It felt almost like coming home.
The ikran landed, and Grace saw Na'vi running forward to help lift her and her avatar down. She felt a surge of astonished love; even after what her race had done, the People were rallying to help her. She thought of all those hours she'd spent teaching in the school, consumed by her work even though she knew that in the end it wouldn't do any good. It seemed that the Na'vi hadn't forgotten.
Norm leapt off his ikran and handed her avatar to one of the waiting warriors. He came running to the Toruk and reached up, helping to support her weight while Jake and Neytiri clambered down. Grace saw anxiety on his face, and the beginnings of real fear. She felt his arms tighten around her once more, recalled how he and Trudy had worked over her wound with ferocious concentration, and how even when it becme clear that there was nothing more they could do, Trudy had stayed with her, holding her hand, talking to her during her lucid moments all the time they were waiting for Jake…how Jake had tamed the Last Shadow to regain the Na'vis' trust.
Did they really care about her so much?
Their faces were blurred. Suddenly Grace felt her eyes fill with tears. She didn't want to die. She didn't want to leave her friends, leave the forest and the People with all their wealth of secrets. She didn't want oblivion. But it hurt. She couldn't see anything properly; the pain reduced it all to an exhausting confusion of movement. Her belly was full of a slow, deep ache that throbbed every time her blood pulsed, then faced…throbbed and faded…she was so sick of the pain. She had been hurting constantly for twenty-four hours. She wanted it to end.
'Grace,' Jake whispered, trotting beside Norm. 'Grace, look.'
'Grace.' Jake was smiling, his eyes over-bright. 'It's the Tree of Souls.'
Strength came from who knew where. Enough strength to let her turn her face upwards, to gaze at the shimmering strands that were hanging down above them, shining against the twilight sky. They blurred and brightened before her eyes, a beauty that she could never explain, that had nothing to do with goddesses or coloured lights. The Tree of Souls. The Na'vi's most sacred tree – even more sacred than what Tsu'tey had shown her on the last evening before everything went wrong. Oh God, what else mattered?
'I gotta take some samples,' she murmured.
'Have you brought her, Jakesully?'
She recognised that voice. Grace twisted her head round, trying to see. Her curls caught on Norm's arm and got in her eyes, but she made out the towering form of Tsu'tey coming towards them.
'She's here,' Jake answered. His voice sounded strange and echoey. 'She's very weak. We need to act quickly – '
Tsu'tey moved to stand directly in front of Norm.
'I will carry her,' he said, in the kind of voice that no-one ever argues with. His tone was fierce, his expression hard. Norm stayed silent, fumbling in his haste to comply. Grace moaned a little as the transition jarred her wound, and then Tsu'tey was hoisting her into his arms and turning with her towards the tree.
Jake and Norm had lifted her easily, but Tsu'tey lifted her as though she weighed nothing at all. That was how she felt: light, as though a single gust of wind might blow her away. She could hardly find it in herself to think or care about anything anymore, but the corner of her mind that still thought and cared was thinking of him.
'Tsu'tey,' she said. He had begun to climb up towards the central tree, but he moved so lightly that she was barely jolted. As she spoke his name he looked slowly down at her, not altering his pace as he did so. His face was completely blank.
'Don't…' she whispered. Her voice felt frighteningly weak. 'Don't hate me. Please…speak to me…just once.' She raised her hand and managed to brush his jaw with her fingertips.
They had reached the top of the ledge, right underneath the branches of the tree. Tsu'tey stooped and laid her down, so gently she hardly felt it, and began to slide his hands out from under her.
'Tsu'tey!' she whispered again.
He stopped, one hand resting on her shoulder, the other behind her head. As she gazed at him he knelt slowly, bending over her until his face was as low and as close as a human face would have been, and she could make out the barred markings across his cheeks. She felt his fingers tangling themselves slowly into her hair.
'It will be easier when you are one of our kind, doctorGrace,' he said, 'but I think I will miss the colour of your skin and hair.'
'My hair?' Grace echoed, and then repeated the words she had heard so many times at school they had become automatic. 'It's ginger.'
;Like flames,' Tsu'tey continued, ignoring the interruption, 'but they don't burn. Only burn in here.' He laid a hand over his heart.
Grace couldn't speak. She only knew that his words were like a shot of adrenaline to her failing heart, setting it pounding wildly despite her injury. Tsu'tey ran his hand across her cheek and then made to draw away.
'No!' She snatched at his wrist. The small action was enough to set her head spinning. 'Wait – '
'Shh!' He leaned suddenly forward, his body bent close over hers. He looked into her eyes. Grace would have pulled her mask off for a better look at his face, if she'd had the strength.
'I see you, Grace,' he whispered. 'Pass through the eye of Ey'wa, and come back to us. May she smile upon you.'
'I see you,' she mouthed back, her words carried on the faintest breath. Her lips were covered by the mask, so Tsu'tey planted a gentle kiss under her jaw instead. Grace trembled at the touch. Her hand skimmed lightly through his coarse braids and over his neck, then fell back. He released her and stepped away.
Mo'at came forward and crouched beside her, one hand over her head and the other over the head of her avatar. Around them, the Na'vi began a slow, throbbing chant.
The chant got into her blood and helped her heart to beat. It seemed to be pulsing from the ground as well as in the air…and then Grace realised that it was. Tiny filaments of grass and root-hairs were winding up her body, pressing to the back of her neck. It would be so easy…so easy to flow into them…everything was shining. Was it the bioluminescence or the fading of her own vision? Her consciousness changed…it seemed to rush downwards through the grass, upwards into the leaves of the willow, and then suddenly she wasn't anywhere any more…she was floating, no longer in pain but comfortable and warm, and bathed in light.
She heard a sound…a child's bubbling laughter. She realised that there must be a reason why she had heard that one memory out of all the thousands inside the tree – it suddenly came rushing back on her how much she wanted children, how much she wanted to teach in her school house forever. And then, as she blinked back tears, she saw a figure stepping towards her.
Mo'at had been dressed in a fine-spun pink shawl. This person wore the light of the tree itself, draped like a robe; there was a suggestion of a body in the way the light fell, but Grace couldn't see whether it was Na'vi or human. The only clear thing was a woman's face, smiling towards her, and a pair of hands, outstretched in welcome, and so brilliantly lit that they appeared white and she couldn't tell whether they were blue or human-coloured. She couldn't make out the colour of the eyes, either, only that they were far more familiar than any Na'vi eyes she had seen before, and that they were smiling so kindly that all she wanted to do was fall on their owner's shoulder and weep like a little child.
'Mother,' she said, stumbling forward.
'Grace,' the woman replied softly, and she stepped forward to fold Grace in her arms. The brighter light of her clothing was warm, possibly it touched…sensation wasn't quite the same here. The woman held her, and Grace felt the one thing she had been aching to feel ever since she had arrived on Pandora – the sensation of being at one with the forest, rather than a person who could only watch, and who should leave for the forest's own good.
'Oh, mother,' she said again, wrapping her arms around the woman's neck, 'I'm so glad, I'm so glad I'm finally here.'
'Shh!' The woman took her hands and removed them from around her neck. She looked into Grace's eyes. 'Grace, my child, you must go back.'
'Go back?' Grace stared. She could feel the tree buzzing all around her; she sensed that she and the goddess were only a little way removed from the other voices, as though in a private room, and that any moment she could flow away to join them.
'I want to join the people,' she whispered.
'My daughter, you are not ready to become one with me. You must be yourself for a while yet first, and be with others who are also themselves, and whom you need…Jake Sully…Neytiri…Mo'at, my Tsahik…Tsu'tey, Norm, Trudy.'
Warm tears poured down Grace's cheeks, but she believed what the wise woman was saying.
'I will go. I see you, all-Mother. Watch over me.'
'I see you, Grace,' Ey'wa murmured, and let go of her wrists, and Grace was sinking gently, then faster, then falling through blackness…
She jerked at an impact that wasn't there, as though waking from a dream. Limbs twice as long as she was used to reacted to the impulses from her brain.
It was Jake, his rough voice shouting for her. She searched dazedly, and met his eyes.
'I saw her, Jake,' she said. 'She's real…' She gave a gasp, and suddenly tears were pouring down her cheeks. Jake dragged her up into his arms and hugged her, and more arms seized her from behind – Norm and Neytiri, rushing to embrace her.
'The Dreamwalker lives!' she heard Tsu'tey roar to the crowd. 'Ey'wa has spoken to her!'
'Grace.' Mo'at squatted down in front of her, her face earnest. 'What did you see?'
'She told me…' Grace pulled herself together and raised her voice. 'She told me…that we must all be together! That we need each other…that my time – our time – has not yet come.'
'I will speak to the People,' Jake said, getting to his feet and nodding towards Tsu'tey, 'if you will honour me by translating.'
He began to speak.
'The Sky People have sent us a message, that they can take what they want – our land, our memories, our friends – and that there is nothing we can do to stop them. But they are wrong! We prayed to Ey'wa, and Ey'wa has heard us! They tried to take Grace, but Ey'wa gave her back!'
There was a roar from the assembled crowd.
'So we will send the Sky People a message, that they cannot take what they want from us! We will tell them that these are our lives, and that this – ! This is our land!'
A colossal cheer followed his words. Tsu'tey jumped up beside him.
'At first light, we will send out our ikran. The other tribes will aid us!'
'Come, Grace,' Mo'at whispered in her ear. 'Show yourself to them.'
With Mo'at at one elbow and Neytiri at the other, Grace stood. She flexed her abdomen, waiting for the pain. It didn't come. She still felt weak in every limb, but whole. And she had never been this aware of her avatar before. Some tiny part of her brain had always been back in her body, controlling it. But this was her body now.
She turned back to the old Grace Augustine, lying curled and still beneath the tree. The naked body was pale, the lips and eyelids showing faint violet. The curls showed faintly red in the light of the tree.
Grace touched her own face once, then stepped away from the body and announced,
'My Sky body is empty. Now I am Na'vi: one of the People.'
'How do you feel, Grace?' Mo'at asked, feeling her arm, her pulse, her braid.
'Bring food!' Mo'at shouted.
One of the Na'vi hurried forward, carrying a hunk of rough flat bread, baked from pounded roots, and a bowl of thick nectar. Grace thanked him for the food, sat down cross-legged beneath the tree and fell on it like a wolf. She should have felt self-conscious, eating with the eyes of the whole tribe on her, but she was too hungry and too elated to care.
When she had finished, she wiped the back of her hand across her mouth and stood. Already she felt stronger.
'Rest now, Na'vi,' she said. 'We will call the best flyers and speak with them before morning. The rest of you, grow strong!'
Then she took Grace's hand and led her away to the other side of the Tree of Souls.
'There are various hollows where we take shelter to sleep,' she told Grace in Na'vi. 'Find a place that suits you, and get some rest.'
Grace nodded, and Mo'at left her. After a little looking around, she spied a tall tree with thick branches that had cracked and hollowed out. She scrambled up into one of them and looked about. It was perfect; the top of the branch was intact, shielding her head and blocking out some of the phosphorescence from above, but a section of the bark had rotted away in front, allowing her to climb in and then to look out over the Well of Souls and the Na'vi's camp. The solid bottom of the hollow branch had filled up with leaf litter and was already a small garden in its own right, growing a soft bed of the grass that had been perplexing her the first time she spoke to Tsu'tey.
She stuck her head out of her hollow branch, and there he was, standing below her, looking for all the world like a teenage boy caught throwing pebbles at his sweetheart's window. It suddenly occurred to her to wonder why the messengers were only to set off at dawn.
'Tsu'tey,' she called, waving.
'Uh…may I come up?'
'Yes!' she answered, her stomach flipping. She wondered exactly how many years older than him she was…but then again, this body was about twenty years younger than her old one. And now that she was one of the Na'vi, she was the child again, not him.
There was a scuffling sound and Tsu'tey appeared on her branch. There was a slight pause as they both considered how they were going to fit him in. Grace pressed into the side and Tsu'tey slid in alongside her. There wasn't really enough room to sit and talk politely. Grace had felt nervous, but by the time he had succeeded in getting all the way in they were so close that it was a simple matter for him to take her hand and place his other hand on her waist, and for her to lean her forehead on his shoulder.
They stayed like that for several minutes. Then Tsu'tey asked,
'Are you afraid?'
'No. If we die, we will be with Ey'wa.'
'You really saw her?'
'As clearly as I'm seeing you now.'
As she spoke she wondered. She had heard about these experiences before – people who had been resuscitated reporting visions of angels and pearly gates. Might it all have happened inside her head? Somehow, she didn't really care. It had felt real enough…and it was strong enough to sustain her.
Tsu'tey squeezed her tight.
'I want…to be able to protect my people.'
'I wish I could protect mine too. I wish they would learn to live wisely, so that they could live on a beautiful planet like this one. But until then, I have to fight them.'
'You are very brave.' Tsu'tey ran a hand down her cheek. Grace looked into his eyes, and suddenly smiled, happy.
'Grace – ' he began again, but she shushed him.
'I know,' she said. And she cautiously moved forward.
Tsu'tey's hand slipped around the back of her neck, and they kissed in the blue-lit twilight of the forest. Soon the smallness of the space was forgotten, and they were lying wrapped in each other's arms, skin against skin, their hair mingling, thoughts flowing together. And Grace knew that, whatever might happen tomorrow or the day after, she would always have someone to fight for, and with, and that Ey'wa would always be watching over them.
A/N: I want to say a massive thank you to all the people who have been so supportive and complimentary of this fic, and who have urged me on when I was flagging. I feel that these last few chapters have been a bit sub-standard because I was just trying to get them out, so I apologise for that. Hopefully you found them enjoyable.
I couldn't bear to kill Grace in the end. Do you approve?
Thank you for flying with True and Essence airlines!
True Colours, over and out.