Five seconds too late

At the end of James Cameron's Avatar, there is a final showdown with Colonel Quaritch during which the mobile link-station is breached, exposing Jake's human body to the toxic Pandoran atmosphere. Neytiri rushes inside and places a breathing mask on Jake's face, though she doesn't know how to operate it. On the edge of consciousness, Jake has just enough strength and presence of mind to reach up and pressurize the mask himself.

This is what would've happened had Neytiri been delayed only 5 seconds in entering the link-station.

Chapter one

The enemy is dead, but the fight is not over.

Neytiri turns her focus to her mate, still lying on the ground where the enemy had dropped him. "Jake..." No response. Confusion and alarm swell within her chest as she tries to revive him. Then she recognizes the deep, even breathing and suddenly realizes what it means. Neytiri's eyes flash to the mobile Link station behind her and fix upon the gaping hole in the window.

She launches herself toward the alien structure, but a sudden burst of gunfire forces Neytiri to drop to the ground. She casts a frantic look in the direction of the noise. She has no time to battle another enemy. A tense moment passes, then a loud bellow announces the presence of a titanothere, which promptly rushes the offending gunman, leaving Neytiri free to vault inside. She bursts in and looks around, cursing the precious seconds she has just lost.

Almost immediately, Neytiri spots an alien figure lying on the floor - tiny and fragile. In one bound, she is at its side, gathering the unconscious body into her arms. "Jake! Jake!" His eyes are sightless and staring. She looks around wildly, sees the exopack nearby, and pushes the mask onto his face, her hands made clumsy with panic. Jake's breath fogs the plastic as he exhales, and Neytiri feels a glimmer of hope. He's still breathing.

But something is wrong. He draws a shallow breath, and Pandoran air leaks in under the mask. He's breathing poison."Jake." She shakes him, but he doesn't respond. The movement jostles the mask, and it starts to fall off. She catches it and fumbles with its parts, sliding one of the bands over his head. It is more secure now, but she is missing... something. The fit is not air-tight; the filter is silent; no air is flowing. Even more precious seconds tick by as she searches for some sort of button or switch.

Finally—it takes far too long—she locates it near the chin. Shoonk. The mask pressurizes in an instant, molding to Jake's face. The filter hums quietly as air washes over his pale features.

He has stopped breathing by now. "Jake. Please." Neytiri shakes the frail human body once more. "Breathe. You are safe now." She smacks him on the chest with her palm. The blow causes him to cough hard, and he finally draws a long, shuddering breath, then another. His eyes flutter to life. A relieved smile breaks over Neytiri's face, and she strokes the side of his head. "Jake."

He smiles faintly and tries to reach for her face. His hand falls back, but she catches it and places it on her cheek, holding it there. Jake smiles again. "I See you," his whispers, rasping. He sounds terrible - barely able to manage a whisper - but Neytiri barely notices. Jake's alive. He's talking to her. There are tears in her eyes as she squeezes his hand. "I See you," she echoes.

Jake starts to respond. Then he coughs violently, causing his entire body to convulse. Neytiri holds him tighter and waits for it to pass.

Then she sees the blood.

Small flecks of red spatter the inside of the breathing mask, forced out by the coughing. Jake's throat moves as he swallows, hard, then he shudders as he closes his eyes and attempts to draw another deep breath. His chest fills half-way, and then another coughing fit wracks his body. More blood. It begins trickling from his mouth and nose, collecting along the edges of the mask where it meets his skin. Neytiri freezes, relief changing to horror. Jake coughs, then gasps. Gurgles, coughs, and gurgles more feebly. The blood foams pink with air bubbles.

He's drowning.

"No. No no no." Neytiri's mind sings with desperation. She doesn't know what to do - she needs to remove the mask to clear Jake's lungs, but then the air will hurt him even more. She hesitates a moment, then tries to take the mask off, but it is still pressurized and refuses to budge. Jake's eyes open again and gaze at her through the bloodied plastic barrier. They are full of grief and regret and... something else. Something gentle and distant and terrifying. "Stay with me, Jake," she breathes. She sees his stained lips moving behind the plastic. No sound comes out, but she can read the silent words. I'm sorry.

At that moment, Neytiri's fingers find the button that releases the mask. It falls off, dripping blood onto both of them. She shifts him so that it can drain out of his mouth, helping him with a hand pressed into his back. He manages another breath of poisoned oxygen, his lungs temporarily clear, and she scrambles to put the mask back onto his face. But he stops her hand, and she freezes.

Jake has his eyes fixed on her. With no barrier between them, she is struck by how familiar they look. They are a different color, and a different size, but they are unmistakably Jake.

"Neytiri," he croaks. Jake's voice.

"Jake, please." She moves to fit the mask again, but he shakes his head. There is a finality to the gesture. He doesn't want anything between them during this moment.

"Jake." She's begging. "Jake, I love you."

His mouth twitches into a smile as he feels her breath on his exposed face. Jake's smile.

"Neytiri," he whispers.

The mask clatters to the ground as she pulls his body to her chest and holds him.

Author's note:

The 5-second delay occurs in the 2nd paragraph; all other circumstances are supposed to be as true to canon as possible. Quick fact check... the reason humans can't breathe on Pandora isn't due to a lack of oxygen, but rather due to high levels of gases such as carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and hydrogen cyanide.

Not all of the chapters will be quite this angsty, I promise. It's a sad story, to be sure, but it's actually supposed to be somewhat uplifting in its own bizarre way. The best scenes are at the end, in my not-so-humble opinion, so hopefully some of you will stick around. :-) The story mostly follows Neytiri's POV, but the narrative uses a semi-omniscient voice and is written in a way that assumes the readers are human and not Na'vi.

Reviews of all types are very much appreciated! (Short, long, positive, negative.)