Chapter 4: Relationship Coaching
"Um, Jake? Could I ask you for some advice?"
Jake looked his old friend over. In the eight years since they had helped drive the RDA off Pandora, Norm had become a kind of nerdy younger sibling to Jake. With his love of all things Pandoran, and a vocabulary that might as well have been Greek to the ex-Marine, he reminded Jake a lot of Tom. "Sure, bro. What about?"
"Well, um, it's kind of personal."
Jake raised an eyebrow, looking a bit nervous now. "Um, how personal, exactly?"
Norm sucked in a deep, nervous breath, then slowly exhaled. "Well, er, uhm, I was wondering how you … you know … ask a girl out. In the Na'vi culture, I mean."
"Aren't you the expert on that kind of stuff? I mean, a zeo—"
"Xenoanthropologist, yeah. But Jake, you've actually developed a romantic relationship with a natural-born Na'vi. You've got Neytiri, and the kids, and … well, I'm just not sure where to begin."
Jake nodded, looking thoughtful. "Okay. Do you have anyone specific in mind?"
Norm took another cleansing breath. "Actually, I've been kind of hoping to … you know … try courting Ninat."
"Whoa, hold on. She's still single?" Jake ran into Ninat every now and again; she was the best singer in the clan, plus a skilled weaver and craftswoman. Neytiri had even mentioned her as a potential mate for him, back when Jake had first joined the Omaticaya. "I mean, it's been eight years. You're telling me she still hasn't found a mate yet?"
"Yeah, I know. I asked her about it, actually, and from what she said … I dunno. It sounded like after Quaritch knocked down Hometree, she just got kind of caught up in everything. The battle at the Tree of Souls, the search for a new Kalutrel, getting settled here, taking care of her parents … I guess looking for a mate sort of ended up on the back burner."
Jake winced. I should have known this, he thought to himself. Poor girl; she hasn't even had time for a decent date. "All right. So, do you two hang out together? Common interests?"
"Well, you remember Tsawl's Uniltaron ceremony, right? Ninat sang there, I helped out with the drums, and we wound up dancing together afterward. I mean, she's just … beautiful! And that smile, her eyes … I mean, she's just the sweetest girl I've ever met."
Just listening to Norm gush brought a grin to Jake's face. "Man, you've got it bad. How does she feel about you?"
"Um … well, you know, we hang out together, we both ride pa'li on sturmbeest hunts. We sit together at the cooking pit sometimes. It's like … I mean, there's these times when our hands touch, and we both kind of laugh, but … I dunno. I think we're both just shy people, you know? I just need some coaching, I guess. I mean, you and Neytiri didn't even like each other when you met; how did you win her over?"
Jake tried to remember anything useful. "Um, well, we spent a lot of time together while I was training. I got to know her, and she got to know me. We, um, practiced archery, and she kind of slapped me around a little bit. Uh, we practiced climbing, she slapped me some more; practiced speaking Na'vi, more slapping…."
By now, Norm was looking downright terrified. "So, um, the slapping…?"
Jake shook his head. "Never mind. Norm, don't worry; Ninat's a sweet girl, and you're a really nice, smart guy. I'm sure you won't have all the problems Neytiri and I had. Just be yourself, and tell her you like her, and ask if she'd consider being mated with you."
"Oh, it's that easy, huh…?"
Jake did a facepalm, knowing just how idiotic he sounded. I'm about as romantic as a hammerhead in rut, and we both know it. The only reason Neytiri didn't kill me on day one was because Eywa was watching over my clueless blue butt.
Barring divine intervention, how am I supposed to get Norm a date?
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the Avatars, a very similar conversation was taking place elsewhere in Kalutrel. As Tsahik, Neytiri had been summoned to the hammock of Ninat and her aged parents. The poor singer's mother had come down with a fever the day before, and Neytiri had had to consult her own mother for a suitable remedy. Now, after giving the old woman some herbal tea, Neytiri was preparing to head back to her own hammock.
"Thank you very much, Tsahik," Ninat whispered, trying not to wake the older couple nearby. "I can hear Mother's breathing; she is better than she was even half an hour ago."
Neytiri smiled warmly at her friend, patting her on the shoulder. "You're welcome, Sister. If you need anything else, do not hesitate to ask."
Ninat seemed to pull back thoughtfully for a moment. "Well … there is one thing I would like to ask about."
Neytiri cocked her head to one side. "What would you like to know?"
"Ah, well…." The slightly shorter, more willowy woman averted her gaze downward. "It is, um, an unusual request."
"I don't mind. Please, Sister, say what is troubling you."
Ninat took a deep breath, her necklace tinkling softly. "It is about Sky People. Especially … well, how do you mate with one?"
Neytiri almost fell off the branch. The thought of chaste, quiet Ninat, trying to woo one of the tiny pink creatures? "M-mate? With a Sky Person?!?"
"No! I mean, not a real Sky Person! I mean somebody who once was, er, the way Normspellmon … you know, a once-Dreamwalker."
Neytiri managed to get herself back under control. "Aha. So … you are attracted to Norm?"
Contrary to popular belief among Sky People, Na'vi do not turn bluer when they blush; instead, the tiny lights on Ninat's face glowed brightly, like her own personal galaxy of emotions. "Y-yes. And I believe he is attracted to me, as well. But he has not chosen me, and I am not sure how to gain his interest."
Neytiri looked thoughtful for a moment. Normspellmon was Jake's best friend, and had proven himself to be one of the People in his heart, even before becoming Na'vi. Sadly, Norm's original Dreamwalker body had died during the battle for the Tree of Souls - as had his original mate, Trudy. The poor scientist had been forced to remain in his Sky People body, while most of his fellow Dreamwalkers had joined the Omaticaya. Only after six years had he been able to walk among the People again, in a fresh new Dreamwalker form. Once his training was complete, he had happily shed his old body, joining the Omaticaya permanently. At the time, however, Norm had not chosen a mate - the memory of trudy had still brought too much pain. Perhaps he is finally ready?
"You do realize that Norm has strange customs. He is not quite an empty cup; he still carries his 'science'. He has only lived among the People for two years now."
At this, Ninat actually smiled. "Oh yes, he talks about science constantly. He is like a child, but in a good way; always seeking to understand. He walks in awe of the world around us, never taking anything for granted. He is strange, but in a good way, I think."
Neytiri could only smile and nod her head at this. Yes, she is well and truly in love with this man. "All right. So, go and tell him your feelings."
Ninat's blush brightened. "But … but, well, what if he says no? Or what if now is too soon? Neytiri, please tell me: how did you and Jakesully find one another?"
Neytiri actually winced, taking a short, hissing breath through her teeth. I very nearly put an arrow through his heart. Then I tried to kill his Dreamwalker body with hard training. There was much slapping and hissing involved … best not to tell her that. "We were … brought together by the Great Mother," she said vaguely.
"So, I should wait for a sign then? For the atokirina to guide me?"
Neytiri put a hand to her head. "No, no! That's not what I meant! If every woman waited for an atokirina to alight on her man, most would die childless! I mean, you should follow your feelings. Share them with Norm. If it is meant to be, then he will return your love with his, and your hearts will be joined together."
Ninat looked down at the ground, her ears folded back with anxiety. "You make it sound so simple. And yet … why does my heart beat so quickly?"
Neytiri's first impulse was to say something rather indelicate, to the effect of "Quit whining, go find Norm and tell him you love him!" Instead, the warrior-Tsahik took a deep, calming breath, trying to think of a way to boost her childhood friend's confidence.
Then she put a reassuring hand on Ninat's shoulder. "I think I have an idea…."
"Are you really sure this will work? I mean, what if she sees the receiver? She's not ignorant, Jake; I'll bet you anything she knows what a throat mic is."
"I know, I know. Calm down; you don't have to wear the mic at your throat. Just wrap it around your dagger sheath, like jewelry or something. I'll stay close by so I can hear you without it. You just keep the ear buds in, and when you start getting nervous or tongue-tied, clear your throat. I'll coach you when you need it."
Norm took a deep breath. "Okay. Jake, um … thanks. I mean, for helping me out like this."
Jake just grinned, giving his best friend a hearty pat on the back. "No problem. Just be natural; I'll bet she's just as nervous as you are."
As Jake headed for some nearby bushes to conceal himself, Norm squared his shoulders, trying to slow his hammering heartbeat. It's okay, Norm. You can do this. Act natural!
Then he spotted Ninat, and his heart nearly leaped into his throat. The petite (by Na'vi standards) woman was dressed in a brightly colored loincloth, with an intricate shawl of beadwork. Her long black hair was gathered into a thick ponytail, secured along its length by five multicolored hair bands. A beautiful gold-and-lilac flower was nestled in her hair, just behind her left ear. As the two saw each other, the lights on their faces – in fact, all over their striped blue skin – lit up with anticipation.
"Okay, Norm!" Jake's voice whispered in his ear. "You're up!"
"Ah, I s-s-see you, Ninat," Norm stammered in Na'vi, trying to smile naturally.
Ninat's blush deepened, and she offered a shy little smile of her own. "I see you, Normspellmon. You … asked me to come?"
"Yes! I … ah ... wanted to talk to you."
"And I have been meaning to speak with you as well."
"About what?" hissed Jake. "Don't beat around the bush!"
The sudden noise caused Neytiri to turn her head, ears pricked up. Tapping the far-speaker around her throat, she whispered, "Ninat, do not be afraid! Tell him how you feel! Do not wait! If there is silence, fill it!"
From somewhere to her right, the sound came again. This time, Neytiri recognized it as speech – in the language of the Sky People. "C'mon, Norm! Just spit it out! 'I love you'! It's just three little words! Well, okay, technically it's four words in Na'vi…."
Neytiri's first response was shock … then understanding. "My Jake …?"
As if startled, a head shot up out of the bushes, ears pricked up, looking around with wide eyes. A very familiar head….
They locked gazes, and Jake saw the wry smile on his mate's lips. "Um … hi! Fancy meeting you here!"
"Um, hi! Fancy meeting you here!" Norm said. We already greeted each other! Why does he want me to say this now?
Ninat seemed confused, too … though not just because of Norm's odd conversation. "My Jake?" I am speaking to Norm, not to Jake! What sort of help is this?
Feeling like an idiot, Norm sighed … then pulled out the ear buds. "Ninat, I … I wanted to tell you how I feel about you. I … like you. Very much. I respect you, and I admire you. You are wise, and kind, and intelligent, and I … I love you."
For a moment, both of them stood there – Norm not quite believing that he'd had the guts to finally say it, and Ninat just overwhelmed at having heard the words.
Then Ninat smiled, looking the tall, lanky Avatar in the eyes. "And I came to tell you that I feel the same. I love you, Normspellmon."
An enormous grin appeared on Norm's face. "You do? I mean, really?" he blurted out, lapsing into English.
"Yes!" Ninat said, her Na'vi accent making the Sky People word sound somehow beautiful, musical and exotic – just like her, Norm thought.
Their embrace was spontaneous and simultaneous. It felt as natural as drops of water colliding; suddenly, the two hearts merged into one. Immediately, both of them were laughing, holding one another close. Norm looked down into Ninat's eyes, seeing the same joy and relief mingled in them. "I was … kind of worried you wouldn't feel the same. With me being a Dreamwalker, I mean."
Ninat smiled. "And I was afraid you would find me too plain, or not strong enough. You know I am not the best hunter."
Norm shrugged. "Neither am I. But you have a good heart. And you're the kindest person I've ever met, on any world, of any People."
Ninat smiled, and the lovers breathed a sigh of shared relief, the day's tension evaporating as they held each other.
Without saying a word, they laid down the Sky People gadgets they had brought. Then, arm in arm, they made their way into the forest.
"Well, I'll be. I guess they didn't need us after all."
"It is just as well. Their words came from their own hearts. Well, most of them, anyway…."
"Um, heh-heh. Yeah…."
"You know, My Jake, when two people are mated, it is a joyful thing. Perhaps we should celebrate."
"Mm, yeah. Just what sort of things do you do at a wedding, any— Oh. Oh. That kind of celebrating."
"They are gone already. Why not?"