Author's Note: Sorry I've been gone so long, if anyone is annoyed by my absense. Life rears its ugly head.
People are probably getting tired of reading angst from me, but I'm really enthralled with Jake's dilemma in Avatar. It seems to me that he'd have a lot of trouble dealing with his split identity, and the guilt associated with his reporting to Quaritch. I have a sort of framework for that conflict built in my head, and this is just a little oneshot based on that. May be more to follow. I like this story, as it puts Neytiri and Grace face-to-face over someone they both care about in different ways, especially since they both experience completely different sides of him.
The ex-marine felt like he was dying.
He was stretched out on his thin, hard cot in a utilitarian lab/trailer deep in the Hallelujah Mountains. Twisted and thin, his legs hung out over the edge of the mattress. He was pale and sweat beaded his face.
"Do me a favor and just kill me, Grace," Jake called weakly, pressing the heel of one hand to his brow, where he felt a headache waiting in the eaves. "What the hell are you doing back there, anyway?"
"Science," Grace called back, clattering around. Jake groaned and dropped his head back to his pathetically flat pillow.
He was going to miss at least a day with the People. Of course, the Na'vi had no concept of disease. The closest that they had was the rare infected wound. They simply didn't get sick like humans, Grace had told him.
"Lucky them," Jake muttered. His entire body chilled and ached like he'd been thrown from the top of Hometree and hit every colossal branch on the way down.
Grace, Norm and Trudy had stripped the other beds - including their own - and piled everything up on top of him. Logic told him he should feel warmer - and he actually could feel the warmth trapped by the blankets. But somehow it never quite sank through his skin - he wasn't shaking anymore, but he was still freezing.
"Just pull one of the turrets off of the Samson, doc," Jake called. "It's real easy."
"Oh, quit whining," Grace said, coming into his vision from the back of the lab. She was carrying a gray sock, stuffed tight with something. "This is your fault, you know."
"My fault?" Jake repeated, raising his head slightly. "How's this my fault? I mean, how can I even get sick on Pandora anyway? Don't think many viruses are floating around the mountains, are there?"
Grace pulled up a chair, twirled it around backwards and thunked it down next to his bed. She rested her arms on the back of it as she sat. "Not naturally, no," she said. "Certainly not in the mountains like this. But I told you that you were pushing yourself too hard. You've lost, what, 20 pounds? You look like you haven't slept in a week - not to mention showered." She ignored Jake's rolled eyes. "I told you to take care of this body. We're all human here - who knows what we've got clinging too us? Trudy is back and forth to Hell's gate every week - you think no one there ever gets sick? Viruses travel, period."
Jake sighed. "Fine, yeah, I get you. Stupid marine gets sick." He let his head drop back to the pillow. "What's with that sock?" he asked the ceiling.
He heard Grace stand. "Stuffed with rice and frozen over night," Grace said. "It's for you." She dropped it on his forehead.
"Jesus!" Jake barked, sitting up halfway and reaching for the ice-cold stocking. Grace grabbed his hand and easily pushed him prone.
"Leave it," she said. "You've got a fever over a hundred and four degrees. I'm surprised you aren't seeing bugs crawling down the walls by now." She let go when she saw Jake wasn't going to struggle. "Norm and Trudy are on their way back to Hell's Gate for supplies. They're bringing some medicine to take down the fever."
"Yeah, bet they'll be in a big hurry to get back here," Jake muttered, glancing over at Norm's tiny, exposed bed, now bare.
Grace smiled a little. She too had noticed the unlikely connection between the scientist and pilot.
"And if they're late, we'll make do," she said, standing. "Just keep still for a few hours. Sleep. Read. Whatever. But stay in bed. I'm serious, Jake." She glanced him up and down. "You're probably going to get worse before you get better."
Jake rearranged the cold sock on his forehead. So much for not shivering. "Great. So where are you going?"
"Hometree," Grace said. She stood. "I've got to try and explain to the Na'vi why their new favorite Dreamwalker isn't going to leave his hammock for a couple of days.
Grace was on her way up Hometree's spiraling path when she ran into Neyiti, who was on her way down. The Na'vi princess grabbed her arm, eyes wide.
"Grace! Jake will not wake up. Usually he is awake by now. He -- "
Grace shushed her. "Wait, wait," she soothed. "Jake's fine. He's just too sick to use his Avatar."
Neytiri's gave her a blank, searching look.
"Jake is fine," Grace repeated. How should she explain it? "But his human body isn't healthy right now. He can't be a Dreamwalker for now, not until he's better."
Neytiri looked over her shoulder, back the way she'd come, from her hammock and from Jake.
"He'll be back soon," Grace said. She tried to smile reassuringly. "Humans get sick sometimes, remember how I talked about it in school? Jake's been under a lot of stress lately, that's all. He needs to rest for a day."
Neytiri eventually nodded, searching Grace's face. "If he isn't well, rest is good," she said. "I will wait with him." She turned to go.
"Wait," Grace put a hand on Neytiri's shoulder. The Na'vi woman turned back to face her . "It's been a long time since we've talked," Grace said. "Will you walk with me for a while?"
Neytiri's eyes flickered around Grace's face for a moment before she nodded. "Yes." She glanced over her shoulder at the path leading back up. "We can talk for a while."
The two women traveled a slow perimeter around Hometree's mighty trunk.
"Will you tell me how things are going?" Grace asked. "Jake – he doesn't like to talk a lot about what's going on, other than asking me questions."
Neytiri glanced sidelong at Grace. "No, he does not talk to me about being a Dreamwalker, either." She was silent for a moment. "He is learning well," she said at last. "He learns the language quickly. He talks easily with the other hunters now."
Grace nodded. "His brother Tommy, he was amazing at languages – I guess it runs in the family. Has he told you about Tommy?"
"I know about him" Neytiri said. "But he does not talk about him. I asked one time, and he was sad to speak of it. I have not asked after that."
"What about living with the Omaticaya, does he talk about that?"
Neytiri shrugged. "He is here, what does he need to talk about?"
Grace sighed, wondering how to explain. "Listen, Neyitiri." She stopped walking. "Jake's body is sick, but his mind is sick, too." She tapped her temple. "Up here. He spends so much time with you, with the People – it's hard for him to leave, to accept that he's a different person at the end of it all."
Neytiri was silent for a moment. "He is Omaticaya," she said.
"He wants to be," Grace said quietly. "More than anything, I think. But he's human, too. He's – " How could she explain about Jake's dilemma, about Quaritch, who she knew Jake was still reporting to? "He's also human," she said. "And lately he hasn't been paying attention to that. He isn't taking care of his other body – that's why he's sick."
Neyiti's eyes narrowed slightly, her mouth tightened. "I can only watch him here, teach him here. He is happy when he is with us." Her tone was slightly accusing.
"Look," Grace said, "It's not my fault he's in this position – it's not anyone's fault. But I'm asking you a favor, because I know you care about him. Do you care about him?"
"Yes," Neytiri said, defiant in her gaze.
"Then please, watch him. If he acts strange, sad no for no reason, says anything that is unusual, tell me, come and find me." She grasped Neytiri's arm. "When humans get sick up here - ' she tapped her head again " - it's never easy to fix. He's proud – he won't tell me if something hurts. But he might tell you. And I need you to tell me. Can you do that?"
Neytiri examined her for a moment. "You are worried about him?" she said.
Grace hesitated. "Yes. Because he's been put in a situation no one has ever had to deal with until now." She looked over at Neytiri, but the huntress only looked ahead, pensive. For a while they walked in silence as the morning warmed around them.
'I will watch him," Neytiri finally said. "But when he is here, he is happy. I think it is important that you watch his other body, too."
"I'm watching," Grace said. "And there are others who are helping me. He needs us to prop him up, until – " she hesitated. Until what? This would end when the bulldozers arrived in less than a month. What would Jake do then? "We'll make sure he's okay," she said.
"Good," Neytiri said. Their quick pace had brought them all the way around Hometree.
"I will wait for Jake to wake up," Neytiri said again, glancing upwards.
Grace smiled a little. Jake didn't talk about it, but it was clear that he wasn't the only one falling in love in this forest. "Okay. I'm going to go back, then."
"What will you do?" Neytiri asked.
The biologist shook her head. "Make him chicken soup, I guess."