Another Thing to Thank For

"...and then, just as I thought I was a goner, you came out of nowhere and saved my ass from those viperwolves." Jake shook his head with an incredulous chuckle.

He and Neytiri had spent an exhilarating day together hunting with their ikran. Neytiri had just recently tamed a new mount, slowly getting over the loss of Seze, so today, they had been mostly enjoying being able to soar through the skies together again, the very same way they once had when Jake had got his banshee. The kill hadn't been too great as a result, but neither of them really minded due to their delight.

Now, they were sharing a peaceful moment alone in the canopy of their new Hometree, resting side by side on a branch and admiring the setting sun. Their casual talk had turned to Jake's first experiences in the Pandoran jungle and he had just been enumerating the happenstance of events that had led to them meeting each other.

"I mean," he continued, "so many things could've gone wrong or gone some other way and we would never have met. I could've died, trampled to the ground by that hammerhead, eaten alive by the thanator, ripped to pieces by those viperwolves or I don't know what. I guess I should really thank Eywa that things went the way they did."

Neytiri smiled at him fondly. "Yes, we should." Then, suddenly, her smile vanished and she looked at the sun, her expression distant. "We should thank Eywa more than you think..."

"Yeah, I know," Jake replied, grinning. He glanced at Neytiri. The sunlight she stared directly into made her golden eyes even more luminous, literally glowing, and underneath, the silver spots on her cheek sparkled like stars shimmering on a deep blue sky. Jake was carried away by the vision for a moment, but before he could fully appreciate it, he noticed the look on her face. Something was troubling her.

"Neytiri? Something's wrong?"

Neytiri was silent for a while, but then she took a deep, nervous breath. There was one thing on her mind related to their first encounter that she hadn't shared with him yet. Each time she had recalled it, her heart had skipped a beat, grasped by the cold hand of guilt. Their fate had trembled in the balance back then, without her even knowing, all because she was blinded by hatred. Finally, she decided to ease her heart.

"Jake, I have never told you how I really met you for the first time," she said slowly, still studying the horizon, as if afraid to meet his eyes.

He chuckled. "What do you mean? I know how we met. I was there, remember? Surrounded by a pack of –"

"But that is not how I met you. Do you think I was around by accident?"

"Well, I..." Jake's voice trailed off. To him, Neytiri's appearance was just another of those miraculous coincidences he had recounted earlier. "Weren't you?"

She shook her head a little. "No. When I first encountered you, it was daylight. I was hunting. You were very easy to spot."

Jake hung his head and let out a quiet sheepish laugh. "Yeah, I know." He looked back at Neytiri. Her face not only remained solemn, but her eyes became glossy, reflecting the last remaining rays of sunlight. He reached out his hand and gently stroked her cheek. "What is it, Neytiri?" he asked, concerned.

Neytiri finally turned to look him in the eyes. He winced, surprised by the pain in her gaze. "Jake, I almost killed you then," she said in a trembling voice.

Jake had no idea what she was talking about. "What, you mean you almost shot me by accident or something?" he asked, smiling in an attempt to cheer her up.

"No. Not by accident."

His curious smile faded away. "What do you mean?"

"I wanted to kill you, Jake. I was determined to kill you," Neytiri confessed, her gaze piercing him.

Jake was taken aback. "Kill me? But why?" he asked incredulously. As far as he knew, the Na'vi didn't kill one another unless the circumstances were exceptionally severe, and he frankly doubted that had been the case.

"You were alien. An intruder. Too close to the Hometree."

Jake still wasn't sure he believed it. "You would shoot intruders on sight? Come on, I was clearly lost and not a threat –"

"And I hated all Sky People then. Because of... because of my sister," Neytiri admitted, looking away. The memory of Sylwanin dying in her arms was still painful, even after all those years.

"Oh." A chilling sensation ran down Jake's spine as he realised the fact. Neytiri had wanted to kill him. This, he indeed hadn't known. He started wondering how come he was still alive when there had been a Na'vi warrior determined to kill him at his heels, in addition to him being lost in a hostile alien forest. He gulped. This added a whole new and unexpected dimension to his former ordeal.

Jake blinked and returned Neytiri's look. "But you didn't," he said hopefully, stating the obvious.

Neytiri frowned. "I didn't, but Jake, I changed my decision at the very last moment. I was aiming at your heart, arrow ready, bow taut. I... I even prayed to Eywa to make my shot accurate so you would die without suffer –" Her voice broke and she lowered her head. The mere thought of having released the arrow made her throat contract, no matter how hard she tried to remain strong on the outside. She was an excellent archer – Jake would have been dead within seconds.

He realised that as well, feeling dizzy at the idea. Judging by her look and the urgency in her voice, he could tell she was serious, but he wasn't sure he wanted to know this, above all that had happened recently. He took her hand into his. "Why are you telling me this, Neytiri?"

She clutched his hand firmly and lifted her head again to look him in the eyes. "I think you should know. It is another thing to thank Eywa for." She smiled shortly. "It was her who stopped me from releasing the arrow."

Jake's eyes widened. "Really?"

"Yes," Neytiri confirmed, happiness making a brief reappearance in her voice. "Just as I was releasing the arrow, I spotted a single atokirina floating toward me. It sat on the tip of my arrow for a while. That was when I knew the All Mother did not want you to die by my hand."

Jake was amazed. He knew that Eywa had played an important role in his life on Pandora, but he had never stopped realising just how big the role really was. "So that's why you decided to protect me?"

Neytiri shook her head, a sad look on her face once again. "Oh no, my Jake. I did not decide to protect you. I did not know the All Mother wanted you to live. I thought she just did not want me to kill you. I still hated you then. I knew the forest would claim your life soon enough."

Jake looked at her suspiciously. "But you did save me eventually."

"Yes. I could not let you wander on your own. I followed you in the forest. I needed to make sure you would not come too close to our grounds. And I wanted to see what would eventually happen to you. I... you were different than the other dreamwalkers. But the way you behaved... I was sure something would eat you soon. And then, the nantang attacked you. I saw the way you fought them. That was when I decided to help you."

Jake smiled, remembering their first conversation ever. You have a strong heart. No fear. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him. He stood up. "Did I ever thank you for saving me?" he asked, trying in vain to hide a mischievous grin sneaking up his face. He distinctly remembered thanking Neytiri back then, including her reaction.

His playful question seemed to have accomplished its intent to relieve the gloomy atmosphere of the previous conversation. Neytiri stood up as well and looked at him, mouth open and eyes wide, gasping in an expression of pretended shock. Jake half expected a smack on the head, but instead, her face clouded again as quickly as it had previously lit up. She let out a sigh, suddenly looking painful once more. "You did. I am sorry I... did not appreciate your gratitude. I... I guess I still hated you then... and the first days of teaching you..."

Jake had enough of his mate's remorse. Today had been an extraordinarily joyful day for both of them and he intended it to stay like that all the way till its end, maybe even a bit longer. He put his arms around Neytiri's waist and hugged her tightly. "So let me thank you again."

Neytiri returned the embrace rather tentatively. "Are you not upset?"

He pulled back a little to look at her. "Upset? Why would I be upset?"

"Because I hated you and wanted to kill you with no warning. Because I almost did, only for where you came from, without knowing who you were. Without seeing you," she emphasised, placing her palm on his chest.

Jake let out a sigh. What Neytiri had told him was a bit disturbing, yes, but all's well that ends well, right? He took her hand resting above his heart and caressed her long fingers with his thumb, smiling at her. "No, I'm not upset. I guess it was... understandable. I'm just glad you didn't actually shoot me," he added with a chuckle.

Neytiri smiled as well and finally fully returned his embrace, closing her eyes in relief. "I am glad too."

They stood there in silence for a minute, enjoying each other's tight embrace, before Neytiri pulled away and said in a casual voice, "Come, the evening meal will start soon." She caught his tail playfully as she darted away, disappearing into the trunk. Jake didn't waste a single moment and went chasing after her.

For a while, their cheerful whoops and laughs could be heard, before being swallowed by the rustling of leaves and the distant sounds of the forest. All around, the night was slowly beginning to glow.

~ Author's notes ~

Well, there goes my first ever English writing attempt (but I don't write in Czech either). It sure was an interesting experience. Hope the result's not too bad.

Huge dose of thanks goes to Dachande663 and VividInk for being kind enough to proofread the story for me. Without them, I would never have plucked up the courage to publish it.

I have been told that there already are fics where this issue is discussed between Jake and Neytiri. Well, I didn't know that when I wrote this story, so it is not influenced by them in any way.

Finally, if you would like to please a fan who ventured into writing for a quick glance, you can leave a comment.