Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed.
"Speech" = English
It would be inappropriate for a clan leader to strangle any of the clan's healers, never mind three of the clan's healers. It would be doubly inappropriate in his case given that one of the healers in question was his mother. That didn't mean that Tsu'tey wasn't tempted, though, as she and the others fussed at him, fussed at his leg, fussed at the temporary crutch he was using….
He glanced over towards Jake and found Jake looking back in his direction, mouthing something that looked suspiciously like 'help,' and Tsu'tey bared his teeth in response. Jake only had to deal with Neytiri—a worried and possibly angry Neytiri, yes, but just Neytiri—while he had three healers in front of him. How was he supposed to help anyone? At this point, he was starting to wish that they had been attacked by a nantang pack.
He'd already sent most of the hunters who'd been with the search party out in a spiral pattern to see if they could pick up the palulukan's trail and confirm that he was moving away from Hometree. The clan was already warned of his existence thanks to the tracks by the archery range that had sent them out looking for him and Jake in the first place, but knowing the direction in which the palulukan had his lair would be useful. And if they could find the actual lair so much the better, although—
He frowned as the possibility of a palulukan denning just outside their perimeter came to mind, and then he wished that he hadn't as the youngest of the healers began to worry that the new bandage was too tight. It took more control than it should have to calmly insist that the wrap was fine and he'd simply been thinking of something else, especially since as soon as the words were out of his mouth his mother began to lecture him about getting injured further because of his lack of attention. He didn't think a mother scolding at a man presented the proper picture of an Olo'eyktan. It was certainly not something that was sung about in the teaching songs.
Tsu'tey glanced over at Jake, who was frowning slightly but seemed to be following along well enough. He hadn't interrupted for any translations, but then, Tsu'tey doubted that he would. At least not in current company. Tsu'tey's caution in sending out the hunters to locate the palulukan's den had been well-founded; it wasn't quite at the perimeter of Hometree but it was far too close for anyone's comfort. Especially given this palulukan's age and unpredictability. With an older one he would have been more confident in the likelihood of it taking its prey away from the Na'vi after a few failed attempts as he had described to Jake, but one so young might not be so easily dissuaded, and all it would take is one child of the clan in the wrong place at the wrong time to cause a tragedy. The clan did not need more loss right now.
Unfortunately, while he knew that it was possible to relocate palulukan, or at least convince him to relocate, it hadn't been done by the Omaticaya in his lifetime. He'd asked a few of the elder clan members if they had any experience, and Tsa'dran had vaguely remembered the clan having to move one when he was a small child, but it had been before he'd even started to learn the teaching songs never mind been of age to assist. In fact, none of the clan members who'd been directly involved were still alive, but Tsu'tey had gathered all who were children at the time and they were doing their best to recall what they'd seen and heard. He and Jake were the only two younger clan members here now—the others were putting up the meat from the hunt, but the two of them had been banned from any physical activity by the healers for at least the next couple days which left them little to do but listen—but there would be a meeting of all of the hunters later to put together the best plan that they could. And regardless of his mother's opinion, he would be going along on this endeavor because it was not something that he could ask the hunters to do without the Olo'eyktan along.
Kalis finished recounting what he remembered of his father's description of smoking the palulukan out, and Jake met Tsu'tey's eyes and winced.
Tsu'tey nodded slightly. He agreed—he wasn't thrilled about the idea of setting a fire near a tree den after what had happened to Hometree either—but they might not have a choice. They had to find a way to make the palulukan's den uninhabitable enough that he had no desire to return.
Man'an began to speak next; unlike the others here he'd joined the Omaticaya after adulthood when he'd taken a mate among them at one of the Clan Gatherings, and his clan had once successfully moved a palulukan by closing off its den while it had been out hunting. Again he hadn't been personally involved, but it was obvious from the way he was describing the lair that that den had been a temporary home at best, so while Tsu'tey liked the idea better than burning him out, it might not be an option. A determined palulukan would be able to dig through almost anything a Na'vi could put in front of him with the possible exception of collapsing the den, and even then, if he was particularly attached to the location, he might dig a new den in the same location.
Man'an was speaking faster than Kalis had, his voice still carrying a slight accent from the clan of his birth, and Jake clearly wasn't following him as well as he had the others, but when Tsu'tey gave him a questioning look he shook his head. He was probably able to follow the basics if not all of the details then. Well, that or he'd be asking Tsu'tey for a lot of translations later. Unfortunately the older the clan member the less English they generally had, and while these discussions would be conducted in Na'vi anyway since the last thing Tsu'tey would want was for something to be missed because someone didn't know the right word, it did make it difficult for Jake to ask questions. It had occurred to Tsu'tey after Tsa'dran had begun to speak that he probably should have asked one of the other hunters to sit in as well, just to have a second set of ears that understood everything, but…well, Tsa'dran would join the hunters later if asked. In fact, it would probably be a good idea to run the final plan past him and a few of the other clan members as well. That would be enough.
There was no one to speak after Man'an, and Tsu'tey thanked everyone quickly and the group dispersed to their before-dinner tasks. Jake remained with him, though, and he flicked his ears in question. "Did you understand?"
"Most everything except the last. He doesn't sound quite like the rest of you, and he talks faster too. Different clan originally?"
"One of the grassland clans, yes." Tsu'tey couldn't remember which at the moment, which was to his shame and he would remember to ask Mo'at when he had the chance, but Jake probably wouldn't recognize it anyway.
"Ah. He was saying something about piling a bunch of rocks in front of the den, though, right? Call me crazy, but I like that idea way better than burning it out."
"As do I, but he was speaking of a temporary den. It may not work if the palulukan has chosen the tree that the hunters tracked him to as his permanent lair."
"Damn. Figures. Well, we can always try."
"And I think we will, unless someone has a particular reason that we shouldn't." If it wasn't a particularly large tree, taking it down was even a possibility, although he didn't actually like that idea much more than setting fire to it. But he needed to hear more details from the hunters who'd seen it firsthand to know if that was an option. "We will meet with the hunters tomorrow at midday to tell them what we learned."
Jake nodded, getting to his feet as Tsu'tey tucked his crutch under his arm. "Healers give you any more news on your leg?"
"They have said that our run didn't do more than strain the muscles." No bone damage, or at least no more than there already had been. "So unless anything else happens, they will remove the cast in a day or two." One if he had his way, two if his mother had hers…unfortunately, he already knew how that battle was going to end. "What about you?"
"Strains, overstressed muscles, better to build up to distance running, blah, blah, blah. I don't know, I stopped listening about five minutes in. I mean, I guess we could have asked the palulukan to walk slowly after us, but somehow I don't think that would have worked."
Tsu'tey grinned. "I do not think I would say that to them."
"Oh, trust me, no way I'm making that mistake. Tempting as it is."
"I have your things from the Sky People's place," Tsu'tey said as they approached Hometree. He'd realized it last night when he'd noticed that his carry pouch wasn't empty…there had been no reason to use it so it had been hanging by the hammock he'd claimed so Jake's things had been in there since their journey.
"My things? Oh, my tags and projector, right."
"Why do you keep them?" Tsu'tey asked curiously as he retrieved the items from his pack and handed them back to Jake. He hadn't thought to ask when Jake had first given them to him, his focus at the time had been on his injured friend, but…. "They are nothing here."
Jake's shoulder twitched. "Not to you maybe, but those pics and vids are all I've got from back home. That's what's left of Tommy and my parents and my friends. Well, I guess technically I got this from Tommy too," he gestured at his body, "but that's a little different."
Tsu'tey frowned and shook his head, and Jake looked away for a minute before meeting his gaze again.
"I'm never going back to Earth. We talked about that before, and no, it still doesn't bother me. But the people deserve better than being forgotten. I mean, if something happened to your mother, would you just erase her from your memory?"
"Of course not." Tsu'tey knew that his disgust was visible on his face, but it was for good reason: that was a horrible thing to suggest. It did not do to linger on thoughts of death, although grief was entirely understandable and no one would speak against it, but celebrating and remembering the life of a clan member who had gone to Eywa was right.
"Well, I'm not just going to forget the people I loved either." Jake shrugged. "Don't get me wrong, I mean, I don't expect anyone else to care, but…they were mine."
He was right. Tsu'tey would not have thought about it like that, although he probably should have given that he knew that the device contained images of Jake's brother, but no one had the right to expect Jake to forget his family.
"And these…." Jake put the projector in his pouch and then untangled the band of ugly jewelry quickly, holding it in his hand—it looked much smaller now than it had when he was in his Sky Person body although no more attractive—and a half-smile crossed his face. "I don't know. I guess I've just been wearing them for so many years that it'd feel wrong to be without them. To tell you the truth, I'm kind of surprised that I didn't notice that they were missing them before." He did something that made the band open and then slipped it around his neck and reattached it.
"I'm sure you could bargain with one of the artists for a nicer band, at least, if you insist on wearing it," Tsu'tey said with a shake of his head. Actually they'd almost certainly give him something if he asked, if only so Toruk Makto didn't look foolish wandering around in something so unattractive. As it was, he was already wearing far less jewelry and ornamentation than anyone else in the clan short of a hunter about to leave on a hunt ever did. He had the right to more, given his rank, but he either didn't know that or didn't care. Knowing Jake and what he'd said before about wearing whatever Neytiri told him to and the lack of ornamentation on the Sky People's things, it was probably a combination of both.
Jake looked down, running a finger along the faded grey material. "What's wrong with it?"
Tsu'tey stared at him for a moment and then shook his head. Maybe it was just as well that Sky People didn't ornament things if their taste was that bad.
/I See you, Tsu'tey,/ Neytiri greeted, looking up from her work as Tsu'tey approached.
/I See you, Neytiri,/ he returned.
/I believe Jake has gone to listen to the teaching songs with the children,/ she said.
Tsu'tey dipped his head slightly in acknowledgement of her words, but it wasn't Jake that he wished to speak to right now. He might, afterwards—or he might not; Jake was his friend but he was also Neytiri's mate—but it was time that he spoke to Neytiri. Past time, perhaps. /May I sit?/
/Of course./ Her hands stilled over the arrow she'd been fletching. /Is something wrong?/
/Not wrong, but…./ He shook his head. /Why did you do it?/ As soon as the words were out of his mouth that he hadn't phrased his question well…he'd seen her sitting alone in the clearing and had decided that now was as good a time as any for them to talk since he had nothing that needed his immediate attention, but that had been less than clear. He should have planned out what to say better. Or at least how to say it.
She frowned down at the arrow and her ears flicked against her skull as she looked back at him. /I don't understand./
/Why did you mate Jake?/ Which was clearer, at least, although still not well-phrased, but the question was out in the open now, and he waited for her response.
She looked away for a minute and then back at him. /Because it was right./
/And I wasn't? I will be a good Olo'eyktan./ His voice was laced with hurt and he was sure that she could hear it, as much as he wished that he'd hidden it better, but he had done his best to learn from Eytukan and the idea that that could have been gone in an instant—
/No!/ She shook her head quickly. /No, it was not…./ Her ears flicked back again, and this time he recognized embarrassment. /It had nothing to do with the leadership. At the time, I didn't even think about that./
He tilted his head, but she continued speaking before he could ask.
/You are not wrong as Olo'eyktan—and you are already a good leader—but you and I…./ She shook her head. /We were wrong./ Her shoulders twitched. /You were my brother for so many years. You taught me to throw a bola, you rode beside me on my first hunt, you were there when I bonded with…./
She swallowed hard and looked away again, but this time it had nothing to do with him. And Tsu'tey did understand because if he had lost Denan like she had lost Seze, he would feel as much pain.
/I did not think when I should have,/ she said as she lifted her head again. /I realize that. Jake would not be as good a leader as you; I know this, and he knows this, and either of us will tell you this. And I should have considered that before I acted. The good of the clan… it should have come first. But he and I, we are right together. We belong together./ Another twitch of her shoulders, this one accompanied by a vague wave of one hand. /I can feel it, but it is not something that I can explain it more clearly. And maybe I could have found another way, a better way, if there had been more time, but Mother and Father were already upset that I had postponed our mating so long and were starting to insist that it happen soon, and with him finally becoming a full member of the clan…./ She shook her head. /It just happened./
Tsu'tey was reasonably sure that things like that didn't just happen, but then, he wasn't mated so he couldn't exactly claim to be an expert on the subject, either.
/It has nothing to do with your leadership,/ she added, repeating what she'd said earlier, /but I just couldn't mate you./
/I would prefer not to be mated to a sibling as well,/ he said after a moment. /And you are as close to a sister as I have ever had. But it does not make the situation easier./
/No,/ she agreed. /I wish it were otherwise, but…./
Tsu'tey shook his head. What was done was done. /I will teach him as best I can before the challenge./ If Jake did win, he would have to be Olo'eyktan, no matter what anyone thought.
/I know you will. You are better than I am at always considering the good of the clan first./ She paused. /For what it is worth, though I should not say this, Mother agrees with the three of us. Jake would be a good second for you if you chose it, but he does not have the knowledge necessary for leadership./
One of three was something, anyway, Tsu'tey knew, and as the Tsahik of the clan in question Mo'at's words would carry weight with the two Olo'eyktans who would also be involved in the decision. Although he did understand why she couldn't possibly say something of the sort directly to him so rather than acknowledging Neytiri's words verbally he settled for a twitch of his ears.
/Are you the one who told Jake that he should get a new chain for his pendant?/ she asked after a minute.
It was a deliberate change of subject, but there was little more to say about what they'd been discussing previously so Tsu'tey simply nodded. Things were still not calm between the two of them, but he would admit that a good deal of the hurt he'd felt had gone with her words. At the fact that she hadn't been thinking that the clan needed a better Olo'eyktan than him when she had chosen Jake. And, truth be told, he would not mind if they returned to their previous sibling status. Maybe it wouldn't happen immediately, but…. /He calls them 'tags,'/ he offered.
/I noticed. Did he at least replace the chain?/
/With a string of beads the children made./ She shook her head. /I think he helped them. It is very little improvement./