I'm not James Cameron, so obviously, I don't own Avatar. I'm kinda hoping that the fact that I've seen it a half dozen times so far counts, though…
"Jake, you're one of the bravest people I know. So how can you be such a coward sometimes? It's medical. Get seen!"
"The bureaucracy's got my balls, Tom! They're not letting me through the red tape. I can't get a thing until they sign off on it."
"So get on the phone, nim-wad." The tall man tossed the cordless handset into his brother's lap. "Start navigating. You're a decorated Marine. You've got contacts - use 'em!"
Jake turned the phone over in his hands, staring at the digital display. Apprehension gripped his belly. "You know I'm not good at talking, Tom. I'm not you."
His older-by-two-minutes brother rolled his eyes. "Duh. Then you might actually understand when I told you 'Eltu si, skxawng, fmi. Frawzo'"
"I don't speak the language, but I'm pretty sure I've just been insulted," Jake glowered at his twin. "How's that going, anyway?"
Tom rubbed his temples. "Passably enough. I'm getting the science down, but the language is still giving me hell. I'm pretty sure I just butchered the grammar and pronunciation of that sentence, for example."
"Hell if I know. Not that I'll ever need to know what 'skound' means, anyway."
Tom winced, and Jake grinned. "You wanna see what I'm dealing with, baby brother?" he asked, flipping his computer around. Jake wheeled his chair over and whistled under his breath.
"Looks like someone sat on a keyboard. Is that really a language?"
"Like I said, it's giving me hell. Good thing I won't be shipping out for another couple of months; it'll give me time to practice. And you time to get out of this piece-of-shit chair you picked up at a hospital junk sale and into a set of wheels that can really move. Or better."
The happy mood vanished, leaving Jake with twisted guts again. "You know that's not an option, Tom. Surgery's expensive; I can't afford it, not on vet benefits. And the government's not forking over to repair a weapon they'll never be able to deploy again. I'm on my own here."
Tom's hand landed on his shoulder. "No. Not alone. You'll always have me, Jakey."
The comforting gesture was anything but. Jake swept his twin's hand away, angrily. "No, I won't Tom. Because you're leaving in two months. You'll be gone, and I'll never see you again." He set off for the door as fast as he could make the wheels on his junker wheelchair move.
"Jake? Jake, where are you going?"
"It's not that Jake's not smart," his third grade teacher told his parents during parent-teacher conferences. "He is - well, Tom is his twin, after all. He's just so darned hyperactive! I can't get him to sit still."
They looked out the windows down onto the play court, where Jake was running after a ball, two steps ahead of the pack that was chasing him. He planted his heels in the faux-turf that passed for grass, executed a sharp dodge, and sent the black-and-white ball soaring into the net. His teammates cheered, none louder than Tom.
"Speaking of Tom... I wonder if it might not be better to get him into an advanced class?" the teacher suggested, carefully. "Some place where his obvious talents for math and science will be… nurtured. Brought to his fullest potential. You know, they're always on the lookout for bright, studious children. Jewels of America, they call them."
Mr. Sully rebelled at the thought. "No! They're only eight years old; that's too young to force him to choose what he wants to be when he grows up! You know those places will make him do what they want; Tom will never be able to make his own choices about his future, they'll brainwash him!"
Mrs. Sully had a more personal fear. "Tom only? What about Jake? They've never been apart; it would kill my boys to be shunted into different schools."
The teacher jumped on this. "They're growing up, Mrs. Sully. They need to start becoming their own individuals. I know it's cute when they finish one another's sentences, but do they really think of themselves as separate people, or as extensions of one another? It's easy to do to twins… oftentimes, the only way to ensure full development of individualism is to separate the siblings, sometimes even into separate homes, so that they can discover who they are apart from each other."
The boys' mother frowned. She'd heard that load of trash-compactor waste was the current in-vogue opinion of psychologists, but she'd never given it much credence. Now, her husband was eying the boys out the window. She looked at her sons as well. Jake had just fallen, slamming his knee painfully into the ground; she winced, knowing that in these schools, the padding was often left out and the green carpeting just laid straight on concrete. Then she noticed Tom on the sidelines, rubbing his own knee as though it hurt too, though nothing had touched him.
Her eyes met her husband's, and she knew that he had seen it, too. "We'll discuss it," she told the teacher, reluctantly. "But no promises."
"Tommy Sully is a teacher's pet!"
The cruel words lanced at the boy now lying sprawled on the pavement, his pile of books fanned out around him.
"I am not," he protested.
"Are too!" sneered Lawson, standing over him. "You're such a teacher's pet, I'll bet you're in lo-o-ove with her!"
"Tommy's in love with Ms. Winston! Tommy's in love with Ms. Winston!" chanted the gang.
Tom launched himself at his tormentor, tackling him around his knees. But the older boy was much bigger, and he merely laughed, kicking at his face.
"Hey! Leave my brother alone!"
Tom let go, looking up as Jake inserted himself between the bully and his twin.
"Oh yeah? And what're you gonna do about it?" he taunted.
And was caught off-guard by a flying fist to the face, as Jake Sully went into full-out attack mode. He managed to give Lawson a black eye, bloody nose, and a well-aimed kick to his groin before the gang got it together enough to peel him off of their leader.
Walking home, Tom glared at his brother. "I'm not lying to mom about how you got hurt," he said. "I can fight my own battles."
Jake grinned, pulling his hand away from his split lip. "I'm not asking you to," he told him. He was limping; Lawson's friends had taken his revenge for him. "Thanks for helping me fight mine."
Tom touched his own swelling eye. "Yeah, well… don't fight for me and you wouldn't get hurt."
"Never gonna happen, Tommy. You know I can't back down from a good fight."
He snorted. "So… what're we gonna tell Mom?"
The cry rang around the alley, sound mixing with the pounding of his shoes as Jake ran and ran and ran. Behind him, he could hear a second pair of heels striking concrete, slamming after him with determination, if not speed. A second pair of lungs gasping for breath, a voice that was his own, but was not his own, calling after him. "Jakey, wait!"
He wanted to run. Run away, leave his brother behind, forever, like his brother was leaving him. Oh, not forever, no. They would have vacations together. The occasional long weekend, when the boarding school for 'gifted students' let their inmates come home - not that mother had phrased it that way, but that's what she meant. Tom was leaving. The twins wouldn't be twins anymore, they'd just be two people who happened to share the same genetic make up.
"Wait!" The cry was fainter now, more out of breath. Tom was no slouch, athletically, but he was nowhere near as conditioned as Jake was. "Please!"
Darn it. Jake tried to ignore it, but Tom had pulled out his secret weapon. He knew that his brother could never, would never, ignore him when he said please. He slowed, then stopped, bending over, hands on his knees as he huffed from the exertion. He hadn't realized how far he'd run. Tom came limping up, and Jake looked over at his twin with a bit of admiration; he must have been really determined to talk to his brother.
After several minutes of mutual panting, the pair sat down, backs to the building. Jake scrabbled a few pebbles together and started shying them at a garbage bin just down the street, listening to the clonk-ing sound they made when they hit.
"I'll miss you too, you know," Tom said aloud.
Jake grunted. "Sure you will. You'll be learning all sorts of new stuff and I'll be here, running around."
"Hey, we're all experts at something."
"I'm no expert. You kept up."
"You were running slow."
"Whatever." Jake tossed his last rock, only it missed and struck a plastic bottle, which skittered away across the broken chunks of asphalt. Something caught his eye and he got up to investigate. "Hey, Tom, come here!"
The two boys bent over Jake's find.
A single flower was pushing its sunny yellow mane of petals skyward, jagged green leaves spread out proudly, if stunted.
"It's a dandelion," Tom said in a low voice, reaching out one finger to touch the soft petals.
"I've never seen one before," whispered Jake, in awe. "I don't know a single kid who has."
"They're extinct in the city. This might be the last one."
The two brothers' eyes met, and the backed slowly away, gazes never leaving their precious find.
Then Jake flung his arms around his twin. "Just don't forget me," he whispered fiercely in his ear.
"Never," Tom promised.
"You joined the Army?" On the other end of the phone, Tom's voice went up, disbelieving.
"My brother's gonna be a jarhead?"
"My brother's gonna be a thinktank?"
"It's a Ph.D, doofus."
"In alien plants." Jake's voice was flat.
"You think every graduate student gets a chance to study Pandoran biology? They take only the best of the best. This - This is groundbreaking, Jake! Christopher Columbus had his new world, our great-great grandparents traveled the stars, and right now, I've got the chance to explore a world that humans have hardly set foot on! Do you have any idea how exciting that is, Jake?"
"At least as exciting as fighting a war here on planet Earth is."
"Don't go, Jake! You'll get yourself killed, and then where will I be?"
"In a laboratory. Exactly where you're at right now. While I'm sitting here wondering what the hell to do with my life."
Tom was incredulous. "Why the military, Jake? Why? It's not like there's much glory to be had. Earth is dying! It's grinding itself down into a million little pieces, and the wars are just making it happen that much faster! If you want to fight, hop a colony ship! There's two inhabitable worlds out there that are just begging for colonists!"
"And waste three years in stasis? No thank you. Might as well head off for Pandora and sleep my life away."
Jake stopped. That was Tom's serious voice. "Tom? What's going on?"
His brother's voice was quiet. "I've been offered a position with the Avatar Program."
"To go to Pandora. To study it like a native does. To get to see living flora - plants that I've only seen vids of, plants I've had to study via freeze-dried specimens."
"But… that's… Pandora's, what, ten years away? Tom - you're leaving Earth?"
His brother's voice sounded uncomfortable. "Not for years. It'll take at least that long to get ready. But… yeah, eventually."
"How does Mom feel about it?"
"I haven't told her. Have you mentioned the marines yet?"
"… I was waiting for the right time."
"Guess we're both cowards, then."
There was silence on the line for a bit. Then, "I can't talk you out of it?"
"Oh. Well. Good luck, then."
"Yeah. You too."
Jake ignored it. Probably his brother. He didn't want to talk to him just now; he was enjoying his private sulk. He'd parked his wheelchair in a little out-of-the-way nook, on a balcony overlooking the street some four blocks away. It was a favorite place of his. No one ever went there, so there was no one around to stare.
Damn, Tom was persistent. Didn't he get it? Jake wanted to be left alone. He would have thought that storming out on him the day before was enough of a hint. Give me my privacy, so I can enjoy my self-pity.
He considered just turning the phone off. But then Tom would be worried. And if nothing else, he didn't want his brother to worry about him. He couldn't stand the implied pity.
"What?" he demanded, grumpily.
He sat up suddenly, back ramrod straight. "Who is this?"
"Your name is Jacob Sully, yes?"
"Jake Sully, yeah, what is it?"
"This is the police, Mr. Sully. I'm afraid I have some bad news for you."
Jake felt his insides turn to water. He'd heard that same phrase twice before, once when his mother had called to tell him that his father had been diagnosed with cancer, the second time when Tom had called to let him know that their mother had been in a car accident. If he hadn't been sitting down already, he'd have been searching for a chair.
"Your brother is dead. A mugging gone bad. I'm sorry, son. "
No. No, it wasn't supposed to be like this. He has two months before he's supposed to leave. He can't be out of my life, not this way, not like this…
"…Yeah. I'm sorry, it's just… it's a shock…" It's a bloody disaster, is what it is.
The voice on the other end was compassionate. "Where are you at? Can I send someone for you? You shouldn't be alone just now."
Jake cleared his throat. "I'm - I'll be alright."
"Would you like for us to arrange for the funeral?"
"The police do that?"
"Not always. But in special cases… yes, we do what we can to help out our veterans."
Finally. A good use for my service record. Fat lot of fricking good it does me now.
"Thanks," Jake said. "I'd appreciate it."
The funeral had all the smoothness of a much-practiced affair, the only varied details were the name of the deceased on the bulletin and the picture at the front. Jake stared at his own face behind the frame. Though their lives had taken dramatically different courses, he and Tom still shared the same face. His was a bit more lined, perhaps, marked by war and pain, but Tom's face was his face was Tom's face…
Tom's friends and colleagues filed out after the service, variously ignoring him - he was wearing the face of the guy in the coffin, after all, or maybe it was the wheelchair - or shaking his hand and muttering some gesture of sympathy, all of which sounded the same.
Finally freed from the other mourners, Jake wheeled through a little side door. The coffin was emptied - it was just for show, after all. There was no room for graveyards anymore, and only the rich actually kept the boxes they were shown in. Jake would've bet good money that the city's coffin was a permanent fixture in the funeral room. Jake watched as the cardboard crate that held his brother's remains was loaded into the furnace, the flames eating gleefully at the box, licking through the plastic wrap that was his twin's winding sheet.
And listened as the two men from the government's science institute, or whatever name they were calling themselves this week, offered him a proposition. Take his brother's place on the shuttle. Leave Earth behind. Abscond with Tom's dream, since Tom would not be able to dream ever again.
What the hell? It's not like Earth held any more dreams for him. And a six year nap sounded really, really good to him right now.
His eyes opened. His real eyes, his Na'vi eyes. He looked up into the face of his beloved, and Neytiri stroked his face. He took her hand in his, and she raised him up. "Welcome your new brother!" she declared to the cheering crowd. "Welcome Jakesully!" She turned to him, touched him, made love to him with her beautiful eyes. "Welcome to your true life, my Jake," she murmured.
"The dream is over," he agreed, holding her close. "Let new life begin."
Translation: For those who don't speak nor read Na'vi, what Tom said can be loosely translated as: Quit goofing off, moron, try. It'll be alright.
He was right. His grammar is horrible.