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—==''''==—

It was good to see her mate laughing, Neytiri mused. Jake hadn't always been this carefree, not for a long time after The Time Of Sorrow. The aftermath of the war had been fierce and lingering, even though the Na'vi had won the battle.

But now, over a year after the RDA had left Pandora, things were finally calming down. Jake was settling in with the People and his new life.

From a distance, Neytiri watched him talking to Norm. The latter was in his avatar form, which was something of a small miracle in itself. Norm's avatar body had been severely wounded in the final battle, but somehow the miracle workers at Hell's Gate—first and foremost the brilliant scientist Max Patel—had managed to nurse the hybrid body back to health.

Neytiri was only just within earshot—not close enough to make out every word, but near enough to catch that Jake and Norm were conversing in Na'vi. She hadn't given much thought to it in the past, but suddenly it struck her as odd. She watched for a few more moments, trying to gauge if perhaps either of them was doing it to practice the language, but it seemed as if they were having a relaxed conversation. She tried to remember the word that Grace had once taught them that would describe it. Small speak? Short talk? She made a mental note to ask Jake about it later.

She suddenly heard a young voice from behind her. A Na'vi child was tugging at her hand, addressing her. "Come, Neytiri, I want to show you my toy banshee!"

She glanced over at Jake and Norm one last time before she followed the young one into the base of Utral Kelku, their new Hometree.

—==''''==—

Later that night, after the evening meal gathering, Jake found Neytiri near their hammock, grooming her hair. "Kaltxì, my love," he said.

She smiled at him. "Hello, My Jake," she said in her lilting English. "You have been busy today."

A quick frown flitted over Jake's forehead. "Yes, I guess I have. Why are we speaking English, what's the occasion?"

"Occasion?" She let the unfamiliar word roll off her tongue.

"Reason," he explained.  

She was quiet for a moment. "I never speak this language anymore. I am becoming rosty."

"Rusty," he corrected her.

"Yes, russ-ty."

He couldn't help but crack a smile. Her accent was endearing, but he also knew she hated when he made fun of it.

She kept silently grooming her hair before she continued. "I saw you speaking with Norm. You talked in Na'vi. Why do you not speak English?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. Guess it's just easier. Na'vi is all I speak these days. I guess I... kinda think in Na'vi too now. And, you know, Norm can use the practice."

She got up to be at eye level with him. "Jake, you should speak English many often."

She saw how the corners of his lips curved up, realizing she had used another incorrect expression. "What did I say wrong?" she asked with a half-smile.

"Not 'many often'—'more often'," he corrected her.

"You see, I need the practice also, not only you." She paused for a short moment. "I do not want you to lose your past, to forget where you came from."

His eyes were suddenly intent on her before he lowered his head. "I don't want to remember that place. My life is here now, with you, on Pandora. All I had or was before is meaningless now."

She took a step back. "No. That is wrong. You must never forget where you come from."

He sighed a small sigh. "There is nothing about Earth that is worth remembering, believe me."

She shook her head. "I do not believe that. But if you feel you do not want to remember, it would not be right to forget your language."

She stepped closer again, cupping his blue cheeks with her hands. "I want you to teach our child to speak English."

His eyes grew wide. "Our child? You mean... Are you...?"

She suddenly understood and laughed. "No, I did not mean that. Just... one day, when we have a child. I wish that it would learn English from you."

He laughed too, feeling both relief and, perhaps a little surprisingly, the tiniest bit of disappointment. "Okay, sure thing."

"Will you talk in English to me?"

His eyebrows knotted together. "I don't get it. Just a few months ago, you refused to speak English to me."

"It was when your Na'vi was not good. Now you speak it well. I need someone to practice English now."

He sighed. "Okay, fine. I can ask Norm to speak English to you too."

She smiled at him. "That would be..." she searched for the word, "awesome."

Jake laughed out loud despite himself, it sounded so strange out of Neytiri's mouth. "Did Grace teach you that?"

She shook her head, a mischievous smile on her face. "No, it was Norm."

"I need to have a word with him," Jake muttered, then considered this for a moment. "Actually, you know, why don't we reactivate Grace's school?"

"You want to teach the children?"

"Me? God, no! I suck at teaching. But I'm sure Norm would be eager to. And you've met Christie, one of the other avatars, right? I think she used to be a college teacher before she came here. She might be willing to help out. You know, if the People will let her."

She took Jake's hand. "You are Olo'eyktan now, Jake. The People will do whatever you ask them to do."

He narrowed his eyes. This had always bothered him. "That's not how things work where I come from. Do you know what democracy is?"

Neytiri shook her head, so he tried to explain it. "It's when you have a leader but he doesn't do what he wants, he does what his people want. Like, everyone will get a say in what they think the leader should do. And he will do what the majority of people vote for."

Her gaze was filled with confusion, and Jake realized he was using terms and vocabulary that didn't mean anything to her, that didn't exist or make sense in her world. "The leader will ask the people what they want, and the thing that the most people want is what the leader will do."

She understood now, but Jake could see that she was still trying to grasp the concept. He suddenly felt very self-conscious. What the hell was he doing, trying to squeeze human politics into the well-oiled system of the Na'vi—a system that had worked for them for centuries, if not millennia.

Still, could the Omaticaya be taught democracy? Maybe it didn't have to be such a drastic change. Maybe he could do this slowly, ask for people's opinions before he made the big decisions.

He looked at Neytiri again. "I'm just thinking... maybe I could ask if the Omaticaya want to open the school. If they do, we'll reopen it. If they don't, we don't."

"And how do you want to do this? Will you gather the People to ask them?"

He shrugged. "It's not like I've thought this through. I'll have to ask Norm and Christie first anyway. Maybe there's more people at Hell's Gate who are willing to help."

She smiled a warm smile at him. "I think it will be good to reopen the school. The children are eager to learn. They ask me questions all the time, about why our Olo'eyktan has more fingers or where he came from."

He pointed at her. "There you go. I have my first vote."

"Vote? What is a vote?"

"It's when you say yes or no when I ask you whether you want something or not."

"You are not such a bad teacher, My Jake."

"Yeah, that's what you say," he laughed. "I don't have the patience for it. I may have it with you, but small children are a whole other issue."

She frowned at him. "I have seen you with the children. You will be a good father some day."

He smirked despite himself. A father. He had never really seen himself as someone fathering children one day. Being a marine without a woman back home had pretty much removed him from anything resembling a family life. None of the women he had met before his accident had stayed in his life long enough to form any kind of serious relationship. And after his accident... Who would want to be with a guy in a wheelchair? Life on earth was hard enough as it was.

He met Neytiri's eyes. "So you want to have children with me?"

She nodded. "Yes."

"And why not start right away?" he said playfully, taking her in his arms.

She acquiesced to his caresses. "Oh, but it is not this easy, Jake. It is not mating season yet."

He did a double-take. "Wait a minute. Mating season?"

"Yes. It is only once every Plltxe'e Tiyu. When the red star is high in the sky."

That didn't mean anything to Jake. "And how often does that happen?"

Neytiri shrugged. She didn't have a clue how that translated to earth time. She looked skywards, studied the constellations. "The next mating season is not far away." She smiled a beguiling smile at him and let her finger gently trace down the side of his face. "I will tell you when it starts."

He mirrored her movement with his own finger on her cheek. "Please do," he whispered before he drew her closer for a long and intense kiss that would be the beginning of a very intimate night.