When they first showed Jake his brother's body, he hadn't really been able to think about what they were saying. He'd gone overseas like he'd always wanted, and now his journey done. Tommy was dead before his journey could even start. They were saying something about money and how big of an investment their company had made in Tommy's future at Pandora. Jake knew that much, at least. They'd paid for Tommy to get his PhD with the agreement that afterwards he'd go to Pandora training and then later to the planet to use everything he'd learned. Millions upon millions of dollars when most people didn't even have a thousand in their bank account, but maybe it was more than Jake had been thinking because now they were begging him to step in Tommy's place. As if it would be easy for Jake to step in his brother's shoes when Tommy had devoted five years just to reaching Pandora.
When he first saw the Avatar, he found himself smiling fondly at it. "It looks just like him," he said.
"No," Norm corrected, "it looks like you, now." Jake knew he meant well by it, but it was a lie. This wasn't Jake, it was all Tommy. Jake had a soulmark on his chest, a circle atop a straight line two inches long. There were several small lines coming from the circle, reminiscent of a sun symbol. Jake had the soulmark, all Tommy had was smooth skin-- just like the avatar in the tank.
Nobody bothered to tell him that soulmarks only appeared after first transference, and it's not like he checked for something he thought wouldn't appear. He had no idea it was there until after he'd gotten separated from the group and after he'd gotten attacked by the black dog things and after he'd gotten saved from them. "If I'm so damn annoying, then why did you save me?"
"I See you," she said, and Jake figured that had to be the weirdest response he'd ever gotten.
"Yeah I see you too, that doesn't really explain anything."
She made a noise of aggravation, then pointed at his chest with her bow.
Jake looked down and had the shock of his life when he saw a familiar black mark. He glanced at her chest, but there was nothing. "You know someone that has this mark too?"
She inclined her head. "Though he is not fond of dreamwalkers, perhaps you will change his mind." Or perhaps he'll kill you.
"Great," he said, throwing his hands up carelessly. He found his soulmate (almost), and they already hated him. "Just great."
Her tail swished in annoyance, and it occurred to Jake that maybe she'd save his soulmate to the trouble and kill Jake for him.
"Are you even gonna tell me his name or am I going to find out right before he slits my throat?"
"He would not hurt you," she said, rolling her eyes and starting to leave.
Jake looked at her, looked at the dead animal, and figured he had a better chance of surviving if he went with her, whether that was what she wanted to happen or not. She heard him stumbling around and glanced back, then rolled her eyes and grabbed his arm, righting him from a rock that he hadn't seen. She let him go and started walking again, but her pace was too fast for him to keep up with and she had to catch him again. She made another annoyed sound, almost like a snort but with less violence attached.
"You will embarrass him," she said, stating it like a fact.
"So? I embarrass a lot of people, I don't know why he would be any different."
She narrowed her eyes at him, and poked him hard in the chest with her bow. "Disrespect him in front of the Omaticaya, and I will take care of you myself."
Jake knew a threat when he heard one, and after seeing how easily she'd gotten rid of the dog things, he wasn't sure he'd win in a fight. "Fine, I'll play nice."
She started dragging him along, hand firmly around his upper arm so that even when he tripped over something they didn't stop.
"Not that you've told me anything about him. What's his name?"
"Su'tey," he tried.
She gave a single nod of approval. "You are not like the others that come to us."
Like Norm or Grace? Jake snorted. He stuck out like a sore thumb no matter which group he hung around with. All the military grunts looked at him like a target for Pandora, and the scientists looked at him like he was the biggest idiot on either planet. "Yeah I wouldn't have guessed that."
"Are you always so much annoying?"
"Yes. Maybe you should talk to Grace again, you can have a good time bitching about how incompetent I am."
She snarled, but before she could tell him in the moment how stupid he was, several Na'vi on- shit okay, those weren't horses, but they were something similar if bigger with more legs, rode onto the scene and Jake pulled up short, his flight instinct making itself known. She tightened the hold on his arm so he didn't get very far at all. Like, half a step was as far as he got.
And then they started speaking Na'vi. So Jake had no idea what the fuck was going on.
"Shouldn't you be at Hometree? " Neytiri asked, as though he wouldn't see right through that.
Tsu'tey just looked at her flatly. "Why are you bringing this demon to our home? "
"He is of your soul. A dreamwalker he might be, but you need to See him."
"He is not."
"Look at him. You will See what Eywa has planned for you."
"She does not interfere with souls."
Neytiri scoffed, shoving Jake towards him.
Oh great, he thought, ritual sacrifice. Maybe he should've paid a little more attention when Norm was talking about the culture of the Omaticaya. Killing a soulmate that would embarrass you to no end was probably a mercy, though Jake had no interest in dying today. Or anytime soon, really.
All he knew was that one second the two Na'vi were talking, and the next, she threw him forward. The man she'd been talking to dismounted, so fluid in his motions that it was obvious he'd done it a hundred times over. Probably shouldn't be a turn on considering he was about to kill Jake or something, but Jake wasn't what someone would call well-adjusted.
He walked right up to Jake and grabbed his chin, tilting his head so they met eyes more directly.
"Uh, what are you doing?"
"Anybody want to tell me what's going on?"
"No," she said, taking a perverse glee in Jake's discomfort.
"Do you speak English?" Jake asked the man in front of him, and for a long moment he didn't receive an answer. Long enough that he thought he wasn't going to get one, as a matter of fact.
"What is your name?"
"You're Tsu'tey, right?"
His tail swished in aggravation, and he glanced at the woman-- whose name Jake still didn't know-- before looking back at Jake. He grabbed Jake's arm and led him away. Not far, just enough away that they could speak in private. "What has she told you?"
"Your name and nothing else. You guys have a law about not talking to humans or something?"
"Hard to talk when they try to kill us."
"Yeah I can't imagine that's very fun. If it helps, the ones that use avatars are the guys that are actually interested in learning about your culture. Anyone even talks about hurting you guys and they start going on about the respect for life."
Tsu'tey narrowed his eyes at Jake and started circling him. Jake had the uncomfortable feeling like he was being judged and found wanting. "You are not one of that group?"
Jake half-turned so that he could keep an eye on him. "They're all scientists. That's what my brother did, not me."
"Then why is he not here?"
"He's dead," Jake said flatly. "If you'd rather he was here, you can join the club; Grace would switch me for him in a minute if she could."
Tsu'tey sneered. "Grace would have seen us die for her 'research'."
"She's kind of a bitch," Jake agreed with a shrug. "Not to put too fine a point on it, but we are soulmates. Does that mean anything to you or am I going to pretend that I don't know? Not really sure how I'd pretend that, but I could always give it a shot if you're gonna keep looking at me like you want me dead."
Tsu'tey gave him a sharp look. "Go," he said to the others, and though they hesitated, they left as ordered. Including the woman, whose name Jake had never found out. He hoped Tsu'tey would tell him if he asked, otherwise he'd be left saying 'that one Na'vi woman' when he was trying to talk about her.
Jake met his gaze head on, even as his heart felt like it was going to beat out of his chest.
Tsu'tey put his fingers to Jake's mark, and it felt like an electric pulse went through him.
Jake gasped, his hand automatically going to circle Tsu'tey's wrist.
"You are real," Tsu'tey said, somewhat wonderingly.
"Did I look fake?" Jake asked, but Tsu'tey didn't have to explain what he meant; one of the humans on Pandora could have seen his soulmark and faked it to try and get an in with the clan. This was an in Quaritch hadn't known about, and it would make it so easy to get that information he wanted now. The problem was that Jake wasn't going to tell him shit. He might've cared more about walking again than Grace's project, but even he wasn't so bad as to fuck over his soulmate like that. He would've done it to an entire world of people he didn't know, but he couldn't do it to his soulmate.
Hand shaking a little, Jake moved his hand up Tsu'tey's arm and to his chest, pressing his soulmark in kind. Another pulse went through him, and all he wanted was to wrap himself around Tsu'tey and learn everything about him. "I would take you with me," Tsu'tey said, "but those like you are not allowed in the village. It has been that way for years."
"I don't want to make you break any rules, but how the hell am I supposed to survive out here by myself? You want me around, great, I want me around too, but I didn't even make it an hour on my own before she saved my ass. You could always bring me back to where I'm supposed to be, but there's no guarantee they'd let any of you walk away afterwards."
Tsu'tey gave a short hum. "These are... unusual circumstances," Tsu'tey added after a minute. "I will ask Eytukan to make exception for you."
Who the fuck was Eytukan? Or was that a title and not a name? Jake didn't think it would really matter by the end, and he didn't really want to give his soulmate a chance to reconsider, so he just said, "Thank you."
Tsu'tey inclined his head, then led Jake back to the clearing where everyone was waiting. "We are taking him to Hometree. Mo'at can judge if he is worthy of staying. Neytiri," he called, and the woman from before stepped forward at hearing her name. "Take her," he said, touching his horse from before and sliding one of the antennas down towards Neytiri, "I will walk with him."
Neytiri spared Jake a glance before connecting the end of her braid to the antenna and mounting.
They started moving, Tsu'tey and Jake in the middle of the group. "Do you know any of the language?"
Jake's expression twisted. It hadn't bothered him before this, assuming that he'd never get close enough to any of the Na'vi for it to matter. "No. Like I said, my brother was supposed to be here. I had a week before we shipped out, and the other guy that came on the carrier said he studied for three years. Even if I'd wanted to learn-" which he hadn't, in that week "-there wasn't time."
Talking to Tsu'tey was, surprisingly, pretty damn easy. It probably helped that Jake was getting the crash course in Na'vi culture as they walked to what might be his death. It probably wasn't his death that he was going to, but he wasn't a hundred percent about that. He was pretty sure Tsu'tey wanted him alive enough to make an argument on his behalf, but it's not like he knew how anything in their culture worked. This didn't have to be the in to the village that everyone else wanted; Jake would settle for just the night and the occasional meetup with Tsu'tey. Okay maybe the second part of that was hoping for too much, but whatever, he'd made it this far working with less than a soulmark.
It was definitely unpleasant to have so many people staring at and judging him, but he was pretty used to that because of the wheelchair. Of course, right now, people were looking at him with a lot more hatred.
"What is the meaning of this, Neytiri? I have said that none of the dreamwalkers may enter here."
"It was at my request," Tsu'tey said, stepping forward.
"Tsu'tey. You are the last person I would expect this from." Eytukan spared a glance for Jake as he walked closer, then he looked back to Tsu'tey.
"He is of my soul. I request special permission to let him stay, that I might get to know him."
Eytukan made a noise of discontent, but he looked like he was considering the request. Meanwhile, Jake had no fucking idea what was going on. On the one hand was Tsu'tey, who probably wanted him alive. On the other, this Na'vi looked like he wanted to cut Jake's head off.
"Mo'at! " he called, and someone descended from the tree. "What do you think of him? "
She hummed as she got closer. She circled Jake, ran a disdainful hand over his shoulder and flicked his tail. "He will require guidance."
"I will give it," Tsu'tey said immediately.
She made a noise of acknowledgement, not quite doubtful, but not quite good either. She looked Jake's body up and down, and he swallowed back a quip about her buying him dinner before inspecting the merchandise. "What is your name?" she asked.
Mo'at hummed, getting awfully close to his face as she looked in his eyes. It was uncomfortable, but he wasn't used to backing down so he stayed where he was. "You will learn our ways from Tsu'tey, Jakesully."
Jake dipped his head because he didn't know if full on bowing was the right decision or not. Hopefully his gratitude would be recognized instead of them thinking he didn't give a shit. "Thank you."
Tsu'tey let out a relieved breath, so quiet that only Jake-- who was right next to him-- could hear it. "Do not make me regret that."
"What happened? Where are you?" Grace asked. "Is the avatar safe?"
"Doc," he said with a chuckle, "you are not going to believe where I am."
She frowned. "Where?"
Jake gave an exaggerated groan, then moved himself from the link to his chair. "Where's the mess? I could use a bite and I'll tell you all about it."
"Sure Marine," she said, sounding confused but willing to go with it.
It's not like he wanted to be cryptic, but he needed some privacy to tell her. Not that... fuck, it's not like he wanted to tell her, but he was with the Omaticaya now, and he needed a reason for it. Telling Quaritch that he had a soulmate who was Na'vi wasn't an option, and hopefully Grace would have an idea or two about how to cover it.
They got into the hallway, and he said, "Is there a room somewhere we can talk privately?"
"Are you ever going to explain yourself or do I get to guess?" When he shot her a smirk, she rolled her eyes. "Storage closet. It's the best you're going to get right now."
They turned, and there was enough room for both his wheelchair and her without being in too tight of quarters. A closet was a closet though, and Grace didn't like him very much; that was fair considering he didn't like her very much either. "So is there a reason no one told me Na'vi have soulmarks too or was I supposed to guess? They're like, three times our size and have tails and fangs and glow and shit, but sure, soulmarks are a constant."
Grace frowned, arms crossed over her chest. "What does it matter? Yes, the Na'vi have soulmarks just like humans do. As far as I can tell, it has a similar significance in their society that it does in ours. Where are you going with this?"
Jake pulled up his shirt, high enough to show his soulmark. As soon as she saw the design, her eyes went wide; she knew who it matched.
"You met him?" she hissed, voice low like she was afraid someone would overhear.
"Yeah." He dropped the fabric back down.
"And he didn't kill you. Huh. It's probably a great crime to kill your soulmate, same as it is with us. So you're... with the Omaticaya. That's where the avatar is."
"Yeah. That woman in charge said Tsu'tey has to teach me their ways. I'm not really sure what happens if I fuck it up, but I'd rather not find out."
She raised an eyebrow. "You better not be asking what I think you are, Marine."
"No. Norm's spent six years studying this, and even he needs more work. I can't teach you the language in a week, much less all the cultural differences."
"I don't need you to teach me everything, just a little extra tutoring when Tsu'tey's not around. Besides, that's not what I really need from you."
"What, you're going to ask that I move Pandora closer to the sun?"
"I need something to tell Quaritch. He thinks I'm in his corner, I need to get him off my back while I'm working this out."
Grace looked at him for a moment, considering. "I need to know that you're not going to betray the rest of them. Your soulmate is one thing, I trust you with that. What I don't trust is that you won't kill the rest of the Omaticaya to keep him safe."
"Really? Even when Selfridge offers your soulmate's safety in exchange for that fucking mineral he wants so badly?"
He'd known Tsu'tey for maybe an hour, and it was already obvious that he'd never forgive Jake for making a deal like that. Jake didn't have a connection to the Omaticaya or any of the Na'vi, and to be honest, right now, he didn't much care what happened to them. But he knew that leaving them to die would be the worst mistake he could make. "I won't," he repeated.
She was quiet for another minute, judging his sincerity. Evidently he passed the test, because she said, "I'll take care of it," and opened the door.
"Am I going to be clued in for that or-?"
"Just follow orders, that's what you're used to."
Jake rolled his eyes, and the rest of the trip to the mess was silent.
Tsu'tey had been trying to teach him things for three days straight, to no avail. "You do not See," he said, frustrated and close to giving up-- he hadn't said it, but Jake could tell; he'd disappointed many teachers in his time, he knew what that look meant.
"Why don't you teach me how to- See? Maybe I'll get better at the rest of this once I know how to do that."
"You cannot be taught to See, you must learn to See."
Jake blinked. "Yeah okay, that doesn't make any sense to me."
Tsu'tey made another noise of frustration, probably not fluent enough in English to properly express how annoyed he was.
"Sorry," Jake said with a little half smile. He took in Tsu'tey's defeated posture, the way he was hanging his head, and decided that maybe he'd cause enough trouble for once. "Look, you don't have to do this. I can go back and we can... pretend like this never happened." He'd have to come up with some sort of lie for why they kicked him out in his logs, but that wouldn't be too hard. Hell, all he had to do was say he fucking sucked at it and leave out the part where he volunteered to go. And of course it would suck ass to have to know that he hadn't been good enough for his soulmate, but he like he said before, he was used to disappointing people.
Tsu'tey straightened, staring at him like he was looking into his soul. "You want to leave?"
"No, but I'm not getting this. I'm not getting any of it. We've been at this for three days, and I don't know a single thing more than when we started. I don't want to embarrass you in front of your entire clan, especially since you stuck your neck out for me." Grace's little lessons hadn't helped him any either. He was beginning to feel like a cup with a hole in the bottom; everything was going in, and he wasn't retaining any of it. Jake had always been a shit student, and it hadn't bothered him so much until now, when it was actually important.
"If you do not wish to leave, then you are staying."
Tsu'tey kept giving him that look, like he could see straight through him. "It took me many many days to learn English. You will learn, in time."
"Okay. If you're sure." Jake took a deep breath. "Let's try this again."