ashmusing: (siting here waiting)
Ash ([personal profile] ashmusing) wrote2010-06-20 01:12 pm
Entry tags:

FIC: The Beams of Our House Are Cedar (Avatar)

TITLE: The Beams of Our House Are Cedar
FANDOM: Avatar
RATING: R
WORDS: 2152
PAIRING: Trudy/Norm
SUMMARY: In an AU where Trudy survives the last battle, she and Norm discuss killing in combat.
DISCLAIMER: these characters are not mine, I'm just playing with them.
A/N: As stated in the summary, this is an alternate universe where Trudy lives - how, I'm still working on. This story has an enormous debt to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, and the title is from the Song of Songs. And finally, this is a hexapede.



the beams of our house are cedar


It is not the day of the battle of the tree of souls, nor the next day, but some night not too long after. It is a night where Hell’s Gate is mostly empty and as silent as it ever gets; the generators and systems hum, the few humans left have tucked themselves away in lab, room, or bed.

Trudy and Norm are in the latter group. Behind the locked door of the small apartment they share, they are sprawled out over their bed, tangled up in sheets and bathed in the bars of blue light from Polyphemus. He has one knee propped up; she is curled up facing him, head resting against that knee. They had been talking, but now it’s silence. A silence that isn’t quite silent, not with the faint whirrings of the machines that are keeping them alive, but it’s the only silence they’ve really known. It is also their own kind of silence; or rather, the comfort she carries around with her that doesn’t mind the silence he often falls into.

It’s silent until Norm breaks it, until he says, “I killed people. At the battle.”

Trudy frowns, slightly, but doesn’t move. “Okay.”

He’s studying the ceiling, aware of her but not looking– maybe unable to look – at her. He can feel the warmth of her, the movement of her chest as she breathes in and out. She’s alive, which is why he says, “I thought you were dead.”

It’s all he’s ever really said about the battle in these past few, crazy days, so she says, “I know, baby.” And then she says, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I mean, uh, I mean you’re not, which…I’m glad about. Really glad. But-”

Silence again, this time heavy with the strain of him trying to sort out the words, find which ones to say.

Softly, Trudy says, “Is that why you killed? Because you thought I was dead?”

“Yes. No. I’d…I’d shot some before that. Three, maybe four I know. But it was different, after. I don’t, um.”

“Tell me.”

Now he looks at her. “What if I can’t?”

“Then you can’t. But you know, of the two us, I got no room not listenin’, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I killed them.”

“I’ve been a professional soldier since I was eighteen, Norm. I’ve seen a lot of bad shit. I’ve done a lot of bad shit. I’m…” She stops, rubs her mouth. “I’m not gonna pack my things and go, no matter what you say. Not gonna judge.”

“You’ve killed.” It’s not really a question. Her smile is fleeting, but very wry.

“Hell yeah,” she says softly.

“How…how do you deal with it?” In those words is a depth of guilt, of confusion and pain that is very familiar to her. That soft, wry smile comes back, and she leans forward slightly to curl her fingers around his hand.

“I rationalize. That’s all you can ever do. I just…I accept that I did what I did, that I did what I had to do under the circumstances.”

“You just accept?”

“No. Yes. I’m getting better at it. When I was a kid…fuck, when I was kid, first time, I was really bad at it. Then I got better, then I got sent on mid-deployment break, and…God, I was tempted to run down to Peru and live with my Da rather than go back.”

He’s heard about her father, her book-bound father who lives in the past; he’s heard fondness in her voice when she’s talked about him, but also a kind of resigned contempt.

“Why didn’t you?”

Trudy snorts slightly. “Hell. Couldn’t let my mates down, now, could I? Couldn’t just leave ‘em. So I stopped cryin’, went back.”

“Just like that?”

“Once I made the decision, I made it.” She takes a deep breath and then adds, “But I’ve been very well trained in killing. You haven’t. Surprised you managed to, actually. Most folk wouldn’t.”

She doesn’t say it as a good thing, she doesn’t say it as a bad, she just says it as is. It’s enough to get his curiosity.

“Don’t tell me they’ve done studies.”

“Oh, you bet they’ve done studies. Up to and including the Second World War, fifteen to twenty percent only will fire, under….the old way of trainin’. I’m guessin’ that’s just who naturally can pull the trigger, because sure as hell the old ways of trainin’ weren’t much good at actually getting folk to kill. Old Marshall worked that one out. His methods weren’t all ship-shape and scientific, but other studies have backed it up since.” She shifts slightly, rubbing her cheek against his knee almost like a cat. “So, various armies changed the way they trained their grunts. By Korean War in the nineteen-fifties, they got a firin’ rate of fifty percent. By the time of the clusterfuck of Vietnam, it was over ninety percent. Now days…it’s pretty much close to a hundred.”

Norm nods, slowly. He’s back to studying the ceiling, but instead of mentally withdrawing, his thoughts are here and now and on her words. And on what her words mean.

“But not a complete hundred percent.”

“No.”

“Okay.”

Her eyes narrow slightly – even in the blue light, he can see that much. “Y’know the seven stages of grief?”

“Useful as a base for understanding, but not as a list to hand people, ye-es?”

“There’s one for killin’.”

He goes still, and then he sits up, moving slightly away from her in the process. Unsure if that was deliberate or not, Trudy also sits up properly, her hands resting on her thighs.

“Only, the killing response table’s got five main sections, from beforehand right through t’after,” she continues. “Concern about being able to kill, the killing circumstance, the exhilaration from killing, remorse and nausea from killing, then the rationalization and acceptance process.” She takes a breath, tries to gage his reaction. But he just has that faint frown, and she can’t tell. “If…if y’get fixated in any of those, and the acceptance fails, then…you get post-traumatic stress disorder, basically. But-”

“Exhilaration?”

“…yeah. That…rush y’get. That satisfaction.” Trudy is bilingual, with other bits and pieces of other languages floating around her skull, but she can’t find the right word. Rush, satisfaction, killing could be a high that could also, on occasion, be damn near orgasmic.

Sometimes.

(those were the times where, afterwards, she would stumble to the nearest spare toilet or patch of ground, and start to heave)

“You’ve felt it.”

“Yeah. I have. I do. Not always, but I do.”

“And that’s normal?”

“Yes.”

“I felt that,” Norm says, slowly. “It was like a computer game at first, ride in and fire and they fell. I was the only one firing a gun, so I know it-it was me. But it didn’t seem quite real. Bang, bang, the pixels fall down.” He’s not looking at her; he’s studying his hands. She remembers him looking at her hands after he watched her butcher a hexapede, running his fingers over hers. She remembers watching his expression: yes, these are the same hands that guide her Samson with such subtlety and joy; yes, these are the same hands with which she draws and creates; yes, these are the same hands that she uses to make him gasp and moan; yes, these are also a killer’s hands.

He has a similar expression now, but one tinged with far more uncertainty. His large hands could be so graceful, and normally were so precise and careful; now, these were hands that had held a rifle and killed.

Carefully, Trudy edges closer on the bed, and reaches out to cup his hands in hers. She has an artist’s long fingers, but even so, her hands are noticeably smaller. This doesn’t change the protective way her hands cradle his. “And then?” Trudy asks, softly.

“And then…I heard you, on the radio.” (Norm, I love you) “And then, you were gone, and I got- my Avatar - got shot. I came to in the link, and…they were dead. I’d decided, in my head, that the Marines were all…dead. You were gone, and they’d killed you, and they’d killed Grace and so many others, and, they had to go as well.”

Her fingers tighten around his. “Honey, I’m sorry.” She brings his hands up to her mouth and kisses his knuckles. “I’m so sorry.”

“You didn’t kill them.”

“…not the ones you did, no. But I killed others.”

“Then…why…”

“Because…because I think that when you kill someone, you kill a part of yourself. And that’s not somethin’ I wish on anyone, let alone you.”

“Why me in particular?”

“Because I love you. And I never wanted you to have to deal with all this shit.”

“It felt…good, killing them. I was so angry.” Angry wasn’t a very good word to describe it; he could barely think, it had all hurt so damn much. So much grief and rage, that nonetheless couldn’t stop him from remembering what he did and felt all so clearly.

“I know.” Her voice is a whisper. “Trust me, I know.”

“There were two. I shot one, in the back, the other turned, and…I shot her, too. There was a third, but then…” He laughs, the sound soft and leeched of all amusement. “Then Eywa stepped in, and the third ran, and was killed by a hammerhead.” Now Norm looks at her again. “I’m a scientist, Trudy. Not…not a soldier. Worst I ever got was some fist-fights, and then…not many. And that’s normal. But this…I. Like you said, most people don’t shoot.”

“It just means that you’re part of the fifth percent of the population who can. Doesn’t mean anythin’ else. One in five people aren’t…bad because of that.”

“I feel bad.” The sheer understatement of the word is made clear by his voice.

“Oh, Norm, no.” She moves until she’s on his lap, framing his face in her hands. “No, you’re a good man. I know this.”

He reaches up and curls his hands around her wrists. “How? How do you know, Trudy? You’ve known me for three. Months.”

“Why were you fighting?” she retorts. “Tell me, Doctor Spellman, why were you fighting in the first place?”

“Because…” He falters, both under the sudden intensity of her expression and the confusion of his normally organized mind. “Because the Na’vi needed our help. Because…because it was the right thing to do.” He sounds a little uncertain.

“And wouldn’t a bad man just…take the money, turn a blind eye, not do anything. You’re not trained, you’re not a soldier, and, hell, I’ve known soldiers to baulk and refuse to go out into a gunfight. But you…defended the Na’vi, in a battle we thought we were gonna lose. It was the right-” Norm kisses her, which is not an answer. He kisses her first awkwardly and then with an uncharacteristic hardness. He lets go of her wrists to pull her close, one hand on her neck and the other digging into her back. And Trudy responds, only to be left gasping a moment later as he stops. He presses his face against the join of her shoulder and neck, his breathing coming fast and uneven. Carefully, Trudy wraps her arms around him, turns her head to kiss his hair. She can feel the wetness of his tears, and part of her is glad. He needs to speak of what he did, he needs to lance the emotional boil of pain and guilt so he can move on, rationalize, accept and not let it eat him up.

And she wishes, oh how she wishes he did not have to deal with this at all. But Trudy is above all things pragmatic, and it does no good to wish for what was, and what it would have been nice if. The plots of vegetable gardens around the Avatar compound have been neglected, she knows, and he’ll need something steady to occupy him tomorrow. Later, they’ll talk again, and maybe she’ll mention there are still some deaths that haunt her, that sometimes when she shuts her eyes it’s a damn slideshow of things she can’t get out of her head. She’ll mention that because he should know, and he should know that it’s okay to still have things like that. And, yeah, she’ll also mention it because she really isn’t always as okay as she acts. Later, after the gardens have been seen to. Gardens and plants always helped her, back on Earth, but along with that… Well, their relationship started due to a love of this land. In the end, there isn’t a lot Trudy wouldn’t do to keep death and battle from devouring the foundations of what they have.

But right here and right now, Trudy kisses Norm’s hair, and whispers that it’s alright, that she’s not leavin’, and she holds him close as he cries.