ashmusing: (Default)
Ash ([personal profile] ashmusing) wrote2011-01-11 07:12 pm

Speak, Friend, and Enter: Lord of the Rings

TITLE: Speak, Friend, and Enter: Chapter Two: Lord of the Rings
CHAPTERS: Index
FANDOM: James Cameron's Avatar
CHARACTERS: Norm Spellman, Trudy Chacon
RATING: PG-13
WORDS: 2837
WARNINGS: None.
A/N: Massive thanks to ceitfianna and the_croupier for beta-ing, and lordolorien for cheerleading.
STORY SUMMARY: Information Technician Norm Spellman first met Lance Corporal Trudy Chacon in on a ship in 2134. Twenty years later, Doctor Spellman and Captain Chacon (long-time friends and sometime lovers) are reunited on Pandora. This follows the time between, and what happens after.
EXTRACT: Norm smiles back and answers, “Hey. Didn't expect to see you here.”

Chacon raises her eyebrows slightly, but she's still smiling. “Yeah, well. My copy of Lord of the Rings got completely busted during a pulse bomb. I'm borrowing.”

“Like a pirate?”

There is a beat of silence, and her smile deepens into a smirk on one side, dimple flashing into view. “I'm gonna plead the Fifth on that one.”


II : Lord of the Rings


He can't decide if it's good luck that he bumps into Lance Corporal Trudy Chacon in the ship's library a couple days later, or bad. It's bad because he hasn't really decided what he makes of that last conversation they had. His mind has been providing alternating explanations for every word and every nuance in her voice ever since. And his voice, and what he said, too, because infatuation has always been cruel to those with over-analytical minds. And infatuation it is, he thinks. Only thing that makes sense given, even after that awkwardness, he wants to go and talk to her again. And it's bad luck he bumps into her again because as he walks in and sees her reading at the table, all alone again, his awareness shifts into overdrive. His awareness of how much space he takes up (sure, he's not a giant, but at six foot two he's still pushing the upper limits of what is deemed acceptable to be working on a ship) and an awareness of all the things he's going to say, and not say, and could say now that she's by herself again, and what he said before, and stumble over saying now.

It's good luck because she looks up at his footsteps, and smiles, and says, “Oh, hey,” in a way that suggests she's actually happy to see him. He's pretty sure that her smile, and the tone of her voice, are going to engrave themselves into his memory, and Norm has more than enough self-awareness to think, yeah, I'm in trouble. But he smiles back and answers, “Hey. Didn't expect to see you here.”

Chacon raises her eyebrows slightly, but she's still smiling. “Yeah, well. My copy of Lord of the Rings got completely busted during a pulse bomb. I'm borrowing.”

“Like a pirate?”

There is a beat of silence, and her smile deepens into a smirk on one side, dimple flashing into view. “I'm gonna plead the Fifth on that one.”

“Fair,” Norm says, shifting slightly awkwardly in the doorway. “Having fun with the locks?”

“One way of putting it.”

“I could help,” he offers without thinking about it. “I, uh. Work the computers here.”

“Oooh.” Instantly, her guard melts away. “So you're like a wizard. Outstanding. Please,” she says, gesturing to the table and offering him her reader all in one movement, “pirate away.”

Norm sits down, taking the reader off her. It's battered and scratched, he presumes from living in her backpack through a war. Not that he really thinks about the war bit – he suspects that walking around wondering how many people the Marines had killed would be impolite at best, morbidly rude at worst. He certainly doesn't want to imagine the pretty girl sitting next to him killing anyone.

Still, he hesitates. “I'd take it as a favour,” he says, fingers paused in the midst of working the controls, “if you didn't mention this.”

She crinkles her nose and laughs a bit, sounding more like a witch than ever. An apprentice witch, giggling over frogs' legs and eyes of newt and giving the boy who pulled her braids itches in uncomfortable places. “Puh-lease,” she says. “Give me some credit here. We're just doin' a bit of requisitioning.”

That gets a soft, answering laugh. “Okay,” he says, and then he frowns a bit. “You rebuilt the systems?”

Chacon nods, her mouth pulling to the side again. Not exactly a smirk this time. “Yep. A lot of things got wiped, so I had to manually rewire shit to get it to work as well as recode things. Why?”

“Oh, it's just a little more idiosyncratic than I'm used to. That's not a bad thing,” he adds in a hurry as she starts to frown. “I'm impressed. Um. That sounds more patronising than I meant, I didn't-”

“Hey,” she says with a smile, “I ain't takin' offence.” At least, not any more, Norm thinks.

Still, he smiles back at her. “You've just been trained to think differently than us Navy techs, I think. So, the rewiring signature is different. And I was just clarifying, because if you've rebuilt it-”

“Than you can't do what you'd normally do if it was all standard.” It both is, and isn't, a question.

“Exactly.”

“'Kay then. Need me to explain anythin'?”

“Yeah, actually, when you pulled this wire out here, where did you do you hook it up?”

She shifts her chair closer and ducks her head to peer at her work. For a moment, Norm is entirely distracted by her proximity. She smells of sweat, soap and skin, and her short hair looks silky enough that he wants to reach up and run his fingers through it, like a cat's fur. He does, of course, no such thing, and when Chacon starts to talk, he switches easily back into being Spellman, Information Technician.

“There,” he says eventually, handing the electric notepad back to her. “Should take three minutes to download, but you'll be able to read it off the ship.

“Ooh, thanks,” Chacon says, giving him a grateful smile. “I was so pissed. I was just up to- uh, hey, you read it?”

“Yep,” Norm says, leaving out that he could still write in Elvish.

“Good, it's brilliant, everyone should read it. Anyway, I was just up to Éowyn and the Witch King, and it's one of my favourite parts, and-” She flexes her fingers to demonstrate her frustration.

“And you had your page saved and then there was a pulse,” Norm finished.

“Yeah,” she says, sourly. “Hell, probably the same one that caught the Prov. Happened 'bout a month or so ago, give or take?”

“A bit more give than take, I think, but the timing sounds right. I don't think they would have too many pulses on hand. Not to mention that-”

“-It'd be a bitch to fortify their own systems.” Her voice lilts up at the end, questioning her own finishing of his sentence. But it'd been exactly what he was going to say, so Norm grins at her.

“I think their info-techs might all defect, en masse,” he says, and gets one of her laughs. Then she shakes her head slightly.

“But, look, seriously, thanks.”

“No problem.”

“'Course, now the question is – do I skip back to where I was, assumin' the text size and page numbers all line up, or do I take the opportunity to revel in my-”

Yours?

“Fine, our pirating skills,” she flashes him a smile, “and start all over.”

“Well,” he says, thinking it over. “You did say Éowyn and the Witch-King was your favourite part, yeah?”

“Yep.”

“I think you deserve it, really. Um.”

Fortunately, she takes that in the spirit it's offered, and laughs softly. “No living man am I,” she quotes, her smile soft and delighted and wry, all at once. “Maybe that's what I'll do. Saves wadin' through all the world-building, and Éowyn is-”

A scream cuts her off. Not a scream of pain or fear (Norm's quite good at deciphering those by now), but of anger. Chacon has frozen. The sound comes again, and this time it doesn't stop. The sound is made of words, but screamed too high, too fast, for him to begin to understand them.

He's not sure that he wants to.

“Shit,” Chacon hisses, dropping her reader and scrambling to her feet. She's two steps to the door before he gathers his wits enough to follow.

“What?” He manages, following into step behind her.

“I know that voice,” she snaps, and stops so sharply in the passageway that he nearly collides into her. “Goddamn this motherfucking ship, can't work out where he is.” The impressive thing is, she doesn't even seem angry. It's something to say, something to fill the air with a sound not the screams.

“Should be down that way, maybe around the corner-” he says, mostly to empty air as Chacon takes his directions and runs to follow them. Norm hesitates for a moment – stay, get help, follow – and then takes off after her. He's had long practice at navigating the Providence, and in stormy weather, which is the main reason he avoids colliding into her a second time.

The other reason he avoids colliding into her is that someone is pointing a gun at them.

At least the screaming has stopped. For the moment.

“Geary,” Chacon says, very evenly, “why don't you put the gun down, huh?”

Geary shakes his head, but at least he's now pointing the weapon at the ceiling.

Chacon takes a step towards him.

It's spooky, Norm thinks from a bizarre mental distance, just how fast the Marines' reflexes are – Geary with pointing the gun at Chacon, and Chacon for freezing again.

“Someone,” Geary says hoarsely, “stole it.”

“Stole what?” Chacon asks.

Geary shakes his head. “It's mine. It has all my games on it and you stole it!

Games?

“I didn't steal anythin', Jimmy,” Chacon says, far calmer than Norm would be if a crazed squad-mate was pointing a gun at him.

“Stole those Kevlar vests.”

“C'mon, that wasn't stealing. That was requisitioning.”

Geary's still shaking his head. “No, no, you stole it. For the wires. WHERE IS IT?” The shriek echoes around the corridor and normally, Norm would jump at the sudden sound, but he's frozen. Can't move. People don't point guns at him, they just don't.

Chacon doesn't seem that fazed at all. “Okay,” she agrees, “I stole it.”

Under the circumstances, it takes Norm longer than normal to recognise the 'agreeing with the crazy person' note in her voice.

“GIVE IT BACK!”

“Gonna hafta to put the gun down first.”

“NO I WON'T UNTIL YOU, HEY! LET ME GO.” Norm blinks. He hadn't even noticed the other Marines walking behind Geary, only now the three of them have grabbed him, one for each arm, the third going straight for the gun. Once she wrestles the gun away, the third Marine steps back and lets Doc Sohn, who'd been making up the rear, sedate Geary.

“Jesus,” the third Marine says as she watches Geary be carried off to the infirmary, running her hand through her blonde hair.

“Gunny?” This is Chacon, sounding oddly (or perhaps under the circumstances, not oddly at all) hesitant. The older woman glances at her, and smiles a bit at her expression.

“Geary'll be fine,” the gunnery sergeant says, and then her smile turns knowing. “So, I wasn't the only one you got new gear for.”

Chacon – impossibly – straightens. “Gunnery Sergeant Bell, I was just making sure the company didn't have any more defective vests like yours or mine-”

“Save it, kid,” Bell says, her voice amused and weary, all at once. She looks at Chacon with those piercing, too-blue eyes for a moment, and nods. “Geary'll be okay,” she repeats, tone almost gentle. “Just another crash. And some idiot stole his reader and set him off.”

Another crash?

“Yes, gunny,” Chacon says, perfectly unreadable.

“Now scat.”

Chacon nods, salutes, and bolts, and Norm quickly follows suit. The pair make their way in silence back to the library, both too wrapped up in their thoughts to speak. And Norm, at least, is too shaken to really try.

“Y'know,” Chacon says at last, slipping her reader back into her satchel, “I used to wonder why Tolkien had the whole Scouring of the Shire. And poor old Frodo with Post-Traumatic Stress that never got better. Then I remember that Tolkien'd been in the First World War.” She looks up at him, her smile crooked and world-weary. “I don't really wonder why anymore. War sucks.”

“I'm-” sorry, he wants to say, but something in her expression kills the words in his mouth. “I know,” is what he actually says. It fits, but it also feels something like a lie. He doesn't know, not in the bone-deep, blood on her hands and screams in her mind that she does. He can't even really imagine it. The whole thing with Geary, as surreal as it had been, is the closest thing to up close and personal he's experienced – all those mortar rounds fired at the Providence had been, well. Fired at the ship, not him. And he has no idea what he thinks about Geary, and the gun, and that look in Geary's eye.

“Night, Spellman.” There is a beat, and Chacon's smile strengthens, brightens. “See you around.”

“I-” Norm stops. He has no idea what he was going to say, only he has to say something. As soon as the fragmented words in his head stop spinning and start forming proper sentences, then he can speak, ask questions, work out what the hell just happened.

Chacon pauses, then hoists her satchel over her shoulder, rocks back on her feet. “Look, Geary'll be fine. It's just...a psychotic break. It happens.” Her laugh is oddly breathless, leached of humour. “Insomnia, stims, take us off the stims and we freaking crash. That's all that was.”

“So Bell said.”

“But...?”

He hesitates and then, quick as ripping off a band-aid, says, “Just. Never saw someone go crazy before.”

“Navy boy. You're all so sheltered,” but she says it with a smile more gentle than mocking. “Now I need to get some rack. So. I'll see ya 'round?”

“I think I can fit it into my schedule,” Norm answers, and he gets a blinding grin before she leaves the room.

– –

Part of the trouble is that he thinks too much. Always has, always will, which is why as soon as his four years are up, he is trading in his uniform for civilian clothes and lecture-halls and textbooks and the joys of academia. He'll earn credit for thinking too much then, before, hopefully, be employed and paid for thinking too much. He'll have to publish papers that will involve thinking too much, but not, he suspects, for thinking too much about Lance-Corporal Trudy Chacon. Possibly, though, the surreal, disquieting episode with Geary. Psychotic breaks being common in the military, yes, and maybe he could... Maybe he could start a career in psychology, or the anthropology of the armed forces and their cultures... but in all honesty, that feels a little too much like taking someone's genuine suffering and using it just because it's trendy.

(He's reassured when he sees Geary a day later, looking worn out, speaking in monosyllables, but apparently perfectly sane.)

New Jersey, she had said, but if anything, her accent is more Texan (more, but not entirely). Hispanic, from both name and looks, and he's heard her joking around in liquid, mother-tongue Spanish with some of the other Marines. Christian from the locket at her neck; the small (he wants to say book, and isn't sure why) gold charm marked with a tiny, perfectly symmetrical black cross. Not a crucifix, but he's unfamiliar enough with religious symbolism that he has no idea if lack of a crucifix means she's not a Catholic. Not to mention that Christian, no matter the flavour, is normally enough for him to stay away. He, an atheist born, bred, and raised, simply can't fathom going out with a person who has such a different world-view. But-

“Dude, if you're gonna keep on staring at that Marine like that, she's gonna carve you up for dinner.”

“I'm not staring,” Norm says automatically, but he can feel his ears flush with the lie. Quickly, he ducks his head and concentrates on the meal in front of him. And on trying to stop his cup from sliding off the table every time the Providence hits a large enough wave.

“I'm serious,” Chang continues. “The Marines are hard-core. I mean, they're psycho. You've got no chance.”

Norm eyes him. At twenty-three, Information Systems Technician James Chang is four years older, eight inches shorter, and has taken Norm under his wing. Or, as Chang prefers to describe it, Norm is his Minion of the Lab.

“...is that, no chance in asking her out, or no chance in....something else?”

“She'll eat you,” Chang says. “Alive,” he adds solemnly, stabbing his food with his fork.

Norm remembers the way her smile lit up her face. It was an open smile, a delighted smile. She was talking about Lord of the Rings while wearing that smile. “I really doubt it,” he says, and ignores Chang's disbelieving snort.

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