Jay stalked ahead of Neytiri and searched for signs of Rhea and the werewolf. All he could find were the werewolf’s tracks, but no end to them.
“Jay, can we at least talk about this?” Neytiri asked behind him, voice in anguish.
“Not until we find Rhea,” Jay replied.
“Why? So you can use her as an excuse not to talk about it?” Neytiri placed a hand on his shoulder and forced him to stop. She turned him to face and looked at him intently. “I want to talk about this, okay? And you’re going to have to comply whether you like it or not.”
Jay sighed. “What do you want to hear? That I’ve liked you since we were young, and when you finally realize it, it’s under these circumstances? Excuse me for not wanting to talk about it.” Despite his anger, Jay felt good to finally be able to talk about his feelings for Neytiri.
“Jay, please,” Neytiri pleaded.
Jay looked at her. Her blue eyes were the saddest he had ever seen them. He sighed and stopped trying to pull away from her. “Look, if you don’t feel the same way, then there’s nothing to talk about. We can just leave this conversation in the past and move on. Okay?”
“That’s just the thing, Jay. I-I think Idofeel the same way.”
Jay froze, green eyes searching Neytiri’s face. “You’re joking.”
“You really think I would joke about something like this?” Neytiri asked in exasperation. “I-I guess I never allowed myself to believe I could like you as more than a friend because I didn’t want us to move on to a relationship and forget our friendship.” She looked away, shading her eyes. “I didn’t want to lose our wonderful friendship to something as fragile as a relationship.”
Jay placed a hand under her shin and forced her to look back up. “You don’t ever have to be afraid of losing me, Tiri, I’m always going to be here for you. No matter what.”
Neytiri shook him off and stepped back. “Jay, if you want to be with Rhea, don’t let me stop you.”
Jay let out a short laugh. “Come on, Tiri, those aren’t the words I want to hear form you right now. Crushes come and go, but your one true love in life will only come around once. And if I let her go, where will I be in life?”
Neytiri smiled shyly. “Slow down, would you? Don’t move on from ‘relationship’ to ‘true love’ so dang fast, Star-boy.”
“Sure thing, blue-girl.” He linked arms with her and they continued searching for signs of Rhea and the werewolf.
Rhea caught sight of a clearing and saw two figures sitting on the ground in the center of it. She sighed. “There’s the kid and her werewolf boyfriend.” Neytiri unlinked her arm and Jay followed her to the clearing. Mufasa came bounding out of the forest and came up to Jay.
“Good boy,” Jay said, scratching the golden lion’s head as he purred. Sarabi and Sarafina bounded on ahead behind Neytiri.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Neytiri demanded of Rhea. “Running off like that was so not okay!”
Rhea cowered on the floor beside a young boy. Jay walked over with Mufasa and noticed the little boy was much younger than he would have thought for the large size of his werewolf form. Rhea turned to him in hopes of having him on her side.
Jay sighed. He could take her side, but where would that put him with the newly won-over Neytiri? “That was a very careless move on your part, Rhea.”
Rhea sighed and looked away. Her eyes met the boys and she turned back to Neytiri and Jay. She stood up, the boy standing behind her. “This is Alek, Alexia’s little brother.”
Neytiri raised her eye brows. “Alexia? Blond, golden eyes, can’t lift boxes?” she clarified.
Rhea laughed and nodded. “That’s the one. Her little brother, Alek,” Rhea gestured to the boy, “goes toNightMareSchool, as well. But I think he somehow wandered away…” Rhea shrugged. “He won’t talk, just keeps mumbling something over and over.”
Neytiri sighed. “So, what now? We can’t take him back to the school without wasting precious time. And we can’t leave him here without fear of the Darkness finding him…”
“So we take him?” Rhea asked hopefully.
Neytiri rubbed her temples with her fingers and closed her eyes in frustration. Rhea waited eagerly on her answer. “Only,” Rhea clapped happily, “if you take care of him,” Neytiri shook her head and turned away from Rhea and the werewolf boy as Rhea and the boy cheered happily.
Jay grinned. He looked up at the sky, which was now alight with dawn.
“And look at that!” Neytiri cried, throwing up her arms to indicate the sky. “No rest time for us.” She turned to Rhea with narrowed eyes. “I hope you’re happy, because now we continue walking rather than resting.” She started stomping back the way they had come. Sarabi and Sarafina growled softly at her sides.
Jay grinned after her. That was the spirit he had fallen in love with when he first met her. He sighed. He didn’t know exactly how he felt about her knowing he liked her. Quite honestly he wasn’t sure if she really liked him back. What if she wasn’t ready to give up their friendship for a serious relationship? And what if they tried and it didn’t work out? Where would their friendship be then?
He followed behind Rhea and the werewolf kid as they reentered the clearing where their now torn tent lay. Neytiri demanded that Rhea fix it with her magic and Rhea complied without complaint. As Neytiri rolled the tent up and was about to shrink it, he noticed her gaze rest on the combined symbol of eagle and owl. He nearly laughed aloud. To think,Griffinhad seen through his love for Neytiri and she herself had not!
“Alright, come on, we’re heading out.” Neytiri stood and placed they tent in her backpack. “You guys can eat as we walk.” She glanced up at the sky. The sun had already risen above the horizon. “You’ve wasted enough time as it is.” She began walking with her cheetahs at her side and Rhea hurried to follow close behind with Alek. Jay glanced back to make sure Mufasa was following before joining them.
“We need to make it toLakanaLakeby tonight, so keep your pace brisk and keep up with me, alright troops?” Neytiri didn’t glance back to see if they were even listening. She forged on ahead and they could either keep up or get left behind. It didn’t make a difference to Neytiri either way.
Jay sighed. To think he had almost been willing to give her up for someone as soft and fragile as Rhea. Jay shook his head. He needed someone strong and stubborn at his side.
And Neytiri was definitely that person.