Disclaimer: Avatar and all related concepts belong to James Cameron. I own nothing save this plot and my characters, Aliane Chacon, Jonathan Selfridge, and Juliana Stanford.


Crippled Wings
A Trudy Chacon & Norm Spellman Novel

Chapter I
Plaguing Nightmares

By Shadow Countess

~.~.~.~

Life never goes the way you want it to. Like a roller coaster, it is full of twists and turns that throw you off balance when you least expect it to. On a ride, you scream out in fear; in life, you grit your teeth and tough it out, even if it is your worst nightmare, simply because you don't have any other choice.

~.~.~.~

Sepia-hued eyes flickered to take in her alit surroundings. A shiver crawled up her flesh despite the burning warmth of the wild fire blazing around her. She was on a path, alone.

All around her, plants, once lush and magnificent, were reduced to mere shadows of their former selves as they blackened and crumbled under the pressure of the fiery devils. Charred skeletons of vegetations wilted, coiling back into the grounds they were born from.

She flinched; subconsciousness forced her away from those rearing monstrosities. It was those beasts that had driven her down from the skies she loved, driven her to the grounds she feared. It was those monsters that had thrown her towards death, into the grasps of ghastly Grim Reapers. Well, Miles lent a hand too, but still.

It was hell. Pure, undiluted hell.

Eyes narrowed into a squint as she strained to make out the blurred figure that had stepped out from the flames. Orange light fanned, casting an ethereal shimmer around the girl.

"Who are you?" Trudy called out with tense nervousness. "Where am I?"

Silence.

Uneasiness nipped at the pilot as she stared into those dark golden depths. She was sinking, an odd sensation sucking her towards their bottomless ends.

Once again, she demanded, "Who are you?" Once again, she received naught but silence. A frown drew at her brows. There was something familiar about the girl standing before her, the pale brown locks that framed her thin features, and those eyes of rich honey, but what?

"Isn't this gorgeous?" To her surprise, the girl spoke up. Coffee-colored eyes blinked in confusion while the girl waved a single hand. The light shrouding the place dissipated into a whirl of complete darkness.

Curiosity bubbled. "What—" Trudy fell silent at the raise of the girl's one slim paw.

Head shock; brown locks danced. "Look." It was more of a succinct command than a suggestion. Two fingers snapped. Trudy gasped as everything tore like wallpaper stripped off walls to form an orb the color of devil—red and black—before the girl.

She bent her index finger, catching it against her thumb before flicking it at the sphere. Entranced, the older woman watched as the sides widened, elongated into a cube, and fell open, engulfing the space. This time, it revealed a totally different scene.

What welcomed her was a place where everyone and everything was dead. Gone was the passion of fire. In its place was the cold apathy of death. She felt faint and stunned.

It seemed as though a drought had swept over the lands, leaving nothing but deep cracks peppering the ground. Even as she watched through shock-hazed eyes, a leaf fell from a dried plant and disintegrated into ash upon hitting the ground.

A desperate gurgle sounded from the depths of a fissure, drawing a startled gasp from her. One hand, one bony claw of bones and wrinkled blue skin stretched towards her. She recoiled with a wince and took a step back.

"What is this?" Eyes were terrified as they threw gazes to the creator of this living hell.

Thin shoulders shrugged. Lips twisted into a devilish smile, inkiness shrouding those eyes of vivid gold. "The fire is their past, the past they have conquered. This—" She drew a gun from her pocket and shot a bullet through the dying Na'vi. "—is their future. The future that would conquer them."

Icy shudders tingled her nerves. "Who are you?" Trudy found herself shouting.

The enigma cast her a perplexing smile, canted her head, and scattered with the wind that lifted. "Aly..."

~.~.~.~

Fire...

It was a truly magnificent creation, a work of art. No flame was of the same hue or size. No blaze resembled the other. Each was an unique being, carefully, gently, crafted by nimble fingers.

It was so enticing, enchanting those foolish enough to look into its depths, and leading them to believe that there was no tomorrow. Its glow lit up the world and threw hope to those in despair.

Yet, it was so deadly.

Long tentacles of a brilliant shade of orange and yellow danced in the wind like mischievous children gallivanting under their caregivers' watchful eyes. Radiant claws pawed at the black plane; tongues licked at the fearsome tiger guarding the door. A few strands strayed from their playmates to flick at her. She winced at the stinging feelers ghosting her skin.

Large orbs of molten chocolate widened in horror and fear as the engine of her beloved Samson spluttered and died. One of the propellers succumbed to the devil's temptations and went up in flames. Teeth gritted. Fingers played at the numerous buttons and controls with a hint of desperation as she tried to lift her plane back up into the air.

It didn't work.

She was losing height. Wind rushed in through the shattered windows, weaving through her sweat-soaked hair and making her shiver. She could almost hear Miles' taunting jeers as she dared a peek below at the miles-deep canyons that were waiting to devour whole. That is, if the flames didn't claim her for themselves first.

Fear, determined to strangle life out of her, wound their bony fingers around her neck. A single thought flashed through her mind as she let out a scream of terror. She could not die. Not here, not now, not ever. She had to live. For her.

A shrill wail tore from her lips and echoed through the room. Her frame buckled; back arched as another howl of despair erupted. Brown eyes flew open, but whatever she saw only brought her further anguish.

Limps trashed. Fingers ripped at the tubes and wires sticking out of her. The oxygen mask strapped to her face was yanked off and flung onto the ground. She dug her nails into her flesh and scratched violently and with vigor.

And she screamed, and screamed, and screamed.

"Trudy, stop it!" Norm's shout was drowned by the banshee-like shrieks. With a hint of panic, he gripped her by her wrists, capturing both her hands. Together with Max, who had barreled in a second later, they pressed her down to suppress the repeated jolting of her form. It would do naught but worsen her injuries.

With a stifled gasp, Trudy bolted up and clutched at the front of her nightdress. "I'm sorry," she mumbled apologetically, wiping the back of her hand across her eyes, "I'm fine." She tipped her head to offer them a weak smile that wrenched their hearts. She, and her smile, was just a shadow of her former boisterous self.

It was now becoming a habit. Ever since she woke up two days ago after four days in coma, her sleep had been plagued by nightmares that always ended with her screeching in terror. The two men would have to shake her away before she would come to her senses.

"Sorry," she muttered again.

~.~.~.~

She screamed. Arms waved wildly, catching the alarm clock and sweeping it from her bedside table onto the ground. It smashed. Up sat the dark figure on the bed across the room. The look she shot at her was one of anger and disgust, though Aliane missed it in the inky darkness.

"Aliane Chacon, I'll make your life a living hell if you bitch dare wake me up again." The hiss was greeted by empty silence. Aliane had long gotten used to the insults and threats her roommate, Juliana Stanford, flung at her. It was pure bad luck on her part to end up sharing a room with the meanest girl in school.

Aliane's thin frame trembled from the deep-seated terror that haunted her every second of her life, even in her sleep. Bony fingers coiled around the edge of her quilt, gripping the thin fabric tighter and tighter till nails dug into the lined flesh of her palms. Her heart thumped, slamming against her ribs.

Breathe, breathe...She repeated like a mantra. Erratic gasps racked her lungs. It was so real. The dream was so vivid it could have been real for all she knew. The wrecked plane her sister flew, Trudy's limp body, heavily scarred and burnt, dangling from the twisted remains of her Samson...The empty, vacant look on her tanned features, her pretty face void of emotions and her trademark grin.

Slowly, she unclenched her fists and flexed her fingers. Turning her palms towards the silvery moonlight, she examined the crescent-shaped marks of white that dotted her flesh. Tips of fingers brushed across those temporary scars. They hurt, but she knew it was nothing compared to the pain she would endure, the hell she would go through if she lost Trudy. Her sister...her only family.

Casting a final look of contempt at the once asleep Juliana, Aliane pulled on a dressing gown and slipped out of the room with her guitar. She shivered slightly, enjoying the chilly night air, and drew her thin robes closer. After shutting the wooden door, she headed for the rooftop, desperate for some time to herself.

~.~.~.~

Slowly, sluggishly, laden eyelids fluttered and parted, allowing murky eyes to stare up at the whitewashed ceiling. The lights, fan, and wall spun dizzily, closing in on her. Trudy groaned and squeezed her eyes shut once more while greedily sucking at pure oxygen to rid the disorientating sensation.

I've fallen asleep again, she chastised with a hint of ridicule. For someone who had survived on six hours of sleep everyday, she had been spending an ridiculous lot of time in bed recently, and that did not sit well with her.

Carefully, she curled her aching body beneath the thin blanket, longing for warmth. Every muscle, even the ones she did not know existed, hurt. And she was so damn cold. The air seeping through the filmy cloth nibbled at her, pricking her skin the way pins would.

She bit down on her lower lip to stop a quiet whimper from emerging. The pain...It was like fire flickering around her frail form, taunting, demonic, and anxious to embed their claws into her. A harsh cough sounded. Brows furrowed at the salt tang of metal that tainted her mouth.

Blood...her pain-addled mind registered faintly. She forced the liquid down with a hard swallow and winced as her throat screamed in protest. Her tangled tresses of black were spread over her pillow, forming a sharp contrast with the white. A few loose coils stuck to her neck.

Where were they? Max? Norm? She had shrieked herself hoarse from the nightmares yet neither had appeared. It was her vague consciousness that had stopped her from tearing her throat out.

Since young, she had always assumed herself to be the brave one of the family, the one fearless till a point of recklessness. She thought she was not scared of pain, of death, and had joined countless bloodied battles as a marine, but this war on Pandora made her doubt herself.

She could still recall her trepidation as she undid the numerous seat belts with quavering fingers and fought her way out of her ablaze Samson. The wind had whistled past her as she plunged towards the skies, towards death

Her plane had exploded before her very eyes into a ball of fiery inferno. A shard of metal had shot towards her, piercing the skin between her breasts and lodging in her flesh. It had hurt like nothing before. She had screamed in fear and agony till one of the Ikrans caught her and broke her fall.

The night spent drifting in and out of consciousness had been the worst one ever. The pain was unbearable and her blood had flown, unbidden, from her wounds. Death had been so near.

Better than anyone, she knew it was pure obstinacy that had kept her alive, that made the miracle granting her a second chance to life happen. At that time, she had repeatedly told herself to not die, had reminded herself over and over again the promise she had made to Aliane prior to her departure. The promise that she would return home in one piece, alive, and buy her the guitar she had been eyeing for years.

Aliane...

To say the girl was displeased when she first learnt of Trudy's departure was a severe understatement. Brows had knitted, nose had scrunched, and the glare she had turned on her elder sister was too fierce to be ignored. Those words, and that flare of uncharacteristic temper, surfaced within her mind...

"I told you, sis, I don't give a damn about that guitar. I want you to stay here, and here only."

Aliane had always hated Trudy's marine job, insisting that it was too dangerous, and the temper that had flared before this assignment was only too common in the Chacon household.

Yeah, she's right. She always is, that too-smart-for-her-own-good brat. Unquenchable tears swam. Aliane was only fifteen, not old enough to live on her own. Sure, she was good with books and all, but she was at a complete loss when tossed into the real world. With her lack of experience, she would not survive. Which was why she needed her sister.

Hands balled into fists. She would, no, had to, pull through for Aliane's sake.

~.~.~.~

Quiet music, soft and tender, danced through the crisp air towards the one hiding in the shadows of the building. Snapping blue eyes surveyed the girl with the guitar, following her every move.

Thick hair cascaded down her back like layers upon layers of touchable silk, fluttering when the slightest wind turned its caressing touch to her silken mane. Every now and then, her head would tip and tilt ever so slightly, allowing the pearly light to dance across her coffee-touched tresses. the result of those magical alterations was a halo of pure silver adorning her crown.

"Jon, I know you're there." The song ended, allowing her tender voice to reach him. He smirked and stepped out from the darkness. She turned, a timid smile gracing her countenance.

It was not the first time he had caught her strumming her guitar on the rooftop late at night, but the sight of her bathed in moonlight never failed to leave him breathless. Her clear skin held an odd but attractive tint of partial translucence. Her eyes were a shade of deep gold that were occasionally stained with red.

"You'll catch a cold," he couldn't help but chide. It was not his fault though. To him, she looked ever so frail, clad in the thin dressing gown she had pulled on over her ivory-colored nightdress. Not to mention her slight, unhealthily thin built.

She arched a delicate brow. "I won't. Please, let's not have this conversation again. We've been repeating the same sentences for six nights running." Shimmering lips the coloration of coral pink touched up into a wavering smile.

He nodded once and made himself comfortable on the ground. Long legs crossed. She leaned against his firm shoulder and plucked at the taut strings.

The two of them sat there, not talking, just listening to her music. Her head rested on his shoulder. His cheek pressed against her crown, breathing in the sweet scent of lavender. Once a while, she would quietly sing along. Her voice was a little thin but sweet and on key, the way he liked it.

Suddenly, the melody came to an abrupt end. Her song halted with a little sob.

At once, he wound an arm around her, his hand soothingly rubbing her back. He had been waiting for her to break down, had known all along that she needed to talk but needed time to sort out her thoughts. He was fine with it, fine with spending every night with her till she divulged her feelings to him.

"I dreamt about sis...dead. Her Samson was blasted out of the skies," Aliane muttered. Hands laid on her shoulders, strong fingers seeking and easing the bunched-up muscles. Her lips pressed together, her mind too tortured to enjoy the treatment.

"It'll be alright. Trudy won't die; she promised you, didn't she?" Aliane tipped her head towards him, chocolate-hued locks dangling to the side. Jonathan twirled at a stray strand and wound it around his finger.

"I know, but where is she? There aren't any wars going on so who hired her?" came the soft cry of misery. "She refused to tell me anything." Teardrops tumbled from her eyes and flowed down her cheeks, leaving glistening trails of pain, desolation, and despair. The dreams she had started getting six days ago had to mean something, but what? "Does your father know anything?"

He shook his head regretfully, hating to disappoint her and dim the faint glow of hope that had momentarily lit her eyes. The two of them were not a couple but had known each other since he was eight and she was seven.

They had grown up together, had gone to the same school for seven years before parting, and finally, met in the most prestigious hight school in the city. His dad had footed his tuition fees while Aliane had received full scholarship based on her marks. It was a good thing since she could never have afforded the astronomical fees.

And he knew only too well what Trudy was to Aliane. The moment she had passed her eighteenth birthday, the headstrong and sometimes overprotective woman had snatched her seven-year-old sister from the clutches of the abusive drunkards they had for parents. That was when he first met her, a timid girl in his class. He could still recall the day he stood up for her against a group of boys and was beaten up for it. The first time he had heard her speak was when she asked if he was alright.

From then on, they had been best friends, literally inseparable. The fact that she was a girl and he a guy never mattered. Neither did the fact that he was head over heels in love with her, for she was blissfully unaware of his feelings.

When he was thirteen, his father was maid chief executive of his company; his family had gotten filthily rich. He transferred to a private school and was forced to say goodbye to the one girl he had learnt to care for. Yet, just as his life was shredded into pieces, she had offered to keep in touch, an offer he had gratefully accepted. He then spent more afternoons than he could count at her place.

The manor that was his new home had not provided him the warmth he needed, so he sought for it at her place. Though the condominium apartment she shared with Trudy was much smaller than the sprawling mansion his father had bought, it was always happy and welcoming, just like home.

The time he spent there made him realize what a real family was like, one he did not have even when leading his old life. The way Trudy teased Aliane, the way the two sisters argued, it made him realize what he had been missing out on. They fought, quarreled, and squabbled like enraged cats yet deep down, both knew they were more than willing to die for the other when needed.

He was sure he could not say the same for his own family. One of his insane fantasies had involved his father killing him in a fit of uncontrolled rage.

Aliane had been against Trudy joining the marines, but the older woman had insisted. It was the only way she could provide for the two of them. After days of fierce argument, Aliane had relented and had held her tears back till Trudy left. He had stood by her, holding her through the too painful nights, as she cried.

No, Trudy could not die. If she did, Aliane would be left alone in this world. Sure, he would not leave her, but he knew he would never take Trudy's place in Aliane's heart. Trudy knew it too, and she being who she was, would hang on, survive, and wait for Aliane to graduate from college and start work as a scientist or an economist or a psychiatrist—she was that smart—and leave the marines for good.

"Can you ask your father? Maybe he knows something...He does hold an all-knowing position in R.D.A..."

Her voice made him stare. She was actually begging. The Aliane Chacon he knew and loved would never lower herself enough to beg, being proud and resolutely stubborn like her sister.

The world was really coming to an end.

"I'll try. He came home yesterday," Jonathan Selfridge promised, running a hand through his tousled hair.


Summary for Chapter II

Sometimes, nightmares don't stay nightmares. They come true. For Aliane, she would soon learn this horrifying fact.

Sometimes, dreams don't stay dreams. They are realized. For Norm, he would soon learn this blissful truth. Only to have it crashing down on him mere seconds later.


Authoress' Note: Please forgive me if you found this chapter boring. I wrote this with the intention of introducing my two characters and setting the situation and background. Things will pick up starting from the next chapter. Also, though Jonathan and Aliane will play a crucial part in this story, the main focus is still on Norm and Trudy, my all-time favorite pairing. Finally, as a form of consolation, neither Aliane nor Jonathan will be Mary Sues/Gary Shus. They have flaws that will be revealed with the progression of the plot.

Feel free to review and criticize as you deem fit. I'm open to critiques so long they're objective and constructive. Anonymous reviews are welcomed too! And, if you've come late in the show, know that I won't mind an individual review for each chapter.

Many thanks.