Diwa & Kaffi 42

Author’s Note: Over the course of this novel, everyone’s life has changed in one way or another. Sometimes unexpectedly, sometimes dramatically, but if anything, they learned from each moment. This was both Diwa and Kaffi’s main drive in the entire novel, aside from their wish to take after their fathers: to face each moment together, with love and strength.

*

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

Kaffi was nervous and restless, angry and conflicted. He desperately needed to fly. This need to fly was a way for him to clear his head, just like his paddir when he went up to the roof. He needed to get out and up into the air, to fly far away from here until things calmed down. He wanted to avoid facing all this imminent fear and pain. He wanted to fly away from whatever news was coming and the anguish that would follow, but he fought that urge as hard as he could. He needed to know.

He waited alone in his nestroom for his paddir to come back from his doctor’s visit. For Graymar to share the final prognosis of his cancer.

The idea of his paddir passing on stabbed him in the heart every time he allowed himself to dwell on it, and he hated that he couldn’t do anything about it. He wasn’t angry at his paddir or at himself, only at the cancer. The cancer that had eaten away at his wings and taken his most prized ability from him. The cancer that was moving further into his body, rendering him weaker by the day. To console himself, Kaffi had tried to stay positive, has hard as it was. He’d spent so many wonderful years with his paddir, learned so many things from him, that he would always cherish their connection. Underneath that grouchy exterior was a tintrite with a fierce heart. He didn’t just love those closest to him, he watched over them and cared for them; he spent his entire adult life working alongside his bonded ride, creating and maintaining a close-knit and active community. Graymar’s passing would leave a painful gaping hole in Kaffi’s heart.

The news came that afternoon, and there was no way he could prepare for it.

Graymar finally came home after telling Samuel directly, the word was given, and they stabbed Kaffi deep in his heart. Shocked and traumatized, he fell to all fours, tail tucked under, his head tucked down and away. Completely silent. Only tears.

Two months.

His paddir had two months to live, before the cancer stole his life away.

Graymar stood there, watching his son but saying nothing. Kaffi sniffled but could not form any words. What could he even say? Eiyah, what could he do at all?

“Get up, Kaffi!” Graymar suddenly snapped at him. His loud, fierce voice thundered through the room, startling him enough to flinch. He refused to accept any sorrow from anyone in his family, most of all from him. “Get up, pahyoh! Issthnamii, I am not dead yet! Please. Get up and follow.” With a barely restrained growl he swept out of the room, his tail cutting through the air and nearly hitting Kaffi in the snout.

Kaffi recoiled before he could stop himself. Embarrassed and ashamed, he flailed and pushed himself up, shivering his wings and wiping at his eyes. “P-paddir?” he said and headed for the doorway. “Paddir! Please, wait!”

An annoyed grunt from the other room.

“Paddir!”

An opening and slamming shut of their apartment doors.

“Ai…!” Kaffi scuttled after him.

He sped past Shahney, standing at almost-full height with her wings slightly spread and twitching, leaning up against the wall of the family room and weeping silent tears. She was strong and she had expected the worst for months now, but the news had still shattered her. Iliah was at her side, her own wings expanding and contracting, her dark mane a disheveled mess. They caught each other’s eyes but said nothing, not even a hum of acknowledgement. She gave Kaffi a quick and silent twitch of her snout in the direction of their front door before turning to console their manae.

He slipped out of the apartment and caught sight of Graymar at the far end of the hallway, turning towards the main stairs and heading towards the roof. He double-timed it and managed to catch up to him by the time he got to the stairwell.

Graymar briefly glanced at him in quiet appreciation. He took bold, strong steps without hesitation, as much as his weakening body could move him. He held both of his wings slightly aloft, letting air pass between them. He held his snout straight and high, eyes forward. His tail out and away, with a slight curl at the end. His arms close to his belly, one paw across the other. He was humming, low and soft. He was not afraid.

Not afraid.

They went up to the roof in silence and stood side by side at the edge, looking out over the central green. It was still early afternoon, but it felt so much later in the day; heavy clouds hung over the estate blocking out most of the sunlight. A slow but consistent breeze pushed at them from all sides, just enough to keep the air this side of cold. Kaffi held his wings tight against his back for warmth and let his mane drop wherever it lay. Graymar did the same.

Together they watched life go on below and above. Satoshi coming back from an errand on the main street, burdened with full shopping bags. Tassh puttering around in his little garden allotment. The two elderly mandossi sitting on their balcony in the next building over, not saying much but keeping each other company and drinking their hot tea. Elise-Nooviya monitoring the children on the playground, Anna-Nassi and Cole close by. Dooni, one of the younger tintrite nestlings from Building D, going out on a solo practice flight around the estate. Dari stepping out of the community center doors, wearing gloves and an apron, stretching her back and looking back up at them. Maricel beside her, doing the same.

Samuel and Diwa, across the way, standing on their own balcony, facing them.

Diwa holding up a shaky hand in a halfhearted wave.

Samuel, wiping his eyes with the heel of his hand, and then nodding at Graymar.

“Dee…” Kaffi said, his voice barely audible.

Graymar hummed. A slow, resonant hum of contentment. Not pleasure, but not anger. A tintrite completely at ease.

“We are not yet done here, Kaffi,” he said to him, touching him on the shoulder. The same spot Diwa always touched when they flew. “Be here with me for a while longer. Let’s continue to watch the estate together.”

Kaffi shuddered, holding his wings tightly against him. “Yes, paddir.”

*

Samuel entered the back office the next day and was surprised to see Diwa already there, sitting on the new couch, arms crossed and scowling. He felt a twitch in his heart, saddened by how badly his son was taking Graymar’s news. Gray had told him in person yesterday afternoon, and it had shaken both families in different ways, but together they would pull through this, one way or another. He’d invited Gray, Shahney and Iliah over so they could all be there together. Dinner had been a muted affair, but afterwards there had been crying, laughing, remembering, and everything in between, as they gathered in the front room with Graymar and his family, talking well into the late evening. Diwa had taken it badly, however; he’d put on a brave face and consoled Kaffi the best he could, but once Gray and his family had returned home, he’d shut himself in his room and hadn’t come out again until late this morning. Samuel and Graymar may not have shown their emotions all that much over the years, but he’d never seen his own son shut himself off so completely.

He needed to stop this, immediately.

“Diwa,” he said, taking one of the visitor’s chairs in front of his desk and waving towards the other one. “Come sit with me over here a minute. There’s a few things I want to say.”

Diwa grunted and trudged over, not saying a word. Stood there, staring glumly at the chair.

“Please,” he said, gesturing again until he got the hint. Sullenly, he dropped down into it and looked off into space. Samuel frowned; this was worse than he’d expected. Exhaling, he laid a hand on his knee and leaned in close. “Listen, anak. I’m as devastated as you are about Graymar. He’s my bond. He’s my best friend. But he’s requested that none of us dwell on it. He’s accepted his fate.”

“I know…” he said, his voice barely leaving his chest.

“I don’t think you do,” Samuel corrected. “At least not fully.” He remembered that time, mere months ago, when he sat with him in this same exact spot, talking about inheritance. He’d been the one who’d closed up then, hiding back here. So much had changed in that short time. So many things he wouldn’t have expected. It was his turn now, to save Diwa from falling any further.

“Let me explain something to you, Diwa,” he continued. “You need to hear this. When lolo Akkree passed away, it hurt lolo Daniel, and the loss hit him badly.” He shivered at his own words…it still hurt to think about his father this way, but it was a deadened pain now. He could face it. “Papa couldn’t disconnect himself from his own bond. Or maybe he didn’t want to. Bonds are like that sometimes, Diwa. Sometimes it’s just too painful to let that bond go, especially when it’s as strong as it is. It hurt so much to watch…seeing my father pine away back here, depressed and alone. He didn’t want to let go. I believe he was afraid to. It took me a long time to heal from watching that during his last years. A long time. For Papa to let himself go like that when his best friend died, it scared me. It scarred me!”

Diwa blinked and lifted his head. “Pop…?”

“I didn’t quite know how to face any of it, Diwa, so I hid back here as well. You saw it. Dari and Maricel saw it. Everyone saw it. I could have cleaned this room so long ago, but it hurt too much to let go of Papa’s memories like that. I couldn’t bear the thought of letting him go so completely. I didn’t want to lose what I had of his memory.

“So I started hiding from it as well, heading back here and just…being with him. It was calming for a while. Then it became habit. And then…” He let out a long breath, looking around the room. The bare, clean room that somehow still held the auras of his father and Akkree. “Then it became overwhelming. I felt like I’d waited too long. I was buried back here.”

He saw that sparkle in his son’s eyes. It was still there, curious, hopeful. “What…what changed?”

Samuel gave him a teary smile. What had changed, indeed! You changed me, is what he wanted to say. Your dedication to this job and to your best friend changed me! “Many things, but in particular it was a trip to Panooria earlier this year,” he said eventually. “That was when Graymar’s cancer became apparent to us. We didn’t know what it was at the time, but we knew something was wrong. It scared us back into reality. And we had the two of you to think about.”

Diwa blushed slightly. “What…what do I have to do with it?”

Samuel laughed and clutched his son’s hands. “Why, everything, Diwa! You came in here with your conviction and dedication. You wanted so badly to inherit my position and you were willing to do whatever it took to ensure you got it. And you didn’t want just the title and the perks, no. You wanted to give something back to this estate.”

Diwa stared at him, unable to speak.

“That was the impetus,” he continued. “That made Graymar and I reevaluate our own bond. When we left our stopover and headed to Panooria the next day, we started talking. Getting to know each other again. Rethinking our bond.” He squeezed his son’s hands again. “Do you understand, Diwa? This is why Graymar doesn’t want us to feel sorrow. He wants us to feel that bond elsewhere. Within the estate, within ourselves. That we’re all here for each other.”

Diwa’s eyes lifted to his, tearing up. “I think I understand now, Pop,” he said, his voice small and shaky. “I-I’m terrified. I think. Not about the inheritance. Or even about Graymar’s fate. I think…” He sighed and turned away, blinking more tears away. He was powering through this, just like he’d hoped he would. He shuddered and wiped his eyes, looking away. “Kaffi and I spoke about this. Just once. I didn’t want to admit it then, but I can’t avoid it. I’m afraid of what might happen if the same happened to Kaffi. I don’t…I can’t even fathom how his absence would affect me. I know, it’s stupid.”

Samuel shook his head slowly. “No, it’s not, Diwa. Not at all. I get that. Losing Kaffi would gut you. I’m not going to lie – Graymar’s condition is certainly gutting me right this moment. But I refuse to give into that pain. Just like you need to refuse to give into it.

“I’ve seen you with Kaffi. Your bond is so fierce! Stronger than even mine and Graymar’s. Once the two of you embraced that bond, you embraced it fully, without question and without boundaries. You both understood its importance, between yourselves and with the rest of the world. That is a true bond between human and tintrite ride. Diwa. It’s not just about trust, it’s love. And it’s unbreakable. Even in the worst of conditions.”

Diwa sniffled one last time and forced himself to smile. “Ai…salamat, Pop,” he said. “I really needed to hear that.”

He gestured over to Samuel’s desk at the stack of paperwork waiting for them, including the large envelope that bore two wax seals, his and Graymar’s. The election results.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s get this prepared. Kaffi and I have a long flight tomorrow.”

Diwa & Kaffi 41

Author’s Note: Knowing how to handle unexpected life changes can be hard, but it doesn’t always have to be overwhelming.

*

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

The long, hot summer was finally winding down and the estate was buzzing with excitement, which meant it was time for the season’s end celebrations. Every member of the tenant’s committee skittered across the green all day long: having meetings in the community center, catching up and completing long-term projects, working out the next quarter’s budget report, reaping the first major apple harvest from the estate’s orchard, gardeners preparing their latest crops, and crafters weaving colorful streamers and setting them up all over the grounds.

And the biggest buzz of all: the official election for Graymar and Samuel’s replacements would take place this coming Saturday. Diwa and Kaffi were utterly exhausted and stressed out from all the work they’d done already: the filling out of official forms, the canvassing, the talking with the tenants. They’d ensured they were visible and available at all the various tenancy meetings, along with Anna-Nassi and Cole. And there were a lot of them going on at the moment. All this, on top of their daily errands, occasional visits to the co-op farm, and more. It was tiring, unrelenting work, but they dedicated every minute of the day to it.

Soon enough the week was nearly over, and with all their election work complete for the time being, the foursome gathered on the roof of Palm to celebrate and relax. Diwa did his best not to ruin the mood, but he could not shake this heavy anxiety; everyone, including Kaffi, had tried to convince him it was an easy win, but he refused to believe it until the election was officially called. Celebrating this early seemed a bit too presumptuous, at least right now. There was still time left for things to go in a completely different direction. Despite that, however, he refused to be overly pessimistic or cynical about it. If the other three were having fun, he certainly wasn’t going to rain on their parade.

“Eiyah,” Anna-Nassi said, holding up a large bottle of wine. She’d already had one or two glasses already, and was starting to waver. Her wings were wobbling and twitching and every now and again one of them would slap up against Cole if he sat too close. “Anyone for a refill?”

“You need to pace yourself,” Kaffi said with a grin, but he didn’t dismiss her offer, holding out his fluted glass.

“Fah. I’m fine,” she giggled. “Trust me, a truly drunk mandossi would be piercing your eardrums.” She refilled Kaffi’s glass, as well as Diwa’s and Cole’s, miraculously without spilling a single drop. “We get…loud.”

Diwa’s eyebrows shot up in amusement. Mandossi culture let younglings drink alcohol at a younger age than humans, and Annie was a perfect example of how it affected them when they overindulged; she was much looser and less self-conscious about her thoughts and emotions, but still well in check of her cognitive abilities. This made her much more confident but also sillier. Which, to be honest, wasn’t all that bad. “Louder than you usually are? I don’t believe it.”

“Hush, you.”

Kaffi raised his glass to the other three. “To a long-lasting bond of friendship,” he said. They clinked glasses in response. “The four of us here, right now, have done so much in such a short amount of time. It’s hard to believe we’ve gotten this far.” He turned to Diwa and tapped a talon against his arm. “This was all Diwa’s idea. I am so proud of him!”

Diwa laughed, waving away the attention. “Salamat, Kaffi…it may have been my idea, but the three of you helped make it a reality. I can’t thank you enough for staying by me.”

“It’s a pleasure,” Kaffi said, tapping his back with his tail.

“Hurrah!” Anna-Nassi cheered at ear piercing volume. “To my friends!”

“Inside voice, dear,” he giggled.

“Oops!” she giggled at him. “Sorry!”

Cole prodded her on the arm. “Never you mind, Annie. Be as loud as you want.”

“Hurray!”

“Eiyah,” Kaffi sniffed good-naturedly. “You two are terrible.”

Anna-Nassi flashed a ridiculous smile stuck her tongue out at him, which brought another wave of laughter. Finally calming down, she turned back to Diwa and pointed her glass towards him. “Oh! That reminds me. Dee – your amma, she’s okay with the food prep situation for the celebration party, neh? I know we still have loads of time, but I don’t want anything to slide by until the last moment.”

Dari had been just as excited and unstoppable as the rest of the estate over the last few days. She’d certainly appreciate Annie’s help, though. “She’s fine for now,” he said. “She’s managed to get a number of tenants from each building to pitch in. I’ll tell her to contact you, though.”

Anna-Nassi nodded, wobbled again, and hiccupped. She let out an embarrassed giggle and ruffled her wings. “Ai, maybe I should pace myself, heh.” She ruffled them once more and leaned back against the knuckles. “So has anyone heard who will be on the voting commission this time?”

Kaffi waved a quick talon in her direction. “I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.”

“Oh, you’re no fun!” She turned to Diwa. “What about you?”

“Same,” he said. “Although they’ve already decided that Graymar and Samuel will be the ones to announce the outcome during the celebration feast.”

“Eiyah, that’s forever!” she whined, waving her hands in the air. “I can’t wait that long!”

“Once it’s tallied on our end, they’ll write up the report, Pop and Graymar will put their seals on it, and someone will fly it to the Tenancy Commission in Panooria. Pop is hinting that it’ll be Kaffi and I, as a final test of our honesty.”

Cole smiled at them. He’d been quiet all week, still healing from his last bad reaction, but he refused to let that keep him from remaining active. He held himself with an impressive calm that Diwa had never seen before, even with a slightly tipsy and extremely noisy Anna-Nassi at his side. “That’s quite a devious decision,” he said. “I’m impressed. Daniel and Akkree did the same for them if I’m not mistaken.”

“It’s sort of become a family tradition at this point,” he said with a shrug. “I kind of expected it, really. Even more devious is that we’ll both have the signet rings on us during the ride. Part of gaining entrance to the Commission offices, but also part of the seal that’ll hold the documents closed.”

Cole winced. “Ouch.”

Diwa waved his concern off. “We have no plans to cheat, of course.”

“I’m holding you to that,” Anna-Nassi frowned at them, swishing a clawed finger between them but never quite getting a bullseye. “Either of you cheat and you’ll hear it from me!”

Kaffi nodded with a calming smile, squeezing her wavering hand. “Eiyah, we have no plans to do that at all, Annie. You have our word.”

*

The voting process itself was quick and painless that Saturday, compared to everything else that had come before it. A large drop box and several booths were set up in the lobby of the community center and monitored by various members of the committee, and when the doors opened there was already a long line of tenants outside waiting to cast their ballots. Diwa and Kaffi put in the first votes as a symbolic gesture, then made themselves scarce for the rest of the day. Diwa felt it would have been in poor taste to hang around the main green within view of the community center, even if it was to help Tassh with his gardening, so he and Kaffi took another flight into the city, with Iliah tagging along and a plan to visit Diwa’s brother Aldrine. They hadn’t seen each other since the holidays, and their emails were often few and far between, and he felt it was time for that to change as well. They hadn’t been the closest of siblings, not like he was with Maricel, and he wanted to get to know him again, especially now that his own life was changing considerably. Ali was a few years older and had become the businessman of the family, choosing to go into banking instead of the family trade, and he’d definitely taken on their father’s quiet unassuming demeanor. Samuel had honored his decision, as Diwa had already started voicing interest around the same time. Ali had no problem with this and was quite happy to let his nakababatang kapatid take over that dream.

They all met at the outside restaurant on the wharf pier, enjoying an extended lunch. They’d ordered several plates of appetizers and other small dishes, and spent over an hour getting caught up with the latest family news and reconnecting as friends and siblings. Iliah knew Ali well, the both of them having spent time together in school and again when they both lived in the city, so this was a happy reunion for them as well.

“I just can’t get over how much you’ve grown!” Aldrine said to Diwa with the biggest smile on his face, prodding him excitedly in the arm. He was a mirror image of Samuel now, tall and lanky, a slightly receding hairline, and looking a bit unsure of how to hold himself, though he shared their mother’s infectious positivity. He couldn’t stop chatting! “Really, it’s great to see you again, Dee. You’ve grown so quickly in the last year. When I came home last, you were thinner than me and looked so lost.”

“Ai, ano bang pinag-uusapan ninyo?” Diwa laughed, prodding him back. “You had such a damn chip on your shoulder then! Mari was afraid to get close to you until you calmed down!”

“Anó? No I didn’t! Ano balíw ka ba?” he said in mock surprise, but he’d started laughing as well. “Ah, maybe you’re right. I’d just finished a major project from hell at work, with just one day to spare before deadline. I might have been a bit…irritable.”

“A bit?”

“Hoy! Don’t push it, kapatid!” He pulled him into a close hug, tussling his hair. “Seriously, though. It is great to see you again, Diwa. Pop and Ina have been keeping me updated on your progress at the estate. They’re quite proud of you two, you know. You’ve come a hell of a long way in a short amount of time.” He nodded in Iliah’s direction. “You’ve been keeping me updated as well! It’s so good to hear from you again, Iliah. I’ve missed you, and it’s been ages. You’re doing well with your studies?”

“I’ll be wrapping up my internship soon,” she said, bobbing her snout and tapping his hand with a talon.  “I’ll be sticking around the estate for a little longer, help your amma at the community center for a while. I’ll take my final classes early next year.”

“Good to hear. And what about you, Kaffi?”

“I am doing well, Ali,” he said with a wide grin. “Since our paddir are retiring, Dee and I have been busy almost every day. There are so many things going on I’m constantly forgetting what day it is, but I can’t complain. We’re picking up all we can from them while we can.”

Aldrine nodded quietly; he was aware of Graymar’s situation, but had chosen not to bring it up or dwell on it. “Ina called me a few weeks ago when they announced it. Surprised the heck out of me, but I’m glad they’re doing it. They deserve the break. And she called me the other day as well, when Pop and Graymar went on their flight.” He paused and dropped his head towards the table…his face went from a pondering to a scowl and back again. “I’m a bit conflicted about what they did,” he continued in a much softer voice, “but I won’t hold it against them. I understand the reason. And I’m glad they chose to include both of you.”

“As am I,” Kaffi said.

Iliah leaned in and tapped Aldrine again. “The harvest celebration is coming in a few weeks, Ali. We’d like you to be there.”

Aldrine tapped her arm in return. “Of course,” he said. “When is it?”

“Two weeks from now. I’ll send you an invite,” she said, and gestured her snout in Diwa and Kaffi’s direction. “Today is the election for Samuel and Graymar’s replacement, and they’ll be revealing the winner then. These two are the front runners. I know they’ll win, but they won’t believe me.”

“I’m sure they will,” he said, and raised an amused eyebrow in Diwa’s direction. “I see Pop’s really stretching it out like he said he would.”

“It’s tradition,” Kaffi said with a grin. “I don’t mind.”

You don’t mind,” Diwa said, playfully leaning up against him. “I’m a giant ball of stress.”

Aldrine let out a heartfelt laugh, taking his brother’s hand and squeezing it tight. “Mananalo ka, sigurado ako! From what I hear, everyone at the estate loves you two.”

Diwa smiled warmly. “Salamat, Ali,” he said. “Kaffi and I will be taking our first flight up to Panooria to drop off the paperwork in a few days. It’s not the election that’s driving me crazy, it’s the waiting.”

*

They spent the rest of the afternoon strolling the Wharf District and visiting shops, and ended the day having coffee at a street café. They continued talking the entire time, catching each other up on news of family and work, reminiscing over memories of growing up at the estate, and reconnecting as brothers. Diwa enjoyed it immensely, realizing that he’d missed Aldrine more than he’d expected…they’d never been the closest of siblings due to the age difference and his leaving the estate just out of school, but this reunion had sparked something between them that had been missing for a long time. A brotherly bond that he’d almost forgotten about. Aldrine had noticed it too, and together they made plans to keep in closer contact. Diwa and Kaffi would stop by whenever they were in the city, and Aldrine would return for as many family get-togethers and estate celebrations as he could.

When it was time for them to return home at the end of the afternoon, Aldrine walked them to the landing pier. He was typically quiet and introspective as always, but Diwa sensed a newly awakened respect and hopefulness that had been missing in his life. Ali didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. At the edge of the tarmac he pulled Diwa into a long, fierce hug. “Mahal kita, Diwa. You do me proud, kid,” he said into his ear. “I know you’ll do great. It really was great to see you again.”

Diwa warmed to his words and returned the embrace. “Mahal din kita, Ali. Don’t be a stranger in the future, yeah?” he said with a smile, prodding him lightly on the shoulder. “Come down and visit. We’d love to see you more. And ping me on vidchat, I’ve always got it on.”

“I will.”

Ali turned to Kaffi next and surprised him with a tight embrace. “Ai, Kaffi! So great to see you again as well! I’m thrilled the two of you bonded!” he said to him. “You take good care of my little brother, yeah? He’s the only one I’ve got.”

Kaffi hummed happily and tapped his snout against Aldrine’s forehead. “I will, ahpadé,” he said. “I promise.”

Lastly, he turned to Iliah last and pulled her close. This was an embrace of longtime friends who hadn’t seen each other in far too long. “I’m glad you came, Iliah,” he said softly, and gave her a kiss on the snout. “I miss our café meetups too much! And please, stop by any time you’re in the neighborhood, okay? I’d love to see you again.”

She chittered her fangs together joyfully, nuzzling her snout into his hair and messing it up. “Of course, Ali! Once I’m back at school, I’ll let you know!”

Diwa was still smiling by the time they were back up in the air and headed for home; this visit had certainly calmed his nerves and lifted his spirits more than he’d expected. Aldrine hadn’t always been the most open person, but this reunion seemed to have sparked something that had been simmering deep down for quite some time. Reconnecting with his brother had stirred something in himself as well; the bond of extended family, including Iliah and Kaffi. That alone made him feel that he’d already achieved everything he’d ever wanted.

*

Glossary:
nakababatang kapatid (Tagalog) — little brother
“…ano bang pinag-uusapan ninyo?” (Tagalog) — “What are you talking about?”
“Anó? No I didn’t! Ano balíw ka ba?” (Tagalog) — “What? No I didn’t! What’s wrong with you?”
“Mananalo ka, sigurado ako!” (Tagalog) — “You’ll win, I’m sure!”

Diwa & Kaffi 40

Author’s Note: If life gives you a moment to treasure, don’t let it pass you by.

*

CHAPTER FORTY

Graymar checked every saddle strap for the fourth time, then did something he’d never done before: he let Samuel look them over. He didn’t have to do much, but he let him do it just the same – ensure that they were secured and stable, and that nothing was loose. It was the least he could do for the human who had been his bonded ride and his closest friend his entire adult life.

When Samuel was finished, Graymar crouched down on all fours to let him climb on. They were certainly old men at this point…Samuel grunted as he stepped into one foot well and lifted himself up, and with considerable awkwardness used the pommel to pull his other leg over. Eiyah, they were already so out of practice! Not that it really mattered now. As long as he could reach the sky with him one more time. They went through the checklist like they always did, but this time they did it slowly. There was no rush, as they weren’t heading anywhere in particular. Samuel adjusted the foot wells, tethered himself up in all the right places, and tapped Graymar just above his left shoulder when he was ready to go.

“You sure you’re okay with a ground lift-off, Gray?” he asked, as they moved closer to the makeshift landing strip that they’d made earlier by tamping down the grass with a few fallen branches. “I mean…”

“It’s not bothering me today,” he said, and he meant it. Retiring from long flights had certainly slowed the pain. It still hurt when he was aware of it, but for now it had receded enough that he could at least fly one last time. He did not know how long they’d have before he ran out of strength and had to land again, but he chose not to dwell on it. He would go for as long as he could, and he would tell Samuel when it was time. “We can go for as long as the both of us can.”

Another pat on his shoulder. He must have picked that up from his pahyoh. Samuel had never done that until he’d seen Diwa providing that physical connection with Kaffi. It felt right; it was reassurance, that he was there for him. “Whenever you’re ready,” Samuel said.

Graymar lifted his forearms slightly and angled himself skyward. “Ready to go,” he said, and unfurled his wings to full span. No twitch in his wing at all. With a wide smile that showed every single one of his fangs, he hummed with pleasure. “Prepare for lift-off.”

Samuel laughed quietly, touching his shoulder one more time. “I’ve always loved watching you do that, Gray,” he said. “You’ve always had the most amazing wingspan.”

“Hmm. Maianni-naahsah, my fiiri.”

“I am prepped and ready.”

Graymar exhaled. This was going to be the last time he’d do this with his bonded ride. This was the Last Flight. He felt his heart surge with…it wasn’t sadness, much to his surprise. It was comfort. Conviction.

And love.

With a powerful push from his hind legs, he leapt up into the air. Behind him, he heard Samuel barking out a surprised and joyous laugh in response.

He rode the mountain wind ever upwards. Getting altitude was easy here, thanks to the natural wind flow. He didn’t have to push as hard, which meant that he could glide and adjust with minimal movement and stay up here with Samuel for as long they both could. He reminded himself, more out of amusement than shame, that they were both most likely in trouble back at the estate, having completely forgotten to tell anyone where they were going. He thought he’d seen Anna-Nassi nearby when they’d gone to the light rail station, so she may have witnessed them. But right now that didn’t matter.

None of that mattered.

What mattered was that he was here, up in the air, where he belonged. He was here with his bonded ride and his best friend. This was when he remembered just how similar he and his pahyoh were. They were tintrite with a love of the air, and rides bonded to humans they cared for deeply. Their ways of showing such bonds may have been different in so many ways…but then again, did that truly matter? What really mattered was that the bond was strong and unbroken.

He’d never broken his bond with Samuel.

“Paddir!”

Kaffi’s voice stirred him out of his reverie, but he was not angry. He sniffed at the air and glanced over his shoulder at Samuel. “We are caught,” he said with a mischievous grin.

“Busted,” Samuel smirked, and glanced over his shoulder. “Kaffi!” he called out, waving in his direction. “We’re fine. No need to worry.”

Kaffi may have been a good distance away and trying to catch up, but he could hear his deep displeasure and annoyance. A grunt and a long, rumbling growl.

“Oh dear, he’s pissed,” Samuel said.

“Ai…” Graymar swallowed his pride and swung in a slow arc to meet up with his pahyoh. He noticed Kaffi was still wearing his saddle, though it was currently empty. “Kaffi,” he said. “Please, we are fine. We apologize for not telling anyone.”

Kaffi snorted loudly and swung into position beside him. “Issthnamii…you gave us a scare, paddir!” he whined. “We couldn’t find you or Samuel and expected the worst!”

“I know, and I am sorry.” He dipped his head low towards his son. “We should have informed you and Diwa.”

Kaffi gave him a dismissing grunt and a midrange hum in response…he was more worried than angry. He’d make amends with him once they got back to the nest. In the meantime, he’d just had an idea that would begin that process, and he was sure Samuel would agree to it. He looked up again and caught his eyes. “Diwa is here?”

“He’s down below,” he said.

“Good,” he said. “Pahyoh, please do me a favor.”

Kaffi tipped his snout at him with uncertainty. “What do you need?”

He gestured down at the ground below with a talon. “Please. Go back and get Diwa and bring him up here.”

“Diwa…” Kaffi shuddered and gasped, and nearly lost his smooth glide. “Eiyah…! Yes, paddir!” He pulled into a sharp turn and dive, much sharper and more dangerous than even he would have tried, but pulled out of it quickly, landing mere yards from his ride.

“What are you up to…?” Samuel said.

“This is my wish for Last Flight,” Graymar said. “To be with my ride, and for him to be with his.”

*

Diwa watched Kaffi spiral away from Graymar and Samuel and dive back down towards him at such a frightening speed and angle that it scared him. Had they argued? Were they angry at each other now? What was going on up there? But before he could say anything, Kaffi had already landed next to him, much harder than usual, kicking up dirt and dust as he regained his footing and balance.

“Come,” Kaffi said breathlessly, lowering himself to the ground. “Climb on.”

“Kaff—”

“Please, Dee!” he chirped at him. “They want us up there.”

Diwa nodded quickly and hopped on. He secured himself in record time and they were back up in the air within a few minutes. “What’s going on?” he said.

Kaffi grunted and flapped furiously until they caught a strong wind, and soon they were leveling off. His breathing was labored, and he flapped his wings sparingly until he was calm once more. He didn’t respond right away. Diwa looked to the ten o’clock position and could see Graymar and Samuel, just a bit higher, circling in a holding pattern, waiting for them. Instinctively he placed a hand on Kaffi’s shoulder, right behind his wings.

“Last Flight,” Kaffi said quietly.

Diwa finally understood and hummed in response. Now that he knew Graymar’s fate, everything fell into place and all the anger he’d felt towards his father melted away at once. He could fault them for not telling anyone where they were, and he was sure both Graymar and Samuel felt guilty about it. But he would not fault them for choosing to go somewhere completely open and unencumbered, somewhere they could share this moment together without interruption or distraction, with a clear view of Mount Laimora in the distance at that.

A perfect location for Last Flight.

Kaffi drifted to his father’s side but said nothing. Diwa looked over at his father, who was looking back at him with a sad, tearful smile, and was suddenly struck by the realization that he had never flown in tandem with him. They’d followed behind a few times when they were still training, sure. They’d even flown together once or twice on local errands. They’d had a tender conversation, the four of them in the back office, about what it was to fly and to be bonded.

But they had never flown together purely for the joy of it. Until this moment.

“Pop,” he said, his voice catching in his throat.

“Natutuwa akong narito ka, Diwa,” Samuel said.

Diwa nodded and gave him a smile. “So am I, Pop,” he said.

There were no more words shared between them, and Diwa knew none were needed. They flew in silence over the meadow, then out over the lush forests that lined the start of the mountain range. He took in every single view and held every single detail close in his heart and his soul. He would not forget this moment. He took in the light blue of the afternoon sky. He took in the dark green of the forest and the golden brown of the meadow grass. The shimmering white of the sun reflected off the dark blue waters of the bay. The verdant hues of the mountain range on the peninsula. The industrial grays of the city center. The light purple shadows on Mount Laimora.

The dark grayish green of Kaffi’s scales, the mottled brown and gray of his wings.

The even darker grayish green of Graymar’s scales, the striking deep brown of Graymar’s wings.

And the peaceful smile on Samuel’s face.

He would remember all of this, for years to come.

*

Graymar and Samuel would take the light rail from Griffin back to the estate, along with Anna-Nassi and Cole. They had arrived while they were airborne, both of them having sensed their whereabouts all the way from the park’s entrance and had watched solemnly and without a word. They knew, they understood. Diwa had asked them to call Dari and Shahney and whoever needed to know that they were heading home.

Kaffi and Diwa decided to stay there in the field for just a little while longer, resting up before they made their own flight back. Diwa voiced his concern about Kaffi having flown so far and so much today, but Kaffi would hear none of it. He was in fine shape, the winds would be with them, and they could take their own time. He refused to take the light rail home; he wanted to be up there in the air, with Diwa.

Kaffi stood behind him, his arms around Diwa’s shoulders. “Dee,” he said.

“Hmm?”

“I…um.” He let out a slow breath. “I want to thank you, first,” he said eventually, measuring his words. “For being with me today. For doing what we did to find our paddir. And I am touched that my paddir requested we share his Last Flight. And…”

Diwa felt Kaffi shiver.

“…and I’m glad the both of us shared that.”

“Hmm,” he said in response and leaned back into Kaffi’s belly.

Kaffi pulled him close and rested his snout against Diwa’s cheek.

Diwa leaned up against his friend. Humming again. Gave him a kiss, just behind his whiskers.

Nothing more needed to be said.

*

Glossary:
issthnamii (ees-th’nah-mee) (Tintrite) – exclamation of frustration or impatience
“Natutuwa akong narito ka, Diwa.” (Tagalog) — “I am glad you’re here, Diwa.”

Diwa & Kaffi 39

Author’s Note: Sometimes the worst news will only bring everyone even closer together.

*

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

Despite the urgency of the situation, Diwa felt guilty for making Kaffi fly all the way to Griffin Park. It was about the same flight distance as the city center, but this was over ever-changing terrain and constantly changing winds. Were they wasting their time and energy? What if their fathers had gone elsewhere? What if they were already returning to the estate? But Kaffi had not complained once, and his constant push to reach top speed was his own choice. They were most of the way to their destination when he signaled for Kaffi to land so they could take a break. He didn’t want Kaffi to overexert himself, and he’d had to check his phone, as it had buzzed and gone to voicemail.

They found a small neighborhood with a central public landing pad near a shopping district and dropped in for a landing. Kaffi immediately put on his headset and dialed up his manae, glancing at him with worry. Diwa checked his own phone and listened to the voicemail. It was Anna-Nassi; she’d gotten a hold of Cole and they were both on their way to Griffin Park. Both their parents had informed the tenant’s committee of the situation, and that everything was quiet and calm back at the estate. He called them back to tell them where they were, and that they’d be in the center of Griffin soon.

Diwa couldn’t shake the doubt he felt. They had no proof that Samuel and Graymar had gone in that direction. Everyone at estate was counting on them. On a hunch.

Kaffi waved him over quickly. “Dee, I just spoke with Iliah,” he said. His voice was low and rumbling; he was angry and scared. “They took it.”

“Took—” Diwa shivered. It was just as he feared. “Eiyah, Pop…” he groaned, turning away and waving his hands in frustration. Why had he gone and done such a stupid thing? “Ano bang kagaguhan ang iniisip mo?”

“She noticed it missing,” he growled. “He’d put it down in storage after he’d grounded himself.” He pulled off his headset and stuffed it back into his satchel with more force than necessary. “Once we took off, she went down there to confirm what you’d thought. They definitely headed up to Griffin.”

“Wide open space,” Diwa said, trembling. He and Kaffi had done the same exact thing just months ago. They had gone for the peace and tranquility and the privacy…and the companionship.

Samuel and Graymar were going for the same reasons. Perhaps for the last time.

“Kaff…?” he started but realized he couldn’t go any further.

Kaffi growled and ruffled his wings. “I know what my paddir is doing, Dee,” he said. He dropped back down to all fours, waiting for him to climb back into the saddle. “Come on, let’s go. We can’t waste any more time.”

“Kaff—”

“Ai!” he snapped. “We need to go now!”

Surprised and chastened for the first time by his best friend, he could only nod in response, and prepared himself for a ground takeoff.

They reached the center of Griffin Park twenty minutes later and headed directly to the park entrance. Kaffi fretted nervously and moved fast on his hinds, leaving Diwa to double-time it to keep up. He’d also refused to take off his saddle but had not explained why. Diwa called home on the way to check in again; his mother was maintaining an even calm with Shahney, with Iliah and Mari in tow. They’d chosen not to call Aldrine just yet, at least not until Samuel and Graymar had been found. They had everything under control at the estate and repeated that he and Kaffi did not need to worry about them. Then he called Anna-Nassi to let her know they’d made it; she and Cole were only three stops away and would arrive at the town center in the next twenty minutes. They stopped at a street side food stall to get something to eat on the way in; they were too wound up to have an appetite, but it was better to have something in them in case they needed to take to the air again.

“The park is big,” Kaffi muttered as they headed towards the park entrance. “They could have gone anywhere.”

Diwa gave him a reassuring pat on his shoulder. “I know,” he said. “That’s why I’m betting they’re going to the same clearing we went to. It’s our paddir’s favorite spot, isn’t it? It’s got the best views and the best winds for flight. And if they go up high enough, we’ll be able to see them.”

Kaffi grumbled and wrung his hands with deep worry. “Dee,” he said. His voice low and subtle. Afraid.

Diwa caught his distress and felt a pit in his stomach for the second time today. “Kaff, what’s wrong?”

Kaffi let out a small whine, turning his snout away from him. “There’s something I need to tell you,” he said, his voice quiet. Too quiet. “About paddir. About his wing. We found out last night. He must have told Samuel by now.”

Kaffi took Diwa’s hands and squeezed them tightly. Another small whine, followed by a high distressed hum. “Dee…” he said. “The doctor confirmed it was cancerous. He’s had it for a while. It metastasized to his other wing and his muscles over the last few months. Final stages.”

Diwa’s stomach dropped a third time. “He’s…”

“Seven to eight months,” he said.

“Oh…” he shivered. “Oh god. Kaff.” He felt hot tears in the corners of his eyes. Samuel and Graymar weren’t up here to joke around. Or to play. Or to get in trouble.

They were here for one final bonding. Before Graymar passed on.

“Dee,” Kaffi said, and stood up to full height with his hands now slack at his sides and his wings flat against his back. This was a tintrite sign of open and complete vulnerability. Diwa had never seen him show it to this extent, and it terrified him. But right now, even as he towered over him, Kaffi was the most comforting sight in the world. He pulled Diwa into a soft embrace. “Dee,” he whispered, and said no more.

They stood there in silence, saying nothing but completely bonded.

“Let’s go,” Diwa said shakily after a few moments, and pulled away. “Let’s go find them.”

Kaffi hummed in agreement. Soft and quiet. Acquiescence.

*

Glossary:
“Ano bang kagaguhan ang iniisip mo?” (Tagalog) — “What the hell were you thinking?”

Diwa & Kaffi 38

Author’s Note: Love isn’t always perfect, but it is what we make of it. For Diwa, it’s not just his connection with Kaffi but also with his family. For Kaffi, it’s about comfort and connection. For Samuel, it’s keeping track of those closest to your heart. And for Graymar, it’s the pleasure achieved by being close to those that matter most to him.

*

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

“Ai, Pop…where are you?” Diwa grumbled, rubbing at his eyes in frustration.

Samuel rarely contacted his family in a timely manner when he and Graymar went out for an unscheduled flight, and it drove his family crazy every time. He might leave a note in an inconspicuous place where it would never be seen, or he’d call a few hours late. He might call the apartment when he knew everyone was out and leave a half-cryptic message. He’d even called an hour before they were due back home once or twice. But he never completely forgot to keep in contact. Graymar would have hounded him if he had.

Which made Diwa even more worried, as neither one had made any attempt at contacting either family today. They’d left the estate hours ago, leaving no notes and telling no one where they’d gone off to, with no further contact since then. And they weren’t answering their phones, either. Normally he wouldn’t worry too much, but this time out he’d grown concerned as the day went on. Graymar had officially grounded himself a few weeks ago, and Samuel had made it a point to look after him. They were both supposed to be staying close to home, but it seemed they’d chosen to do otherwise this morning.

Diwa went from one building of this estate to the other, searching for them. He’d gone all over the grounds, in all the offices and everywhere else, to no avail. Feeling increasingly angry at his father, he returned to the roof deck of Palm, pacing frantically, and wondering if he’d missed something. He and Samuel had no plans together today other than perhaps an hour or two of going over the usual paperwork, but he would have at least told him if he’d had to reschedule it. There were no missed calls, no texts from him. Not even a note on his desk.

Even Dari was starting to fret, calling Shahney and Iliah. She’d called a few of the committee members after that. Then she’d called Elise-Nooviya and then the co-op farm. No one had seen either of them.

Earlier, Diwa thought of their monthly Panooria flight, and another wave of anger coursed through him. The scheduled appointment at the Tenancy Bureau wasn’t for another week, but they’d already confirmed they wouldn’t be doing them anymore, with Graymar’s brother temporarily taking over. Sure enough, when he entered the back office again, that batch of paperwork was still there on Samuel’s desk, waiting to be picked up.

He called Kaffi next, who confirmed that he hadn’t seen his paddir either, not since earlier this morning. He’d left on foot like he’d always had lately, and everyone had presumed they’d been heading for the bus to the co-op farm after meeting up with Samuel on the green. Kaffi was deeply concerned and heavily distracted and told him he’d been about to take a flight around the neighborhood to look for them in case they’d chosen to go for a walk outside the estate. Kaffi would wear a headset and keep in tight contact with him.

Which left Diwa here, on the roof of Palm once more, wondering what the hell had happened to them.

His thoughts scattered immediately, however, when he heard the almighty screech of a mandossi in distress, here in his own building.

“Ai…!” he gasped, stumbling to the patio deck’s railing. He’d never heard such a din before, here at the estate! His stomach dropped, fearing the worst. A mandossi had seen something, discovered something, and it was going to be on his watch. Worse, that it might be his father, or Graymar.

The roof doors suddenly crashed open. A breathless Anna-Nassi stood there, her wings open wide and trembling. She sputtered something in her own language that he could not understand, punctuating it with chirps and clicking fangs. Her eyes were dark and dilated and filled with tears.

“Annie…?” he managed.

“D-Dee…” she stuttered, falling into a squat, her wings still twitching.

Ai…! Diwa fought the pit in his stomach and ran to her side, taking her hands and squeezing them tightly. “Eiyah,” he whispered. “Annie…calm. Talk to me. Annie? What’s wrong?”

She hummed and buzzed and rustled her wings and took a deep breath. “Ai…” she said at last. “Diwa. I-I’m sorry! I c-can’t help it. But I don’t know why I didn’t. I promised. I should have followed. Ei…ni yo daash-paiya…!”

“Annie…” Gods, he needed her to calm down quickly! She was still feeling the aftereffects of Cole’s Steiner-Hedraac flare-up from last week, amplifying and scrambling her energy and emotion levels. She’d had a bad episode just the other day as well, leaving her exhausted and overly sensitive. Ai, where was Cole to calm her down? But he couldn’t ask him right now, not when he was probably still experiencing his own aftereffects. He pulled her close, leaning his forehead against hers. “Annie. Calm,” he whispered, breathing slowly and evenly. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

She sobbed and shivered. “Ai…Diwa. Your father. Graymar. I didn’t know they’d been missing until just now. I saw them earlier this morning, walking towards the light rail station. I don’t know where they were going, but they were both carrying bags. They weren’t flying.” She lowered her head and groaned. Her hands came up and grasped Diwa’s upper arms. He let her pull him close as she started to cry quietly. “I should have followed them, Diwa. I promised myself I would look after them. I failed, Diwa!”

Bags…? Were they heading somewhere? “Annie, listen to me. Which line did they take?”

“Um,” she said after a moment, still sniffling. She was already calming down. “G-Griffin Park, I think?”

Griffin…? Oh. Oh.

“Ai, Pop…” he sighed. Of course they’d go there.

“Dee?”

Diwa exhaled and smiled, and released a great wave of relief, big enough for Annie to sense and put her at ease. He touched his forehead against his once more and squeezed her hands. “Eiyah, Annie! You didn’t fail at all. You did wonderful! I know where they’re going,” he said, and pulled away. “I need your help.”

Anna-Nassi’s wings rippled quickly and uncertainly. “Anything,” she said, wiping the last of her tears away.

Diwa pulled out his phone. “I want you to start heading up to Griffin Park at the next available train. Take Cole with you if he’s up for it. I know the cell signals are crap up there, but we should at least be able to contact them if they’re in the town center. Can you do that?”

Anna-Nassi nodded quickly. “Are you sure? That they’re up there?”

“I have a hunch,” he said, fighting back doubt. Anything was better than the dark thoughts he’d had just a few minutes earlier. “They might be going to the same campground Diwa and I went to a while back. They wouldn’t have flown because they don’t have to.” He pulled her into one more embrace in thanks. “Salamat, Annie. I have to call Kaffi.”

She nodded and left as quickly as she’d arrived, and much quieter.

Kaffi answered after the first ring. “Kaff,” he said. “Annie saw them heading to the light rail earlier this morning. They might have made their way to Griffin Park. Think they’d be going to the campground?”

Kaffi hummed. A short, curt hum that sounded very much like Graymar. “Possibly. They didn’t say anything about heading up there to my family. Yours?”

“Not that I know of,” he said. “I’ll have to ask ina again. In the meantime, I have Annie and Cole about to head up there by rail. Can you be ready to fly in a half hour?”

Kaffi paused. “Are you certain that’s where they’re headed?”

Diwa didn’t respond right away. That was the problem…he didn’t know for certain. “I’m going on a hunch, Kaff, and that’s all we have, but I trust it. I’m going to head down to Pop’s office, check a few things and call ina, and then get prepared. Meet me on your roof in a half hour.”

“In a half hour,” he echoed. “I’ll be ready by then.”

“Okay. Kaff?”

“Hmm?”

“Thanks. You know, for helping.”

“It’s my paddir as well, Dee.”

“I know. Just…thanks. For being there.”

“Same, Dee.”

*

Samuel leaned back on the uneven ground, the heels of his palms pushing into the dirt, feeling a bit guilty for falling back into one of his old bad habits. He should have left a note or called someone. He should have called while he still had network access! It was a spur of the moment thing, really. Both he and Graymar had woken up earlier than usual, still unused to the shift in their schedules now that they were mostly retired. He couldn’t fall back asleep, so instead of tossing and turning and waking up Dari, he’d taken a shower and puttered around in his office for a while. When that failed to distract him, he’d taken his coffee and walked out onto the balcony to check in on the green. To his surprise he saw Graymar across the way, standing solo on the roof of Building C, doing the same exact thing. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen him out this early. Graymar had always been an early riser, but he’d always stayed inside with family at least until midmorning.

They waved and motioned to each other, and soon they met down on the central green. They got to talking. Just simple talking this time…no voicing concerns about the estate, no sassing back and forth, no critiquing their sons. Just a normal conversation, like close friends would. Deciding that the last few personal and emotional barriers they’d built between them were no longer needed. Sharing thoughts and wishes and concerns. Time. Life. Illness. Death. Family.

Bonding.

It was Samuel’s suggestion that they take the day off. Graymar was never all that easy to convince, but this time out he was more than happy to go wherever Samuel took him. His amenability to do whatever came to mind had sparked something, and soon they were talking about where they wanted to go. At first, they’d thought of taking a long walk outside the estate. Then they thought of heading to the co-op. There was even a brief temptation to head to the city. Eventually, they chose somewhere where they could be alone and without distraction. And he decided that Griffin Park was the best place to go: out in the wilderness, where they could relax and do whatever they wanted to do without the estate becoming a part of it.

It seemed like such a nice idea, and Graymar had agreed immediately. He had even brought his saddle, which had surprised him. They hadn’t planned on flying, but Gray was adamant. Griffin Park had been a favorite destination for them both back when they first started flying together and having the saddle here with him gave him a sense of positive closure.

But right now, Samuel felt more guilty than relaxed. He pulled out his phone once again and tried to call home, but the signal was so spotty and weak he couldn’t even make a connection to any services. There was a chance he could get a signal if they were up in the air, but he was not about to push Graymar for something so ridiculous. What he should have done was call when they were in the town center, but they’d both been so eager to head into the park that it had slipped their minds. They’d been here for at least a few hours, strolling through the forest until they came to this wide-open meadow. Surely Dari and Shahney were wondering where the hells they were by now. Diwa would definitely be upset with him.

Graymar, however, was in the highest of spirits. He’d exercised his wings earlier and was now taking a break beside him. He sat down on all fours – something he’d rarely seen him do on bare ground – and had both wings spread out to their full span. He was genuinely enjoying being able to stretch himself out like this, with little pain or stress. He’d put on his saddle as soon as they’d arrived here in the park and hadn’t taken it off since. He was humming quietly to himself, some tintrite melody that he’d sung before. There were no words, but none were needed. When tintrite hummed musically, they were saying they were truly at complete peace.

Samuel let out a slow breath, letting his stress fall away. Maybe he shouldn’t worry so much. Everything was calm here. He’d catch hell from his family when they got back home, but he’d accept that. He was here with his bonded ride, and he wanted to cherish that.

“Gray,” he said when the song was over. His voice was quiet, barely lifting above the sound of the wind. Somehow it didn’t feel right to raise his voice too much.

“Hmm?”

“Did we do the right thing?”

Graymar let out a snort of breath and turned in his direction. “You mean retiring? Why do you ask?”

Samuel leaned forward and brushed the dirt from his hands. “I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, we weren’t that much older than our sons when we took over from Daniel and Akkree. I’m not worried about the age of our kids.” He sighed and looked out over the open bay. The day was clear and sunny, enough that they could see the low forests and rocky outcroppings of Mount Laimora across the bay. “I am worried about us, Gray,” he continued. “Two old men with nothing better to do other than complain about how much better things were in our day.”

Graymar let out a chuckle. “Like I haven’t been doing that all my life, my fiiri,” he said.

“True,” he said, looking over at his friend. “How is your wing, by the way?”

“It’s a little stiff,” he said, and moved it back and forth. “I can fly for a while if I don’t overdo it. Why, are you looking for one last go-round before I fold up these wings for the final time?”

Samuel shivered at his gallows humor, but he wouldn’t have expected anything less from him. “It’s tempting,” he said.

“You need only ask,” he said with an uncharacteristic lightness.

“You sound more like Kaffi than ever,” he said, and let out a quiet laugh. “Retirement suits you, Gray. This is the irreverence I remember. Ah, the things we used to get up to when we first bonded! I’m almost afraid to tell Diwa about some of it, it might give him ideas. Remember that summer flight we took, what…fifteen, sixteen years ago? That time we had to fly bareback. I still can’t believe we did that.”

“Long Pier,” he said, snorting in amusement. “Earlier than that, we were just starting out. One of our first flight errands. We had to be there within two hours for some important regional meeting…and someone had forgotten to tell me about it until we had to leave.”

“Heh. Yeah, that’s it. And we did fairly good, too.”

“It was only a short flight away, so we could get away with it,” he said, snorting again. “It was your plan that we’d land half a mile away so no one would see us, and walk the rest of the way? And we came up with a ridiculous story why we weren’t following flight regulation. I cannot believe we didn’t get fined.”

Samuel slid closer to Graymar’s side. “If I recall, it was Karrosshi that caught us. Saw us flying in but didn’t say anything until we were about to leave. Gave us a slap on the wrist and let us go, as long as we took public transit back.”

“Ah, Karrosshi! Now there was a fine tintrite flight,” Graymar hummed, tapping the ground with a talon. “I remember him well. He was even older than Akkree and yet he could still outfly me. I learned a few tricks from him when I was a youngling.”

“Hmm. I always wondered where you picked up that sideways curve. That definitely wasn’t your paddir or manae. Definitely not Akkree.”

“That was indeed him,” he said.

Samuel let out a slow breath, looking out over the bay. “Gray…” he started, his voice quiet again. “Do you want to take a Last Flight?”

Graymar hummed slow and long, a gleam in his eye and showing his fangs.

*

Glossary:
“Ei…ni yo daash-paiya…!” (mandossi) — “I am such an idiot!” Annie is sometimes very hard on herself, especially when emotions are involved.

Diwa & Kaffi 37

Author’s Note: Another side of love: knowing how far you would go for the ones closest to your heart.

Author’s Second Note: This week’s chapters may be a bit emotionally taxing for some. CW ahead for a few health issues.

*

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

Kaffi always looked forward to the change of seasons when the miserable humidity of summer gave way to the cool breeziness of autumn. The colors of the leaves would start changing everywhere, turning the hills surrounding the bay a lovely gold. It was the best time for flying, and he and Diwa had so many more places they wanted to go. It was also a time for remembrance; the annual remembrance ceremony at Mount Laimora would be coming within a few months. This was a celebration of the landing and first physical contact between human and tintrite, a connection laid down across the world many generations ago and honored ever since. Kaffi wished dearly to share this ceremony with Diwa when it came.

What they hadn’t expected, however, was Samuel and Graymar’s announcement that they would be fully retiring by the end of the year.

They hadn’t expected their paddir to step down so soon! It had shaken both Diwa and Kaffi to the core…they’d been hoping to receive so much more training and experience shadowing them before putting their own names in for an election they’d planned to have at least three or four years from now! Were they even close to ready for this kind of transition? They understood the reasons why their paddir had chosen to announce this, regardless of their readiness…Samuel and Graymar had been working endlessly for this estate for over twenty years now, and despite their dedication, they knew they wouldn’t be able to keep going for much longer. Not when Samuel had come clean with his feelings about the position and his paddir had fallen ill. They would no doubt stick close to the estate and help when and where necessary, but most of the responsibilities would then fall on the shoulders of the new landlords.

Kaffi wasn’t sure if they were even close to that level yet.

“They say we are,” Diwa said, pushing his fists further into his jacket pockets, hunching his shoulders. They’d followed Anna-Nassi and Cole’s lead and were strolling through the orchard, which had become one of their own favorite pastimes when they needed a bit of quiet alone time to think things over. Granted, the orchard wasn’t as quiet and empty as it used to be, thanks to Annie’s hard work over the summer. The first full harvest was coming soon, and several tenants were already out here, tending to the trees and cleaning the grounds.

“Maybe we are, and maybe we aren’t,” Kaffi said, ruffling his wings to shake off the excess stress. He’d been doing a lot of that lately. “But we are gaining in experience, which is the important thing.”

“Hmm. Maybe so, but is it enough?” Diwa absently kicked at a fallen and damaged fruit and watched it tumble down the path. “The committee will be putting it to a vote by November,” he said after a moment. “That gives us just shy of three months to prepare for it.”

“We should file this weekend,” Kaffi said.

“I’ve already got the paperwork from Samuel,” he said with a half-smile. “Stop by the office and we can take care of it tonight. He knew I’d come looking for it as soon as they made the announcement. He already had a couple of folders ready and waiting.”

“He’s come a long way in that back office,” Kaffi hummed.

“He has,” he said, and it was true. Together, Diwa and Samuel had put in a lot of work to clean it out, renovate it, and make it ready for them. And in the process, they’d grown closer than ever before as family. “I can’t help but think he was cleaning that room more for us than for himself, yeah? I know…it sounds presumptuous of me, but he’d had faith in us from the beginning.”

Kaffi hummed in agreement. “Paddir might not have shown it outwardly all that often, but I think he’d been the same.”

Diwa reached down and picked up the apple he’d been kicking and tossed it into one of the compost bins nearby. For such life-altering news, he seemed at ease with it. Perhaps it was because it wasn’t just about their future…it was about their paddir’s as well.

“So,” he started.

“So…?” Kaffi echoed.

“So, do you know who else might want to put in a bid?”

Kaffi’s wings rippled quickly in amusement. “Heh. Having second thoughts?”

“Not at all,” he grinned. “I just want to know who’s in the running.”

“I believe a few of the other tenants might put in bids, but I don’t think they’re taking it all that seriously. We shouldn’t worry.”

“Still…” he said. “I’d like to know who they are.”

Kaffi tipped his snout downwards, glancing at him. “Dee, I’m confident we’ll win…”

He waved his concern away with a smile. “No, you misunderstand. I want to know who they are so I can pick their brains when we do win. If we do win.”

So that was why he was so focused on it! Kaffi waved a talon at him, flashing a few fangs in response. “Ah, I see what you mean. You’d like to keep them involved after the fact.”

“Precisely.”

“Why is that?”

He turned to him, scratching the back of his head again in that endearing nervous habit of his. “Kaff, our run so far has been so successful because the four of us have been active in the community every single day since the beginning. We’re practically the most visible tenants here. But we’re not the only highly visible tenants. We have Annie and Cole, we have Elise-Nooviya, we have ina, we have Tassh, we have the two old mandossi ladies…I’m even starting to see Satoshi and Sakura more often. Why would we want to dismiss anyone else’s ideas? Just because we’d be the ones in charge doesn’t mean it’s all on our shoulders. I want to listen to them. I want to know what they need, what ideas they have.”

Kaffi leaned back slightly with a wide smile, humming high, long and soft; deeply impressed.

“What?”

He tapped him on the shoulder with a talon. “Come on, Dee. You don’t give yourself nearly enough credit.”

Diwa’s face reddened. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means…” Kaffi snorted and draped his arm over his shoulder, giving him a quick hug and a tap of the snout on his head. “…that you are going to make one hell of a fine co-landlord.”

*

Anna-Nassi walked the entire length of the estate at least once a day after her shift, whether at the farm or here at the estate, sorting out her thoughts on her own. If Diwa and Kaffi weren’t going to be nervous about the upcoming election, then Anna-Nassi would be nervous for them both. All the tenants and committee members kept saying they were an easy win despite their age. That alone worried her because that meant high expectations. She said nothing to the committee at first, but she listened to what they had to say about Diwa and Kaffi. A lot of it was high praise, as she’d expected, but she’d also sensed that a lot of it was based off their fathers’ history at the estate – exactly what Diwa was trying to avoid. She never forgot Diwa’s words, especially after she’d taken them to heart for herself. Those voices were in the minority, but they were there and that worried her. These tenants might already be won over by those two, but their reasons were not entirely strong. Perhaps they truly were tenants who rode whatever winds blew their way? Maybe so, but she kept it all in mind, nonetheless.

This was all too early to act upon, she realized. They could monitor it for now. This was certainly going to test her patience, that was for sure. She often voiced her concerns and worries with Cole during the day, and she felt no guilt in doing so. He’d finally let himself share his own concerns, knowing that she was always there to hear them. She may not have been able to do anything about it, but at least they could figure out a way together.

“Have a bit of faith in them,” Cole told her one afternoon as they were coming back from the fields, talking about the committee’s excitement about their two friends. To be honest, she did feel a bit of lingering guilt, but only because they were both nearly out of energy. It had been an exceptionally grueling workday, between the unexpectedly hot and humid weather and the volume of work they’d completed. Even Diwa and Kaffi had made an appearance before returning to the estate at lunch time. She took Cole’s hand and squeezed it tight. They were both pleased, but thoroughly exhausted.

“I do, kae,” she hummed. “I’m just worried the committee is not going to take them as seriously.”

“You’d be surprised,” he said after a long moment. “It. Depends on who. You’re talking to. And. And. When they. They. Th—”

Anna-Nassi slowed to a halt and pulled Cole to a stop, suddenly sensing the angry, jagged energies coursing through is body. “Cole…?” she said softly, pulling her own energies back as far as they could go for her own safety, leaving just enough so that he could still latch on if he needed them. Ai, was he having another attack? And he’d been so good this entire month! Why now? She turned him around and leveled her eyes with his. The color, what little there was of it, had drained from his face, and his eyes had started to dilate. “Cole? Kae, please…focus on me. Can you hear me?”

“C-can’t…”

A sharp spike of malevolent energy shot out of his body, whipping through the air like a lash, searching for purchase. She gasped and twitched as it grazed her right arm before swinging back into the air.

“Ai…oh no…no, no…” With a shiver, her worst fears had come true. His Steiner-Hedraac was kicking in and he was having a reaction, right here at the co-op farm, just yards away from the central building. He’d been so good this entire summer, and now it was hitting him a lot harder than he’d prepared for.

“Cole, listen to me,” she said as evenly, as calmly as she could muster. She could do this. She could do this! For Cole, she would do this. She gently took hold of his arms and exhaled. Come on, Annie girl…this is for him. “Please, center on me, kae. Can you do that? It’s okay. It’s fine. You don’t need to ask. If you need to latch on, go ahead. I’m going to pick you up and bring you to our resting tree, yeah? Is that okay with you?”

Shivering and unable to unclench his jaw, he finally managed to meet her eyes. The dark mass of energies surrounded him, almost consuming him, and he could do nothing. Ai, he was so afraid right now…afraid that he would hurt her. Afraid he wouldn’t recover. He stuttered and tried to form words, but nothing came out. Finally and with considerable effort, he twitched his head up and down twice. She took that as an affirmative, picked him up and held him tightly against her body as she ran for the grassy lawn and the tree they always sat under. It was a long-established place of calm and far away from anyone else in the vicinity. The workers who knew Cole here would understand and keep their distance.

“Ai, Cole…please be okay…” she whispered over and over, holding back her tears. “Please be okay…”

She felt a vicious stab in her lower right arm, the same exact place he would latch on every time. Normally it felt no stronger than a tiny pinch or a scratch, but this time it felt worse. So much worse. It felt like a large and terrible needle, carelessly and mercilessly jabbed into her skin and muscle, and she cried out without meeting to. But she refused to give up.

I can do this, she said to herself. We’re almost there. I can do this. For Cole.

She made it to the tree despite the pain and placed him up against it. He was still shuddering, though he’d managed to calm himself now that his stinger had found purchase. She could still feel that stinging needle deep within her arm, pulsing and craving. She winced and whined without meaning to and forced herself to ride it through.

I’m sorry, she almost heard him say. I am so sorry, Annie.

“Nothing to be sorry about, kae,” she said, dropping her teary eyes to his. “We do this together, neh? Like you trained me. I’m afraid too, but we can do this. I can help you through this. Yeah?”

“Y-yeah…” he managed.

“See? You can speak again. This is good,” she said and managed an uneven smile. She sat across from him, taking his hands and holding them tight. “Like we practiced, okay? I’m going to start. Deep breath.”

Cole took a sharp, shallow breath and held it for too long, and forced it back out through his nostrils. He tried again, again drawing a shallow breath. His eyes were dark and so full of sorrow, angry at himself for doing this to her. But she felt it then; a swelling of energy in his chest, forcing his lungs to behave the way he needed them to. Another breath, forced but slower this time. A third, even longer. Each successive breath calming him. The angry energies retreated.

The needle pain in her arm began to retract.

“Good, kae,” she said, forcing another smile, relaxing the grasp of his hands. Never letting go, however. There was still more to do. “You’re doing great. I can feel it, you’re calming down. This is where I come in, neh? I’m going to push at your connection. Tell me if it hurts.”

Cole hummed, a low short rumble.

Anna-Nassi closed her eyes and took her own slow, measured breaths. She couldn’t disconnect from him until she was also calm, and right now she was far from it. She worried about Cole’s health, about anyone nearby and if they’d been affected. About anyone who might have witnessed any of this. But she refused to give up or hide. She could do this.

She could do this.

With her own energies, she found the tip of that psychic needle, about halfway up her arm, exactly where he would feed every time, and very gently started to push it away. Her own soul twitched at its toxic presence and the pain it had caused, but she refused to be angry at it. This was his way of surviving, and she would do anything to make sure he came through to the other side unscathed. Another gentle push, this time longer and with just a bit more force. She felt it retracting, pulling back towards the surface of her skin. She let out another breath she’d forgotten to release and laughed at herself. She wasn’t perfect at this process, but she was good at it, and that mattered.

Anything for Cole.

The needle left the skin, and she felt nothing on her arm other than a muscle bruise.

She exhaled long and slow and opened her eyes.

Cole was weeping, but he had not let go of her. “I’m so sorry, Annie…”

She pushed herself up and embraced him tightly, both arms and wings, and laid her forehead against his. “Shh…” she said, half laughing and half crying. “You stop that, Cole,” she whispered. “You did so good, kae. I’m proud of you. I love you, Cole. And I’d do this for you any day, you know that. Don’t ever apologize.”

They both sat there for a long time, embracing each other, calming each other. Eventually they’d take the bus back to the estate, and she was almost certain they’d both be out of commission for at least a few days to recuperate, but that didn’t matter. She’d been there for him, and he’d let her in without question. Their bond was just as strong as Diwa and Kaffi’s, and she would always cherish that.

*

Glossary:
kae (kah‘ee) — (mandossi) A term of endearment, such as ‘dearest’. Often seen as romantic, but can also be interpreted simply as someone very close to one’s heart.

Diwa & Kaffi 36

Author’s Note: Another view of love, this one about empathy. When someone close to you is ailing, you want to reach out and comfort them any way you can.

*

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

Cole’s mental and physical health had been so balanced for so long that he hadn’t noticed the change in the behavior of his Steiner-Hedraac Syndrome until Anna-Nassi pointed it out to him, and the news had come as a shock. The two spent alternate days together between the co-op farm and the estate nowadays, rarely out of each other’s sight. It was nearing the end of the summer, and the next harvest would be ready soon. They’d spent most of the afternoon working in the cool of the main processing plant, shifting between the packaging department and the shipping docks, and had put in a hard day. They were hot and sweaty from all the exertion and were sitting in the cool shade of one of the trees out front, drinking sodas. Annie cuddled up next to him, as she often did at the end of a long day, softly tapping his arm and calming him.

“You’ve been doing awesome,” she said softly. “You know that?”

“Hmm?” he said. “No different than any other day, Annie.”

“I mean your balance, silly!” she giggled, giving him a nudge. “You haven’t had any strong urges to feed for three weeks.”

Three weeks…? He stared at her, mentally calculating the last time his syndrome kicked in. Had it really been that long? “You’re sure about that?”

“Twenty-four days,” she nodded. “I’ve been counting. The last time we had to take care of it was on the third.”

He shivered, more surprised than concerned. She was right, the last flare-up he’d had was indeed at the beginning of the month, when he’d been overtired and overstressed from an extremely long work day, having to train two new recruits, and a stupid argument with one of the co-op office assistants about a scheduling mix-up. Everything had just piled on one after another, and by that afternoon he’d had to retreat before it got worse. Annie had been there, and she’d followed him home to ensure he didn’t have any attacks on the way.

Still…three weeks? That couldn’t be right! “Wow…it’s never been that long.”

She nuzzled her face against the side of his and hummed happily. “It’s a good thing, kae. I like taking care of you.”

“You don’t need to do that,” he said, leaning into the nuzzle and taking her hand. “But I’m glad you do.”

“Neh!” she chirped, bouncing back with one of her wonderful beaming smiles. “Good! Because this calls for a celebration!”

“Annie, stop!” he laughed. “You do not need to go out of your way.”

But she was on a roll now, and he wasn’t about to stop her. He never would. “Anything good calls for a celebration, Cole, you know that! Your good health! My good health! Diwa and Kaffi being the two ridiculous lovebirds that they are!” She shivered with glee, letting her wings ripple in the air. “What’s not to celebrate?”

“You are so relentlessly optimistic!” he laughed, giving her a side hug. “Not that I ever complain about that, Annie. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been doing better.”

Anna-Nassi ruffled her wings again and stood up. “Hmm. Perhaps. Eiyah, we did put in a full day today, didn’t we?” She pushed herself up and stretched all six of her limbs, towering over him, and let out a long yawn. Once more, he was worried that perhaps he’d fed off her all this time and exhausted her own energy in the process. He said nothing about it this time, however, because he’d brought it up before and she’d immediately shut that argument down. He still felt the occasional pang of guilt whenever he had to feed, but forced himself to ignore it. He may be siphoning minute amounts of her energy, she said, but she always had a surplus of it that she never had an outlet for. She was more than happy to share. And she always repeated the same words: you never need to ask, kae.

When did she start calling him kae? He knew what it meant; it was a mandossi semi-romantic term of endearment. He had no problems with it, but he often wondered if she meant it in a friendly way or if she meant it seriously.

Most of the time he could read Anna-Nassi clearly; this was because she so often laid herself completely bare for everyone to see and sense, even more so than most mandossi which were the easiest beings for a hedraac to read. She never hid a thing from him. He couldn’t remember the last time she held secrets. She wanted to share it all with him. It helped him regulate his feeding, for one. But she truly did enjoy being with him. And he felt the same. He felt calmest around her. He looked forward to her company every day. They kept each other balanced.

Maybe she was being serious…?

“Your mind is running again,” she teased, elbowing him in the side.

“When is it not?” he smirked, elbowing her back. “Hey, I just remembered – it’s almost the end of the month, and I haven’t heard anything from Diwa or Kaffi about our monthly meeting. Have you?”

She shook her head. “No, not yet, but they’re probably distracted again. They’ve been all lovey-dovey distracted ever since that trip to the city! I’ll go prod them when we get home, slap some sense into them again. Eiyah, isn’t that Graymar…?” She lifted her chin in the direction of the large tintrite crossing the front parking lot towards the transport shelter, his gait slow and deliberate, perhaps overly so, like he was hiding something and hoping no one would notice. His wings seemed pulled much closer to his body than normal, and there was also a strip of white cloth wrapped around the knuckle bones of his right wing. He was purposely not bringing attention to himself, but nor was he paying much attention to those around him.

He held his energies so tightly it felt claustrophobic. That must not feel natural or comfortable at all.

“Yeah, that’s him,” he said, frowning. “He doesn’t look very happy to be here.”

“Hmm,” she said, her shoulders visibly drooping. “I don’t think it’s the location. It’s the method of transportation.”

Graymar stopped under the shade of the shelter, waiting for the next bus. He was stretching out his arms, but only his left wing. He’d pulled out a tablet and was tapping a message to someone, possibly Shahney or Samuel. Cole could feel his misery from a distance.

“Pain,” he said, wincing. “A lot more than he’s letting on.”

Anna-Nassi nodded, her wings faltering slightly.

*

 Kaffi was understandably quiet during their monthly meeting, and Diwa didn’t push him. Samuel and Graymar’s bitter argument had affected both families. They’d made peace and come to a tentative agreement, but everyone was still on edge. Graymar had returned to Building C after the co-op run feeling angry and ashamed, and it pained Kaffi to watch his paddir suffer through that. Diwa still felt miserable as well; he hadn’t wanted to push his father, but it was a necessary point he’d had to make. He’d shut himself away for too long, and someone had to make him understand that he was not suffering alone.

Still, he and Kaffi had each other, and they had Annie and Cole, to stay in high spirits. This meeting wasn’t of that much importance, just an update of ongoing projects and a bit of estate gossip. Diwa had his notebook out, scribbling out all the updates so far: Cole’s report on the progress at the co-op farm, Anna-Nassi’s report on the tenants, Kaffi on the upkeep of the estate, and Diwa with the paperwork and accounting. The meeting proper lasted no more than twenty minutes, the rest of the hour turning into a chat circle between friends, talking about inconsequential things.

Diwa used this time to reconnect with them on a deeper level. They were all doing their own things, but he wanted to remind himself that they were still there, in his mind and in his heart as close friends and confidants. Anna-Nassi and Cole’s bond had grown as strong as his and Kaffi’s, in their own special way over the summer, much to his delight. Elise-Nooviya had been the instigator there, of all people – she’d not only assigned Annie to farm days coinciding with Cole’s shifts, but she’d also taken Cole on as the farm’s chief representative in the committee, just to make sure they spent as much time together as possible. And she’d also taken Diwa aside and explained her decision, wishing to clear it with him before making it official. That had been the surprise move; she’d come to him, not to Samuel.

He was already establishing himself at this estate, so soon after leaving school.

This year was going by so fast, he hoped he wouldn’t forget any of it.

“You’re in a pensive mood,” Kaffi said to him after the meeting had adjourned and the other two headed off for a stroll around the apple orchard. They’d sensed that he and Kaffi needed to have a conversation about their fathers, and had made themselves scarce.

“For obvious reasons,” he said. “Pop is doing alright…but he’s still moping. At least he’s not hiding in the office anymore. Ina’s doing what she can to lift him up when he needs it.”

“Hmm.”

“How is Graymar?”

Kaffi huffed a breath through his nostrils and ruffled his wings slightly. “The best he can,” he said, measuring his irritability. “Given the situation. He’s doing short, low-impact flights to keep himself in shape, but he takes the light rail when he needs to go long distances. He hasn’t flown with Samuel for two weeks now.”

Diwa frowned. “It must bother him. It really bothers Pop, too.”

“It does,” he said, touching him on the arm, giving it a soft squeeze. “He keeps it quiet. He always does. He won’t show it. He’ll shuffle through the nest, grumbling and snapping at everyone until Shahley or Iliah chases him away to get him outside. He’ll bark at me if I push him too hard to open up.” After a moment, his own scowl faded, and he let his wings flutter just a tiny bit. “But…on the plus side, he’ll still go up to the roof and spend time up there. A lot of time. He’ll even sit down here, if the weather is good. And at least once a day he’ll fly over to Palm and join Samuel on the roof and have a few beers.”

Diwa smirked. “I’ll be honest, I’m glad our fathers are at least taking their semi-retirement seriously.”

Kaffi snorted, tapping a happy talon against the table. “Indeed! They’re still spending all their time together, and that helps.”

Diwa hummed in agreement. “Samuel spends time with the family as often as he spends time with Gray now,” he said. “He still forgets to tell us things now and again, and he still closes up when things get bad, but I think that will change. We’re glad that he’s making the effort. It took him a while to get used to the fact that I’m carrying part of his burden of being co-landlord now.” Thinking back on those first few days made him laugh; it certainly wasn’t an easy transition, not when he wanted to do everything from the get-go and his father was so reticent to accelerate any of the training! “He had all this extra time on his hands and nothing to do at first, and no office stacks to hide behind. I had to find errands for him until he got the hint!”

Kaffi smiled. “Same here,” he said. “I don’t mind if they lighten up on their job, we can certainly take care of it. I just want them to spend more time together.”

“So do I,” Diwa said. “They’ve more than earned it, yeah? I have no issues with doing all the work on an unofficial level right now.”

“Hmm. And if we can talk them into doing the Panooria run…”

“Yeah…” he winced. “That still seems a tender subject. I mean, I get it, but if we’re available for it, send us along, right? I just…” He glanced over Kaffi’s shoulder at Palm Building just beyond, half expecting Samuel to be there on the balcony, but he was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he was up on the roof with Graymar, just out of view? He sighed once more and turned back to Kaffi. “Eh…I just want to float the idea their way, but it just never seems like a good time. And by the time I think about it, one of them has already signed up your uncle or someone else.”

Kaffi’s wings rippled slightly as he tapped his talons on the table in thought. “Let’s bring it up at the start of next month, then,” he said. “Both of us. Seems clear to me that it just hasn’t occurred to them. Maybe they’re still seeing us as landlords-in-training.”

“Hmm, could be.”

“Well,” he huffed, and pushed himself up. “No use talking and not doing, as our paddir would say, yeah? Come on – it’s almost time for the committee meeting, and I need a snack before it starts.”

Diwa stood up and stretched his back. “Good idea. Mari’s supposed to be starting her internship with them tonight, by the way. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see us.”

Kaffi hummed in agreement as he gathered his things, and together they made their way to the community center. They saw a number of tenancy committee members already at the door, deep in conversations or waving to their neighbors. This was not supposed to be an important meeting as far as he knew, and this seemed like a slightly larger audience than usual, but he didn’t question it. He was happy enough to be surrounded by them right now, knowing they were there and connecting with each other.

Diwa & Kaffi 35

Author’s Note: This chapter is also about love: the kind that hurts, even when it’s the strongest you’ve ever felt. We finally see that Samuel and Graymar’s bond is just as strong and unyielding as Diwa and Kaffi’s. They too are unsure how to navigate this kind of overwhelming emotion.

*

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

“I’m telling you Gray, you need to stop being so damned stubborn!”

“And I’m telling you, Samuel. I can handle this.”

“You’ve been grounded by the doctor, Gray—”

“I’ve not been grounded. It has been suggested that I limit my flying. There is a very distinct difference between the two. And I am not about to stop flying.”

Samuel unclenched his fists again and turned away, moving towards the new office window. It was currently open and letting in a warm breeze, reminding him of their most recent flight and setting him even more on edge. Ai, why was Graymar being so obstinate? The twitch in his right wing had gotten significantly worse over the last two weeks, and no amount of massage or ointment was going to help him this time. He didn’t want Graymar to stop flying either, but he could not continue being his ride if he was going to be flying injured. And he absolutely hated having to admit that. It was too painful. It reminded him too much of how Akkree had suffered. And how much suffering Daniel had taken on afterwards. He felt a lump in his throat and fought it down.

“Gray…” he sighed.

Graymar grumbled at him.

“Gods, you’re not making this any easier,” he sighed, and returned to the couch, dropping heavily upon it. Graymar stood before him, his snout low and his hands at his belly, one on top of the other. His wings were currently stone still against his back. He couldn’t tell if he was angry at him or just being stubborn. “Being a pedant is not a good look for you, Gray,” he said, raising his eyes towards him. “But you’re right. I can’t stop you. I want you to…well, not stop completely. I want you to get better. I want you to heal.”

He took in a shaky breath, dreading the next few words. He could not avoid it any longer. “But I will not be your ride when you remain injured.”

Graymar blinked slowly and huffed out an extremely long breath through his nostrils. No humming.

“Gray…” he continued, feeling the tears in the corners of his eyes. He could barely get his own words out, but they so desperately needed saying now. “You know how much it pains me to say that. But I just can’t do it. I won’t take this chance. It’s too dangerous for both of us.”

“Samuel…” he said, so quietly his voice barely crossed the space between them.

Samuel reached out, taking hold of Graymar’s long fingers. Graymar clutched his hands tightly, and finally let out a long, low guttural hum. Distress. Sorrow.

“I understand,” Graymar said after a moment. “This is my pain that I need to chase away, Samuel. I will not lay this burden on you. It would not be fair.” He leaned over, resting his snout against the top of Samuel’s head. “I accept your decision, aking kaibigan. I would love to keep flying, even if it is just to exercise my wings and keep them healthy, but I shall not overexert myself. This I promise you.”

Samuel hummed in response, squeezing Graymar’s fingers.

“Please,” he sniffled, his voice a whisper. “Please do what you can to heal.”

*

“Pop?”

Diwa entered the office room later that afternoon, as he often did now that renovations had been completed. They’d spent even more time together, working in tandem on the paperwork and other estate errands that needed constant attention, and soon enough he would be taking it over on his own. It was nearing the end of the month and they had started gathering the documents needed for the trip to Panooria, and they’d been looking forward to completing this month’s batch together for the first time. Diwa had picked up on all the paperwork processing quickly and with little problem, much to his delight, and this would be the last training session before he handed it all off to him. One less thing he’d need to worry about soon enough.

But right now, his semi-retirement felt anything but positive.

And Diwa had noticed. “Pop, are you okay?”

Samuel looked up from his desk; he’d been staring into space for the last few minutes, still thinking about his earlier conversation with Graymar. Embarrassed, he pushed himself out of his slouch. “Yes, I’m fine. Just a few things on my mind right now.”

Diwa sat down on the new couch and leaned against its back. He’d taken to that new piece of furniture as his favorite spot in the entire room. “Is Graymar doing okay?” he asked.

“As well as he can,” he responded.

Diwa frowned in annoyance. “I was talking with Kaff earlier. We know Graymar has had issues with his wing, Pop. You had an argument about it today. I could hear it from down the hall.”

Ah, there it was. He lowered his head, ashamed. He’d hoped that Diwa hadn’t been around for all that. “We did,” he said quietly. “I apologize if we upset you.”

Diwa waved the apology away, pushing forward and resting on his knees, moving closer. This was a new side he hadn’t noticed in his son before: active movement, sensing when things were wrong. He must have learned this from Kaffi, maybe even Graymar. “This isn’t about me, Pop,” he said matter-of-factly. “This is about you. Please tell me the two of you patched it up.”

Did they? He hoped they had. “Yes.”

“Good.” With a grunt, Diwa pushed himself up and walked towards the bay window, not quite distressed but clearly irritated. He looked outside, distracted by the trees in the rear of their building. “Did you get someone to do the Panooria flight next week?”

“Yes, we did,” he said. “I knew the two of you were busy. Graymar’s cousin and his ride will take care of it for us this weekend.”

“Okay.”

“Diwa….”

“Pop,” he said quickly, turning around and waving away his words. “I’m not mad about that, if that’s what you’re thinking. Kaffi and I understand. It’s just the way of things. We’ll take it next time. I just…” He stopped abruptly, rubbing his temples and letting out an grunt of annoyance. “Urgh…! I wish you’d talk to us!” He started pacing the room, waving his hands as he went. Samuel felt even more ashamed than before, seeing his son so angry at him. “We know something’s wrong with Graymar, Pop. All of us can sense it. I had to ask ina and Iliah and Shahney just to figure out what the hell has been going on between you two! You’ve got to remember, he’s our family too! We know he’s hurting. We’ve heard what’s wrong. But you need to remember that we’re here too, ama! Reach out to us! Tell us when you need help. Both of you!”

Samuel blinked at him. This definitely wasn’t the same Diwa from just a few months earlier. “Okay, I can do that,” he said, thoroughly chastened. “What brings this on, Diwa?”

That, unfortunately, had been exactly the wrong thing to say, and it sent Diwa into another handwaving circuit around the room. Eventually he slowed down, standing at the window again, debating whether to face him or turn away. After a moment his shoulders drooped and he glanced in his direction. “Nakakairita ang ganitong drama…” he sighed. “Pop, I get the bond the two of you have. Honestly, I do. It’s definitely not the same as mine and Kaffi’s, or anyone else’s around here for that matter, but it’s there. I can see it. But you two are always…I don’t know.” He twirled his hands in the air again, this time in frustration. “The two of you dance around each other all the time. Never quite connecting. Except when it counts? When it does, the two of you attract each other like magnets and that bond becomes unbreakable. I’ve seen it. You don’t show it all that often, but I’ve seen it.” He slowed to a halt, wiping at his eyes with the heels of his hands. Pleading, Diwa looked him straight in the eyes, tears be damned. “I want the two of you to keep that strong bond, Pop,” he sniffled. “Huwag mo itong ilihim sa amin, tama ba?”

Samuel pushed himself out of his chair, joined him at the window, and embraced him. Oh, why hadn’t he seen this before now? He’d been just as damned stubborn as Graymar! He had to stop this before it got any worse. He couldn’t run from this any longer. “Okay,” he said, his own voice catching in his throat. “Maraming salamat, Diwa. I really needed to hear that. We’re trying. I truly love Graymar, you know. He is my bond and my friend. I’m doing all I can to keep that connection true.”

Diwa nodded, laying his hand over his father’s.

“Just…don’t let it go like that anymore, yeah?” he said, wiping a tear away. “It wouldn’t be fair to him. Or to anyone.”

Samuel understood this all too well.

He promised himself he would never hide this pain from anyone ever again.

*

Glossary:
aking kaibigan (Tagalog) — my dear friend
“Nakakairita ang ganitong drama…” (Tagalog) — “I am so sick of this drama…”
“Huwag mo itong ilihim sa amin, tama ba?” (Tagalog) — “Don’t hide this from us, alright?”
“Maraming salamat, Diwa.” (Tagalog) — “Thank you so much, Diwa.”

Diwa & Kaffi 34

Author’s Note: This chapter is all about love, and its many shades and strengths. But most importantly, it’s the special kind of love that makes one’s heart beat the strongest. I wanted Diwa to experience it in a profound way, at a level that moves and terrifies him in equal measure, to show his true level of dedication to Kaffi.

*

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

Maricel trudged slowly and sweatily into the front office of the community center and pulled up a chair next to Diwa at the main desk, thankful to be out of the sweltering heat. It was the height of summer and far too hot outside for anyone to do much of anything other than stay in the shade and avoid the sun. She’d even finished her afternoon chores early on purpose so she could spend some time in the cool of the air-conditioned office with her brother.

He’d been so busy lately they’d hardly spent any time together. She kind of missed him, even though they’d cross paths at the end of the day during family dinners. It had been months since they stood side by side doing the dishes afterwards, or playing video games in the living room, or even having a game of catch on the playground. He was already an adult, leaving her behind. He wasn’t going anywhere, though. She knew he’d always make good on his promise to take over Papa’s job. She just didn’t expect to be spending so much less time with him.

“Hey there,” he said with a smile, and handed her a bottle of water and a small packet of dried fruit their mother always kept in stock in one of the lower drawers. “I can’t blame you for hiding in here. It must be what, triple digits outside?”

“Getting there,” she said, holding the water to her forehead to cool herself. “There’s hardly anyone out on the green. Even Kaffi’s staying out of the sun today.”

“Yeah, we’ve been texting each other all morning. He’s absolutely bored, stuck in his nestroom. What about you? Any plans?”

“I’d head over to the community pool but it’s probably too crowded now,” she said with a shrug. That had been her original plan, but she’d overslept and ran out of time to get her morning chores done. She gave him a nudge with her bottle. “How did you swing getting assigned desk duty, anyway? That’s supposed to be my job now!”

“No reason we both can’t work it,” he said. “I’m just here because Kami couldn’t make it today. Her son has a doctor’s appointment this afternoon and I just happened to be around when she was looking for a substitute. The shift’s all yours if you want it.”

“Let’s split it,” she offered. “I rarely get to see you anymore.”

“Sure, why not,” he smirked, tussling her hair.

“Hoy! Tumigil ka nga!” She squirmed and giggled, punching him in the arm. “Jerk!”

“Heh. So – what have you been up to since school ended?”

She shrugged and kicked up her legs on the desk. Their mother hated it when she did that on the job, but the tenants didn’t seem to mind. They found it amusing! “Eh, a little of everything. Sitting in on a few tenancy meetings, hanging with my friends, working with Tassh in the orchard, helping babysit Koie now and again. Running chores for ina, mostly. You know her. Always has something going on.”

He hummed and took a sip from his own bottle. “Ever since Pop cleaned his office, he’s no longer puttering around the apartment. I bet she’s happy now that he’s out of her hair. More time for her own things.”

“She loves to keep busy,” she mused. Dari had been sending her on all kinds of errands lately, from shopping for supplies at the markets across the street to making deliveries to the post office and elsewhere. It kept her busy – and paid – and she didn’t mind it at all. It was all part of working behind the scenes at this estate, and she enjoyed it. Their father, on the other hand… “Speaking of Pop…” She leaned in and dropped her voice down to a murmur. “He’s been a bit down the last few days, yeah? Ever since they came back from that last trip to Panooria. Is something up?”

Diwa frowned. He’d noticed it as well. “He hasn’t said anything, but I think it’s Graymar. According to Kaffi, he’s had some sort of tintrite arthritis in his wing the last few months and it’s starting to affect his flying to the point that Joel-Kaiané is threatening to ground him. He’s been having it treated, but it seems to flare up whenever they take those long trips.”

Mari nodded slowly, confirming her fears. “That must be it. Gray’s been talking across the green lately to visit Pop instead of flying over like he used to. Must be hard for them.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Kaffi and I already told them both that we could do the run for them if they needed, but they said it’s too early for us to fly that far so soon. They’re taking it month by month. Graymar’s brother is going to do the run next time, and they’ll take it month by month after that.”

He wanted to say more but held back, as it wasn’t the right place. They were more than ready, and their father knew it. But they also understood there was more to it than just handing off the responsibilities, so they’d remained patient. And she understood her brother’s patience all too well! Diwa and Kaffi were itching to get more distance and airtime experience, but there was only so far they could go by just doing local errands and trips. They had to go further. They wanted to go further!

It was time to set her plan in motion, then. “What’s the farthest you’ve flown with him, Diwa?”

The question surprised him, but he appreciated the change in subject. “With Kaffi? We haven’t gone too far. We’ve been practicing every few days as we can, just going around the estate. Maybe a flight to the cove and back. Doing local deliveries for tenants to get used to added weight. Why do you ask?”

Perfect! She gave him an animated shrug, waving the question away. “Just curious. I’m surprised you haven’t gone into the city yet. You know, take the day off, go on a date or something…” She added a quick rise of an eyebrow and a sideways glance just to drive the point home.

“Kaffi put you up to that, didn’t he?” he laughed. “He’s been wanting to take me to the Wharf District for the last month or so. I’d love to go but I’ve just been too busy.”

“Anó? You’re never too busy!” she said, prodding him in the arm. “You never let yourself have any fun, Diwa! You want to go? Go then! I can pick up your slack easy!”

He prodded her right back. “Are you sure you want to work with Tassh in his garden?”

She crinkled her nose. “Ew, no! I’ll do anything except that. I can’t stand the smell of that fertilizer he uses.”

“You get used to it.”

“I’d rather not, thank you very much!” She prodded him once more, just to drive the point home. “Seriously, though – if he asks again, you tell him yes, and let me know. I’ll cover you, or get someone here to pitch in.”

Diwa raised his eyebrows. “You’re sure about that?”

Ay, was he always this dense? “Mag isip ka nga, Diwa. Spend as much time with him as you want! It’s what we want, and it’s what you both deserve.”

“He put you up to saying that as well, did he?”

“Natutulala ka ba?” she giggled. “You doofus! The rest of us did! Your family. And his!”

“I’ll call him during my next break,” he said, the corners of his mouth curling up into that ridiculous grin he always had when a great plan slipped into his brain. Even if it was hers to start with! “I’ll even clear it with Pop and Graymar. Is tomorrow fine with you? It’s supposed to be another clear day, but not as hot. It would be perfect.”

“You should be asking Kaffi,” she said, raising an eyebrow at him. “Doesn’t bother me at all.”

“Great! He’ll be thrilled!” He pulled his sister into a side hug. “Thank you, Mari!”

“No problem,” she said, wrinkling her nose and nudging him away. “And don’t do that again, you’re all sweaty and you stink!”

*

Kaffi woke up especially early the next morning, earlier than everyone else in the nest, so he could prepare for the trip. Truth be told, he’d been up before dawn, too excited to sleep in. Diwa had completely surprised him when he’d called yesterday afternoon, letting him know he’d cleared both of their schedules and were free to spend the entire day in the city. He’d wanted to bring Diwa there since they’d started flying! He kept as quiet as possible, pulling together his saddle and blanket, his satchel, and anything else he might need. He had the flight checklist to go over that Graymar had drilled into him, which he’d go over just before they headed out, but for now he fretted over what to bring and what Diwa may need of him. He was tempted to call or vidchat him but refrained, knowing he was busy himself. They’d meet on the roof of Building C at seven.

Iliah, fresh from sleep with a knotted mane and heavy eyelids, appeared at his door frame while he was in the middle of packing and repacking his satchel, tapping at it and giving him a quick smile. “Ai,” she talk-whispered. “Good morning. You’re up earlier than I expected.”

“Good morning, Iliah.” He bobbed his snout at her. “Did I wake you?”

“No,” she said. “I needed to get up anyway. Do you need anything from me before you go?”

“I should be fine,” he said, sidling up to her. He started untangling some of the knots in her mane and patted it down. “We’re going to the Wharf District and perhaps to Mount Lee if we have the time.”

“Hmm. It will be a nice day for it,” she said, poking at his saddle straps. “You’re a natural flight, Kaffi. Not a buckle out of place.”

He grinned and softly ruffled his wings. “Thank you. Paddir taught me well.”

“How is Diwa?” she asked.

“He’s fine,” he said, tilting his snout. Didn’t she just see him on the green yesterday?

“I meant flying,” she continued. “How is he as a ride?”

Kaffi breathed in, thinking about how to answer. It wasn’t something that he could put into quick and easy words, nor did he want to go with any cold and clinical explanation either. He let his wings expand slightly, imagining how it felt to have Diwa sitting in the saddle. It had only been less than a month, but already it felt as though their pairing had become a true instinctual bond, that they’d already been flying together for years.

“He was a quick learner,” he said finally, closing his wings again. “Nervous at first, but I think we both were. He’s patient. He…he always seems to be aware of my movements, which I did not expect. He anticipates them. I’m not sure if that was Annie’s training or his instincts, or all that time he spent watching me, but it’s made our flights feel, I don’t know…pleasurable. Enjoyable.” The mere thought of that made him blush and his wings flutter again, but he chose not to hide any of that.

Iliah nodded, and started circling him, inspecting the rest of his preparation. “I’ve watched the two of you off and on,” she said. “You complement each other on a level I rarely see, Kaffi. It’s a true bond. That’s something to be proud of.”

Kaffi hummed quietly. “I wouldn’t say proud,” he said, scratching his snout. “Perhaps lucky is a better word.”

She continued her circuit and stopped in front of him once again. “Either way,” she said. “I am proud of you.” She nuzzled her snout against his. “Treat him well.”

He felt that curious warmth on the bridge of his snout again. “I will,” he said. “Time to go, he should be getting here soon.”

She let him go, patting him on the arm as he passed. “Tell him I said hello,” she said.

“I will.”

*

Kaffi flapped his wings to gain altitude and spread them out for an extended glide, excited by the feel of the morning breeze against his face. “Are you doing okay, Diwa?” Kaffi said, tipping his head slightly in his direction. “We lucked out. There are calm winds today, so I don’t have to push as hard.”

Diwa almost hadn’t heard what he’d said, as he’d been too distracted by the view. They’d pulled away from land and made a gentle curve up the coast towards the city, and it was also amazing and distracting! This was the first time he was seeing his part of the province form this angle. He’d seen their estate towers from the city, but never this close. And while he’d certainly seen the city before, he’d never seen it like Kaffi would have. He wanted to take it all in and remember it. “I’m doing fine,” he said after a moment. “So weird seeing our neighborhood from this angle, it looks so small and compact! Is this the route you took with Iliah a while back?”

“Close to it,” he said. “We like to go out over the water a little more, but the route is the same.”

Diwa hummed in response. Kaffi explained that he’d chosen to stick a little closer to the coast for safety’s sake, and he agreed that was a good idea. They were already going a lot faster than they normally flew, and while it was a new sensation for them, Diwa was surprised at how little the height bothered him. He wasn’t sure if it was due to the calm surface of the bay below or that Kaffi had kept an exceptionally steady flight path, but he chose not to dwell on it. Thankfully, his father had thought to remind him to take his new goggles – a gift from him to celebrate their first flight – and slid them on. It was an expensive brand, with curved and tinted lenses for maximum sight and protection. He also pulled on his knitted fingerless gloves, a gift from ina, to keep his hands warm.

The majestic rise of Mount Laimora to the northwest caught his eye; it was the largest mountain in the entire area and visible from pretty much everywhere. It reminded him of their stargazing weekend in Griffith Park, and the conversation they’d had up there. It reminded him of the occasional moment they talked about their bond, and about their fathers’ bond, and of all the moments they shared together. And it reminded him, mostly, of their brief conversation in the stairwell. Diwa had taken the train to the base of that mountain a few times in the past, where it terminated at a small village. A shuttle service brought visitors to the summit caldera, where there was a tintrite shrine and a burial field. Kaffi would glance over at it every now and again as they flew, a mix of sadness and reverence in his eyes, as his own family had laid a few elder relatives to rest up there over the years. Diwa wondered, somewhat morbidly, if Kaffi was thinking of his own mortality. Or Graymar’s.

“Hey, check it out,” Kaffi said, breaking the silence, and lifted his snout towards the skyline ahead. “My favorite view every time.”

The city center rose before them, high rises sweeping up in a gentle arc from either side, towards the wide mouth of the Siisha River at its center. Its bay was dotted with many different ships, from local ferries and one or two cruise ships to several smaller pleasure boats and yachts. The eastern waterfront had a scenic highway at its edge, leading out towards the towns and villages on the edges of the peninsula. The western waterfront, on the other hand, was lined with several fancy renovated warehouses and shopping districts, with the business towers looming just behind them. And set back halfway into its suburban neighborhoods was Mount Lee, a tall promontory with a clear grassy peak.

“Decreasing altitude, Dee,” Kaffi said, shifting his wings. “Heading towards Pier K on the west side. It’s the one with the red and orange roof.”

“Check,” he said in response, leaning ever so slightly backwards as Kaffi tilted himself downwards. Kaffi was still calling out his movements and it made him smile, even after he’d begun learning to anticipate them. It made him feel safe. “Is that a landing pad?”

“It is,” he said. “There are locker rentals on the top floor. What time is it?”

Diwa checked his watch. “Almost eight,” he said. “We got here earlier than I thought.”

“Good, we can store our things and get moving quickly then,” Kaffi said, and moved further into a slow dive.

*

This was the first time Kaffi had been to the city with someone other than his family, and this realization hit him as they approached the wall of day lockers in the wide foyer. Whenever he visited with Graymar and Shahney, it was for business and visiting adult friends. The trips were enjoyable but never all that exciting, as he would spend most of the time trailing them. His visits with Iliah, on the other hand, were always fun. She’d lived here for a few years while in culinary school and knew her way around extremely well. And now that he was here with Diwa, he felt something altogether different and new. Even though his older ahpadé Aldrine lived here, Diwa was not as knowledgeable about this part of the area and relied on Kaffi to play the role of tour guide. He couldn’t wait to show him all his favorite shops and vistas.

Diwa helped Kaffi store his saddle in the locker and looked around. “At the risk of sounding like a yokel…” he said with a lopsided grin, throwing his gloves and goggles in as well. “I’m surprised this place isn’t filled up already. I’m assuming there are more day locker facilities around here?”

Kaffi closed the locker and handed Diwa one of the keys for safe keeping. “They’re around,” he said, and directed him towards the main exit escalators. “This one just happens to be my favorite. It’s close to where Iliah used to live, it’s never too crowded, and it’s not that expensive. Come – let’s go get brunch at the dockside restaurant.”

Diwa fell in step with him as they exited the open-air foyer and out on to the busy boardwalk. There was already a crowd of tourists and locals making their way down the main pedestrian thoroughfare this morning, giving them a perfect excuse to people-watch. There were beings of all kinds here today: a large family of tintrite tourists strolling from one shop window to the next, chatting nonstop and their wings rippling excitedly; a long and noisy line of youngling humans tethered to a walking rope and trailing their teacher, who led them in a cheerful song; a family of aanoupii gathered on one of the piers, quietly enjoying the bay view; a group of well-tailored and talkative business workers of all kinds heading towards a brunch meeting at one of the fancier outside restaurants up the way. Kaffi threaded through it all easily and without delay, leading him towards their next destination.

After a filling brunch – Diwa absolutely loved the open-air restaurant with its views of the city and the bay – they started walking the length of the Wharf District. Kaffi let Diwa drift from one store to the next, spending as much time as he liked. He and Iliah had already visited a few of them recently, but he’d bypassed so many more that sparked his curiosity. Some were small bodegas and tee-shirt shops aimed squarely at the tourist. Others were for the local business worker, selling fashionwear, watches and jewelry. There were coffee and pastry shops on every block. The more interesting places were at the fringes and hidden alleys of the shopping district, where locals could find all sorts of quirky and unique wares. They were both intrigued by the furniture outlet stores, and had a good laugh pretending to window shop for new items for Samuel’s office. Diwa gravitated towards a very heavy and ridiculously expensive oak desk, gushing about how much he’d love to have it as his own.

It was late morning by the time they came towards Kaffi’s favorite place, the crafting store where Iliah had bought his first armband. He’d wanted to hit this place first thing but had to wait for it to open, plus he didn’t want to rush everything. He felt an unexpected wave of nervousness as they entered, but it disappeared once he recognized the tintrite elders he’d met the last time he was here. They were once again surrounding the craft table, elbows deep in bead trays and string and chittering with laughter as they shared the latest gossip.

The owner, sitting at the head of the table, perked up at the sound of the door chime and gave them a wide smile and a wave. “Ai!” he said. “Welcome, youngling! I remember you. You are Iliah’s ahpadé, yes? Kaffi, is it?”

Kaffi nodded and laid a quick hand on Diwa’s back. “Hello, elder! Yes, I am Kaffi. And this is my…my ride and best friend, Diwa.” The bridge of his snout heated up. Eiyah, did he just slip up? It hadn’t even occurred to him how he should introduce Diwa! His ride? His bonded ride? What would he prefer? He should have asked him well before now!

But Diwa only smiled and bowed towards the elders. He’d definitely noticed his trip-up but chose not to say anything about it. “It’s nice to meet you, mani,” he said, bowing at each of them in turn. “Kaffi has told me quite a bit about your work here. The bands he’s shown me are lovely.”

One of the other elders pointed a talon at the band currently on Kaffi’s arm. “That is one of yours?” she asked, lowering her snout to have a better look over her reading glasses. She hummed long and lyrical; impressed. “That’s very nice work, quite original use of the colors and patterns. You’re a quick learner. I’d have used smaller beads for the lighter colors, but eh, that’s just me. Come, have a seat?”

Before Kaffi could say anything to him, Diwa glanced back with a quick smile and tipped his head slightly towards the table. Kaffi’s breath caught and his eyes went wide – Diwa wanted to experience a part of tintrite culture he held close to his heart! He skittered to the low table with him and joined the elders in band-making. Immediately Diwa started asking detailed questions; what kind of thread was used, what the beads were made of and what the patterns meant. He’d gone and studied the craft all on his own, without his knowledge!

Eiyah, Diwa…! he thought, basking in the warmth of his happiness. You’ve done so much for me!

Diwa picked up on the process quickly, enjoying how it was social and relaxing at the same time. The elders not so surreptitiously coached him on which patterns and colors he should use; Kaffi had an idea they were suggesting a particular message regarding their bond but didn’t quite understand where they were heading with it. He’d have to remember to look up the patterns when they returned home, but for now he decided to just let it all happen. Diwa was making him an armband, they both had been accepted into this crafting circle, and nothing else could make him happier right now. Indeed, he would make a special band for Diwa this time. This would be a gift to him, from the heart, for everything he’d done these last few months. And perhaps for everything they’d do together in the future.

*

Mount Lee was the highest point in the city and a major destination for those wishing to see one of the area’s most famous and most photographed vistas, with its rolling skyline and treelined neighborhoods spreading out across both sides of the Siisha River. The hill was relatively quiet on weekday afternoons, making it a favorite resting spot for locals and bonded rides. The city’s quieter suburbs surrounded the hill, with a curious mix of estate grid streets, wide streets lined with apartment buildings, and quiet cul-de-sacs with single family homes. This was indeed a much older part of the city, created well before the estate grid boom a few generations ago, which gave it a quaint and somewhat historical feel. Looking out further from the city, one could see the slow and graceful curve of the bay shore as it stretched south towards the cove on the opposite side where Diwa and Kaffi’s estate was situated. Even further out, on a clear day one could see not only across the bay but all the way down the peninsula, its hills slowly extending and receding out into the sea.

After a filling lunch and more window shopping in the Wharf District, Diwa and Kaffi took the tram ride up to the hill’s peak and found a perfect spot on the southeastern side of the slope. A pleasant and cool breeze came in from off the water and the sun was still high in the sky, perfect weather for taking the day off. They’d purchased some drinks and snacks to tide them over; after all that walking, flying, and crafting, it felt good to relax.

Diwa leaned up against Kaffi’s belly, Kaffi’s hands resting on his shoulders. He felt safe and happy whenever they sat together like this…it wasn’t something they did all that often, but when they did, he treasured it completely. This was their way of sharing their bond when they were not in the sky; in a way, this was Diwa’s approach to their connection while Kaffi’s was to fly.

Other bonded humans and tintrite sat nearby, many sitting close just like they were. Some tintrite were on all fours, with their bonded human counterparts resting against them. Others were side by side, leaning against each other’s shoulders. They had no issue with showing public displays of physical connection…in fact, many cherished it closely just like Diwa did. Indeed, he’d grown so much closer to Kaffi over the summer and had accepted this connection happily and completely, and had not regretted it at all. And knowing there were other bonds out there who felt as content and connected as he and Kaffi reminded him that he wasn’t alone. That this was a special connection that was to be celebrated, not hidden.

Ai…he did love Kaffi, didn’t he? The best friend anyone could ask for.

Kaffi dropped his head down against the top of Diwa’s head; he liked doing that whenever they were fully at rest and he was in the mood for nuzzling. He let it rest there but never added any weight to it to make them uncomfortable. Diwa startled him by patting him lightly on the snout, and he hummed contentedly in response. He felt the rumble of his voice against his back.

He had to let him know.

“Kaff?” he said quietly.

Kaffi slid his arms across his chest again, and Diwa held them. “Hmm?”

“This is…” he started, only to stutter to a stop. He squeezed Kaffi’s arms slightly, feeling his face heat up. Was he really going to go through with this? Was he ready? Would he ever be? But he couldn’t wait any longer. This was too important to ignore.

“I like this, Kaff,” he started again, softly patting his arms. “Forgive me, it’s hard to put into words. Especially as a human. Some of us tend to see this as a sort of…I don’t know, a romantic kind of thing. I mean, I don’t really know if it is or not. Right now. Yeah?”

“Hmmm.” Low, short and melodic. Agreement.

“I mean, I just…I just want you to know,” he started, and to his surprise he felt the back of his throat tensing up, like he was about to cry. He took an uneven breath, squeezed his arms once more and continued. “I meant every word I said up in Griffin Park. I don’t want to hide anything from you, Kaff. I like this connection. But I guess I’m still processing what it means to me? Does that make sense?”

Kaffi hummed softly. Curious. “Does this bother you, fiiri?”

Diwa didn’t answer straight away. Did it truly bother him? Sure, he sometimes felt self-conscious and embarrassed by intimate physical connection with other humans, and he hadn’t had any experiences with any other beings, at least not to this degree, but this connection between them…this felt right, in his heart and in his mind.

It felt true.

“…not entirely,” he admitted. “I feel nervous sometimes. I wonder what others might be saying, what they’re thinking. But I don’t feel ashamed. I could never feel ashamed of this, Kaff.”

Kaffi responded with a quiet and happy rumble of a hum and nuzzled his snout against the top of Diwa’s head, ruffling his hair. “I am pleased to hear that,” he said and rested his snout atop his head once more. “Dee, I enjoy that you touch my shoulders when we fly. It’s part of our bond. It reminds me that you’re there with me. And I enjoy it when we are at rest like this. I enjoy being with you.”

“Same, Kaff,” he said quietly. He felt his heart skip and he grabbed at Kaffi’s arms this time, suddenly afraid he would let go.

“Dee…” He slid his hands back to Diwa’s shoulders and dropped his snout down next to his cheek.

Diwa shivered…this was the closest and the most intimate they’d ever been, privately or otherwise. Even here and now, on this grassy hill overlooking the city, with so many people possibly watching them. He fought an urge to squirm away. It would betray his true emotions, and it would hurt Kaffi. He didn’t dare look at any of the other bonded rides right now. He didn’t want to know if they were watching, and he refused to upset this moment. He focused solely on the tip of Kaffi’s snout, his long thin whiskers, and his dark eyes.

“Dee,” Kaffi said again, so quiet that only he could hear him, and gave his cheek a small nuzzle. “Whatever emotions you may have about this, now or later, do not hold back on my behalf. I am more than happy to reciprocate.”

Ay…! Diwa felt his heart burst into a million wonderful pieces and tears well up in his eyes. “Kaff…” he said, barely able to find his own words. “How did we…” His voice caught and he couldn’t speak. Oh, gods and goddesses, Kaffi had spoken words he had not expected, nor had he been hoping for them, and they were words that filled his heart with a joy he’d never felt before. He reached up and wiped the tears away…it took him several minutes before he could respond again. Ai, Kaffi…he’d gone ahead and given him the opening he wanted and needed! He squeezed Kaffi’s hands once more, so, so tightly.

“How did this happen?” he said, barely able to get the words out. “I mean…we’ve been such close friends since childhood. I don’t want anything to ruin that.”

“I don’t think it will,” Kaffi said. Another gentle squeeze of his shoulders. Another cheek nuzzle.

“I don’t think it will either,” he said, and rested a soft hand on his snout. “I just worry, is all.” He leaned in and nuzzled him. Then, on impulse, kissed him quick, just above the nostril and behind the whiskers. “Maraming, maraming salamat…mahal na mahal kita, Kaffi.”

Another gentle squeeze and a hum of pleasure. “Mahal din kita, kaibigan.”

*

Glossary:
“Hoy! Tumigil ka nga!” (Tagalog) — “Hey! Cut it out!”
“Mag isip ka nga, Diwa.” (Tagalog) — “Don’t be silly, Diwa.”
“Natutulala ka ba?” (Tagalog) — “Are you kidding?”
“Maraming, maraming salamat…mahal na mahal kita, Kaffi.” (Tagalog) — “Thank you so, so much…I really love you, Kaffi.”
“Mahal din kita, kaibigan.” (Tagalog) — “I love you too, my friend.”


Diwa & Kaffi 33

Author’s Note: Realizing that you may no longer be able to reach as far as you once did can be one of the most heartbreaking things to accept.

*

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

Graymar’s breathing had become increasingly labored over the last half hour, and Samuel grew more concerned the further they went. They were only a few miles away from their stopover destination, but Graymar had begun straining well before that. Samuel felt a pit of worry and despair deep in his chest…they should not have gone on this trip. They should have taken the train or sent someone else in their place. They should not have flown.

“Gray?”

The tintrite grunted and pushed himself further. “We’re almost there,” he growled.

Samuel leaned forward, reaching for his shoulder. “Gray, we need to land. You’re not—”

We. Are. Almost. There!” he barked. “Let me focus!”

He recoiled and gripped the saddle handles instead, shocked by his anger.

Could this be the last flight they took? He’d been taking that question seriously over these last few months, even during the short trips to the co-op farm or to the city, when they were completely unburdened by any extra weight. Graymar’s wings were stiffening more often now, and stubborn flight that he was, he refused to let anything, even age and declining health, stop him.

It was becoming dangerous for them to fly.

“Gray…”

“Almost there,” he growled. “Then we can rest.”

Samuel hummed, and said nothing more.

They landed even further from their overnight inn this time and walked the remaining distance, finally arriving at their destination as the sun was setting. They would have just enough time for dinner before they’d need to rest. Once checked in and settled in their room, Graymar wordlessly held out the container of ointment. With some difficulty he slowly extended his right wing across the futon. Samuel felt a pull at his heart…he couldn’t bear seeing his friend suffering like this anymore. They needed to stop this, here and now, before it got worse! He took the container and began rubbing the medicine into the joints, feeling for any muscles or bones that might be out of place. Graymar grunted and winced every now and again, but otherwise remained silent.

“Gray…” Samuel started.

Graymar grumbled in response.

He exhaled, dreading this conversation. He’d been running through it over and over in his head since they’d landed. There was no way he could sugarcoat it, not that he wanted to. It wouldn’t be fair to either of them. “We don’t need to do this every single time now, you know,” he said. “We have Kaffi and Diwa. They’ll know how to get to Panooria. We can trust them to take over for us.”

Another grumble. Not a hum.

“Look, all I’m saying is that we’re both getting older. We’re both starting to feel our age. I know this can’t be comfortable for you.”

Graymar sniffed at him. “Who is the older one here?”

“I’m being serious!” he snapped, hating himself for doing so. “I’m worried about you, Gray. I might not understand what it is to be tintrite and have one’s instincts and livelihood slowly taken away like this! But I understand the frustration you’re feeling. Don’t shut me out like this. We can retire. Or we can have our sons do the flights. Whatever works for either of us. But I don’t want you to keep suffering like this.”

“I’m fine,” he grunted.

Oh, for the love of…! “No,” he sighed. “You’re not.”

Graymar turned away, snorting out a frustrated breath. Slowly, very slowly, he pulled the wing back into place, wincing slightly.

“How does it feel now?”

“Hmm,” he said, pushing himself off the futon. “I’m going out. I need air.”

“Gray…”

“I won’t fly,” he said quietly, pausing at the door. He turned slightly, but he couldn’t meet his eyes. “I promise you.”

Samuel shook his head and looked away. “Okay, fine. I’ll keep the door unlocked.”

*

They left the next morning much later than usual. Samuel found Graymar at the public flight pad, slowly stretching out his wings to full length and back. He’d already fitted himself with the saddle and fastened the satchel around his neck and torso. There was a look to him that was different from last night…calm and focused as always, but without any edge of self-conscious irritation. It was as if his words had shaken him more than he’d expected. He wasn’t humbled, that was certain, as Graymar would never have shown that at any point, even to him. Perhaps he’d taken his concerns to heart.

“Gray?” he said, approaching nervously. He still felt terrible for raising his voice at him last night. He laid his hand on his partner’s back, just between the wings. He felt no tension this morning. His wings seemed to be expanding and retracting without any hitches, and if it was hurting, he was doing a damn fine job of hiding it.

“All is well?” he offered.

“I am doing well, Samuel,” Graymar said quietly, slowly dipping his snout in his direction. “I should be able to make it to Panooria today if we take our time. I apologize for my reaction last night, Samuel. I should not have taken it out on you.”

Relieved, he smiled and rubbed at that spot between his wings. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’m glad you’re doing better. I agree, let’s take our time today. I can call Gareth, let him know we’ll be later than usual. We can even stop at that bazaar again if you’d like.”

Graymar’s eyes sparkled, and he perked up. “I would like that,” he said. “There are a few gifts for family that I would like to purchase.”

Goodness, he’d never seen this positive side of Graymar before! “I’d like to do the same. Come on, my friend, let’s head on out.”

“Hmm. And Samuel.”

“Yeah?”

He scratched his snout for a second, looking away, slightly flustered but still smiling. It took him a few moments to gather his words together, and Samuel gave him all the time he needed. He pushed off his hinds and faced him head on, snout down and his dark eyes level with his. “Maianni-naahsah, my fiiri,” he said softly. Laid soft hands on his shoulders. “Thank you for caring. You are right, we don’t need to do this every time now. Let’s have someone else fly to Panooria next time. I am fine with that.”

Samuel hummed, relieved and saddened at the same time, pressing his forehead against Graymar’s. “I am too, Gray.”