Author’s Note: Life happens and affects you whether or not you’re directly involved. This is Samuel and Graymar’s story just as much as it’s Diwa and Kaffi’s, and what happens in their fathers’ lives will affect them as well.
Graymar’s flying felt just a little stiff today, but Samuel wasn’t about to say anything, because he knew he would never hear the end of it. The last time he’d brought it up was three months ago during their trip to Panooria, when he first noticed Gray struggling. Granted, the winds had been heavier than expected that day, which was always a struggle and a danger for any tintrite. They’d gone as far as they possibly could, but weather and exhaustion had finally claimed them both, and landed a good five miles away from their planned stop for the night. After some petty arguing whether they should find a ride or walk the remaining distance, Samuel talked him into ordering a transport to bring them the rest of the way to their overnight lodgings. Samuel hadn’t wanted to exhaust himself considering the distance and uneven terrain, but Gray had grumbled the entire time. By the time they called it a night, Graymar was noticeably grunting and moaning whenever he adjusted his wings, especially his right one. Samuel had never seen him in such a state before and asked if anything was wrong, purely out of concern and worry, and had gotten snapped at in response. Surprised by the reaction, he did not bring it up again. The next two trips to Panooria had been in much nicer weather and he hadn’t had any problems then, so Samuel let it drop.
Today he could sense the strain in Graymar’s movements again, and it was more than a little concerning.
“I know what you’re thinking, and I advise you to stop,” Graymar growled as they continued their flight towards their stopover destination.
Samuel realized he’d been holding his stomach muscles taut for the last few minutes out of tension and concern, holding his legs a bit tight against Graymar’s saddle. He untensed immediately and exhaled. “Sorry.”
Graymar grumbled and flapped a little harder in frustration. They only had about a half hour’s distance left to go, and he wasn’t about to drop down early again. He wasn’t grunting or showing any visible pain, but Samuel could tell he was straining, if only just to prove a point. The damn fool was such an obstinate tintrite sometimes and Samuel was used to it…but this wasn’t normal.
“Calm down, Gray,” he said. “We’ll get there soon enough.”
“We’d get there faster if we weren’t loaded down with all this blessed co-op paperwork!” he snapped. “We should have taken the train up. I am thrilled that this is the last of it and we no longer have to overburden ourselves after this.”
Samuel hummed in response, deciding not to argue any further.
They landed outside the small river town a little later than they’d have liked, but there was nothing to be done for it. It was a short walk down the main road to their lodgings, and Samuel made it a point to divide up their delivery to lighten Graymar’s burden. Graymar, surprisingly, kept quiet the entire time. They finally entered their room at the inn and unloaded, and Samuel headed back downstairs to order room service. He’d decided that Graymar might want a bit of time to himself to stretch out his wings and freshen up while he was out. Or complain, whichever came first.
When he returned with dinner, Graymar was already lying on his wide pallet bed, each wing spread out nearly full span. The position surprised him, as he rarely ever saw his friend letting his guard down that much. “Everything okay?” he ventured, expecting to be snapped at again.
But Graymar merely let out a long, slow sigh. “A knot in one of my wing muscles,” he said, pointing at his right wing with his snout. “It’ll go away eventually.”
Samuel put down the tray of food and joined him on the pallet. “Here, let me help with that.”
Graymar hummed, more out of embarrassment than frustration, but didn’t push him away. He winced as he stretched out the one troublesome wing to full span and nodded at the problem point. “I have ointment in the carrier bag,” he said.
“On it,” he said, and found a small container filled with a gooey substance that smelled of mint. He recognized it as a tintrite muscle salve created by Joel-Kaiané, the resident nurse at the estate’s community center. He set about rubbing and massaging Graymar’s wing, working out the knots and the sore spots and adding the ointment around the joints and muscles. The leathery folds of skin of his wing still looked healthy and there were no sores or bruises, but it still concerned him that his friend was feeling pain. Flying was part of a tintrite’s lifeblood, and to have that taken away, even temporarily, must be agonizing. Graymar, proud and stubborn as he was, had not said a thing, suffering through it until it passed. When Samuel was done, he responded to with another hum, this time of relief.
“Thank you, Samuel,” Graymar said quietly.
“You’re welcome,” he said, washing his hands and putting away the ointment. “How long has it been hurting?”
“Er…maybe four months,” he said, pointing his snout down.
Samuel recoiled, splashing water everywhere. “Four…! Eiyah, you need to get that looked at, Gray!” he said. “For both of our safety, not just yours!”
He grumbled. “You sound like Shahney.”
Four months…! He dried his hands and threw the towel over the edge of the sink, trying not to explode at him. Why didn’t he say anything? “I’m serious!” he said as calmly as he could. “If Joel-Kaiané suggests you see a doctor, you need to do so. If we can both make it to Panooria tomorrow without you having issues, fine. But when we get back, you’re going to see a doctor.”
“We need someone to keep flying,” he countered, his voice more gravelly than normal.
“We’ll worry about that later,” Samuel said. “We can find help in the meantime. I won’t have you injuring yourself in flight, Gray.”
Another grumble. “Well. Maianni-naahsah, fiiri. It feels better now.”
“Good. Dinner’s on the kotatsu. Let’s eat before it gets cold.”
Graymar woke up well before Samuel the next morning, and for the first time in years, he chose not to go out for a morning flight. It had nothing to do with the pinching in his right wing; in fact, the pain he’d been feeling the last few days had gone away for the time being. Samuel had massaged it well, and the ointment had numbed any lingering pain. It might be better not to push it this morning…a day off from practice wouldn’t be problematic. He’d just need to make sure to do his stretches, as Joel-Kaiané had suggested. As long as he kept it moving and didn’t overstress it, it should eventually heal on its own.
He pushed himself up onto his hinds and looked around the room. It was still semi-dark, and the sun hadn’t yet risen over the horizon. He’d always woken up around this time, but this time it felt strange not to be sneaking out of the room while Samuel still slept. He’d eventually head down to the bath house, but for now he just sat there, watching his bonded ride.
Samuel was stretched out on the wide couch on the other side of the room, shoulders hunched and burrowed under blankets. He listened to Samuel’s slow breathing and felt a small pang of jealousy. He could never dive that deep into slumber; his years of self-training had made him a light sleeper, catching the rest he needed but rarely slipping into full unconsciousness.
Samuel might have been worried about him, but he was just as worried about Samuel. He was secretly thankful that Kaffi and Diwa had come forth with their plan to start their internships. It meant that Samuel had something else to focus on, rather than worrying about his own mortality. He hadn’t said it outwardly, but Graymar knew a personal crisis when he saw one, even while ignoring his own. Every now and again Samuel would fret and worry about running the estate in his old age, even after Graymar had suggested that their boys would be in charge by then. He’d opine about too many things left undone, too many things left untried, too many things passed over. And then he’d hide in that back office of his, wishing he’d cleaned it years ago. At first Graymar had dismissed it as simple discontent or perhaps misplaced boredom, but the longer he saw Samuel fretting like this, the more he’d realized it might be something more.
They were growing old and running out of time.
Graymar quietly unfurled his wings and stretched them out to full span. He did it slowly, waiting for that pinch of nerve or the twist of muscle. He felt it again this time, same place just above the wrist, but it was a deadened pain. Just a slight twitch. He’d need to do more stretching later today, after their trip to Panooria. And most likely another massage and layer of ointment before they headed back home.
After they had both taken their turns at the bath house, they prepared themselves for breakfast and a bit of shop browsing. They had a bit of time to kill before they took flight again to reach Panooria for their afternoon appointment, and they both needed the distraction. It was a short walk from their inn to the shopping district on the main avenue. He even put his prized colored bands around his upper arms, something he rarely did anymore. Graymar rarely showed his pride, but every now and again it was worth it.
That had surprised and pleased Samuel enough that his own spirits were lifted. They’d bought those bands together on a whim in Panooria at least a decade or so ago, reasons long since forgotten. He’d worn them constantly for about six months until that bitter winter when neither of them could make this trip for weeks at a time…and after that, he only brought them out for special occasions at the estate. The only reason he had them now was that he’d found them while looking for something else entirely different for Kaffi’s training.
Now that he had them on, though, he wondered if there hadn’t been another reason he’d stopped wearing them. They felt good against his scales, and it was a reminder of who he was and what he stood for. And who he flew with.
Samuel’s mood had lifted considerably when he’d suggested that they look for saddle blankets for Kaffi. He’d need to start flight training soon, with or without Diwa, and he wanted to be prepared ahead of time. They stopped at a few textile booths, looking over the bolts of cloth. Samuel laughed and made numerous suggestions and took notes and business cards.
By the time they took to the air again and made it to their appointment at the Tenancy Bureau that afternoon, Samuel was in high spirits…the highest he’d seen in quite some time.
Graymar hummed contentedly, despite the lingering ghost of pain in his right wing. As long as Samuel was happy, he was happy as well.