Author’s Note: Everything in this novel has been leading up to this one moment: where their shared future truly begins.
Diwa laid at the end of Kaffi’s pallet bed and stared up at the ceiling. They’d both been so busy during the day that they’d almost run out of time to do their schoolwork. He’d been thinking about him off and on throughout the day, wondering where he was and what he might be up to, if he’d enjoyed his trip with Iliah. He’d wanted to ask him about the conversation he’d had with Graymar across the way, as it had started out a little on the tentative side but unexpectedly swerved into an animated exchange of chatter and rippling wings soon after. After their group meeting, however, Kaffi had suggested Diwa come over to his place to study after dinner, and Diwa happily agreed. They’d been wanting to spend more time with each other outside of their estate plans anyway, and this was perfect.
Even if Kaffi wasn’t paying attention to him.
He hunched over his worktable, his eyes glued to the large monitor in front of him as he typed away at the keyboard. He’d been working on one of his term papers for most of the evening, intensely focused and working hard. Diwa watched him, impressed by his dedication. Kaffi might be addicted to flying, but he was also an extremely dedicated student. His grades were often higher than Diwa’s, not that he minded. Kaffi could easily be anything he wanted to be, given time and inclination. Sometimes he wondered if Kaffi truly wanted to stick around the estate with him, but he’d never voiced that concern, knowing how ridiculous it sounded in reality. Kaffi had shown him his conviction so many times over in the last few years, and it never wavered.
Diwa would tell him everything about his basophobia tonight.
Kaffi abruptly stopped typing, rubbed at an eye with the palm of his hand, and leaned closer, reading the text and humming quietly. That was something new; during their vidchats Kaffi always remained silent when he was revising his work. Except that one time, when he thought Diwa had left the room already. It wasn’t just a meandering tune, though, but a full song that he’d heard Kaffi sing before. He said nothing but listened, enjoying the music and silently tapping the beat against his leg as he pretended to read his textbook.
After a few more minutes of work and melodic humming, Kaffi exhaled and uncurled out of his hunch, stretching his arms and wings. “Ai,” he grunted. “I am almost done with this thing,” he said, tipping his head in Diwa’s direction. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a boring host. This one’s taking forever to finish.”
“Doesn’t bother me any,” Diwa said, and pushed himself up. “It’s not as if we’re always yapping at each other when we’re on vidchat.”
“I know, but you’re here, and I’m ignoring you.”
“You need to get that paper done. All I had was some math homework and light reading. Besides, I don’t mind. I like hanging out here. And your room is so much bigger than mine.”
Kaffi snorted and lifted his wings to half-spread. “It kind of has to be.”
Diwa tucked his legs under and looked around the room. “It’s been a while, anyway. Between school and internship, we rarely have time to just hang out. I see you’ve got new shelving up.”
Kaffi glanced up at the wall above his worktable, nodding. “Paddir and I put them up a few weeks ago. The old ones were starting to sag. They were leftovers from Iliah, and I needed more room for my things anyway.”
“Hmm. What’s that?”
Kaffi tipped his head to the side. “Hmm?”
“Above your monitor,” Diwa said, pointing the large folded-up cloth sitting on the highest shelf, well out of his reach. “Looks like a sheet of some kind.”
Kaffi perked up immediately, clicking his fangs in delight, and reached up for it. “Oh! Thanks for reminding me! I’ve been meaning to show this to you when you next came over!” He slid it off the shelf, took two corners and shook it open. It unfurled before him, revealing a large blanket tapestry. It was a simple pattern, going from a dark blue with white dots scattered at the top, fading to white near the bottom; a starfield and a horizon at night. It was bordered by a chevron pattern, alternating light and dark blue.
Kaffi’s snout appeared comically over the top of it with just a little bit of blue showing on the ridge. He flashed such a wide grin his whiskers were twitching. “What do you think? Do you like it?”
“That’s…” Diwa’s brows shot up. “That’s a saddle blanket, isn’t it?” He pushed off the bed and walked up to it, taking up the other corners and running his fingers across it. It was a soft and durable cotton. smooth and strong in his hands. It wasn’t a printed pattern, either…this was hand crafted stitching. It was so new the creases from the folds were still visible. This wasn’t a hand-me-down, this was a brand new, high-end blanket! “Ay, Kaffi! This is lovely! Where did you get it?”
“Paddir bought it for me during their last trip to Panooria,” he said, barely holding back his pride. His wings wouldn’t stop twitching. “My first saddle blanket, Dee. Isn’t it great?”
Diwa smiled in response but he couldn’t quite hide the unexpected shiver he felt. “Ito ang tamang gawin, hindi ba…?” he said after a moment. “It’s wonderful.”
Kaffi tipped his head at him, his wings slowing up. “What?”
“You’re holding back, Dee. Is there something wrong?”
“No, no…” he waved at him quickly. “It’s nothing for you to worry about. Here, let me help you fold it up.”
“Hmm,” Kaffi said, and together they wrapped it back up. Kaffi placed it back onto the shelf, eyeing him the entire time. “You’re sure?”
Diwa moved to his side and patted him on the shoulder. “Definitely,” he said. “No worries. When do you think you’ll be ready to use it?”
Kaffi’s wings rippled at the question. “End of summer, looks like,” he said, tapping his fangs together in happiness. “Paddir will be stepping up the flight training. That’s what we were talking about on the roof today. Thing is, he hasn’t given me any details or a schedule yet, so I can’t give you a date.”
“No hurry,” Diwa said, and returned to the pallet bed. “We have all the time we need. I’ve got to do my own studying for it, you know. Being that we have exactly zero experience with flying together.”
“That is true,” he grinned. “No details there either, I assume?”
“Just that Anna-Nassi is involved somehow,” he said tentatively, smirking. “I’m not sure if I should be relieved or terrified. Or both.”
“Hmm.” Kaffi climbed onto the pallet and sat next to him. “I trust her, though. And I know you do too.”
“Hmm,” Diwa said. “I do.”
Kaffi sat on all fours on his bed, his paws crossed in front of him, watching Diwa, listening to him talk. He laid across the end and stared at the ceiling, just like he always did, telling him about Anna-Nassi’s unexpected visit at his apartment to help with Samuel. He didn’t seem particularly annoyed or highly bothered by it, but his voice betrayed him. He must be jealous. Kaffi could relate, considering that Graymar still spent more time with Samuel than he did with his own family sometimes. Diwa was indeed hiding something, from earlier. Kaffi wouldn’t push, though. He’d share it soon enough. He always did.
Now if he could only shake his own misgivings…
It was time. He could not wait any longer.
“Dee?” he said during a lull in the conversation. “Can I ask you a question?”
Diwa shifted and glanced at him. “Hmm? Sure.”
Kaffi dipped his head down, looking at his paws, mustering up his courage. Eiyah…now or never. “I’m…” He grumbled and ruffled his wings. Come on, Kaffi, you can do this. “I know I’ve been called a reckless flier, Dee. By my paddir, no less. I know I’m not the most graceful flier here in the estate.”
Diwa smiled and gave him a reassuring tap on the arm. “That’s okay, I’m nowhere near the most graceful human. You’ve seen me trip over my shadow on multiple occasions.”
“This is true.” Kaffi grinned warmly at him, appreciating the levity. “I suppose I’m worried. Worried that I won’t measure up to the flier you expect me to be. Or that I’ll do something dumb and lose your trust. I…I want to earn your trust, Dee. We’ve been friends forever and you trust me on that level, but this is so much more important, yeah? Like the saddle blanket. I wanted to show it to you earlier – practically as soon as paddir gave it to me – but I felt…I don’t know. Worried that you’d feel I was getting ahead of myself? I know it sounds silly, but…”
Diwa rolled over onto his side, propping himself up on an elbow. He expected a smile or a kind laugh, but instead he was unreadable. “Kaff, you worry too much,” he said quietly, without any emotion. He looked down at his hand, fingers tapping on the bed, and took a very slow uneven breath. “Look…I worry too, Kaff,” he said, his voice all too quiet. “I worry that I’m not going to be the best ride. I’ve never flown before. I hardly know anything about flight. I…” he stalled, diverting his eyes. “I want to tell you this, Kaff. I have to.”
“Dee.” He unclenched one of his paws and laid it on Diwa’s flat hand, holding it tight. His skin was warm. Too warm. But he didn’t flinch or pull it away. “Dee,” he said again, his voice low and calm. “Please, I want you to trust me. You can tell me.”
“Hmm,” he said. His face and eyes were reddening, but he didn’t hide it. Instead he pushed himself up into a sitting position, facing him. And he’d taken hold of his paw with both hands, his small fingers wrapped around his larger ones. Briefly rubbed at his eyes, took his hand once more. Held it tighter with more conviction.
“I have…I have mild basophobia. A fear of falling,” he said finally, his shoulders visibly drooping. “It’s not incapacitating. It’s something I’ve had since I was a kid. You’ve seen me on your roof, Kaff. I can go up there and hang out with you for as long as I like. I can even go to the edge and lean up against that same railing Graymar is always at, for a short time. But I get a feeling of vertigo if I’m there for too long.” He lifted his sad eyes and looked deep into his. “I was afraid to tell you since it could be a problem for us. I don’t want this to ruin our plans, Kaff. I can’t let it. I don’t want to give up because of this.”
“Ah…” Kaffi said, his heart fluttering. Dee…my fiiri…!
He let out a long calming hum, refusing to look away. He’d caught Diwa’s gaze at that moment and he couldn’t tear away from it. Diwa needed his strength, and he would gladly give it to him. He would accept this challenge. He would help him. They would fly. Diwa would be his ride. Kaffi would be his flight. They would do this together. “We can work with this,” he said.
Diwa blinked at him. “We…we can?”
He squeezed Diwa’s hand and leaned in close. “Of course we can,” he said softly, tapping his snout against Diwa’s forehead and letting it sit there for a moment. “You and I are ride and flight. We’ll figure this out. We will make this work.”
Diwa let out a shaky laugh and looked away, his eyes moist. “Hindi yata ako nababagay rito…” he mumbled. “Thank you, Kaff.”
“Anytime,” he said, and squeezed his hand again.
“You…you said you had a question?”
Kaffi’s wings fluttered once more and he chittered nervously. This was what he’d originally been leading up to, before Diwa told him his secrets. “Oh. Yeah. Um.” He looked down at their joined hands, allowing himself a furtive grin. Yes, this is what he wanted. “Dee. I know Annie always teases us about it. So does Iliah. But now that they’ve planted it in my head, I’ve had a hard time not thinking about it. They’re right, Dee. I think we are bonded. And.”
His voice started to tremble. “And I think you believe the same. I think we should just stop pretending. You know. Make it happen. On that level.”
Kaffi looked up, catching his eyes again, the response completely unexpected. He felt Diwa’s hands squeeze his so tight, refusing to let go. He had the brightest smile on his face. The tears were coming once more, though they were happy tears. Ecstatic tears.
“Kaff, I…” he said, his own voice caught in his throat.
“Dee, I’m sorry if I—”
Diwa squeezed his hand again, pulling it towards him.
“Kaff!” he said again, giggling. “Ay…higit kang mas malakas kaysa sa’kin…”
“Of course I believe we’re already bonded, you big dork!” He threw his arms around Kaffi’s neck, pulling him into a tight hug, laughing and crying onto his shoulder. “I’m so glad you asked. I’ve been wanting to ask you for months now.”
Kaffi startled and twitched his wings, but he did not pull away. Months…? Eiyah, so his instincts and heart were telling the truth! Oh, this was the best day of his life! They truly were bonded now, leaving nothing unsaid between them. This was the start of their long life together, as ride and flight…and as bonded friends. Always together. He draped his own arms around Diwa, fully embracing him. He let out a long, sonorous hum of pleasure, and let his own happy tears come.
“I’m glad too,” he whispered, leaning his snout against Diwa’s shoulder.
“Ito ang tamang gawin, hindi ba…?” — (Tagalog) “This is the real thing, isn’t it…?” This, just like Kaffi’s armband, has more than just one meaning.
fiiri (fee-ree) — (tintrite) best friend, bonded friend
“Ay…higit kang mas malakas kaysa sa’kin…” — (Tagalog) “Ay…you’re so much stronger than I am…”