Author’s Note: These two chapters are intertwined in that they are specifically about Diwa and Kaffi taking their biggest first steps both as adults and as bonded partners. They’ve both chosen not to fall prey to their own emotional nervousness when exploring their closeness. For Kaffi, it’s learning to trust the moment: he wants to feel comfortable moving into uncharted territory. For Diwa, it’s learning to trust and understand his own emotions.
Diwa’s last day of school was surprisingly uneventful; he had two final exams that morning to take, both of which were relatively easy and low-stress, and he sped through them with confidence and without worry. When he was done he handed in the test packets and textbooks, thanked his teachers and left the classrooms for the last time, glad that this part of his young life was finally over. He spent his time after lunch period cleaning out his locker for the last time and then relaxing up on the roof, waiting for the other three.
Cole was the first one to join him and congratulated him on finishing up and stepping out into the big world of landlording. He was in a surprisingly calm and positive mood; it must have felt great for him to leave a room full of anxious classmates for the last time. Anna-Nassi joined them soon after, announcing her appearance by bursting through the doors one last time, loudly chirping a blissful song of release made up on the spot. She gave them long and tight bone-crunching hugs, so proud of everyone’s hard work.
Kaffi was the last to join, and he was the most reserved anyone had ever seen. He glowed with a sense of contentment and calm that Diwa rarely witnessed before. No nervousness, no anxieties. Just a soothing balance, and quietly humming his own tune, high and melodic. And as he passed behind Diwa he slid his tail softly against Diwa’s back. The gesture made Diwa twitch in surprise and he bit back an unexpected giggle. Kaffi was growing bolder in his desire to be more tactile in their bond.
Diwa found he didn’t mind that at all.
He lifted his water bottle to his three closest friends. “Congratulations all around,” he said. “Here’s to the future!”
“Eiyah!” Anna-Nassi said, lifting her large thermos. “Congratulations to my three buddies that have put up with me since I was a youngling!”
Even Cole joined in, lifting his own bottle. “Congratulations to my three friends who keep me sane and well-balanced!”
Kaffi picked up his own bottle of juice but held back for a few moments before he said anything. He locked eyes with Diwa for a second and gave him the smallest of grins and nodded before he turned back to the other two. “Maianni-naahsah saia di griish leinae,” he said in tintrite, even using his true accent. He bowed his head deeply towards each of them.
“Aw, how sweet,” Anna-Nassi murmured, the bridge of her nose turning a light blue as she patted her chest, holding back happy tears.
“Thank you, everyone, for being such great friends,” he continued. “We’ve helped each other so much in the last few years, and I’m glad we’ve all decided to remain together and work on the estate. I look forward to spending many years together.”
And to drive the point home, Kaffi gently poked Diwa with the side of his tail again.
“You are such a show-off!” Anna-Nassi said with a big grin and a flutter of her wings.
“I learn from the best,” Kaffi said, tipping his bottle her way.
“Eiyah, and such sass!” She chirped again and grabbed a hold of Cole’s arm. “Let’s not go overboard here with the celebration, kids, because we still have Dari’s big party tonight! Are we going to dress up and look our best, or are we going to be our usual dirt-dragged selves?”
“I don’t know about you,” Diwa said, “but I think we should show ourselves off to the estate. They’re putting a lot into this party for us. I mean, it’s for the other kids as well, but especially for the four of us. I want them to see the best of us.”
“Always forward thinking,” Kaffi hummed, glancing at him briefly. “It’s a good idea. Even if it’s just for a few hours, we should look our best. It will give the impression that we’re still serious about our internships.”
“Agreed,” Cole said. “Though I’m sure I’ll never hear the end of it from my family. You know how they are when the youngest of the litter shows off.”
Diwa understood that comment all too well. He’d gotten the same from Aldrine in the past. “The party starts at seven, but ina says she’d like us to get there at least a half hour earlier, so we’ll be at the dais by the time the rest of the estate comes in.”
“Ai, we’re going to be on stage, aren’t we?” Anna-Nassi bristled.
“Afraid so,” Kaffi said, and turned to Cole. “You’ll be okay with that?”
Cole nodded. “I can prepare myself for it. I’ll be good for at least three hours or so.”
Satisfied, they all gave each other a whooping cheer, satisfied that the longest chapter of their lives so far had finally come to a close, and were looking forward to what the rest of their lives had in store for them.
“What are we doing at the head table?”
“Hmm. I’d say being celebrated. Or something.”
“I feel stupid. This is embarrassing.”
“We all do. Give it another hour, you’ll be okay.”
“That’s what you said an hour ago.”
“I did? Hmm. Give it two more hours then.”
Diwa learned that evening that he might fine with celebrations, but he was not a fan of being a guest of honor. He’d rather be part of the crowd, not the subject of its cheering. It wasn’t helping that his mother came over to their tables every few minutes, hugging and cheering all four of them in her own unique mix of Tagalog and English. Kaffi was taking it all in stride, fully enjoying the attention he received from friends, family, and community. He’d gone so far as to polish his scales, tame his mane and wear one of his fancy dress shawls. He was quite a handsome young tintrite when he dressed up for the occasion!
At the other end of the table, Anna-Nassi and Cole were sitting close together, constantly chattering and laughing with whoever stopped by. She’d kept close to Cole to make sure he didn’t feel overwhelmed by it all, and from the looks of it, he seemed to truly be enjoying himself. That made Diwa happy, as he’d been concerned for him for most of the afternoon. He managed to catch his eye a short time later and gave him a smile and a thumbs-up. Cole patted Anna-Nassi’s hand in response and nodded back to him. Annie glowed in response, taking his hand and squeezing it tight.
“I never noticed,” Diwa said, more to himself than to Kaffi. “Those two seem to have bonded in their own way, haven’t they?”
Kaffi tilted his head at him. “Annie and Cole? Yes. I’ve noticed a change in the last few weeks. They balance each other out quite well.”
“They’ve been doing that for years. Guess I never noticed until recently just how deep that connection goes.”
Kaffi squeezed his hand. “Hmm. They’re probably saying the same about us right now.”
“You’re right, they probably are. I’m sure Annie’s already created a hilarious and convoluted headcanon about us now that we’re bonded.”
Kaffi stifled a giggle. “Ai, Diwa, you’re as bad as she is sometimes!”
The rest of the evening was thankfully a blur. An unprecedented number of tenants had attended the celebration dinner, so much so that they had to clear and set up a second room of tables to take care of the overflow. Those who hadn’t stopped by for the dinner stopped by later in the evening to congratulate the students for finishing their year. Diwa’s mother had spent the entire time running back and forth, checking in on all the parties as well as the catering and the servers, always with a laugh and a smile. Diwa smiled whenever he watched her rushing from one table to the next, as she seemed so blissfully happy. Ina was completely in her element when she was working behind the scenes like this. She may not have wanted Samuel’s job, but she certainly kept herself visible as much as possible just the same.
It was nearing ten o’clock by the time the party started to break up and everyone returned to their homes. Diwa invited the other three to his roof for a personal post-party gathering, but Cole and Anna-Nassi had both begged off. They were both still in high spirits, but they were exhausted. Anna-Nassi gave bone-crunching hugs all around, and to everyone’s surprise, so did Cole. He was certainly making the best effort tonight. They wished them both a good night and saw them off.
Which left Diwa and Kaffi alone on the roof of Palm, leaning up against the railing and taking in the view. There was a faint glow of the city center far off in the distance to the northeast, but otherwise the night was clear and full of stars. A few tenants were still lingering outside the community center, their voices echoing across the green. Traffic was light on the main street just outside the estate. Their fathers were across the way, standing side by side on the roof of Building C, deep in conversation.
Diwa let out a slow breath and patted his swelling stomach. “Well, that’s over with,” he said. “I have met and talked with every single tenant at this estate, I have shaken far too many hands, I am knackered, and I am absolutely stuffed.”
Kaffi stood next to him, his hands resting against the railing. “Hmm. I’m sure I won’t need to feed again until Monday.”
Diwa glanced at him. “You had fun?”
Kaffi’s mouth pulled into a light grin. “Yeah. You?”
“Yeah. Better than I expected. A lot better.”
Diwa pushed off the railing but remained at Kaffi’s side. “Well. Now what?”
“Commencement tomorrow, but that’s it. We’re done.”
Kaffi dipped his snout and softly tapped his talons against the railing. He hummed long and low. “Then our lives begin.”
Diwa nodded, fighting off a shiver.
Kaffi reached out and let his hand hover over Diwa’s shoulder for a second or so.
Hummed quietly. Shifted it to the opposite shoulder, pulling Diwa into a slow embrace.
“Nagtagumpay tayo, Diwa,” he whispered, tapping the top of his head with his snout. “Kaya masaya ako.”
“Hmm,” Diwa said with a happy sigh, leaning his head against Kaffi’s arm. “That we did.”
“Maianni-naahsah saia di griish leinae.” (tintrite) — “Many thanks to my dearest friends.” It is considered a high honor to be told this, which is partly why Annie reacts so emotionally.
“Nagtagumpay tayo, Diwa.” […] “Kaya masaya ako.” (Tagalog) — “We did it, Diwa. I’m so happy.” It is worthy to note that Kaffi has started speaking Tagalog with Diwa and his family, now that they are bonded.
Diwa spent most of the light rail ride to the town of Griffin Park relaxing and watching the clusters of estates drift by their window. Today, he’d decided, he wouldn’t think about his own in any way, because this trip was about spending time with his bond, and that was all. Their home was in good hands for the next few days while they fell off the grid.
Kaffi sat on the opposite bench, already fully enjoying their brief vacation by occasionally pointing out estates that caught his eye. He especially liked the ones with a bigger and wider campus, perfect for flying. He also liked the looks of the newer plans with the slimmer towers. They all had their own communities of varying sizes, sparking their curiosity as to how they were being run. They wouldn’t be the same as their own estate, of course. Nothing could replace the community they knew and loved.
They spent most of the early afternoon strolling through the center of the small town, stopping at a quiet pub for lunch then following it up with a bit of window shopping. Griffith Park itself was no more than a bustling downtown area close to the light rail station, branching off into smaller neighborhoods the further one went. The park reserve, owned and cared for by the local government, spread out over several hilly and mostly forested acres to the northeast, and was the town’s major tourist attraction. The town itself, meanwhile, prided itself on being a cozy getaway with several gift and craft stores and a few inns.
Kaffi was keen on looking into those craft stores and bought himself a bag full of colorful armband beads and threads. Diwa lost an hour or so in the dusty multi-level bookstore, poring over its selections. With no plan or schedule to speed them along for the first time in ages, it felt strange to be able to enjoy these slow moments together, and Diwa cherished it all. They spent a bit more time walking through the quiet side streets, just enjoying each other’s company. By the time they were on their way into the park proper, they’d bought their remaining camping supplies and were ready for a late afternoon rest before having dinner.
Kaffi hadn’t spoken much the entire time they walked through the park, but Diwa didn’t mind; they were used to such mutual silences. Besides, the park itself had its own sounds and movements to listen to and study. Birdsong filed the air, so many different species calling to each other and claiming their territory. The light breeze rustled the tall grasses of the meadows and the branches and leaves overhead. An occasional sliver of conversation drifted past from other hikers further down the path. The voices and sounds were so different from those of their estate…yet they still understood their meanings. All was calm and safe within the park.
Diwa finished putting up the tent, cleared the fire pit, and sat down on the grass, enjoying the view. They’d chosen to set up camp at the high edge of the sloping meadow at the base of this mountain where it offered a breathtaking view of the entire bay, from the clustered city to the north and down to the cove and the clusters of outer estates, as well as the peninsula across the way. The weather was heavenly, warm and breezy, and clear enough that the folds and fissures of Mount Laimora could be seen with the naked eye. This meadow was Kaffi’s favorite place within the park, and not just because of the vista. It was the perfect place for a tintrite to set up camp, as the constant, pleasant winds here provided perfect flying weather. If Kaffi wanted to go out for a solo flight, he would not stop him at all.
Having finished his own errands of gathering kindling and preparing a small dinner to cook over a small fire, Kaffi stepped up behind him, humming happily. “I never tire of this view,” he said quietly, and laid his paws on Diwa’s shoulders. “It reminds me just how lucky we are to be here on this world.”
Diwa hummed in agreement and pointed out towards Mount Laimora. It was an extremely important landmark for local tintrite for numerous generations; it had been one of their original arrival points when they’d first inhabited this area, and soon after they’d turned its inactive caldera into a resting place for those who had passed on. Both he and Kaffi had traveled there for the funerals of elder tenants and relatives in the past.
“Your ancestors are certainly enjoying the view,” he said. “It’s rarely this clear that you can see the ridges and boulder outcroppings from this distance.”
Kaffi hummed again. He gave Diwa’s shoulders a light squeeze and moved closer. His soft underside touched Diwa’s back.
“Hey,” he said softly.
Another light squeeze. “You don’t mind this?”
Diwa smiled and patted Kaffi’s hand. “All the physical connection lately? I’m fine with it, Kaff. I know your kind likes to nuzzle and cuddle, especially when you feel at ease with others. I see you and Iliah doing it all the time.”
“I know,” he said. “Just…” A long pause, no humming. Diwa heard him breathing quietly behind him, summoning up his courage. “I don’t want to scare you away, Dee,” he said. Another long pause.
Tentatively, he slid his hands down over Diwa’s shoulders and rested them, one on top of the other, on his chest. “I want…” Another long pause, this time with a slow uncertain hum. “This is the bond I want between us, Diwa. It comforts me. And I think it comforts you. I know some humans can be a bit…weirded out when we tintrite are like this.”
To be truthful, Diwa was a little nervous, having never experienced this level of physical connection with a tintrite before, but he refused to shy away from it. Kaffi was being honest with his own emotions and instincts, so it was only fair that he responded in kind. He wanted to provide Kaffi with the same happiness that he gave him. He leaned back into Kaffi’s soft belly and held his friend’s hands.
“I’m not weirded out,” he said. “You’re right, it comforts me as well. It lets me know that we have a chance at this. The way I see it, Kaff? This is all part of the bonding process. You, me, learning to trust each other in different ways. Figuring it all out as we go.”
Kaffi let out a long, slow hum of contentment. “You’re sure about this?”
“Of course,” he said.
Diwa smiled again and gave Kaffi’s belly a playful nudge. “In fact, it’s kind of comforting. You make a good pillow.”
Kaffi chittered a quick laugh. “Perhaps so.”