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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.”