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.
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.”
“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.
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?”
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.
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.