Author’s Note: Love isn’t always perfect, but it is what we make of it. For Diwa, it’s not just his connection with Kaffi but also with his family. For Kaffi, it’s about comfort and connection. For Samuel, it’s keeping track of those closest to your heart. And for Graymar, it’s the pleasure achieved by being close to those that matter most to him.
“Ai, Pop…where are you?” Diwa grumbled, rubbing at his eyes in frustration.
Samuel rarely contacted his family in a timely manner when he and Graymar went out for an unscheduled flight, and it drove his family crazy every time. He might leave a note in an inconspicuous place where it would never be seen, or he’d call a few hours late. He might call the apartment when he knew everyone was out and leave a half-cryptic message. He’d even called an hour before they were due back home once or twice. But he never completely forgot to keep in contact. Graymar would have hounded him if he had.
Which made Diwa even more worried, as neither one had made any attempt at contacting either family today. They’d left the estate hours ago, leaving no notes and telling no one where they’d gone off to, with no further contact since then. And they weren’t answering their phones, either. Normally he wouldn’t worry too much, but this time out he’d grown concerned as the day went on. Graymar had officially grounded himself a few weeks ago, and Samuel had made it a point to look after him. They were both supposed to be staying close to home, but it seemed they’d chosen to do otherwise this morning.
Diwa went from one building of this estate to the other, searching for them. He’d gone all over the grounds, in all the offices and everywhere else, to no avail. Feeling increasingly angry at his father, he returned to the roof deck of Palm, pacing frantically, and wondering if he’d missed something. He and Samuel had no plans together today other than perhaps an hour or two of going over the usual paperwork, but he would have at least told him if he’d had to reschedule it. There were no missed calls, no texts from him. Not even a note on his desk.
Even Dari was starting to fret, calling Shahney and Iliah. She’d called a few of the committee members after that. Then she’d called Elise-Nooviya and then the co-op farm. No one had seen either of them.
Earlier, Diwa thought of their monthly Panooria flight, and another wave of anger coursed through him. The scheduled appointment at the Tenancy Bureau wasn’t for another week, but they’d already confirmed they wouldn’t be doing them anymore, with Graymar’s brother temporarily taking over. Sure enough, when he entered the back office again, that batch of paperwork was still there on Samuel’s desk, waiting to be picked up.
He called Kaffi next, who confirmed that he hadn’t seen his paddir either, not since earlier this morning. He’d left on foot like he’d always had lately, and everyone had presumed they’d been heading for the bus to the co-op farm after meeting up with Samuel on the green. Kaffi was deeply concerned and heavily distracted and told him he’d been about to take a flight around the neighborhood to look for them in case they’d chosen to go for a walk outside the estate. Kaffi would wear a headset and keep in tight contact with him.
Which left Diwa here, on the roof of Palm once more, wondering what the hell had happened to them.
His thoughts scattered immediately, however, when he heard the almighty screech of a mandossi in distress, here in his own building.
“Ai…!” he gasped, stumbling to the patio deck’s railing. He’d never heard such a din before, here at the estate! His stomach dropped, fearing the worst. A mandossi had seen something, discovered something, and it was going to be on his watch. Worse, that it might be his father, or Graymar.
The roof doors suddenly crashed open. A breathless Anna-Nassi stood there, her wings open wide and trembling. She sputtered something in her own language that he could not understand, punctuating it with chirps and clicking fangs. Her eyes were dark and dilated and filled with tears.
“Annie…?” he managed.
“D-Dee…” she stuttered, falling into a squat, her wings still twitching.
Ai…! Diwa fought the pit in his stomach and ran to her side, taking her hands and squeezing them tightly. “Eiyah,” he whispered. “Annie…calm. Talk to me. Annie? What’s wrong?”
She hummed and buzzed and rustled her wings and took a deep breath. “Ai…” she said at last. “Diwa. I-I’m sorry! I c-can’t help it. But I don’t know why I didn’t. I promised. I should have followed. Ei…ni yo daash-paiya…!”
“Annie…” Gods, he needed her to calm down quickly! She was still feeling the aftereffects of Cole’s Steiner-Hedraac flare-up from last week, amplifying and scrambling her energy and emotion levels. She’d had a bad episode just the other day as well, leaving her exhausted and overly sensitive. Ai, where was Cole to calm her down? But he couldn’t ask him right now, not when he was probably still experiencing his own aftereffects. He pulled her close, leaning his forehead against hers. “Annie. Calm,” he whispered, breathing slowly and evenly. “What’s wrong? What happened?”
She sobbed and shivered. “Ai…Diwa. Your father. Graymar. I didn’t know they’d been missing until just now. I saw them earlier this morning, walking towards the light rail station. I don’t know where they were going, but they were both carrying bags. They weren’t flying.” She lowered her head and groaned. Her hands came up and grasped Diwa’s upper arms. He let her pull him close as she started to cry quietly. “I should have followed them, Diwa. I promised myself I would look after them. I failed, Diwa!”
Bags…? Were they heading somewhere? “Annie, listen to me. Which line did they take?”
“Um,” she said after a moment, still sniffling. She was already calming down. “G-Griffin Park, I think?”
Griffin…? Oh. Oh.
“Ai, Pop…” he sighed. Of course they’d go there.
Diwa exhaled and smiled, and released a great wave of relief, big enough for Annie to sense and put her at ease. He touched his forehead against his once more and squeezed her hands. “Eiyah, Annie! You didn’t fail at all. You did wonderful! I know where they’re going,” he said, and pulled away. “I need your help.”
Anna-Nassi’s wings rippled quickly and uncertainly. “Anything,” she said, wiping the last of her tears away.
Diwa pulled out his phone. “I want you to start heading up to Griffin Park at the next available train. Take Cole with you if he’s up for it. I know the cell signals are crap up there, but we should at least be able to contact them if they’re in the town center. Can you do that?”
Anna-Nassi nodded quickly. “Are you sure? That they’re up there?”
“I have a hunch,” he said, fighting back doubt. Anything was better than the dark thoughts he’d had just a few minutes earlier. “They might be going to the same campground Diwa and I went to a while back. They wouldn’t have flown because they don’t have to.” He pulled her into one more embrace in thanks. “Salamat, Annie. I have to call Kaffi.”
She nodded and left as quickly as she’d arrived, and much quieter.
Kaffi answered after the first ring. “Kaff,” he said. “Annie saw them heading to the light rail earlier this morning. They might have made their way to Griffin Park. Think they’d be going to the campground?”
Kaffi hummed. A short, curt hum that sounded very much like Graymar. “Possibly. They didn’t say anything about heading up there to my family. Yours?”
“Not that I know of,” he said. “I’ll have to ask ina again. In the meantime, I have Annie and Cole about to head up there by rail. Can you be ready to fly in a half hour?”
Kaffi paused. “Are you certain that’s where they’re headed?”
Diwa didn’t respond right away. That was the problem…he didn’t know for certain. “I’m going on a hunch, Kaff, and that’s all we have, but I trust it. I’m going to head down to Pop’s office, check a few things and call ina, and then get prepared. Meet me on your roof in a half hour.”
“In a half hour,” he echoed. “I’ll be ready by then.”
“Thanks. You know, for helping.”
“It’s my paddir as well, Dee.”
“I know. Just…thanks. For being there.”
Samuel leaned back on the uneven ground, the heels of his palms pushing into the dirt, feeling a bit guilty for falling back into one of his old bad habits. He should have left a note or called someone. He should have called while he still had network access! It was a spur of the moment thing, really. Both he and Graymar had woken up earlier than usual, still unused to the shift in their schedules now that they were mostly retired. He couldn’t fall back asleep, so instead of tossing and turning and waking up Dari, he’d taken a shower and puttered around in his office for a while. When that failed to distract him, he’d taken his coffee and walked out onto the balcony to check in on the green. To his surprise he saw Graymar across the way, standing solo on the roof of Building C, doing the same exact thing. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen him out this early. Graymar had always been an early riser, but he’d always stayed inside with family at least until midmorning.
They waved and motioned to each other, and soon they met down on the central green. They got to talking. Just simple talking this time…no voicing concerns about the estate, no sassing back and forth, no critiquing their sons. Just a normal conversation, like close friends would. Deciding that the last few personal and emotional barriers they’d built between them were no longer needed. Sharing thoughts and wishes and concerns. Time. Life. Illness. Death. Family.
It was Samuel’s suggestion that they take the day off. Graymar was never all that easy to convince, but this time out he was more than happy to go wherever Samuel took him. His amenability to do whatever came to mind had sparked something, and soon they were talking about where they wanted to go. At first, they’d thought of taking a long walk outside the estate. Then they thought of heading to the co-op. There was even a brief temptation to head to the city. Eventually, they chose somewhere where they could be alone and without distraction. And he decided that Griffin Park was the best place to go: out in the wilderness, where they could relax and do whatever they wanted to do without the estate becoming a part of it.
It seemed like such a nice idea, and Graymar had agreed immediately. He had even brought his saddle, which had surprised him. They hadn’t planned on flying, but Gray was adamant. Griffin Park had been a favorite destination for them both back when they first started flying together and having the saddle here with him gave him a sense of positive closure.
But right now, Samuel felt more guilty than relaxed. He pulled out his phone once again and tried to call home, but the signal was so spotty and weak he couldn’t even make a connection to any services. There was a chance he could get a signal if they were up in the air, but he was not about to push Graymar for something so ridiculous. What he should have done was call when they were in the town center, but they’d both been so eager to head into the park that it had slipped their minds. They’d been here for at least a few hours, strolling through the forest until they came to this wide-open meadow. Surely Dari and Shahney were wondering where the hells they were by now. Diwa would definitely be upset with him.
Graymar, however, was in the highest of spirits. He’d exercised his wings earlier and was now taking a break beside him. He sat down on all fours – something he’d rarely seen him do on bare ground – and had both wings spread out to their full span. He was genuinely enjoying being able to stretch himself out like this, with little pain or stress. He’d put on his saddle as soon as they’d arrived here in the park and hadn’t taken it off since. He was humming quietly to himself, some tintrite melody that he’d sung before. There were no words, but none were needed. When tintrite hummed musically, they were saying they were truly at complete peace.
Samuel let out a slow breath, letting his stress fall away. Maybe he shouldn’t worry so much. Everything was calm here. He’d catch hell from his family when they got back home, but he’d accept that. He was here with his bonded ride, and he wanted to cherish that.
“Gray,” he said when the song was over. His voice was quiet, barely lifting above the sound of the wind. Somehow it didn’t feel right to raise his voice too much.
“Did we do the right thing?”
Graymar let out a snort of breath and turned in his direction. “You mean retiring? Why do you ask?”
Samuel leaned forward and brushed the dirt from his hands. “I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, we weren’t that much older than our sons when we took over from Daniel and Akkree. I’m not worried about the age of our kids.” He sighed and looked out over the open bay. The day was clear and sunny, enough that they could see the low forests and rocky outcroppings of Mount Laimora across the bay. “I am worried about us, Gray,” he continued. “Two old men with nothing better to do other than complain about how much better things were in our day.”
Graymar let out a chuckle. “Like I haven’t been doing that all my life, my fiiri,” he said.
“True,” he said, looking over at his friend. “How is your wing, by the way?”
“It’s a little stiff,” he said, and moved it back and forth. “I can fly for a while if I don’t overdo it. Why, are you looking for one last go-round before I fold up these wings for the final time?”
Samuel shivered at his gallows humor, but he wouldn’t have expected anything less from him. “It’s tempting,” he said.
“You need only ask,” he said with an uncharacteristic lightness.
“You sound more like Kaffi than ever,” he said, and let out a quiet laugh. “Retirement suits you, Gray. This is the irreverence I remember. Ah, the things we used to get up to when we first bonded! I’m almost afraid to tell Diwa about some of it, it might give him ideas. Remember that summer flight we took, what…fifteen, sixteen years ago? That time we had to fly bareback. I still can’t believe we did that.”
“Long Pier,” he said, snorting in amusement. “Earlier than that, we were just starting out. One of our first flight errands. We had to be there within two hours for some important regional meeting…and someone had forgotten to tell me about it until we had to leave.”
“Heh. Yeah, that’s it. And we did fairly good, too.”
“It was only a short flight away, so we could get away with it,” he said, snorting again. “It was your plan that we’d land half a mile away so no one would see us, and walk the rest of the way? And we came up with a ridiculous story why we weren’t following flight regulation. I cannot believe we didn’t get fined.”
Samuel slid closer to Graymar’s side. “If I recall, it was Karrosshi that caught us. Saw us flying in but didn’t say anything until we were about to leave. Gave us a slap on the wrist and let us go, as long as we took public transit back.”
“Ah, Karrosshi! Now there was a fine tintrite flight,” Graymar hummed, tapping the ground with a talon. “I remember him well. He was even older than Akkree and yet he could still outfly me. I learned a few tricks from him when I was a youngling.”
“Hmm. I always wondered where you picked up that sideways curve. That definitely wasn’t your paddir or manae. Definitely not Akkree.”
“That was indeed him,” he said.
Samuel let out a slow breath, looking out over the bay. “Gray…” he started, his voice quiet again. “Do you want to take a Last Flight?”
Graymar hummed slow and long, a gleam in his eye and showing his fangs.
“Ei…ni yo daash-paiya…!” (mandossi) — “I am such an idiot!” Annie is sometimes very hard on herself, especially when emotions are involved.