Author’s Note: Over the course of this novel, everyone’s life has changed in one way or another. Sometimes unexpectedly, sometimes dramatically, but if anything, they learned from each moment. This was both Diwa and Kaffi’s main drive in the entire novel, aside from their wish to take after their fathers: to face each moment together, with love and strength.
Kaffi was nervous and restless, angry and conflicted. He desperately needed to fly. This need to fly was a way for him to clear his head, just like his paddir when he went up to the roof. He needed to get out and up into the air, to fly far away from here until things calmed down. He wanted to avoid facing all this imminent fear and pain. He wanted to fly away from whatever news was coming and the anguish that would follow, but he fought that urge as hard as he could. He needed to know.
He waited alone in his nestroom for his paddir to come back from his doctor’s visit. For Graymar to share the final prognosis of his cancer.
The idea of his paddir passing on stabbed him in the heart every time he allowed himself to dwell on it, and he hated that he couldn’t do anything about it. He wasn’t angry at his paddir or at himself, only at the cancer. The cancer that had eaten away at his wings and taken his most prized ability from him. The cancer that was moving further into his body, rendering him weaker by the day. To console himself, Kaffi had tried to stay positive, has hard as it was. He’d spent so many wonderful years with his paddir, learned so many things from him, that he would always cherish their connection. Underneath that grouchy exterior was a tintrite with a fierce heart. He didn’t just love those closest to him, he watched over them and cared for them; he spent his entire adult life working alongside his bonded ride, creating and maintaining a close-knit and active community. Graymar’s passing would leave a painful gaping hole in Kaffi’s heart.
The news came that afternoon, and there was no way he could prepare for it.
Graymar finally came home after telling Samuel directly, the word was given, and they stabbed Kaffi deep in his heart. Shocked and traumatized, he fell to all fours, tail tucked under, his head tucked down and away. Completely silent. Only tears.
His paddir had two months to live, before the cancer stole his life away.
Graymar stood there, watching his son but saying nothing. Kaffi sniffled but could not form any words. What could he even say? Eiyah, what could he do at all?
“Get up, Kaffi!” Graymar suddenly snapped at him. His loud, fierce voice thundered through the room, startling him enough to flinch. He refused to accept any sorrow from anyone in his family, most of all from him. “Get up, pahyoh! Issthnamii, I am not dead yet! Please. Get up and follow.” With a barely restrained growl he swept out of the room, his tail cutting through the air and nearly hitting Kaffi in the snout.
Kaffi recoiled before he could stop himself. Embarrassed and ashamed, he flailed and pushed himself up, shivering his wings and wiping at his eyes. “P-paddir?” he said and headed for the doorway. “Paddir! Please, wait!”
An annoyed grunt from the other room.
An opening and slamming shut of their apartment doors.
“Ai…!” Kaffi scuttled after him.
He sped past Shahney, standing at almost-full height with her wings slightly spread and twitching, leaning up against the wall of the family room and weeping silent tears. She was strong and she had expected the worst for months now, but the news had still shattered her. Iliah was at her side, her own wings expanding and contracting, her dark mane a disheveled mess. They caught each other’s eyes but said nothing, not even a hum of acknowledgement. She gave Kaffi a quick and silent twitch of her snout in the direction of their front door before turning to console their manae.
He slipped out of the apartment and caught sight of Graymar at the far end of the hallway, turning towards the main stairs and heading towards the roof. He double-timed it and managed to catch up to him by the time he got to the stairwell.
Graymar briefly glanced at him in quiet appreciation. He took bold, strong steps without hesitation, as much as his weakening body could move him. He held both of his wings slightly aloft, letting air pass between them. He held his snout straight and high, eyes forward. His tail out and away, with a slight curl at the end. His arms close to his belly, one paw across the other. He was humming, low and soft. He was not afraid.
They went up to the roof in silence and stood side by side at the edge, looking out over the central green. It was still early afternoon, but it felt so much later in the day; heavy clouds hung over the estate blocking out most of the sunlight. A slow but consistent breeze pushed at them from all sides, just enough to keep the air this side of cold. Kaffi held his wings tight against his back for warmth and let his mane drop wherever it lay. Graymar did the same.
Together they watched life go on below and above. Satoshi coming back from an errand on the main street, burdened with full shopping bags. Tassh puttering around in his little garden allotment. The two elderly mandossi sitting on their balcony in the next building over, not saying much but keeping each other company and drinking their hot tea. Elise-Nooviya monitoring the children on the playground, Anna-Nassi and Cole close by. Dooni, one of the younger tintrite nestlings from Building D, going out on a solo practice flight around the estate. Dari stepping out of the community center doors, wearing gloves and an apron, stretching her back and looking back up at them. Maricel beside her, doing the same.
Samuel and Diwa, across the way, standing on their own balcony, facing them.
Diwa holding up a shaky hand in a halfhearted wave.
Samuel, wiping his eyes with the heel of his hand, and then nodding at Graymar.
“Dee…” Kaffi said, his voice barely audible.
Graymar hummed. A slow, resonant hum of contentment. Not pleasure, but not anger. A tintrite completely at ease.
“We are not yet done here, Kaffi,” he said to him, touching him on the shoulder. The same spot Diwa always touched when they flew. “Be here with me for a while longer. Let’s continue to watch the estate together.”
Kaffi shuddered, holding his wings tightly against him. “Yes, paddir.”
Samuel entered the back office the next day and was surprised to see Diwa already there, sitting on the new couch, arms crossed and scowling. He felt a twitch in his heart, saddened by how badly his son was taking Graymar’s news. Gray had told him in person yesterday afternoon, and it had shaken both families in different ways, but together they would pull through this, one way or another. He’d invited Gray, Shahney and Iliah over so they could all be there together. Dinner had been a muted affair, but afterwards there had been crying, laughing, remembering, and everything in between, as they gathered in the front room with Graymar and his family, talking well into the late evening. Diwa had taken it badly, however; he’d put on a brave face and consoled Kaffi the best he could, but once Gray and his family had returned home, he’d shut himself in his room and hadn’t come out again until late this morning. Samuel and Graymar may not have shown their emotions all that much over the years, but he’d never seen his own son shut himself off so completely.
He needed to stop this, immediately.
“Diwa,” he said, taking one of the visitor’s chairs in front of his desk and waving towards the other one. “Come sit with me over here a minute. There’s a few things I want to say.”
Diwa grunted and trudged over, not saying a word. Stood there, staring glumly at the chair.
“Please,” he said, gesturing again until he got the hint. Sullenly, he dropped down into it and looked off into space. Samuel frowned; this was worse than he’d expected. Exhaling, he laid a hand on his knee and leaned in close. “Listen, anak. I’m as devastated as you are about Graymar. He’s my bond. He’s my best friend. But he’s requested that none of us dwell on it. He’s accepted his fate.”
“I know…” he said, his voice barely leaving his chest.
“I don’t think you do,” Samuel corrected. “At least not fully.” He remembered that time, mere months ago, when he sat with him in this same exact spot, talking about inheritance. He’d been the one who’d closed up then, hiding back here. So much had changed in that short time. So many things he wouldn’t have expected. It was his turn now, to save Diwa from falling any further.
“Let me explain something to you, Diwa,” he continued. “You need to hear this. When lolo Akkree passed away, it hurt lolo Daniel, and the loss hit him badly.” He shivered at his own words…it still hurt to think about his father this way, but it was a deadened pain now. He could face it. “Papa couldn’t disconnect himself from his own bond. Or maybe he didn’t want to. Bonds are like that sometimes, Diwa. Sometimes it’s just too painful to let that bond go, especially when it’s as strong as it is. It hurt so much to watch…seeing my father pine away back here, depressed and alone. He didn’t want to let go. I believe he was afraid to. It took me a long time to heal from watching that during his last years. A long time. For Papa to let himself go like that when his best friend died, it scared me. It scarred me!”
Diwa blinked and lifted his head. “Pop…?”
“I didn’t quite know how to face any of it, Diwa, so I hid back here as well. You saw it. Dari and Maricel saw it. Everyone saw it. I could have cleaned this room so long ago, but it hurt too much to let go of Papa’s memories like that. I couldn’t bear the thought of letting him go so completely. I didn’t want to lose what I had of his memory.
“So I started hiding from it as well, heading back here and just…being with him. It was calming for a while. Then it became habit. And then…” He let out a long breath, looking around the room. The bare, clean room that somehow still held the auras of his father and Akkree. “Then it became overwhelming. I felt like I’d waited too long. I was buried back here.”
He saw that sparkle in his son’s eyes. It was still there, curious, hopeful. “What…what changed?”
Samuel gave him a teary smile. What had changed, indeed! You changed me, is what he wanted to say. Your dedication to this job and to your best friend changed me! “Many things, but in particular it was a trip to Panooria earlier this year,” he said eventually. “That was when Graymar’s cancer became apparent to us. We didn’t know what it was at the time, but we knew something was wrong. It scared us back into reality. And we had the two of you to think about.”
Diwa blushed slightly. “What…what do I have to do with it?”
Samuel laughed and clutched his son’s hands. “Why, everything, Diwa! You came in here with your conviction and dedication. You wanted so badly to inherit my position and you were willing to do whatever it took to ensure you got it. And you didn’t want just the title and the perks, no. You wanted to give something back to this estate.”
Diwa stared at him, unable to speak.
“That was the impetus,” he continued. “That made Graymar and I reevaluate our own bond. When we left our stopover and headed to Panooria the next day, we started talking. Getting to know each other again. Rethinking our bond.” He squeezed his son’s hands again. “Do you understand, Diwa? This is why Graymar doesn’t want us to feel sorrow. He wants us to feel that bond elsewhere. Within the estate, within ourselves. That we’re all here for each other.”
Diwa’s eyes lifted to his, tearing up. “I think I understand now, Pop,” he said, his voice small and shaky. “I-I’m terrified. I think. Not about the inheritance. Or even about Graymar’s fate. I think…” He sighed and turned away, blinking more tears away. He was powering through this, just like he’d hoped he would. He shuddered and wiped his eyes, looking away. “Kaffi and I spoke about this. Just once. I didn’t want to admit it then, but I can’t avoid it. I’m afraid of what might happen if the same happened to Kaffi. I don’t…I can’t even fathom how his absence would affect me. I know, it’s stupid.”
Samuel shook his head slowly. “No, it’s not, Diwa. Not at all. I get that. Losing Kaffi would gut you. I’m not going to lie – Graymar’s condition is certainly gutting me right this moment. But I refuse to give into that pain. Just like you need to refuse to give into it.
“I’ve seen you with Kaffi. Your bond is so fierce! Stronger than even mine and Graymar’s. Once the two of you embraced that bond, you embraced it fully, without question and without boundaries. You both understood its importance, between yourselves and with the rest of the world. That is a true bond between human and tintrite ride. Diwa. It’s not just about trust, it’s love. And it’s unbreakable. Even in the worst of conditions.”
Diwa sniffled one last time and forced himself to smile. “Ai…salamat, Pop,” he said. “I really needed to hear that.”
He gestured over to Samuel’s desk at the stack of paperwork waiting for them, including the large envelope that bore two wax seals, his and Graymar’s. The election results.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s get this prepared. Kaffi and I have a long flight tomorrow.”