Author’s Note: I’m quite proud of this chapter. It’s a pivotal moment in both characters’ lives, conquering any lingering fears and anxieties they’d had to that point about flying and bonding. I did a reading of this at FOGcon a few years back (with both pro writers and readers in the audience at that) and I’d like to think it went over really well!
Seeing Diwa on the roof patio of Building C tonight made Kaffi’s heart leap with joy. He had gone out of his way every single afternoon and evening all month long to be somewhere visible to him, watching him train. Even now he was there, standing on the landing pad with his hands in his pockets, following what was essentially a simple fun flight. Diwa wasn’t just providing an audience; he was studying his moves and learning to read them from a distance. It made him so happy to see such dedication, but some days he felt as though he hadn’t spent nearly as much time watching Diwa as he should have. He’d watch him interacting with other tenants, but how would he be as a ride? He’d made a guess at Diwa’s weight, but it was most definitely not the same thing. Deadweight would not read his movements and react instead of being a stiff hindrance. It would not speak to him. It would not let him know when they were coming close to their destination, or when he needed to land, or if there was an issue he’d overlooked. Oh, to know the real thing!
Anna-Nassi and Cole had joined him by the time he dropped back down to the roof, and he was immediately suspicious. They’d also been showing up nearly every single night recently, and for their own reasons. Tonight they relaxed in deck chairs they’d taken from the raised patio nearby. Annie sat leaning forwards, elbows resting on her knees and her restless hands tapping against each other. Every so often she’d be muttering to Cole, pointing in Kaffi’s direction and making little gestures. Cole was visibly relaxed, leaning against the bench back with his legs crossed and a smile on his face, nodding in agreement. They didn’t even bother to hide that they were talking about him and Diwa.
“Ai, Kaffi!” Annie called out, waving to him as he crossed the landing pad towards them. “That saddle looks good on you, yeah?”
Kaffi flashed a smile and dipped his snout at her. “My thanks, Annie,” he said. “Dare I ask what you’re doing here tonight, other than offering the usual running commentary? I thought you were busy with a tenant meeting tonight.”
Diwa chuckled behind him but said nothing. He caught his eye, but Diwa just waved his concern away. You know how she is, he seemed to say.
“We’re here to cheer you on, neh?” she said innocently, and prodded Cole with a finger. “Isn’t that right?”
“Hmm, yes,” Cole said. “And it’s a nice sunny day. Good for watching.”
Kaffi snorted in response and turned to Diwa again. “What are they up to?” he muttered.
“A good question indeed, Kaff,” he said, clearly amused by this convesration. “Annie, what are you up to?”
She chirped at him and fluttered her wings in mock annoyance. “I have no plans at all, Dee!” she said. “Honest! Although it is the end of the month.”
“Meaning, she’s up to her usual tricks again,” Kaffi said, flashing a smile her way.
“Ai, such insolence!”
“Indeed, my dear.”
She’d been impatient with them for weeks now, pushing them closer together and dropping numerous and increasingly obvious hints that they were more than ready to fly together. He and Diwa had danced around the subject ever since their trip up to the meadows, always vaguely planning and preparing but never quite going through with it, so maybe she had a valid point? Their delay only served to inspire her to come up with surprisingly creative ways to make it happen. She’d even gotten their paddir involved! Graymar and Samuel had been showing up on the roof of Palm over the last few days, conveniently right around the same time he’d be training. That could not be a coincidence.
It was clear Anna-Nassi was going to set them straight today, one way or another.
Kaffi studied her for a moment, which gave her another excuse to gesture at him, opening her arms and shaking her head, as if to say Well? I’m giving you an opening here! He responded with a comical wrinkling of his snout and turned away. Ai, she was not going to give up, was she? He let out a quiet grunt and tapped Diwa’s arm. “Dee, a moment, if you will?” He nodded and followed him to the edge of the roof.
“Hey,” he said in a low whisper. “You know what they’re talking about, yes?”
Diwa gave him a quick knowing smile. “Of course I do,” he said.
“Hmm.” He turned and looked over the central green. There they were, their two paddir, standing together, chatting and occasionally glancing their way. Waiting patiently. Expectantly.
He hid a small grunt of annoyance, fluttered his wings and turned back to Diwa, locking eyes with him. “Dee?”
Diwa laughed nervously, scratching the back of his head. “You know I want to, Kaff. We’re more than ready. I’m game if you are.”
Kaffi let out a low hum that only Diwa could hear. Nervous but excited. “I do. But I want us to do this for us, not for them.”
Diwa patted him on the arm. “You know how I feel about that. I don’t care what anyone else thinks. If they want to watch us, so be it. But up there, it will just be the two of us. That’s all that matters to me.”
Eiyah, that’s all he needed to hear! He hummed quietly and happily. “Well! If you’re ready, Dee, then I’m ready.”
“I’m definitely ready,” he said, and gestured across the central green. “Should we call our paddir over, or just give the whole estate a performance? I mean, considering Annie’s already provided us with an audience…”
Kaffi chirped in amusement. “She is a handful,” he said. “Let’s do this.”
Diwa nodded. “Tell me what I need to do.”
“You got it,” Kaffi said. He turned back and waved towards their friends. “Ai! Annie, Cole! Come on over. You want a show? We shall give you one.”
Anna-Nassi’s excitement and glee were so immediate she let out a loud and piercing WHOOP! as she hopped out of her seat, knocking it away in the process. She bounced and bounded across the landing pad in a glorious and ridiculous happy dance, her wings flapping all over the place and punching the air with both her fists. “Yay! Yes! Yes! I knew it! I knew it!” she squealed. “I knew it would be today! Eiyah, this is wonderful! I am so proud of you two!”
Kaffi turned to Diwa again, twitching his snout across the green, trying to hold back a laugh. “You think our paddir heard that?”
“I think the whole estate did,” he snorted.
Kaffi turned his back to him, already feeling giddy with delight and barely able to keep his wings still. “Right…for starters, we need to detach the deadweight. It’s easy to take off, just undo the tie at the top near the pommel, press the release lock just underneath it and gravity will do the rest.” Diwa did so and as promised, the deadweight unlatched itself with a quiet click. Kaffi shifted a little to let it slide off and drop with a thud to the landing grid. He dropped down on all fours, crouching low. “Okay. Climb on.”
Diwa paused for a moment, studying the saddle and his position. “Any specific way…?”
Kaffi stretched out his body a little more to make sure Diwa could climb on easily. “Step into the left foot well and swing your leg around. No, the other way, so you don’t kick me in the head.”
“Heh, sorry about that.”
“Snap the rear section of the foot well compartment closed once your feet are in place. Make any adjustments you need. There’s a pull strap on the rear of the foot wells, right behind your calves. Pull them up or push them down so your feet are at full flat rest in them. They’ll click into place and lock the compartment closed. There, that’s it.”
“Next. take the strap that’s wrapped around the pommel and loop it around your waist. It works just like a regular belt and will bind you to the saddle. Again, keep it snug but comfortable. You don’t need to have it tight. Okay? I’ll let you work on that until you’re safely connected. There are also handles on each side of the pommel. You can hold onto those for additional safety and until you have your balance.”
“This is going to take forever, isn’t it?”
“Hmm. It does take time. Samuel and Graymar can do this whole checklist in five minutes. In time we’ll have it down just as fast. Okay. Comfortable?”
“Pretty much, yeah. I’m not too heavy?”
“You’re actually lighter than my practice deadweight. This is good. Right. I’m going to lift up on my hinds, move to the edge of the roof and hop up onto the ledge, expand my wings, and do a drop launch.”
“I know how much you love those.”
“I do. Okay, you’re all strapped in. I can sense you’re sitting correctly, no discomfort or awkwardness.”
“I’m just fine.”
“Ready to go?”
“I’m go for launch.”
Kaffi snorted and flashed a wide smile at him. “You are such a nerd.” He craned his neck over his shoulder and waved a hand. “Ai! Annie! Need to take a picture before we do this?”
She let out another piercing squeal of excitement and fumbled for her cell phone, nearly dropping it in the process. “Eeeiyah! Yes! Yes! Hang on!”
“Heh. You really need to stop encouraging her, Kaff.”
Finally satisfied with several pictures, she waved them on once more. “Okay! Got it! Go! Go, already! Get up there in the sky!”
Kaffi unfurled his wings to full extension and pushed himself up to his hinds. He felt Diwa shift his own balance in response. This was definitely a good sign…he already knew how to move and react on his own. Anna-Nassi had trained him well. He felt him shift again when he started to walk, and once more when he hopped up onto the concrete railing. It felt right. He was a natural at this. “You’ll love this part,” he said.
Diwa let out a slow, nervous breath and steeled himself. “Just like Wesley Park,” Diwa said, his voice slightly trembling. Unexpectedly, he leaned forward and placed his palm flat against a bare spot of his scales, just behind his left wing. “I trust you,” he said quietly.
Kaffi couldn’t stop himself from smiling and shivering with joy! “Here we go!” He leaped off the roof and dropped down towards the central green, whooping with delight as he went.
He felt Diwa stiffen, but only slightly. He’d leaned back, far back, to keep his own balance. He heard him giggling, just like he would on that roller coaster at Wesley Park, laughing in the face of his own fears because he knew he was safe. The ground came up at them fast, but Kaffi was already in control of his flight path, mapping it out as he went. They zoomed close to the high canopy of one of the trees on the green, and he ducked under it, giving Diwa just enough clearance. He could even reach out and touch the leaves as they went by, if he’d wanted to. Diwa let out an excited laugh and loosened up his leg muscles. He was doing just fine.
Kaffi caught the breezes of the central green and swooped upwards, heading back up to the sky, breaking past the tree line and high up into the air. He pushed his wings hard and quick, lifting them even higher, and soon they were drifting in slow circles over the estate, both of them laughing and cheering. Kaffi hummed, almost rumbled, barely containing his own joy.
He was flying with his bonded partner for the first time. Sharing the moment with his closest friend.
He felt Diwa shiver. It was a good shiver, one of amazement. “Wow…”
“I get it now,” he said, his voice barely a whisper.
“Why you love flying so much.” He felt his friend’s hand against his scales again.
Kaffi hummed again with pleasure, and soared ever higher, taking him to all corners of the estate. Showing his own special aerial world to Diwa for the first time.
Diwa’s heart leapt into his throat on the initial drop launch from the roof, and for a brief moment it felt like he was going to pass out, but he fought it and won. It was exactly like the first drop on the coaster at Wesley Park, just like he’d expected. A terrifying initial drop, a gut-dropping swoop under a tunnel, then the breathtaking thrill of emerging back into sunlight and the rise and curve. Kaffi had ducked underneath that tree canopy on purpose and he really could have reached up and touched the leaves had he not been holding onto the saddle handles for dear life. He could not stop laughing at the utter thrill of the ride, the ridiculousness of it, the sheer joy and freedom it brought to them both. And here they were, back up in the bright afternoon sky, riding slow curves, falling and lifting with the wind, flying as bonded ride and flight. He could do this! He’d ride through it. He was safe. He was bound to Kaffi’s saddle. He was bound to Kaffi himself. He could do this. He whispered a silent thank you to Anna-Nassi for preparing him; he’d expected it and fought through the fear. He could do this.
They were flying!
He hadn’t expected to be able to sense what Kaffi was sensing, especially so soon and so strongly. He too felt the changes in the air as it swirled past him, while Kaffi adjusted his wings to catch the draft. He felt Kaffi’s shoulders shifting and rolling slightly when he had to adjust them again to gain more altitude. Felt the strength of Kaffi’s wing muscles pushing through his own legs to give their flight an added boost. Saw then felt his slight lean to the left to make a graceful curve and ride the draft even higher.
Kaffi hummed and checked in on him constantly in those first few minutes. Was he feeling okay? How did he feel about the take-off? Was he comfortable? Was there anywhere on the estate he wanted to go? Diwa told him he was just fine. He’d told him the truth; he hadn’t completely understood just how amazing it felt to fly as a ride until that very moment. He’d felt the sensation of flight when he trained with Annie, but that had been like riding a hang-glider. This was something altogether new and thrilling. They were both in complete control and command of their movements and direction. He’d watched Samuel and Graymar fly since he was a child, but he had never fully understood how it felt to be up in the air. And to be up there with someone he trusted both as a ride and as a friend, it was amazing indeed.
He’d been so excited that he almost hadn’t noticed what the estate sounded like from up here. And it was loud! Aside from the wind at his ears, he could hear the wind in the trees, the voices and echoes of the tenants below – many of them witnessing their maiden flight and cheering them on – and so much more. These were the sounds his father heard when he rode with Graymar. They were the sounds that Graymar and Kaffi heard when they made their neighborhood rounds.
“Are you getting tired?” he asked as they made yet another graceful curve over the roof of Building C, to the cheers of Anna-Nassi and Cole.
“Just a little while longer,” Kaffi said.
“Okay,” he said, and let out a slow, relaxed breath. “Let me know when you want to call it a day. I’m yet to experience a landing.”
“Ah!” Kaffi said, tipping his snout up and to the right, looking at him out of the corner of his eye. “That’s right. The one thing I haven’t prepped you for. Word of warning: I’m nowhere near as graceful as paddir is, so it might be a bit rough.”
He patted him on the shoulder again. “As long as we don’t face plant, I think we’ll be fine.”
“Heh. I’ll try to avoid that.”
They swung back around towards Palm Building. They’d been so busy talking back and forth, getting used to each other as ride and flight, that they’d almost forgotten their fathers had been watching them the entire time. They drifted down and skimmed the roof on the next fly-by, waving calling out to them as they shot past. Diwa’s heart leapt again, this time in a very good way, at seeing Samuel cheer and wave back, jumping down and pumping his fists and giving him two very enthusiastic thumbs up. Graymar stood beside with a modest calm, but he was just as proud and excited, his wings aloft and fluttering and flashing a wide and appreciative smile their way.
“I think we passed the test,” Diwa said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Pop that excited, to be honest. And I see Graymar approves.”
“Heh. I’m sure they’ll have their critique ready to go as soon as we get back home,” Kaffi snorted.
They continued flying for what felt like hours, doing lazy curves and loops over the central green, over the bungalows, over the orchard, even over the main street just outside the estate. They saw so many other tenants while they were out, so many more than expected, that they wondered if Annie hadn’t made it a point to let every single person know this was going to happen! There was ina and Mari, standing outside the community center, both waving at them. Tassh was standing in the middle of his allotment, one hand shading his eyes and the other waving a trowel at them. There were the two elderly mandossi, sitting on their balcony, waving from the comfort of their deck chairs, teacups in hand. There was Elise-Nooviya with her two nestlings, all three of them not only waving both their arms but their wings as well. Diwa did not mind this at all…he was seeing this estate in a new light, from an altogether different angle, and he loved every minute of it. These people were his neighbors, his friends, his tenants. They flew over every corner of the estate and viewed it from every angle, waving to anyone to happened to look up. Neither wanted the session to end.
“Dee,” Kaffi said, breaking the silence after a while.
Diwa turned his attention back to him. “Hmm?”
“I’m curious. You’ve been touching my shoulders a lot during this flight.”
He blushed slightly, realizing that he’d just been doing it again that very moment. “Sorry, does that bother you?”
“No,” Kaffi said after a moment and a thoughtful hum. “Just unexpected. I know why you’re doing it. Same reason I tap you every now and again. It’s comforting.”
Diwa hummed in response. “Annie’s right, we are bonded.”
“That we are. Shall we head in?”
He smiled and tapped him once more. “Sure. My legs are falling asleep.”
“Oh, it’ll hurt more once you’re out of saddle,” he said, chittering a quick laugh.
Diwa huffed in mock irritation. “And you tell me this now?”
“You’ll live, Dee. Okay, time to get ready. Hold on to the handles. This might be a little rough the first time.”
They swung back around to Building C and slowly made their way down to the roof landing pad. Anna-Nassi and Cole were still there, back in their deck chairs, still chatting and pointing at them in their usual animated way. They too would be providing critique, though he had a feeling it would be far less clinical than their fathers’.
Kaffi glanced at him over his shoulder. “You’ve seen my landings, they’re a swoop-then-drop, so you might feel it a bit in your stomach. Warning you ahead of time.”
He shifted his angle and headed towards the center of the landing pad on the roof of Building C. Diwa felt a curious mixture of both relief and closure as they approached…he no longer worried about handling flight, as he’d finally experienced it and found it to be so much more thrilling and exciting than he’d ever expected. This was a fear he no longer needed to face. Just a few lingering feet before touchdown, Kaffi swung back up quickly, causing Diwa to lean precariously close to Kaffi’s spine. It was certainly an awkward position, but it lasted only for a second or so. Gravity took them the rest of the way, first a two-step drop onto his hinds with a soft tha-thump, and then easing forward onto all fours. A perfect, safe landing.
Diwa straightened back up, and quickly unlatched himself from the pommel and the foot wells as soon as Kaffi told him he could. He slid off the saddle and planted his feet back on the rubber surface of the landing pad, the flight now officially over. For a moment he nearly lost his balance as his legs gave way, his body suddenly unaccustomed to solid ground. He giggled nervously, having not expected that, and left a mental note to be a bit more careful next time. He stood up straight and stretched his back and limbs; his thigh muscles didn’t hurt nearly as much as he thought they would, but he was certainly going to feel it tomorrow.
Still, it was totally worth it.
“Eeeeeiyah!” Anna-Nassi squealed, toppling her chair once again, with Cole at her heels. “Diwa! Kaffi! Oh my stars, I am so proud of you two! You were amazing!” She swept Diwa off his feet and swung him around giving him the biggest bone-crunching hug she’d ever given anyone, nuzzling her forehead against his and giggling uncontrollably. “You did it! You did it, Dee!”
Eventually he squirmed his way out of her grasp, but he didn’t completely let go. He took her hands, squeezing them tight and holding them against his chest. “Salamat, Annie,” he said, bowing towards her. “Maianni-naahsah. I couldn’t have done this without your help.”
Anna-Nassi squealed and hopped and prodded some more, and eventually let him return to Kaffi’s side. He still had the saddle on and was stretching out his legs and his torso, letting out a peculiar mix of happy humming and strained grunting. Diwa kneeled down so they were face to face. “Doing okay there, Kaff?” he asked.
“Hmm?” Kaffi gave him a warm smile and a quick chittering of his fangs. “Yeah, fine. Post-flight stretches. Paddir says it helps after a ride. Going to be sore, but it was worth it.”
“You need help with the…?” He pointed towards Kaffi’s back.
Kaffi shook his head and hummed once more. “No, I’m fine. I should do the saddle and blanket myself. Thanks for asking, though.”
Diwa nodded again, and watched him stretch for a few moments more. He should probably be doing the same, before his thigh muscles started screaming at him. But he wasn’t quite finished, not yet.
He tapped Kaffi’s snout, just above the nostrils. “Maianni-naahsah, fiiri. I’m glad we did this.”
“Anytime, Dee,” he said with a blush and a warm smile. “I’m glad as well.”
“Maianni-naahsah, fiiri.” (tintrite) — “Thank you so much, my dear friend.” This isn’t just reverential, but spoken with pure love and appreciation towards Kaffi. The same goes with Diwa thanking Annie both in Tagalog and mandossi/tintrite.