Diwa & Kaffi 30

Author’s Note: Out of the nest and into the wild, as the mandossi saying goes.

*

CHAPTER THIRTY

“Brings you back, doesn’t it?” Samuel said, unable to stop beaming with pride as he leaned up against the rooftop patio railing. He watched the two boys – the two young men – across the way, going through their post-flight stretches and checklists. They’d done almost everything right, and any errors they may have made were few and minor. To be honest, they’d done so much better than he and Graymar had done their first time, so many years ago! He let out another appreciative laugh. “Not bad for a maiden flight. Not bad at all.”

Graymar stood tall beside him and nervously tapped his talons on the railing, something he rarely did. He fretted and hummed in response. He’d been a bit more animated earlier, most likely for appearance’s sake, but now that it was all over he’d returned back to his usual stoic self. He was deep enough in thought that his wings were rippling of their own volition.

“Come on, Gray,” he said, startling him out of his thoughts with a light elbow to his side. “I know you want to say something. There’s no need to feel embarrassed in front of me. We’ve known each other far too long.”

He let out a slow breath out his nostrils and whined – something else he’d rarely done. Their sons’ maiden flight had clearly moved him more than he’d expected, and he had no idea how to process or show his emotions! “I am unsure of what to say that doesn’t sound like I’m being ungrateful. I want to critique, Samuel. You know how I am.”

“Then critique,” he gestured. “That’s what you and I are here for. We have to compare notes if we’re going to be on the same page as them.”

He scratched at his snout. “Hmm. You first.”

He smirked and shook his head. “I knew you’d say that. Fine.” He turned back to the roof of Building C; the foursome had finished up their post-flight party, tidied up the roof deck, and started bringing their celebration indoors, most likely to Anna-Nassi’s apartment where they could be as loud and boisterous as they pleased. He reminded himself to thank her personally for helping Diwa…and for making sure he and Graymar were there to witness the entire flight. “First off, Kaffi’s initial drop launch was a bit too sharp,” he started. “Diwa was struggling – he was angling back the best he could. But they were both aware of that. Once they pulled out and up, though…that was a fine maneuver. I wouldn’t have gone under the tree line, but from the look on Diwa’s face, he was having the thrill of his life! Kaffi knows how to harness the wind like it’s second nature. He wasn’t struggling at all. You’re right, he was born ready for this. You trained him well.”

Graymar hummed quietly, nodding in response to his compliment. “I agree with the launch,” he said. “Though I believe he became aware of that, after the fact. Kaffi has confidence; he knew he could easily clear that tree and catch the convections over the central green that way. He was flying with the constant awareness that Diwa was there as his ride and they were in constant communication the entire time until they gained altitude. More from Kaffi than Diwa.”

“I noticed that as well,” Samuel nodded. “But Diwa has always been observant rather than questioning.”

“Or he may have been scared out of his wits.”

“I’ll grant that. I admit I felt the same way on our first flight.”

Graymar snorted and cocked his head at him. “You never told me that.”

“Of course I didn’t!” he laughed. “I didn’t want you to think I was too scared to ride on some big brute like yourself, Gray!”

“Big…brute…?” he said slowly.

“Ai, so sensitive!” he teased, prodding him again. “You were twice my size and ten times my weight. But this isn’t about us.”

“Hmm.”

“Anything else you’d like to add?”

“Your son did seem a bit stiff at first, but he was observant. He quickly learned how to read Kaffi’s movements. Once he understood them, he loosened up considerably. He might have been afraid at first, but that diminished quickly. He trusted Kaffi wholly the entire time.”

“He’s been watching Kaffi do his flight exercises the entire month,” he said. “Admirable and unexpected. Didn’t you see him?”

“Many times, including down on the green,” Graymar said, bobbing his snout in that direction. “I thought he might have just been providing company.”

“Looks like more than that,” Samuel said. “I’d watch him sometimes. He was enraptured by Kaffi’s movements. Studying them. Trying to figure them out. That’s when I realized what he was doing.”

“Bonding,” Graymar said quietly.

“Yes,” he said.

“Were we ever that detailed?” Graymar asked out of the blue.

Samuel didn’t expect the question at all, most of all from him, and had to think about how to answer. “I’d like to think we were. Just in our own ways and over a longer period.” He looked out over the green again, listening to its quietness. Most of the tenants had gone on their way after the little air show, the sounds retreating to their usual buzzing calm. Just a few months ago their sons were out there, playing a loud and unorganized game of catch. They’d come so far so quickly…perhaps he’d been wrong about his opinion of them all this time? Their connection had indeed been much closer and for a much longer stretch than either he or Graymar realized. They were not just committed, they were confident. “There’s a connection between those two that’s definitely different from ours, Gray.”

“There is,” he said.

They stood together in companionable silence for a little while longer, letting it all sink in. Life was going to change here on the estate. Samuel hoped it would be for the better.

“So,” he said eventually. “What are we going to tell our sons?”

Graymar let out a slow breath through his nostrils, and let his wings unfurl slightly. “I’m going to tell Kaffi that I am deeply proud of him,” he said lightly. “First of all. Both he and Diwa surpassed my expectations. Be sure to tell that to your pahyoh.”

Samuel smiled brightly once more. “I will Gray. And your son. Tell Kaffi that I was thoroughly impressed.”

“That’s all?” Graymar said, giving him a small grin.

“Hmm. I was going to wait to say this to him personally, but…tell Kaffi that I am proud of him as well. Tell him that I trust him to fly with my son any day.”

“Hmm. I’m sure he would like to hear that.”

“I’m sure he would, Gray.”

Diwa & Kaffi 29

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!

*

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

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.”

“See?”

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…?”

“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.”

“Okay.”

“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…”

“Hmm?”

“I get it now,” he said, his voice barely a whisper.

“Get what?”

“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.”

“Got it.”

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.

“Kaff?”

“Hmm?”

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.”

*

Glossary:
“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.

Diwa & Kaffi 28

Author’s Note: More often than not, you’re not looking for someone else’s permission to do something you need to do. You’re looking for your own.

*

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

Elise-Nooviya always welcomed Anna-Nassi to the tenant meetings with a warm hug and a cheerful smile, something she still hadn’t gotten used to despite working with her daily for weeks now. She’d been happily welcomed into the committee and accepted as an important member, even despite her low rank and lack of experience. Every Saturday they held an informal roundtable to review any recent or outstanding issues. These weekend gatherings were not mandatory like the month-end meetings were, but Anna-Nassi made it a point to be present for as many as she could, to show her dedication. And Elise-Nooviya had certainly noticed; she looked forward to Annie’s arrival and participation and would always walk her back to her apartment afterwards.

Anna-Nassi felt at home among the other elders, much to her surprise. For years she’d been stuck in that weird limbo between passive student and active adult, and she’d expected the transformation to be long and irritating, but now that she was considered a true adult, with all the adult responsibilities that came with it, she found she fit right in with many of the tenants. She was in fact one of the quieter tenants on this estate! They enjoyed her off-kilter sense of humor and her ability to connect so easily with almost anyone. They especially enjoyed her almost limitless energy!

Her job on the committee, as was normal for new members, was to take the minutes. She had a fast and clear hand and could transcribe her notes quickly. It was mindless but easy work for her, and because of that, she’d quickly learned how to listen to the different tenants. Each had their own comments and concerns, some more important than others, and each had their own way of going about it. She prided herself on being a good and patient listener and picked up on what needed prioritization, and what was just talk for the sake of talking.

What she was not good at, which surprised everyone including herself, was the ability to voice her own concerns and news at the meetings. When it was her turn at the podium, her nerves would always get the best of her and she would speak too loud and too fast. And because her thoughts were rarely linear, she would have to write her script down first, or else no one would be able to follow. This wouldn’t happen if Cole were by her side! Eiyah, how did her amma learn how to get past this?

But at the end of the day, she never felt mortified. The committee didn’t hate her. They might need to get used to her, sure, and some of them might need to coach her on her public speaking, but she never felt unwelcome.

“How is your orchard project coming along, Annie?” Elise-Nooviya asked after that day’s meeting. They were taking a meandering stroll across the central green, stopping to watch the younglings on the playground.

“Slow, but it’s moving in the right direction,” Anna-Nassi said, giving her a small grin. “We had someone come in and do some massive pruning on Thursday, so it looks a bit barren and awkward right now. The good news is that nearly all the trees are still in good health and we only had to get rid of three of them! Let’s see, what else? Oh! A few tenants have volunteered to help clean up on the weekends! And Tassh is keeping an eye on the apples. I don’t know where he finds the time between his construction job and gardening and babysitting Koie, but he finds it.”

“That’s wonderful news!” Elise-Nooviya sang. “I’m glad you’re tackling this project, pahyé. The committee trusts you with it.”

Anna-Nassi couldn’t help but shiver and ripple her wings just a little bit. She was not yet used to such compliments! “I hope I don’t let them down,” she said quietly.

“You’re doing just fine,” she hummed softly, calming her nerves. She led her further down the path, taking her arm. “And how is Cole, might I ask? I’ve rarely seen him these past few weeks.”

Anna-Nassi’s mood darkened slightly, her shoulders dropping. If only she knew how he was this moment! She hadn’t even seen him this morning! “He’s decided to work at the co-op farm with his parents this summer,” she grumbled. “He spends his time there most days. I only see him on the weekends now.”

Elise-Nooviya hummed once more, low and consoling. “You miss him, Annie…I understand your connection with him. You have an interesting bond with him. It’s not like the one we see between Diwa and Kaffi, but it’s just as strong. This situation will only make it stronger.”

“I know…” she sniffed, ruffling her wings in frustration. Now was not the time to start tearing up! “I just get so lonely without him sometimes.”

“Eiyah!” Elise-Nooviya skittered around and faced her directly, stopping her short. She took Anna-Nassi’s hands and held them tight and close to her heart. “Annie, dearest. You always have us. If not the committee or even the other tenants, you have me. Never forget that.”

Anna-Nassi shivered with emotion and bowed her head, hiding the bright and deep blue strip across her nose. “Ai…maianni-naahsah, mani,” she giggled, fighting back tears with her wide smile. “It means so much to hear that.”

Elise-Nooviya moved in just close enough for her to whisper in her ear. “Go visit him, yeah?” she said with a hint of playfulness. “There’s no one holding you back. Someone else can take the minutes in your absence, Annie. We won’t mind at all.”

Anna-Nassi held her hands tight. “Thank you, elder,” she said. “I will.”

*

Cole felt Anna-Nassi’s signature from at least a half a mile away, which had to be a new record. Granted, she was one of only three people riding the shuttle bus and it wasn’t all that hard to single her out given her level of excitement, but the distance was still impressive. Soon the shuttle would turn into the long driveway in a few minutes and ride the long loop to the main buildings, as it always did, right near shift change. By the time the bus came to a stop at the main visitor’s entrance, he was already there to meet her.

“Eiyah!” she cheered, bursting through the bus doors, skittering down the sidewalk and swinging him off his feet and into a tight hug. “Cole! I’ve missed you so much! How are you?”

The onslaught of emotion washed over him like a tidal wave, and he let himself drown in it. “H-hey, Annie! I’ve missed you too!” he laughed, already intoxicated by her positive energy. It lifted him up so high that he couldn’t get enough of it! He didn’t realize how much he’d needed it, how much he’d missed it, until now! He’d been leaving the estate so early in the morning and coming back at strange hours that he rarely had a chance to meet up with her, let alone leave a message with her family, even on the weekends. Ah, goodness, how he’d missed this!

When she at last put him back down on the ground he gave her another long, soft hug in return, letting some of the excess energy bleed back into her. “It really is good to see you,” he said, his head and heart happily buzzing. “What brings you here?”

“Why, you, of course!” she said, giving him her widest smile. “Well – officially, I’m also doing a recon mission for the committee to give them an update on how the co-op’s coming along. Oh! And to let you know that I talked to Tassh yesterday and not only has he chosen to work on the upkeep of the orchard, but he’s willing to apply for a position here if there are any openings. And I almost forgot! I ran into Kaffi just before I left the estate and he said that Graymar will be fast-tracking his flight training. And Diwa, well, he’s being Diwa. Ai! I’m sorry, I’m talking too much! Tell me what you’re up to!”

He really did miss Anna-Nassi’s relentless positivity! Even when it was masked by other emotions, her energy always calmed him. “The co-op is doing just fine,” he said. “We’re still finding our place here, but our first wave of workers and field managers are learning quickly. I don’t have anything pressing to do today, I can give you a tour if you like?”

“I’d love that,” she said, and took his arm. “How are your parents? I know they’ve been staying nearby for the summer until everything is running smoothly. The committee says hello to them, of course.”

He led her through the front doors of the main building and towards the visitor’s center. This area wasn’t nearly as busy and noisy as the rest of the building, which gave him a few more minutes to achieve his needed mental and emotional balance. “They’re doing well,” he said. “They’re currently in one of our corn lots further in, and then heading straight over to the pumpkin field on the other side, so I’m afraid we might not see them today. I’ll tell them you stopped by.”

Anna-Nassi hummed contentedly; he noticed she even held her wings a little looser. There was a lot more room here, of course. Less of a chance for her to accidentally hit someone or something, which she was prone to do at times. He led her into the main visitor’s hall and showed her the large three-dimensional table diorama of the entire farm; each field had an inlaid digital screen that featured what was growing where in real time via remote cameras, what sections lay fallow, and what was coming into season, all intertwined with a short loop of cheerful workers and an overhead shot of the co-op complex. She was suitably impressed by the information and attention to detail, and casually commented that she might spend some time working here as well if she could swing it.

Cole remained quiet and calm when she said that, but inside he was already buzzing with excitement again. If he could spend more time with Annie…!

He took her through some of the back offices, introduced her to some of the management, and led her out into the smaller fields nearby. The strawberries were currently in season, and that stopped her short. She stood there, tall and silent with her eyes closed and a wide smile on her face as she inhaled the wonderfully sweet scent of the berries. It was one of her favorite scents in the entire world! She couldn’t resist getting her hands dirty picking a few. She was surprisingly delicate in her picking process, but in no time she gathered two full baskets, even while sneaking in a few nibbles on the way. Cole watched her and took in a little bit more of her energy. She looked so blissfully happy, and he wanted her to cherish it.

Later that afternoon they had a small box lunch courtesy of the farm on the wide grassy lawn outside the main building, sitting under the lone tree. He’d offered her a larger portion, but she demurred, much to his surprise. They talked about mundane things, events going on at the estate, their families. It was calming and enjoyable. And it only underlined how much he missed being a part of it all. How much he missed her.

“How are Diwa and Kaffi coming along?” he asked.

She flashed another grin, a small band of light blue appearing across the bridge of her nose. “They’re doing just fine,” she sang with more drama than necessary. They must have been showing further signs of closeness in their bond, much to her delight. “Kaffi should be ready to fly with a ride by the end of the month. I believe I’ve managed to get Diwa to trust his instincts more. The fear is still there, but he’s able to fight past it. They’re practically inseparable now! Aaand…I may have talked Samuel and Graymar into being out on patrol whenever those two are out there, just in case? Eiyah, those two boys have been so twitchy about it! I know they both want it just as badly as I want them to have it, but it’s getting to the point that one of us needs to give them a good hard nudge to go further. It’s just a matter of when they decide to fly for the first time.”

“And you want to be there,” he said flatly.

“Of course I want to be there!” she chirped, her wings fluttering wildly. “Are you kidding? After all my hard work getting and keeping those two goobers together?” She giggled and leaned back on the knuckles of her wings, one habit she hadn’t bothered to shed. “I’d love to see it, though. Kaffi is such a beautiful flier, and I really think Diwa will be a natural.”

Cole nodded. “I’d like to be there too,” he said. He flashed a quick smile and touched her arm. “My run here at the farm will be done in a few weeks, Annie. You’ll have me for the rest of the summer.”

Anna-Nassi chirped again and clapped her hands together. “Eiyah!” she sang. “This will be such a great season!”

*

Glossary:
“…maianni-naahsah, mani.” (mandossi/tintrite) — “Thank you so much, elder.” A phrase borrowed from tintrite language, it is always used reverently.

Diwa & Kaffi 26 27

Author’s Note: These two chapters are intertwined in that they are specifically about Diwa and Kaffi taking their biggest first steps both as adults and as bonded partners. They’ve both chosen not to fall prey to their own emotional nervousness when exploring their closeness. For Kaffi, it’s learning to trust the moment: he wants to feel comfortable moving into uncharted territory. For Diwa, it’s learning to trust and understand his own emotions.

*

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Diwa’s last day of school was surprisingly uneventful; he had two final exams that morning to take, both of which were relatively easy and low-stress, and he sped through them with confidence and without worry. When he was done he handed in the test packets and textbooks, thanked his teachers and left the classrooms for the last time, glad that this part of his young life was finally over. He spent his time after lunch period cleaning out his locker for the last time and then relaxing up on the roof, waiting for the other three.

Cole was the first one to join him and congratulated him on finishing up and stepping out into the big world of landlording. He was in a surprisingly calm and positive mood; it must have felt great for him to leave a room full of anxious classmates for the last time. Anna-Nassi joined them soon after, announcing her appearance by bursting through the doors one last time, loudly chirping a blissful song of release made up on the spot. She gave them long and tight bone-crunching hugs, so proud of everyone’s hard work.

Kaffi was the last to join, and he was the most reserved anyone had ever seen. He glowed with a sense of contentment and calm that Diwa rarely witnessed before. No nervousness, no anxieties. Just a soothing balance, and quietly humming his own tune, high and melodic. And as he passed behind Diwa he slid his tail softly against Diwa’s back. The gesture made Diwa twitch in surprise and he bit back an unexpected giggle. Kaffi was growing bolder in his desire to be more tactile in their bond.

Diwa found he didn’t mind that at all.

He lifted his water bottle to his three closest friends. “Congratulations all around,” he said. “Here’s to the future!”

“Eiyah!” Anna-Nassi said, lifting her large thermos. “Congratulations to my three buddies that have put up with me since I was a youngling!”

Even Cole joined in, lifting his own bottle. “Congratulations to my three friends who keep me sane and well-balanced!”

Kaffi picked up his own bottle of juice but held back for a few moments before he said anything. He locked eyes with Diwa for a second and gave him the smallest of grins and nodded before he turned back to the other two. “Maianni-naahsah saia di griish leinae,” he said in tintrite, even using his true accent. He bowed his head deeply towards each of them.

“Aw, how sweet,” Anna-Nassi murmured, the bridge of her nose turning a light blue as she patted her chest, holding back happy tears.

“Thank you, everyone, for being such great friends,” he continued. “We’ve helped each other so much in the last few years, and I’m glad we’ve all decided to remain together and work on the estate. I look forward to spending many years together.”

And to drive the point home, Kaffi gently poked Diwa with the side of his tail again.

“You are such a show-off!” Anna-Nassi said with a big grin and a flutter of her wings.

“I learn from the best,” Kaffi said, tipping his bottle her way.

“Eiyah, and such sass!” She chirped again and grabbed a hold of Cole’s arm. “Let’s not go overboard here with the celebration, kids, because we still have Dari’s big party tonight! Are we going to dress up and look our best, or are we going to be our usual dirt-dragged selves?”

“I don’t know about you,” Diwa said, “but I think we should show ourselves off to the estate. They’re putting a lot into this party for us. I mean, it’s for the other kids as well, but especially for the four of us. I want them to see the best of us.”

“Always forward thinking,” Kaffi hummed, glancing at him briefly. “It’s a good idea. Even if it’s just for a few hours, we should look our best. It will give the impression that we’re still serious about our internships.”

“Agreed,” Cole said. “Though I’m sure I’ll never hear the end of it from my family. You know how they are when the youngest of the litter shows off.”

Diwa understood that comment all too well. He’d gotten the same from Aldrine in the past. “The party starts at seven, but ina says she’d like us to get there at least a half hour earlier, so we’ll be at the dais by the time the rest of the estate comes in.”

“Ai, we’re going to be on stage, aren’t we?” Anna-Nassi bristled.

“Afraid so,” Kaffi said, and turned to Cole. “You’ll be okay with that?”

Cole nodded. “I can prepare myself for it. I’ll be good for at least three hours or so.”

Satisfied, they all gave each other a whooping cheer, satisfied that the longest chapter of their lives so far had finally come to a close, and were looking forward to what the rest of their lives had in store for them.

*

“Kaff?”

“Hmm?”

“What are we doing at the head table?”

“Hmm. I’d say being celebrated. Or something.”

“I feel stupid. This is embarrassing.”

“We all do. Give it another hour, you’ll be okay.”

“That’s what you said an hour ago.”

“I did? Hmm. Give it two more hours then.”

“Ugh.”

Diwa learned that evening that he might fine with celebrations, but he was not a fan of being a guest of honor. He’d rather be part of the crowd, not the subject of its cheering. It wasn’t helping that his mother came over to their tables every few minutes, hugging and cheering all four of them in her own unique mix of Tagalog and English. Kaffi was taking it all in stride, fully enjoying the attention he received from friends, family, and community. He’d gone so far as to polish his scales, tame his mane and wear one of his fancy dress shawls. He was quite a handsome young tintrite when he dressed up for the occasion!

At the other end of the table, Anna-Nassi and Cole were sitting close together, constantly chattering and laughing with whoever stopped by. She’d kept close to Cole to make sure he didn’t feel overwhelmed by it all, and from the looks of it, he seemed to truly be enjoying himself. That made Diwa happy, as he’d been concerned for him for most of the afternoon. He managed to catch his eye a short time later and gave him a smile and a thumbs-up. Cole patted Anna-Nassi’s hand in response and nodded back to him. Annie glowed in response, taking his hand and squeezing it tight.

“I never noticed,” Diwa said, more to himself than to Kaffi. “Those two seem to have bonded in their own way, haven’t they?”

Kaffi tilted his head at him. “Annie and Cole? Yes. I’ve noticed a change in the last few weeks. They balance each other out quite well.”

“They’ve been doing that for years. Guess I never noticed until recently just how deep that connection goes.”

Kaffi squeezed his hand. “Hmm. They’re probably saying the same about us right now.”

“You’re right, they probably are. I’m sure Annie’s already created a hilarious and convoluted headcanon about us now that we’re bonded.”

Kaffi stifled a giggle. “Ai, Diwa, you’re as bad as she is sometimes!”

The rest of the evening was thankfully a blur. An unprecedented number of tenants had attended the celebration dinner, so much so that they had to clear and set up a second room of tables to take care of the overflow. Those who hadn’t stopped by for the dinner stopped by later in the evening to congratulate the students for finishing their year. Diwa’s mother had spent the entire time running back and forth, checking in on all the parties as well as the catering and the servers, always with a laugh and a smile. Diwa smiled whenever he watched her rushing from one table to the next, as she seemed so blissfully happy. Ina was completely in her element when she was working behind the scenes like this. She may not have wanted Samuel’s job, but she certainly kept herself visible as much as possible just the same.

It was nearing ten o’clock by the time the party started to break up and everyone returned to their homes. Diwa invited the other three to his roof for a personal post-party gathering, but Cole and Anna-Nassi had both begged off. They were both still in high spirits, but they were exhausted. Anna-Nassi gave bone-crunching hugs all around, and to everyone’s surprise, so did Cole. He was certainly making the best effort tonight. They wished them both a good night and saw them off.

Which left Diwa and Kaffi alone on the roof of Palm, leaning up against the railing and taking in the view. There was a faint glow of the city center far off in the distance to the northeast, but otherwise the night was clear and full of stars. A few tenants were still lingering outside the community center, their voices echoing across the green. Traffic was light on the main street just outside the estate. Their fathers were across the way, standing side by side on the roof of Building C, deep in conversation.

Diwa let out a slow breath and patted his swelling stomach. “Well, that’s over with,” he said. “I have met and talked with every single tenant at this estate, I have shaken far too many hands, I am knackered, and I am absolutely stuffed.”

Kaffi stood next to him, his hands resting against the railing. “Hmm. I’m sure I won’t need to feed again until Monday.”

“Yup.”

Diwa glanced at him. “You had fun?”

Kaffi’s mouth pulled into a light grin. “Yeah. You?”

“Yeah. Better than I expected. A lot better.”

“Good.”

Diwa pushed off the railing but remained at Kaffi’s side. “Well. Now what?”

“Hmm?”

“Commencement tomorrow, but that’s it. We’re done.”

Kaffi dipped his snout and softly tapped his talons against the railing. He hummed long and low. “Then our lives begin.”

Diwa nodded, fighting off a shiver.

Kaffi reached out and let his hand hover over Diwa’s shoulder for a second or so.

Hummed quietly. Shifted it to the opposite shoulder, pulling Diwa into a slow embrace.

“Nagtagumpay tayo, Diwa,” he whispered, tapping the top of his head with his snout. “Kaya masaya ako.”

“Hmm,” Diwa said with a happy sigh, leaning his head against Kaffi’s arm. “That we did.”

*

Glossary:
“Maianni-naahsah saia di griish leinae.” (tintrite) — “Many thanks to my dearest friends.” It is considered a high honor to be told this, which is partly why Annie reacts so emotionally.
“Nagtagumpay tayo, Diwa.” […] “Kaya masaya ako.” (Tagalog) — “We did it, Diwa. I’m so happy.” It is worthy to note that Kaffi has started speaking Tagalog with Diwa and his family, now that they are bonded.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Diwa spent most of the light rail ride to the town of Griffin Park relaxing and watching the clusters of estates drift by their window. Today, he’d decided, he wouldn’t think about his own in any way, because this trip was about spending time with his bond, and that was all. Their home was in good hands for the next few days while they fell off the grid.

Kaffi sat on the opposite bench, already fully enjoying their brief vacation by occasionally pointing out estates that caught his eye. He especially liked the ones with a bigger and wider campus, perfect for flying. He also liked the looks of the newer plans with the slimmer towers. They all had their own communities of varying sizes, sparking their curiosity as to how they were being run. They wouldn’t be the same as their own estate, of course. Nothing could replace the community they knew and loved.

They spent most of the early afternoon strolling through the center of the small town, stopping at a quiet pub for lunch then following it up with a bit of window shopping. Griffith Park itself was no more than a bustling downtown area close to the light rail station, branching off into smaller neighborhoods the further one went. The park reserve, owned and cared for by the local government, spread out over several hilly and mostly forested acres to the northeast, and was the town’s major tourist attraction. The town itself, meanwhile, prided itself on being a cozy getaway with several gift and craft stores and a few inns.

Kaffi was keen on looking into those craft stores and bought himself a bag full of colorful armband beads and threads. Diwa lost an hour or so in the dusty multi-level bookstore, poring over its selections. With no plan or schedule to speed them along for the first time in ages, it felt strange to be able to enjoy these slow moments together, and Diwa cherished it all. They spent a bit more time walking through the quiet side streets, just enjoying each other’s company. By the time they were on their way into the park proper, they’d bought their remaining camping supplies and were ready for a late afternoon rest before having dinner.

Kaffi hadn’t spoken much the entire time they walked through the park, but Diwa didn’t mind; they were used to such mutual silences. Besides, the park itself had its own sounds and movements to listen to and study. Birdsong filed the air, so many different species calling to each other and claiming their territory. The light breeze rustled the tall grasses of the meadows and the branches and leaves overhead. An occasional sliver of conversation drifted past from other hikers further down the path. The voices and sounds were so different from those of their estate…yet they still understood their meanings. All was calm and safe within the park.

*

Diwa finished putting up the tent, cleared the fire pit, and sat down on the grass, enjoying the view. They’d chosen to set up camp at the high edge of the sloping meadow at the base of this mountain where it offered a breathtaking view of the entire bay, from the clustered city to the north and down to the cove and the clusters of outer estates, as well as the peninsula across the way. The weather was heavenly, warm and breezy, and clear enough that the folds and fissures of Mount Laimora could be seen with the naked eye. This meadow was Kaffi’s favorite place within the park, and not just because of the vista. It was the perfect place for a tintrite to set up camp, as the constant, pleasant winds here provided perfect flying weather. If Kaffi wanted to go out for a solo flight, he would not stop him at all.

Having finished his own errands of gathering kindling and preparing a small dinner to cook over a small fire, Kaffi stepped up behind him, humming happily. “I never tire of this view,” he said quietly, and laid his paws on Diwa’s shoulders. “It reminds me just how lucky we are to be here on this world.”

Diwa hummed in agreement and pointed out towards Mount Laimora. It was an extremely important landmark for local tintrite for numerous generations; it had been one of their original arrival points when they’d first inhabited this area, and soon after they’d turned its inactive caldera into a resting place for those who had passed on. Both he and Kaffi had traveled there for the funerals of elder tenants and relatives in the past.

“Your ancestors are certainly enjoying the view,” he said. “It’s rarely this clear that you can see the ridges and boulder outcroppings from this distance.”

Kaffi hummed again. He gave Diwa’s shoulders a light squeeze and moved closer. His soft underside touched Diwa’s back.

“Hey,” he said softly.

“Yeah?”

Another light squeeze. “You don’t mind this?”

Diwa smiled and patted Kaffi’s hand. “All the physical connection lately? I’m fine with it, Kaff. I know your kind likes to nuzzle and cuddle, especially when you feel at ease with others. I see you and Iliah doing it all the time.”

“I know,” he said. “Just…” A long pause, no humming. Diwa heard him breathing quietly behind him, summoning up his courage. “I don’t want to scare you away, Dee,” he said. Another long pause.

Tentatively, he slid his hands down over Diwa’s shoulders and rested them, one on top of the other, on his chest. “I want…” Another long pause, this time with a slow uncertain hum. “This is the bond I want between us, Diwa. It comforts me. And I think it comforts you. I know some humans can be a bit…weirded out when we tintrite are like this.”

To be truthful, Diwa was a little nervous, having never experienced this level of physical connection with a tintrite before, but he refused to shy away from it. Kaffi was being honest with his own emotions and instincts, so it was only fair that he responded in kind. He wanted to provide Kaffi with the same happiness that he gave him. He leaned back into Kaffi’s soft belly and held his friend’s hands.

“I’m not weirded out,” he said. “You’re right, it comforts me as well. It lets me know that we have a chance at this. The way I see it, Kaff? This is all part of the bonding process. You, me, learning to trust each other in different ways. Figuring it all out as we go.”

Kaffi let out a long, slow hum of contentment. “You’re sure about this?”

“Of course,” he said.

“I’m glad.”

Diwa smiled again and gave Kaffi’s belly a playful nudge. “In fact, it’s kind of comforting. You make a good pillow.”

Kaffi chittered a quick laugh. “Perhaps so.”

Diwa & Kaffi 25

Author’s Note: One might remember the feeling of relief in the finality of one’s school years; for some it’s bittersweet with the stark reminder that friends will scatter all over the place, while others will stick around. For Diwa, knowing that Kaffi will always be there gives him a sense of comfort and stability. For Kaffi, knowing that Diwa will always be by his side gives him a sense of purpose and drive.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Diwa had been busy with so many different projects that he’d almost forgotten about his mother’s annual dinner and party at the community center, celebrating the end of the school year for all the students at the estate. He was more than happy to carve out some time to help like he always did, but this time his mother had flat out refused. Even Mari had butted in, telling him he had more important things and a certain tintrite to focus on than table settings and catering. He finally relented and let them fuss over their plans without him.

As it happened, this gave him loads of free time during the evenings on the last week of school. He was already halfway through his finals, feeling confident that he did not need to drive himself to exhaustion studying for them. He had two more tests to take and the commencement to attend, and that was it.

No more school. Just him, Kaffi, Annie and Cole, and their estate internships.

Mari and both of his parents headed over to the community center for the party preparations just after dinner. That first evening, he’d decided to relax on the balcony. He leaned against the concrete railing, watching the various tenants milling about on the green below. A surprisingly large number of his neighbors were also gathering at the center. His ina must have something big planned, which did not surprise him at all. She could never pass up the chance of going all out with any kind of celebrations! He listened to the chatter below, catching snippets of conversation. The mood was light and happy.

He peeked over at the concrete five floors down. Not for long, just for a few seconds at a time. He knew he was safe, and these reinforced railings were not going anywhere. He was already used to this height, even though he still felt a ghost of vertigo. He wouldn’t fall. Thanks to Anna-Nassi’s training, he’d realized the one person he had to trust even more than Kaffi was himself. He might feel nervous, but there was no way he could fall.

On the second night, however, he’d decided to relax on the center green instead, reclining on a small knoll near the playground. It was warm and quite peaceful tonight. He said hello or waved to the tenants as they went by, but didn’t get to engage in any long conversations, as they too were heading over to the community center.

A short time later, he heard the familiar flapping of tintrite wings.

Kaffi!

He was much higher than his usual altitude this time out, soaring in a simple figure-eight pattern over the green. Diwa’s heart raced as he suddenly remembered: this was the first night he’d be performing his extended flying exercises with both saddle and deadweight! He watched him closely and in silence, completely enraptured. Kaffi’s usual carefree flight patterns were completely gone, replaced by a smoother, more streamlined movement as he circled above. He was no longer straining with the added weight of the saddle now that he’d prepped himself for it. But that love for the air was still there, stronger and more nuanced, coming through as a fancy curve or a playful swoop. Kaffi loved to learn new things about flight, and Diwa had noticed a significant rise in Kaffi’s confidence because of it. After a few circuits, he noticed a change in pattern as well…he flew a more detailed route, making two double-loops, then a circuit around the entire green, then cutting across it diagonally from one far corner to the other. He repeated it over and over, rarely changing.

It was quite peaceful, watching his friend fly like that. Such dedication…

Kaffi caught his eye during one of the diagonal crossings and gave him a brief wave and a chittering hello before continuing his exercises. Waving back, Diwa smiled and felt a warmth in his heart. Kaffi was amenable to letting Diwa watch him practice.

Kaffi made several more loops that evening before turning back to the roof of Building C. They waved at each other one more time as he soared over. Diwa pushed himself up, brushed himself off, and headed back towards home, absolutely thrilled that he’d witnessed Kaffi’s first flight wearing the saddle and practice deadweight. They’d meet up on the roof of Palm later in the evening, after dinner, which had become a nightly habit for them. He looked forward to asking him all kinds of questions about his flight, comparing notes and asking questions. He wanted to know everything.

*

Kaffi enjoyed having an audience of one, especially when that audience was Diwa. He rarely missed one of Kaffi’s practice sessions. He’d been at his balcony railing across the way, watching him do his stretching exercises. He’d been on the roof of Palm when he began the first of the basic flight exercises. He’d been back on the balcony when he’d started wearing the saddle. And he’d been there earlier tonight, stretched out on the grass, when he’d first flown with the added deadweight.

And here he was now, once more on the roof of Palm, watching him as he came in for a landing on the patio. He stood a short distance away from the edge of the roof, but much closer than he’d seen him go before. He’d waved earlier, even flashed him a smile, but he seemed much more reserved than normal. He got this way whenever things weighed heavy on his mind. He sidled up next to him and gave him a playful sideways nudge.

“You’re being rather introspective today, Dee.”

“Hmm,” he said, nudging him back. “Two more days left of school, Kaff,” he said. “Then it’s full time for us here at the estate.”

Kaffi snorted at him. “No, we still have your manae’s big party tomorrow night. Then we have commencement. Then we fill out the official paperwork with our paddir. Then it’s full time for us. You sound apprehensive about it.”

Diwa waved his concern away. “Just trying to keep track of all the time going by, is all.”

Kaffi fought the urge to nudge him with his snout, like he often did with Iliah. “It’s more than that.”

“Maybe I’m a little freaked out.” He turned and met his eyes. “You know? That we’re really doing this. Part of me can’t wait for us to get started, but part of me is still thinking, how did we get here so quickly? Is this really what we want? Is this the right thing for us to do? Are we even doing it right?”

Kaffi gave him a comforting tap on the shoulder with his talon. “It’s not a prison sentence, Dee.”

Diwa tapped him back on the arm. “True enough.”

“You know we can change it up if need be. Whatever works for both of us.”

“I know.”

Kaffi tilted his snout at him. “What brought this on?”

“Eh,” Diwa grunted. “Samuel. I just got to thinking, is all. Seeing our fathers all chummy and my Pop in a good mood again. Whatever issue they’d had earlier, it’s gone for now.”

“That’s a problem?”

“Heh, no…” he said, flashing an honest smile at him. “It’s actually a plus. It just felt like Pop was, I don’t know…listless? He’s been like that for a few years, like he lost his way. I guess I’m just worried about falling into that same trap myself.”

Kaffi butted up against him and gave him a good hard prod on the arm. “Hah! Like that will happen. I have no plans to make your life boring and miserable, Dee. Trust me on that.”

Diwa laughed and butted him back. “I’m holding you to that, you know.”

“Good.”

Diwa followed that up by walking closer to the edge of the patio. While the platform was not flush against the edge of the roof – there was a wide walkway between the patio railing and the roof edge itself – Diwa had rarely ventured this far before. Kaffi caught up beside him at the railing.

“Nice view,” Kaffi said with a smirk. “Mine’s better.”

“I’m sure it is,” Diwa said, and turned away, laughing quietly. “We must look like our old paddir right now, lording over our estate like this.”

“Sorry if I can’t quite pull off paddir’s scowl.”

“You ever figure we’d make it this far, Kaff?”

“One thing to dream it, another to get to that point.”

“Hmm. You sound like Tassh.” Diwa slid into another silence, lost in thought and passively watching and listening to the central green. It was early evening and not much was going on outside. They could hear a quiet murmur of things going on at the community center, but other than that, it was quiet and peaceful. Kaffi watched Diwa for a few moments, concerned but not worried. He’d known his friend would have fears and worries about what came next, especially so close to when it all became a reality. It was a very human trait, one that he’d seen countless times. He trusted Diwa would find his way out of it somehow.

“Hoy, Diwa,” he said, changing the subject. “I think we need to unplug ourselves from it all for a little while. Get our wings back on stable air. Get the stress of school and training out of our heads for a few hours. Want to go stargazing this weekend? After the commencement and everything?”

Diwa’s smile brightened. “That’s a great idea!” he said. “We haven’t done that in ages. Clear our heads, start fresh when we return. Same place, up at Griffin Park?”

“Sure,” he said, his wings fluttering with joy and maybe a little bit of embarrassment. “We’ll take a transport there as usual…I don’t want to rush our flying just yet. If that’s okay with you.”

“Fine by me,” he smiled. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Kaffi nodded slowly, tapping him on the arm with his talon once more. “So am I.”

Diwa & Kaffi 24

Author’s Note: Sometimes when all your friends are experiencing their own life changes, you might feel a little left behind. Do you struggle to catch up? Do you wish you had the same goals and desires? Or are you unsure of what you yourself want?

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Cole had no reason to complain, really. Everyone was far too busy now to take much notice of him as he trudged his way from one class to the another, day after day. They were all focused on finishing their semester projects, daily homework, and studying for final exams. He was doing the same, of course, so he didn’t bother to pay all that much attention to his classmates anyway. Despite distraction, disability, and anxiety, he felt lucky that he was able to be such a good student with impressive grades.

His three best friends were more distracted and busier than he’d ever seen them, so he understood that he might be super high on their list of immediate priorities. Kaffi had been spending the late afternoons with his paddir, learning how to move and fly with a saddle strapped to his back. His body was already starting to show a change, just weeks after he’d started; his wing muscles were becoming stronger, his chest growing broader. He’d known other tintrite at their school who’d done so at a younger age, and Cole was certain that they were viewing Kaffi as a bit of a late bloomer, but Kaffi ignored all that. He kept himself completely focused on his training and preparing for his maiden flight with Diwa.

When Diwa wasn’t busy watching and studying Kaffi’s training sessions – sometimes to the point of obsession – he spent his time with Anna-Nassi. Cole wasn’t quite sure what they were doing, as the energies drifting off them afterwards were strange and unreadable. She was trying to cure Diwa of his nervousness of heights, but it seemed like more than that. They were forming a bond of trust that he hadn’t expected. Between Diwa and Kaffi, sure. That was the end goal, what was needed for when they bonded. And Cole had his own bond with Annie that he treasured daily. But he didn’t know what to make of this special connection between Annie and Diwa. It just seemed so unexpected of them.

It made him feel even more left out than before.

Later that morning, Ms. Powers flagged him down as he was heading towards the library for his free period. Like Annie, he’d been avoiding her office more out of a lack of preparation than fear, but lately he’d grown tired of that charade. Who was he trying to kid here? He already knew what he wanted to do; he just wasn’t sure how to express it with the other three. And he’d grown tired of not sharing that with anyone. He had no reason to say no this time, so he willingly let himself be brought into her office.

“Good morning, Cole,” she said in her quiet, calm voice. She’d pulled herself back as much as possible so her energies wouldn’t intrude or distract him. She’d muted most of her emotions other than the concern and care that went into her everyday job. She didn’t have to go out of her way like that, but he appreciated the gesture. “These final weeks are going well for you?”

“Fine as can be,” he smiled. And they were. Academically he felt no stress at all. It was a matter of just getting it all over with. Finish the projects, do the homework, take the exams, and try to make it through the sensory overloads of commencement and school-end celebrations. Taking it as it comes. “Just counting down the days at this point, Ms. Powers. Doing what needs doing until it’s done.”

“Good, good. Have you made any further considerations regarding your post-school career?” she asked, because that was of course her job to do so. But there was a hint of empathy there as well…she understood that he had a much harder uphill battle than most in life. Again, she didn’t have to go out of her way like that, but he’d appreciated it anyway.

“Some,” he said, shifting in his seat and leaning forward. He wanted to be as active in this conversation as he could. “I’ve been thinking more about the farm co-op with our estate, like we’ve talked about before. My parents will be working there full-time starting in a few weeks, and I’ve been thinking about working there for the summer. That way it will be fully functional and ready for our tenants by harvest.”

Ms. Powers frowned slightly in thought, but she nodded at him, and made a few notes on her tablet. Not concern, but unexpected interest. “Is this something that you’d like to do long term, or is it temporary?”

He felt a wave of irritation – his own – but he held it close. “I’m not sure at this point,” he said. “I’m keeping options open right now.” And because he sensed another frown coming from her, he added, “It depends on whether the co-op is a good fit for me, or if I’d like to return to the estate and help there instead.”

She nodded again, taking more notes. “I’ve spoken to your friend Anna-Nassi recently. She tells me that you and a few of your friends have big plans for the estate.”

Cole smiled briefly. So many people were saying that lately! “I wouldn’t call them big,” he said. “Just long-term future plans. Some of us would like to stay on after our parents retire. The four of us have been talking about it for a while now.”

“Okay,” she said, and slowly placed her tablet down. “You sound like you’re still questioning your role in all of this.”

He flinched without meaning to, but it was too late to hide it. “You might say that, Ms. Powers,” he said. “I’m not entirely sure where I fit in.”

She sat there for a moment thinking it all over. He bowed his head and looked away, fidgeting with his hands. The words were out there in the open now. He was relieved that they were, but the irritation of unresolved issues still nagged at him. He steeled himself for the usual pithy and frankly unhelpful suggestions that he’d come to expect from everyone else.

Her response, however, was unexpected. “I think working at the co-op during the summer might be the perfect thing for you, Cole,” she said kindly. “I know you’ve been looking forward to its evolving connection with your estate, and you want to be a part of it. This is your strength, Cole: you might not want to be the leader, but you’re definitely someone who likes working behind the scenes and observing how everything works, and it’s one of your best strengths. I’d say, go ahead and work at the co-op for the summer, see how it fits you, then see how it fits in with your life at the estate. Sometimes you need to distance yourself from everything temporarily, that way you can look at it with a clearer mind.”

She wasn’t wrong, on multiple levels. That was his exact thinking over the last few weeks anyway. He’d been looking forward to working at the co-op ever since early spring, and now that it was only a short time away, he found himself drawn to the place even more. The only thing holding him back was himself. A wave of relief rushed through him, hearing this from someone else he trusted, and he smiled at her. “Thank you, Ms. Powers,” he said. “I think I might just do that.”

*

Finally having a solid plan made him feel less stressed, but also left him more frustrated.

He sat alone in the far corner of the library, mapping out what he was going to do for the summer. He didn’t worry about explaining his plan to Diwa and Kaffi as they already expected him to spend time there…it was Anna-Nassi he was worried about. She’d happily accept whatever choice he’d make and back that up by respecting it fully, but he was afraid that it would still hurt her somehow. He wouldn’t make a concrete decision until he talked to her first.

But that was just part of the frustration he felt; this was a position that was expected of him by his family and a considerable portion of the tenant’s committee. Between his struggles with the Steiner-Hedraac and his indecision with his Future Calling, he feared they would try to push him into this field of expertise whether he wanted it or not. That was the thing: he did want to work at the co-op. He enjoyed being there with his parents, working with the other farmers and warehouse workers. There was a distinct pride he felt in helping with the harvesting, knowing he was providing food and grain for numerous families and shops in the area. But like Diwa and Kaffi, he wanted to do this all on his own, without their influence. But what did he want to do?

Perhaps Ms. Powers was right; maybe he did need to distance himself from the estate, at least for a little while.

Diwa & Kaffi 23

Author’s Note: If your desire is to reach your goals as soon as you can, don’t wait for the right moment to start, as that doesn’t exist. Find a way to make it happen as soon as you’re ready for it, even despite the obstacles that will no doubt arise.

Author’s Second Note: I would not recommend using Anna-Nassi’s quite unconventional method to work through mild basophobia if one is not ready for that kind of thing, though I know her heart was in the right place.

*

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Kaffi felt awkward in this getup, but he refused to give in to embarrassment. This was the first day of training while wearing his own saddle for the first time, and he was not going to be petty about how weird or uncomfortable it might be. To be honest, it wasn’t nearly as bad as he’d expected it to be considering it was in his size and not one of his paddir’s oversize saddles, so he had no real reason to complain. He could easily move his wings and his limbs without anything blocking his movement or chafing at his scales. He could breathe quite easily, and the weight was no more than maybe a few extra pounds on his back. He understood it would put a bit of extra strain on his flight at first. And definitely no more tricky curves or dives for a while, at least until he learned how to maneuver better.

Graymar stood tall before him and adjusted the last belt latch, told him to drop down to all fours, and scuffled back to look over his handiwork. He hummed repeatedly, tilting his head one way and then the other. “It fits well?” he said.

Kaffi nodded. “It fits just fine.”

“Hmm.” He began circling Kaffi, studying him. It made him extremely nervous; his paddir had never watched him with such clinical eyes before. “Extend your limbs, not too far,” he said, and Kaffi responded, stretching his arms forward and his hind legs back. This caused his lower back to arch just a bit, his spine bumping up against the saddle. This in turn caused the straps to tighten ever so slightly. It was snug, but not restricting.

“Hmm,” he continued, coming around his front again. “Straighten up, then wings out, full span.”

Kaffi returned to his previous pose then stretched his wings out as far as they could go without straining. He felt his wing muscles pulling up against the straps; again, not uncomfortably so. No restriction at all.

“Hmm. You may retract them again. This fits you well, Kaffi, better than I thought it would. These strap settings will work for now, until you start building more muscle. Which you will now that you will be carrying extra weight. They should be against your body but only just. As you see, the latches are simple to work, and the straps have a long enough lead so that you can adjust them as necessary.”

“Yes, paddir,” he said. He suddenly felt an itch just underneath the saddle, where the blanket hit his spine. Eiyah, why did that have to happen now? He squirmed just a little bit and it went away, but now it felt as if the saddle had misaligned itself. He moved just a little bit more, and it slid back into place.

“Don’t worry about discomfort,” Graymar said, nodding. “You will get used to it, but the first few weeks may be quite irritating. I sometimes use a little bit of scale polish before putting on the saddle, which helps them from feeling dried out. There shouldn’t be any chafing, but if there is, let me know and we can make further adjustments.”

“I certainly will,” Kaffi said, giving him a quick smile.

“Next, mobility,” he said, and pointed towards the opposite edge of the roof. “Walk to the edge and back, at whatever pace and position suits you.”

It was an easy enough thing to do, though there was a bit of awkwardness to it when he walked on all fours. The saddle’s weight shifted from side to side just enough that had he been walking too fast, it would eventually scrape against his scales. He kept the fours-walking to a minimum and memorized the speed that felt the most natural and with minimal wobbliness. It was much slower than his normal gait, but he’d expected that. Again, something he could get used to over time. Once at the opposite edge of the roof, he turned to face Graymar. He was still standing close to the edge facing the green, on his hinds and holding his hands at his belly, his snout pointing down. It was hard to hear, but Kaffi could just about make out his slow hum of contemplation.

“Good, pahyoh,” he said. “Now back. Try walking on hinds this time.”

He pushed himself up and was surprised at how easy the shift was. The saddle slid ever so slightly, and its weight moved from the middle of his back to his hind legs. It felt no different than if he was carrying something in his arms or in a satchel. There was a lot less movement and no strain at all.

“Eiyah, this is so much more comfortable!” he laughed.

Graymar nodded slowly and smiled at him. “Indeed. This angle is natural for us. This is also the primary reason why we rarely have our rides in saddle when we walk on hinds; the angle is too awkward for them. The only time you’d be in that position with a rider is if you’re about to perform a flat ground take off.”

Kaffi grunted at the thought. “I hate those.”

“We all do, but they must be practiced nonetheless.”

Kaffi came up alongside him and looked out over the central green. “I think I can get used to this,” he said.

“Good,” Graymar said, laying a hand on his shoulder. “Because we still have much more training to do.”

Kaffi gave him a big smile. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Graymar snorted and looked away, back over the green. “I’m sure you are, pahyoh. Soon.”

*

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Diwa said, squirming nervously. Anna-Nassi’s strong arms held him close to her body and facing outwards, but she’d left his arms completely free. They were standing on the roof of the guest house behind her cousin’s place not that far from the estate, with only the grass to catch their fall. It might have been just a three-story drop, but it was enough that a hard landing would hurt. Diwa tried not to glance down if he could help it. They were just a few feet away from the edge, and the distance to the ground didn’t seem all that high at all, but it made him shiver just the same.

“Relax!” she giggled, giving him a playful hug. “Really, I mean it. Relax your body. I promise I will not drop you.”

“And if you do?”

“Then I go down with you, neh?” she teased. “Seriously, Dee. Stop squirming, you’re only making it worse.” She’d opened her wings to full extension and began walking closer to the edge of the roof. Her wingspan wasn’t nearly as wide as Kaffi’s, but they were just as strong and impressive, folds rippling slightly in the breeze. “Now remember: my arms are strong, and they can certainly hold you, but I’m giving you a little bit of freedom to move. Not squirm! But move. Why is that?”

Diwa tried not to squirm. “So I can move around and complement whatever movement you make instead of being floppy deadweight?”

“Precisely!” she chirped. “And why do you need to know about complementing the flight’s movement?”

“…center of gravity?” he offered. His brain hadn’t quite caught up with the situation at hand just yet.

“Well, yeah, that. But it also makes the flight’s movements a hell of a lot easier. If Kaffi needs to do a ground take-off, which way do you move?”

Diwa exhaled. He could do this. Annie was going out of her way to make sure he could. “Rocking, always trying to keep myself vertical,” he said, thinking of how Kaffi launched himself. He could certainly do it, but it looked so strenuous! Being on his saddle would only add to Kaffi’s strain unless he worked with him, and not against him. “Move with his movements, not against them. Rock when he rocks. Lift up when he evens out.”

“Yay! Someone’s been doing their homework!”

He fought off another nervous shiver. “Yay.”

“Ai! Cheer up, Dee. Next question! You are always safe in a regulated saddle because why?”

This one was easy! “It’s connected to the flight with multiple straps,” he said.

“And?”

“The ride is always tethered to the saddle in three places: the pommel belt in front of him, and with each leg in the stirrups.”

“And?”

“My natural posture in a tintrite saddle has my legs gently pushing against his body, keeping me in one place.”

“And?”

Wait. What else? “And…?”

She squeezed him playfully. “Come on, Dee! One more. The most important.”

“The most…?”

Another playful squeeze. “You know this, Dee! The most important reason you are always safe in a regulated tintrite saddle. More than anything else!”

It took him a few moments to understand what she was getting at. “Oh! Right!” He laughed and shook his head. “Because I have complete trust in my ride!” he said proudly.

“Yes!” she chirped and squeezed him once more. “Good! So!”

Anna-Nassi jumped off the roof of the guest house so unexpectedly, he didn’t have time to react.

“Wait—”

“Open your eyes, Diwa,” she hummed calmly. “You’re airborne now. You can do this.”

He caught his breath…but he didn’t freeze up.

He didn’t look down.

“Come on, Dee.”

He felt that cold shiver in the pit of his stomach and fought it. This wasn’t falling.

This wasn’t falling.

“That’s it. You got it.”

He shifted his body until it balanced with Anna-Nassi’s movements and the shiver went away. This wasn’t falling. They were flying. They were circling in the air above this back yard, quiet and calm. Only a slight breeze. A ripple of leathery wings behind him. He could see where he was going, where they were going. They were moving through the air, in complete control. They were descending at a slow, comfortable speed, lifting ever so slightly again, circling around once more. Annie whispering calming words into his ear as they came around one last time, lifting and straightening out once more, his feet coming back under him. Then gently gliding down towards the grassy lawn below them. He exhaled slowly. He could do this.

He could do this. For Kaffi.

They dropped safely down to the ground. Anna-Nassi let go of him and folded up her wings. He stumbled out of her grasp and stood there, gaping at her.

And then they both fell to the ground, breaking into gales of laughter.

“Eiyah! Nababaliw ka ba, Annie?” he yelped, wiping at his eyes. “I can’t believe we just did that! You want to warn me next time?”

“Maybe!” she said, nodding and grinning widely at him. “Hee! Diwa, my friend, I am proud of you! I distracted you on purpose to prove a point: You trust me completely. You knew I wouldn’t drop you. So once we were airborne, that was the last thing on your mind. And your reactions once we were gliding proves that even further.”

Wait. Did he just…? It all came crashing at once: he was airborne, for the first time in his life. And he survived! He blinked, trying to process it all. “Yes, but…”

“And you reacted perfectly!”

“I did?”

She gave him two extremely animated thumbs up. “You already have the instinct, Dee. You moved when you were supposed to.”

“I…I didn’t even notice.”

“I noticed,” she hummed happily. “Like I said, you have the instinct. I knew you had it in you.”

“I guess I do…?”

“And you were too distracted to be conscious of the height and the initial descent. We weren’t up all that high, but it could still be dangerous for both of us. But we did it together, Dee. The most important lesson here is that you trusted me, and I trusted that you would know what to do.”

“Trust,” he said, more to himself than to Anna-Nassi. His shoulders went slack as he let that sink in. She was right; he’d been too distracted to be afraid of falling, and that confirmed what he’d known all along. “I get that now.”

“You do?” She swept to his side, leaned against heavily against his shoulder and prodded him in the arm, giving him one of her wide manic grins. “Explain. Test time.”

Diwa face was flush with pride and excitement. Why hadn’t he seen this before? He could do this! He could fly with Kaffi! Ay, yes! Their dream could be a reality! “It didn’t quite connect with me before because I didn’t have the context,” he said, measuring his words. “I’ve always trusted Kaffi. He’s my best friend. He’s my bond. I know he’ll be there, just like I’ll be there for him. And when I said I trusted you, Annie, I meant it. I knew you wouldn’t harm me, no matter how crazy your ideas might be. When I climb into the saddle to fly with Kaffi, it’s not just about the safety precautions. I’m putting my life in his hands.”

She released her weight on him but remained close, touching his arm. “Wings, but I’m just being pedantic,” she hummed. “And it’s not just that. He’s putting his life in your hands as well. You need to learn how he moves, what he’s thinking. That’s part of the training the two of you will need to work on your own, but I’m giving you the basics.”

Diwa nodded, thinking it all over.

Then gave her an easy smile. “You just wanted to get your hands on me.”

Anna-Nassi chirped out a surprisingly loud “Hah!” and immediately clasped her hands around her mouth, the bridge of her nose turning a dark blue. She punched him hard on the arm and fell into another fit of giggles. “Neh! Diwa! Shut up! I did not!”

“So we’re even?” he smiled.

“I owe you for that particular remark, but otherwise yes!” She pulled him into a fierce hug. “I’m proud of you, Dee! We meet tomorrow afternoon after school, same time. I teach you balance!”

*

Glossary:
“Nababaliw ka ba, Annie?” — (Tagalog) “What is wrong with you, Annie?”

Diwa & Kaffi 22

Author’s Note: Samuel and Graymar are certainly proud of their sons and the decisions they’ve made so far…but they can’t help but wonder how those same decisions will affect themselves. For one, there’s parental concern. For the other is wary relief. Two different reactions, yet entwined by their sense of responsibility.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Samuel leaned back in the deck chair, legs crossed, a cold beer on the table and a few more in the cooler next to him. Summer was coming early to the bay, and he was bound and determined to enjoy as much of it outside as he could. Especially up here on the roof deck! Besides, he’d earned it – over the last few weeks, he’d managed to clean out over half of his office with the help of Diwa and Anna-Nassi, and he was feeling so much less stressed out because of it. Granted, cleaning was only half of a bigger project he had in mind. They’d need to create a new filing process and a new workflow that worked both for himself and for Diwa. They’d have to replace the window and purchase some new furniture. And most importantly, he’d need to rip out that old, tattered carpet and either replace it or put down new hardwood flooring. He might even hire Moffer to inspect the walls. The electric seemed fine, but it wouldn’t hurt to have someone on the estate check it out just to be safe.

But right now? Now was the time for relaxation.

He heard the flapping of tintrite wings a few minutes later. He checked his watch: two-fifteen in the afternoon. Right on schedule. He heard the hesitant flapping of a landing, followed by the two-step drop to the roof. Ta-doop. Always the left leg first.

“Afternoon, Graymar,” he said, tipping the neck of his bottle at him. He pulled out a second beer from his cooler, popped it open, and put it out on the table. “Pull up a bench.”

“Hmm.” Graymar approached his table and stood there for a moment with a slight tilt of his head, studying him. “You know, Samuel…I haven’t decided if you’re fully embracing your semi-retirement or if you’ve finally decided to lighten up.”

Samuel laughed at him. “Is that an attempt at humor, Gray? What’s the occasion?”

“A few things,” he said, and dragged one of the low benches towards the table. He slid down into the seat with a louder than normal grunt and took the offered beer. “First, I’m proud to announce that my young pahyoh is about to accelerate his flight training. My ahpadé Nouia and his pahyoh have graciously gifted Kaffi with his own ride’s saddle and practice deadweight. We picked it up yesterday afternoon. He showed it to Diwa last night.”

“Fancy!” Samuel smiled, and tapped the back of Graymar’s beer bottle with his. “Congratulations are in order, I take it?”

Graymar hummed, bobbing his snout slowly. “He’s got to get used to the added weight first, by the time your son is able to ride with him.”

“Think he’ll handle it?”

The tintrite took a long pull from the bottle. “He’s still impatient, but he’s also determined, Samuel. He’s an extremely fast learner, faster than I ever was. I’m nervous that he might not be taking it seriously, but I want to believe that’s not the case. I trust him, Sam. Knowing him, he will be ready for paired flight by the end of the summer.”

“Huh, that soon?” Samuel took a long swig himself, thinking about his son. Anna-Nassi had promised to help Diwa find a way to overcome his basophobia. He wasn’t sure if Diwa would be able to shake it, or at least combat it, by that time. Diwa was determined in his own way, but this wasn’t something that he could easily turn on and off.

Still, this was Kaffi, and that boy would do anything for him.

“What’s the second?” he said.

“That our sons have decided to bond.”

Samuel spat out his beer and nearly choked in response. “What? Wait, when did this happen?”

“A few days previous, it seems,” Graymar said, tipping back his own bottle again. He was also grinning and not bothering to hide it in any way. In fact, he looked rather proud of himself and their boys! “They haven’t told anyone, but the signs are hard to miss,” he continued. “Kaffi has become more tactile with your son, and Diwa is responding positively, and in kind. Diwa will watch Kaffi’s movements, especially when he is flying. They’ve been spending even more time together.”

Samuel shifted in his chair and sat up straight. Bonded…? Graymar was right; it wasn’t surprising at all, considering their closeness all those years. And they were getting older, already making mature decisions that would affect the rest of their lives. But this wasn’t just a business relationship. This was something a lot more personal, even emotional. Samuel wasn’t quite sure how he felt about it, and perhaps he wouldn’t for a while. He wasn’t against it, that was certain…but he was concerned about Diwa’s dedication. Would his son be strong enough to take that step…?

“How do you feel about it?” Samuel asked.

“Me?” Graymar let out a slow breath through his nostrils. “I’m of many minds about it, as you would imagine. On the one hand, I bless them both. I trust them to see it through, one way or another. Their connection is strong. I worry that they’ve bonded at such an early age, but who are we to judge that, Samuel? I have always trusted my pahyoh, and I of course trust yours equally.”

Samuel nodded, and turned back to the view across the central green. Graymar did not need to explain that any further. He took another long swig from his beer and put it back down on the table. “Well. I won’t say anything to them yet if you don’t. They’ll tell us when the time is right.”

“I agree,” Graymar said, and settled in to watch the green himself. “It is up to them.”

Samuel nodded, and kicked his feet up again, a smile slowly crossing his face.

Diwa & Kaffi 21

Author’s Note: It’s not just about making the decision to achieve your goals…it’s also about keeping them alive in your heart, and letting them blossom into greater things.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Tassh stopped digging in the soil and looked up, wiping his brow with a sleeve and studying him with interest. “There’s something different about you today, Diwa,” he said. “You seem to be so much more kriishii today.”

Diwa grinned unashamedly at him and continued to pinch away the dead leaves and shoots as he found them in one of the raised beds. He’d been expecting this since they met up on the green that afternoon to tend to Tassh’s allotment. “Just a lot of positive things going on at the moment,” he said, and left it at that.

“Ah yes, enjoying life for what it’s giving you,” Tassh said, winking and pointing his trowel in his direction. He understood and didn’t need to ask any questions. “Embrace it, annh. It will set you off in so many different directions, but your spirit will always know the right way to go.”

“Hmm. I’ll keep that in mind, Tassh,” he said. “How is your family, by the way? I haven’t seen Moffer in a while. I usually see him coming home from work at night.”

Tassh face screwed up into a mean grimace and made a noise that sounded partly like a grunt of frustration and a whine of annoyance. “He’s been recruited for a temporary project in the city,” he said, stabbing at the earth a little harder than usual. “He’s been staying with our family the last few weeks, so he doesn’t have to travel so far. It’s good pay and it’s only for another month, but it’s put a bit of a strain on Kantah and Koie and I’m exhausted. I’ve been doing all I can for both of them.”

Diwa slowed to a halt, turning towards him. “That’s got to be tough. If you need any help at the house, by all means let me know. I can ask around and get you some part time help.”

“I appreciate that,” he said, his broad shoulders dropping with relief. “I will let Kantah know when I see her later today.”

“No worries, it’s what this estate is about. We’re glad to assist any way we can.”

Tassh snorted and pushed himself up to his knees, his fists pushing into his sides. “You are definitely a dreamer, Diwa,” he said, giving him a wily grin. “You and your friends. Mind you, I’m not complaining. It’s refreshing, is what it is. Sometimes such optimism is hard to come by.”

“I always try to be optimistic, but I try to be realistic as well,” he said, pausing to take in Tassh’s comment. He thought of the many times he’d been led to second-guess himself for being too excited about his ideas. He thought of Kaffi sitting next to him on the light rail, worried about their plans. “It’s too easy to set my hopes too high sometimes,” he added.

“Heh. You sound like Samuel.”

“I should!” he laughed. “He’s thrown those exact words at me multiple times over the last few years!”

“Ha! My annoh has given me that same advice as well.”

“Well…” He stood up, wiping sweat from his brow and brushing dirt off his clothes. He looked around the estate grounds; it was a quiet afternoon with not too many tenants milling about, though it was never completely quiet. He could hear the echoes of the younger kids at the playground just beyond the hedges. He could hear a few tenants laughing and talking while they walked one of the outer footpaths on the green. He could hear someone in one of the bungalows behind them practicing scales on a woodwind instrument. All was well, and Diwa felt at peace. He turned back to Tassh, flashing a smile at him. “I guess I just have faith in this estate, yeah? If I’ve learned anything from Pop so far, it’s that everyone has different levels of acceptance. Some of our tenants are more than willing to jump in and give a hand to anyone that needs help. Some are extremely social, want to be a part of whatever’s going on. And some are solitary, would rather keep to ourselves and not make waves.”

Tassh stood as well and brushed himself off. “And what about you?” he asked, tipping his horns in his direction.

“Me? That’s a good question.” He looked away in thought, taking Tassh’s question to heart. “I suppose I’m a bit like Samuel and Graymar mashed up. I make it a point to connect with a lot of people for that exact reason. To learn what levels our tenants work at. Get to know who needs help, who’d rather be left alone, and who goes either way and just enjoys the company.”

Tassh shook his trowel at him again, giving him a wide grin. “Yes, but who are you, youngling Diwa? What kind of tenant are you? An outsider? A busybody? A watcher like your father, or part of the community like your mother?”

Diwa opened his mouth to answer, but to his surprise couldn’t come up with a good response. “I bit of everything…I suppose,” he said.

“This is how you are seen by others, Diwa,” Tassh said, nodding at him. “Something to think about, yeah? Come – Let’s take a break. Our allotment will be waiting for us when we return.”

*

Kaffi swooped down onto the railing outside Diwa’s apartment building and nailed the landing on the first attempt. This surprised him greatly, considering he would usually duff it and slide off to the balcony floor, or he’d overbalance and need to kick back off and hover so he could try it again. He hadn’t been thinking about his technique this time, trusting himself and letting it come naturally. He smiled happily as he hopped down to the balcony floor and knocked on the apartment door. Perhaps he was getting more out of his training than he’d expected!

Maricel answered, a big grin already on her face. “Hey there, Kaffi!” she said. “Come on in. Diwa’s busy helping Pop in the back office right now, but I can get him if you want?”

“No, that’s fine,” he said, dismissing the offer with a quick wave. “I’m in the middle of doing rounds so I can only stay for a few moments. I just wanted to give him a message anyway. Can you tell him to come over after dinner tonight?”

She nodded, but she also crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow at him. He knew that look well, and he steeled himself for the inquisition. Nothing ever got past Maricel, not when he and Diwa were involved. “Anong ginagawa mo, Kaffi?” she said. “He came home yesterday with a big stupid grin on his face, you know. He wouldn’t elaborate, but he was insufferable for the rest of the night!”

Kaffi fluttered his wings and tipped his head innocently. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said.

“Of course you don’t,” she giggled. “I know that look.”

“You do?”

“Yes! You two decided to bond!”

He chittered his fangs together and snorted in amusement. “That is your own opinion, my dear Mari,” he said. “And I am currently in no position to confirm or deny.”

“You are such a bad liar!” she relented with a laugh, and wrapped her arms around his neck, giving him a squeeze. “Can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Still…ang sayá-sayá ko! Welcome to the family!”

Kaffi’s wings rippled with joy and he draped his arms around her small frame. “Salamat, Mari,” he hummed. “Please…keep it under wraps for now? I don’t want any news to break without Diwa’s okay.”

“You got it,” she said, and planted a kiss on his snout. “You treat him good, Kaff. Or you’ll be hearing it from me!”

He returned to his nestroom later that afternoon, feeling nervous and twitchy. He sat on his pallet bed, looking at the large package he and his paddir had brought back from his uncle’s, sliding his long fingers along the corners. He felt nervous and excited at the same time; the contents of this package were going to assist in one of the biggest advances in his flight training and he couldn’t wait to begin.

He didn’t want to open it just yet, though the temptation was incredibly high, and Graymar had understood his wishes to keep it closed when they brought it home via light rail. He wanted to share it with Diwa first, signifying the start of their long career together. Dee had been sitting in that spot just yesterday, professing that he too wanted to bond, and each time Kaffi thought of that moment he felt another happy chill coursing through him, making his wings flutter.

He wondered if his paddir knew of their bonding plans. He must have figured it out by now, as nothing ever got past him. His manae probably knew as well. Iliah must have known before anyone else; that had to have been one of the reasons why she’d given him that armband.

As long as his family continued to welcome Diwa with open wings…!

His manae soon called him to dinner, even though he was too nervous to eat. He nibbled away at another of Iliah’s delicious dishes, far too distracted. Iliah understood and left him alone. Shahney eyed him once or twice, more out of curiosity than concern. Graymar had said nothing, but he’d already shared his words with him privately earlier in the day. He’d had a long talk with him during the trip back from his uncle’s; one that he hadn’t expected but had treasured. He’d told Kaffi how proud he was of his progress, how pleased he was by his dedication and drive.

But he’d grown silent again by dinnertime, distracted and grumpy and keeping his distance from everyone. It obviously wasn’t anything Kaffi had done or said, so he didn’t feel guilty…but he was still concerned. He’d been tempted to get him to open up, but shied away after Iliah tried and failed, and Shahney had waved the two of them off. He let it go for now. In his heart, he knew that his paddir was indeed proud of him.

*

Diwa arrived a little after seven. He’d brought a few textbooks for a study session, but he had a feeling he wouldn’t be using them right away, considering Kaffi’s bristling excitement. Kaffi let him in and led him towards his nestroom, and his wings would not stop twitching. He hopped onto his pallet bed with much more of a spring in his step than usual, hastily reached over the other side, and placed a large cardboard box in between them. “Come,” he said, flashing a wide smile at him. “Sit. I have something I want to show you.”

Diwa raised his eyebrows, amused. Kaffi could be quite animated on a good day, but he was rarely this close to spilling over with barely contained glee! “Okay,” he said, climbing onto the bed. “What’s in the box?”

Kaffi tapped the top with one of his talons. “Open it and see!” he said.

“You haven’t opened it yourself yet?” he said.

“It’s for both of us,” he said, bobbing his snout. “I want to see what you think of it. I saw it earlier, but I want you to see it now.”

Diwa wasn’t quite used to this side of Kaffi before. Not that he minded, but it would take getting used to. He slipped the interlocked box flaps open and began to push aside the packing pellets that hid the mystery item. His fingers brushed against something hard and round, and took a hold of it try to pull it through the packing material.

His eyes went wide in surprise as he began to uncover what was underneath. No wonder he was so excited! “Whoa! Is that…?”

Sitting in the middle of the box was a ride’s saddle, wrapped up in a light clear plastic. Small and compact, and much lighter than he’d expected.

Diwa couldn’t help but laugh. “It is..!”

“Go on, take it out!” Kaffi said, grinning madly.

Diwa lifted it out of the box and studied it closely. It was a lighter, lower-end style of saddle that was made both of leather and ultra-strong polymers, a perfect starter version for those just starting out in flight. The seat was slightly padded for ride comfort, and the underside was lined with a soft microfiber for flight comfort. The foot wells were hinged for easy storage but locked into place once unfolded. There were also a few small unexplained hooks and eyeholes around the sides that he wasn’t sure about. He’d seen such saddles before, but he’d never seen one up close. He hadn’t expected it to be so light! It was slightly worn and discolored, but it had been cleaned and repaired very recently, and had been kept in good shape.

He placed it on the bed between them. “This was your uncle’s?”

“My cousin’s,” Kaffi said, tapping his fangs together. “He took good care of it after he got a replacement and gave it back to his paddir. And now it’s ours until we buy our own.”

“Yours, you mean?”

He waved a talon between them. “I wear it, you use it,” he said happily. “Ergo, it’s ours.”

“Ours…” Diwa smiled as he let that word sink in. “Hmm. I like the sound of that.”

“So do I, Dee.”

He placed it back in the box, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off it. “Seriously, I love it! Are you going to start training with it soon?”

Kaffi bobbed his head quickly. “Paddir will show me how to wear it and use it this weekend. I’ll need to get used to it first before I start flying anywhere with it.” He reached out and touched Diwa’s hand, patting it twice. “You’ll just have to wait a bit more. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” he said. “Annie still needs to train me, so we have time.”

Kaffi beamed at him, squeezing his hand. “You like it? It’s nothing exciting, but I wanted to share it with you.”

Diwa hummed in response, squeezing back. “It’s great. I’m glad you did.”

*

“Hey, Kaff?”

Kaffi lifted his snout from his reading and glanced at him. “Hmm?”

Diwa pushed his textbook aside and leaned back on the bed. He’d been too distracted to study tonight, even before he’d come over here. He hated to ruin the positive mood they’d shared just a short time ago, but this irritation had been nagging at the back of his mind all day.

“Is there something going on with Graymar?”

Kaffi slowed his movements and held his wings still. “Not that I know of. Why?”

“Well…Pop was in a mood again today. He didn’t seem angry, just upset at something. He won’t tell me what. I thought it might just be his usual thing, but…he was just so happy when they came back from Panooria the other day.”

Kaffi hummed, quiet and extremely low; concerned. “You know how paddir is, Dee. He’s grouchy on any given day. No less than usual lately.” He finally let his wings twitch just a little bit. “He was fine earlier today when we went to pick up the saddle…but he was quiet by the time we got home. I wonder…”

Diwa watched Kaffi flutter his wings again, this time stretching them out to almost full span before pulling them back against his body again. “Flight?” he ventured.

“Hmm. Maybe. He won’t admit to anything, but he has been favoring his right wing lately. If it’s bothering him, it could be affecting his flight.” He hummed again, quick and tight. Concern. “I hope he’s getting it looked at.”

“I’m sure he is,” Diwa said, frowning. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

“No, Dee,” he said quickly, his wings fluttering again. “I’m glad you did. I should be more worried about him. I’ll bring it up with my manae.” He rested a hand on his shoulder, brushing a thumb against his skin. “Thank you for telling me. You were concerned about Samuel’s mood. This means they’re aware of an issue. I won’t push him if your paddir is already doing so.”

“I suppose you’re right…” he said, placing his hand over Kaffi’s. “I just want to do the right thing, Kaff. They both needed that positive connection. I just want them to keep it.”

“So do I, Dee,” he said, giving him a soft smile. “So do I.”

*

Glossary:
kriishii (kree-shee) — (aanoupii) in good spirits, emanating a positive outlook
“Anong ginagawa mo, Kaffi?” — (Tagalog) “What are you up to, Kaffi?”
“…ang sayá-sayá ko!” — (Tagalog) “I’m extremely happy!”
“Salamat, Mari…” — (Tagalog) “Thank you, Mari…”


Diwa & Kaffi 20

Author’s Note: Everything in this novel has been leading up to this one moment: where their shared future truly begins.

*

CHAPTER TWENTY

Diwa laid at the end of Kaffi’s pallet bed and stared up at the ceiling. They’d both been so busy during the day that they’d almost run out of time to do their schoolwork. He’d been thinking about him off and on throughout the day, wondering where he was and what he might be up to, if he’d enjoyed his trip with Iliah. He’d wanted to ask him about the conversation he’d had with Graymar across the way, as it had started out a little on the tentative side but unexpectedly swerved into an animated exchange of chatter and rippling wings soon after. After their group meeting, however, Kaffi had suggested Diwa come over to his place to study after dinner, and Diwa happily agreed. They’d been wanting to spend more time with each other outside of their estate plans anyway, and this was perfect.

Even if Kaffi wasn’t paying attention to him.

He hunched over his worktable, his eyes glued to the large monitor in front of him as he typed away at the keyboard. He’d been working on one of his term papers for most of the evening, intensely focused and working hard. Diwa watched him, impressed by his dedication. Kaffi might be addicted to flying, but he was also an extremely dedicated student. His grades were often higher than Diwa’s, not that he minded. Kaffi could easily be anything he wanted to be, given time and inclination. Sometimes he wondered if Kaffi truly wanted to stick around the estate with him, but he’d never voiced that concern, knowing how ridiculous it sounded in reality. Kaffi had shown him his conviction so many times over in the last few years, and it never wavered.

Diwa would tell him everything about his basophobia tonight.

Kaffi abruptly stopped typing, rubbed at an eye with the palm of his hand, and leaned closer, reading the text and humming quietly. That was something new; during their vidchats Kaffi always remained silent when he was revising his work. Except that one time, when he thought Diwa had left the room already. It wasn’t just a meandering tune, though, but a full song that he’d heard Kaffi sing before. He said nothing but listened, enjoying the music and silently tapping the beat against his leg as he pretended to read his textbook.

After a few more minutes of work and melodic humming, Kaffi exhaled and uncurled out of his hunch, stretching his arms and wings. “Ai,” he grunted. “I am almost done with this thing,” he said, tipping his head in Diwa’s direction. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a boring host. This one’s taking forever to finish.”

“Doesn’t bother me any,” Diwa said, and pushed himself up. “It’s not as if we’re always yapping at each other when we’re on vidchat.”

“I know, but you’re here, and I’m ignoring you.”

“You need to get that paper done. All I had was some math homework and light reading. Besides, I don’t mind. I like hanging out here. And your room is so much bigger than mine.”

Kaffi snorted and lifted his wings to half-spread. “It kind of has to be.”

Diwa tucked his legs under and looked around the room. “It’s been a while, anyway. Between school and internship, we rarely have time to just hang out. I see you’ve got new shelving up.”

Kaffi glanced up at the wall above his worktable, nodding. “Paddir and I put them up a few weeks ago. The old ones were starting to sag. They were leftovers from Iliah, and I needed more room for my things anyway.”

“Hmm. What’s that?”

Kaffi tipped his head to the side. “Hmm?”

“Above your monitor,” Diwa said, pointing the large folded-up cloth sitting on the highest shelf, well out of his reach. “Looks like a sheet of some kind.”

Kaffi perked up immediately, clicking his fangs in delight, and reached up for it. “Oh! Thanks for reminding me! I’ve been meaning to show this to you when you next came over!” He slid it off the shelf, took two corners and shook it open. It unfurled before him, revealing a large blanket tapestry. It was a simple pattern, going from a dark blue with white dots scattered at the top, fading to white near the bottom; a starfield and a horizon at night. It was bordered by a chevron pattern, alternating light and dark blue.

Kaffi’s snout appeared comically over the top of it with just a little bit of blue showing on the ridge. He flashed such a wide grin his whiskers were twitching. “What do you think? Do you like it?”

“That’s…” Diwa’s brows shot up. “That’s a saddle blanket, isn’t it?” He pushed off the bed and walked up to it, taking up the other corners and running his fingers across it. It was a soft and durable cotton. smooth and strong in his hands. It wasn’t a printed pattern, either…this was hand crafted stitching. It was so new the creases from the folds were still visible. This wasn’t a hand-me-down, this was a brand new, high-end blanket! “Ay, Kaffi! This is lovely! Where did you get it?”

“Paddir bought it for me during their last trip to Panooria,” he said, barely holding back his pride. His wings wouldn’t stop twitching. “My first saddle blanket, Dee. Isn’t it great?”

Diwa smiled in response but he couldn’t quite hide the unexpected shiver he felt. “Ito ang tamang gawin, hindi ba…?” he said after a moment. “It’s wonderful.”

Kaffi tipped his head at him, his wings slowing up. “What?”

“Hmm?”

“You’re holding back, Dee. Is there something wrong?”

“No, no…” he waved at him quickly. “It’s nothing for you to worry about. Here, let me help you fold it up.”

“Hmm,” Kaffi said, and together they wrapped it back up. Kaffi placed it back onto the shelf, eyeing him the entire time. “You’re sure?”

Diwa moved to his side and patted him on the shoulder. “Definitely,” he said. “No worries. When do you think you’ll be ready to use it?”

Kaffi’s wings rippled at the question. “End of summer, looks like,” he said, tapping his fangs together in happiness. “Paddir will be stepping up the flight training. That’s what we were talking about on the roof today. Thing is, he hasn’t given me any details or a schedule yet, so I can’t give you a date.”

“No hurry,” Diwa said, and returned to the pallet bed. “We have all the time we need. I’ve got to do my own studying for it, you know. Being that we have exactly zero experience with flying together.”

“That is true,” he grinned. “No details there either, I assume?”

“Just that Anna-Nassi is involved somehow,” he said tentatively, smirking. “I’m not sure if I should be relieved or terrified. Or both.”

“Hmm.” Kaffi climbed onto the pallet and sat next to him. “I trust her, though. And I know you do too.”

“Hmm,” Diwa said. “I do.”

*

Kaffi sat on all fours on his bed, his paws crossed in front of him, watching Diwa, listening to him talk. He laid across the end and stared at the ceiling, just like he always did, telling him about Anna-Nassi’s unexpected visit at his apartment to help with Samuel. He didn’t seem particularly annoyed or highly bothered by it, but his voice betrayed him. He must be jealous. Kaffi could relate, considering that Graymar still spent more time with Samuel than he did with his own family sometimes. Diwa was indeed hiding something, from earlier. Kaffi wouldn’t push, though. He’d share it soon enough. He always did.

Now if he could only shake his own misgivings…

It was time. He could not wait any longer.

“Dee?” he said during a lull in the conversation. “Can I ask you a question?”

Diwa shifted and glanced at him. “Hmm? Sure.”

Kaffi dipped his head down, looking at his paws, mustering up his courage. Eiyah…now or never. “I’m…” He grumbled and ruffled his wings. Come on, Kaffi, you can do this. “I know I’ve been called a reckless flier, Dee. By my paddir, no less. I know I’m not the most graceful flier here in the estate.”

Diwa smiled and gave him a reassuring tap on the arm. “That’s okay, I’m nowhere near the most graceful human. You’ve seen me trip over my shadow on multiple occasions.”

“This is true.” Kaffi grinned warmly at him, appreciating the levity. “I suppose I’m worried. Worried that I won’t measure up to the flier you expect me to be. Or that I’ll do something dumb and lose your trust. I…I want to earn your trust, Dee. We’ve been friends forever and you trust me on that level, but this is so much more important, yeah? Like the saddle blanket. I wanted to show it to you earlier – practically as soon as paddir gave it to me – but I felt…I don’t know. Worried that you’d feel I was getting ahead of myself? I know it sounds silly, but…”

Diwa rolled over onto his side, propping himself up on an elbow. He expected a smile or a kind laugh, but instead he was unreadable. “Kaff, you worry too much,” he said quietly, without any emotion. He looked down at his hand, fingers tapping on the bed, and took a very slow uneven breath. “Look…I worry too, Kaff,” he said, his voice all too quiet. “I worry that I’m not going to be the best ride. I’ve never flown before. I hardly know anything about flight. I…” he stalled, diverting his eyes. “I want to tell you this, Kaff. I have to.”

“Dee.” He unclenched one of his paws and laid it on Diwa’s flat hand, holding it tight. His skin was warm. Too warm. But he didn’t flinch or pull it away. “Dee,” he said again, his voice low and calm. “Please, I want you to trust me. You can tell me.”

“Hmm,” he said. His face and eyes were reddening, but he didn’t hide it. Instead he pushed himself up into a sitting position, facing him. And he’d taken hold of his paw with both hands, his small fingers wrapped around his larger ones. Briefly rubbed at his eyes, took his hand once more. Held it tighter with more conviction.

“I have…I have mild basophobia. A fear of falling,” he said finally, his shoulders visibly drooping. “It’s not incapacitating. It’s something I’ve had since I was a kid. You’ve seen me on your roof, Kaff. I can go up there and hang out with you for as long as I like. I can even go to the edge and lean up against that same railing Graymar is always at, for a short time. But I get a feeling of vertigo if I’m there for too long.” He lifted his sad eyes and looked deep into his. “I was afraid to tell you since it could be a problem for us. I don’t want this to ruin our plans, Kaff. I can’t let it. I don’t want to give up because of this.”

“Ah…” Kaffi said, his heart fluttering. Dee…my fiiri…!

He let out a long calming hum, refusing to look away. He’d caught Diwa’s gaze at that moment and he couldn’t tear away from it. Diwa needed his strength, and he would gladly give it to him. He would accept this challenge. He would help him. They would fly. Diwa would be his ride. Kaffi would be his flight. They would do this together. “We can work with this,” he said.

Diwa blinked at him. “We…we can?”

He squeezed Diwa’s hand and leaned in close. “Of course we can,” he said softly, tapping his snout against Diwa’s forehead and letting it sit there for a moment. “You and I are ride and flight. We’ll figure this out. We will make this work.”

Diwa let out a shaky laugh and looked away, his eyes moist. “Hindi yata ako nababagay rito…” he mumbled. “Thank you, Kaff.”

“Anytime,” he said, and squeezed his hand again.

“You…you said you had a question?”

Kaffi’s wings fluttered once more and he chittered nervously. This was what he’d originally been leading up to, before Diwa told him his secrets. “Oh. Yeah. Um.” He looked down at their joined hands, allowing himself a furtive grin. Yes, this is what he wanted. “Dee. I know Annie always teases us about it. So does Iliah. But now that they’ve planted it in my head, I’ve had a hard time not thinking about it. They’re right, Dee. I think we are bonded. And.”

His voice started to tremble. “And I think you believe the same. I think we should just stop pretending. You know. Make it happen. On that level.”

Diwa snorted.

Kaffi looked up, catching his eyes again, the response completely unexpected. He felt Diwa’s hands squeeze his so tight, refusing to let go. He had the brightest smile on his face. The tears were coming once more, though they were happy tears. Ecstatic tears.

“Kaff, I…” he said, his own voice caught in his throat.

“Dee, I’m sorry if I—”

Diwa squeezed his hand again, pulling it towards him.

“Kaff!” he said again, giggling. “Ay…higit kang mas malakas kaysa sa’kin…”

“I…?”

“Of course I believe we’re already bonded, you big dork!” He threw his arms around Kaffi’s neck, pulling him into a tight hug, laughing and crying onto his shoulder. “I’m so glad you asked. I’ve been wanting to ask you for months now.”

Kaffi startled and twitched his wings, but he did not pull away. Months…? Eiyah, so his instincts and heart were telling the truth! Oh, this was the best day of his life! They truly were bonded now, leaving nothing unsaid between them. This was the start of their long life together, as ride and flight…and as bonded friends. Always together. He draped his own arms around Diwa, fully embracing him. He let out a long, sonorous hum of pleasure, and let his own happy tears come.

“I’m glad too,” he whispered, leaning his snout against Diwa’s shoulder.

*

Glossary:
“Ito ang tamang gawin, hindi ba…?” — (Tagalog) “This is the real thing, isn’t it…?” This, just like Kaffi’s armband, has more than just one meaning.
fiiri (fee-ree) — (tintrite) best friend, bonded friend
“Ay…higit kang mas malakas kaysa sa’kin…” — (Tagalog) “Ay…you’re so much stronger than I am…”