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the restless heart (the promise land)

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Namaari has never been in love before. It's not something she's particularly proud of, she doesn't walk around flaunting it like she's heartless.  And she definitely doesn't brag about it like her mom does whenever they have guests over - how her amazing, radiant fierce intelligent warrior of a daughter is so independent she could lead without a backup - because Chief Virana will never like a single person Namaari has a crush on. Never has, never will - that's at least what it felt like growing up with her, but... that's beside the point.

Well, okay, actually. That is the point. Namaari doesn't do the love thing. So, when Raya took the first step and trusted her with like, the whole entire world, it felt a little like she was being turned upside down.

For starters, Raya shouldn't have trusted her, she should have killed her when she had the chance because Namaari messed up, and then messed up again, and then messed up maybe six more times when it comes to Raya. But Raya has the biggest heart of anyone Namaari's ever met. People with big hearts don't put hate first; they adopt children into their world-saving journey, inspire legendary dragons to reappear, and... trust the most untrustworthy person in the history of time with magic that'll only work if she has enough faith.

Right.

It's not something Namaari can wrap her head around, but it weirdly makes sense because Raya makes sense, and now Namaari is sort of in love with her. Okay, not sort of; she is. Totally. Completely in love with Raya.

Needless to say, when Raya suggested they 'meet more often', Namaari jumped on the opportunity. As in, she volunteered to make the journey every two weeks from Fang to Heart, just to spend a day with Raya before turning around and going back. And what she's learned so far - from this whole love thing - is that it's a lot of sacrifice that really, really sucks, but every once in a while, something happens that makes it all feel worth it.

Like her last visit, for example, when Raya randomly hugged her hello, and then when she left Raya hugged her goodbye, and... it was good. It was more than good. Namaari felt like she was on fire half the ride home, practically boiling inside her skin, and she had to avoid her mom for the next three days because she knew that somehow Chief Virana would know. But, again, that's beside the point.

Her larger point is that love is nice. And it's complicated.

It's so painfully, frustratingly complicated.

The thing is, love has this funny way of persisting even when it's unreciprocated. And while Namaari knows that Raya treasures her as a friend, even brings her little gifts every single time she visits, she also knows that Raya will probably never love her the same way. Namaari's lucky she gets these days with her; lucky she gets invited to dinner with her Ba and gets to laugh with Raya over board games. She's lucky she gets riding lessons on Tuk Tuk and double lucky for the hugs, but there isn't enough luck in the world for Raya to actually love her back.

So, it's been six months of her visiting Raya and falling even harder for Raya, and now she's in so deep she doesn't know what she'll do the day she finds out Raya's actually found a partner.

She doesn't want to think about that, though. 

She'd much rather think about the little strands of Raya's hair that never seem to cooperate, or the way she closes her eyes and hums whenever she's feeling happy. "What are you staring at?" Raya asks, in between sips of her soup. They're at the table having lunch, cozy and sitting on the floor in the small room at the top of Raya's palace with all the sunlight. "Is something on my face?"

"No, you're just—" cute, is what she almost says, but she thinks better of it, "—interesting to look at."

Raya snorts. "Thank you? I think."

"I didn't mean it in a bad way, I just mean. You're interesting." Namaari winces after she says it. She's sure she'll spend the next week staring at her ceiling thinking about saying that.

Raya smiles, though, makes it feel like Namaari said something less awkward. "You're pretty interesting yourself."

It sounds a lot better when Raya says it. Namaari dips her head and tucks her hair behind her ear. "So, are you going to tell me what's going on? You've been quiet today."

"I've been thinking."

Namaari takes a calming breath. Thinking doesn't have to mean something bad. "About what?"

Raya hums for a second, then, "How do you feel about me visiting Fang? I think I could do it next week, if you want."

"No, that's okay," Namaari says fast. She'd never ask Raya to do that. Mostly because she knows it's not fun actually getting there, but also because she's afraid she'll lose Raya the second their friendship takes too much energy. "If you want me to come more often, I could - I could figure it out."

"No, no," Raya shakes her head. "I'm offering to save you from making the trip. Maybe sometimes I can come to you, instead. I feel like I've been so selfish making you come here."

"Oh, it's no problem, I like making the trip," Namaari lies.

Raya tilts her head, a hint of a smile on her lips. She knows Namaari better than that now, so she's definitely not buying it and... she shouldn't. Namaari spends the entire journey from Fang to Heart twisting herself in knots, feeling both anxious and impatient, heart hammering just hoping Raya's even a fraction as excited to be together again as she is. She doubts she can convince Raya otherwise, that it's some relaxing experience she looks forward to, that she really does like the endless water, desert, trees, rinse and repeat.

Ugh. Namaari sighs. "Okay, you're right - maybe it's not all that great. I mean, I do like making the trip, technically, because it means I get to see you, but I don't exactly like the trip itself. And I don't like having to deal with the questions from my mom every single time I prepare for it. She always gets this little squint in her eyes like she's catching me out, you know? I'm pretty sure she thinks we're dating."

She laughs a little, so it doesn't come off as dumb or weird, but the look Raya gives her is so confused that Namaari thinks she'll have to back track, maybe apologize. She knows in Fang it's not unheard of that two girls might be romantic, but maybe it's different in Heart. Maybe she should have kept that to herself. Yes. Definitely. She shouldn't have said it. It's weird and not relevant, and it's not like they would actually date. Sigh. Namaari opens her mouth to formulate her apology, try to redirect the conversation, but Raya clears her throat, so she closes it again, ducks her head and stays silent. "Yeah," Raya finally says, shoulders sinking a little. Then she looks even more confused when she adds, "I thought we were too, until like, right this second."

"Oh." Namaari goes stiff. Vaguely, somewhere in the back of her mind, she realizes she needs a better answer.

"You didn't think these were dates?" Raya asks after a second.

Namaari thought they were just... hanging out, being friends. She never thought - she never imagined - that Raya could or would want it to be more than that. "I don't know, I just." She cuts herself off. She can't mess this up. She shouldn't mess this up. She has to say something smart. "I wouldn't dislike it if they were," she tries, "but I thought there'd be something formal for that. Like a conversation."

Raya lifts an eyebrow at her. Namaari feels her face go hot. She's ashamed she didn't see it, that she's been missing signals, apparently. She's terrible at this. "I thought I asked you out and you said yes, and. Well, you're still coming, but do you want me to ask you to be my girlfriend? Formally."

"You'd do that?" Namaari asks, and Raya's smile makes her cheeks feel even hotter.

"Of course," Raya says. "Do you want to be my girlfriend?"

Namaari feels warm all over now, like her entire body is fighting back a blush. She swallows and then she - doesn't say anything, but she nods so her silence isn't mistaken as hesitation. It's just a little hard to put words together, but the second she does find her voice, she's dumb enough to ask, "Does that mean we have to kiss?"

"No?" Raya says, voice rising. She's confused again. Ugh. "Not right this second, I guess. Truthfully, I think glaciers move faster than we are, but - that's okay." She smiles again, eyes glistening when she looks at Namaari like this moment is as good as watching the dragons return. "It's perfectly okay. I'll be patient. I don't mind waiting for you. I'll just follow your lead and when you're ready, just know that I'm ready too."

Namaari tucks her hair behind her ear again. It doesn't make sense. Raya should hate her, should be angry with her, should despise her for destroying the world and losing Raya six years with her Ba. But instead, she's waiting. She's waiting for the guarded and reserved backstabber from Fang to be ready to move faster than massive ice in water. Again, it doesn't make sense, none of it does - the way Raya's always so gentle with her, the way she hangs on every little thing Namaari says, how she remembers small details, and. It doesn't make sense.

Maybe it's all just a plan to get back at Namaari. Maybe none of this is real.

Raya wrinkles her nose, and then she sets her spoon down and scoots to join Namaari on her side of the table, touching shoulders with her. They're not usually this close, outside of greeting each other and saying goodbye with their hugs, so it sends Namaari's heart into a spiral, thumping loud enough she's sure all of Tail can hear it.

"Hey," Raya nudges her, resting a soft hand on Namaari's thigh. "I know it must have been hard to - to have everyone hate you for doing something you thought was right, something you believed you had to do. I know it makes it hard to trust, hard to believe anyone is being genuine when they actually do like you. I get it, and that's why I don't mind waiting. I know if we move too fast, it might make it difficult for you to make sense of things. It could make you doubt us, and the last thing I want is for you to doubt what we have."

"I'm sorry," Namaari says. It slips out of her like a confession. She doesn't even know what she's sorry for, just knows that she is, somewhere deep in her core. "Maybe I'm not—"

"You are," Raya says, finding Namaari's hand and squeezing it. "Worth it. You're worth every single second."

Namaari just blinks at Raya, mind racing and frantic, studying Raya's face and searching for lies but not finding any. Raya wouldn't lie to her. "I won't mess up with you again," she finally says, solemn like a promise.

Raya laughs, a warm sound that cuts right through the tension Namaari's creating. "Don't be silly, I'm not asking you to be perfect. I expect we'll both mess up, probably a lot, but I think we can figure it out." Namaari wants to kiss her, a thought that comes so suddenly, so swift it knocks the air clear out of her lungs. But she wants to - right here, right now; she feels like she's ready for it. Her hand twitches, like it needs to touch her hair, but right now it's tucked inside Raya's where she wants to keep it. "You're nervous," Raya says. "Tell me what you're thinking."

"I don't know," Namaari says, but she gives herself away when her eyes fall to Raya's mouth.

Raya tucks her bottom lip beneath her teeth and slowly drags it out, dark lashes clashing against the flush of her cheeks as she closes her eyes, breath hitching like she's bracing for a kiss. Which means - wow, okay, this is really happening, and it's up to Namaari to do it, and. She can do it. She can do it.

She can do it. She takes two long breaths, and then she leans in and kisses Raya. She tries to keep it soft, like she's asking a question - are you really, really sure you want to do this? - but Raya smells too good, like the breeze above an ocean, so before she knows it, and without meaning to, she presses deep into it. Raya hums, melts, falls backward, and so suddenly Namaari is being pulled down on top of her, sinking heavy in how soft she is. She tastes like soup and her terrible jerky and Namaari thinks i should really teach her a better way to make that. And then she doesn't think much else because Raya opens her mouth, and suddenly everything is wet and soft and warm, and it feels a little dangerous, like—Namaari could get used to this. She could get her heart broken.

Raya could break her heart.

She pulls away. "Okay, so, I love you," she says, and before she can get out an excuse for why that means they should stop, Raya says, "I love you, too," and it happens again.

Namaari feels like she's being turned upside down. "Wait, what?"

"I love you?" Raya says, like a question this time.

"No, I get that, but how?" Namaari asks. Raya shrugs. Namaari groans. "That's not something you shrug at."

Raya looks like she's thinking for a second, then, "How do you love me?" she asks back.

"Because, like, I don't know," Namaari says, flustered. "Because you're smart and fierce and amazing and - loving you is maybe the easiest thing I've ever done. It makes sense. It makes so much sense."

"Yeah, same," Raya says. "You're all of those things, and it makes sense. And you make me smile."

"You're so confusing," Namaari mumbles.

"I feel like I'm the least amount of confusing in this relationship," Raya says. "I love you and I'm sure of it, and there isn't a second that goes by where I question it, so. Deal with it, you big nerd."

"No, but—"

"No buts," Raya cuts her off. "We can either finish eating or finish kissing, but we're not going to argue about something I feel and can't change. You're not going to rationalize me out of loving you."

"So, you do realize it's weird."

Raya laughs. "Yes, we used to be enemies and now we're not. Again, get over it."

"Stop saying that," Namaari huffs.

"Make me," Raya smiles. "And if you're not catching on, that means kiss me again. I'd really like that." 

Namaari rolls her eyes. "I think I got it, thanks."

"Surprising," Raya chirps, "considering it took you six months to realize we're dating."

Namaari kisses her again. She won't lie and say it isn't something she wholeheartedly wants to be doing, but she does love the added bonus of keeping Raya quiet while she collects herself.

When she pulls away again, she expects Raya to be frustrated, but instead she's just watching Namaari. Patiently. She's always so patient and understanding and it makes Namaari feels so soft, like she's cut wide open. It's not fair. It's not like she wants Raya to hurt her or be mean to her, but - maybe that is what she wants, or at least what she expects. And that's not fair either, is it? Raya wouldn't do that to her. She can trust Raya.

"I trust you," she decides. "But, if we're actually in love, that means we have to tell my mom."

"I know," Raya nods. "And I have a plan. We'll need Sisu."

Namaari shakes her head, can't help the smile tugging at her mouth. "You know, I was just hoping for a hug today."

"Yeah, me too, but this is much better," Raya says, then she pulls Namaari down and they kiss again.