Just because there was a new beginning, didn’t mean that the ending was complete. That the guilt she’d carried still didn’t weigh upon her shoulders and threaten to drag her down into the darkness. Namaari’s actions had always been for the betterment of her people (so she said so she thought), but there’d been times that they hadn’t sat well with her. Where she’d wanted to argue the point with her mother.
So many had suffered; and all because she’d believed in the idea that Fang had to go it alone, that relying on others was a weakness and not a strength. And her actions had nearly destroyed everything. If her mother hadn’t been so insistent maybe … no, that wasn’t a thought she wanted to follow just then. A dark, confusing thread that threatened to topple the way she viewed her mother. Not one she would tug on, not yet. Maybe not ever.
Namaari leaned back against the tree, flipping a thick gold ring around in her palm with her thumb. The metal was shiny from frequent worrying, her fingers and thumb absently polishing it even now. Lifting it up, she peered through the hole, then turned it over and stared at the engraved design. When they were younger, Raya had worn it in her hair. Namaari remembered liking the look. She remembered liking Raya and hating what she’d had to do. But she’d memorized the pattern on the ring. She’d memorized a whole lot of things about Raya.
The gold glinted in the sunlight. Raya had lost it in Tail somehow and it had led Namaari to find her. She could have tossed it aside, or thrown it away at any point and yet she’d kept it. She’d kept it even now, now that they were friends (sort of probably maybe). Even though she could now look at Raya and feel more than bitterness and anger.
She closed her hand tightly around the ring, reluctant to let Raya know about it, to have to try to explain why she still had it and why she’d never returned it. It felt like some kind of gift, but one unknowingly given and it meant something to Namaari that she wasn’t quite willing to say the words for.
“Hey,” Raya waved awkwardly. “What’s up, Princess Undercut?”
No malice, just a gentle sort of ribbing. They could still be a little awkward at times, but it felt like it was getting better. Namaari rolled her eyes, and tucked her hair behind her ear, “Just enjoying the view.”
Belatedly, she realized she was staring right at Raya as she said that, and focused her eyes on the actual view behind the other young woman, “Fang is … well Fang is home, but I always like coming to Heart. Not just to see you. Or anything.”
“Yeah.” Raya tilted her head, quirking her eyebrow in that maddening way of hers when she was just about to make an observation, “You’ve been visiting a lot, lately.”
“Well, my mother is busy with expansion, and this is kind of an outreach.” It sounded far-fetched even to Namaari’s ears, even if it was partly true.
“Uh huh.” Raya crouched down in front of her, smile gently teasing, “It’s ba’s cooking, isn’t it.”
She blinked, staring at Raya as her mouth hung open, “I guess … that’s part of it?”
“Lucky you, tonight’s going to be really good, too.” Raya reached out and poked Namaari on her forehead, “We’re doing your favorite tom yum.”
“You know my favorite?” Namaari swatted at Raya’s hand, but Raya stayed close, too close.
“I pay attention, every time you’re here. Besides, it’s my favorite too.”
Namaari leaned back on her hands and tilted her chin up, “So you stalk me, dep la.”
“What? No! I mean a little but not like that.” Flustered, Raya dropped into a sitting position that nearly mirrored Namaari’s, “I just think that if things had gone differently, we’d have been friends all along.”
“Probably,” Namaari allowed, studying the shadows on Raya’s pretty face. There were two kinds of loneliness in the world; Raya had been by herself for so long, and Namaari had been surrounded by people and yet had still felt alone. That guilt resurfaced, threatening to open up beneath her and swallow her whole. Namaari stared at Raya, expression open and vulnerable and not really caring if she was seen. Not by Raya, at any rate. Maybe things would have been better, if everyone had been willing to trust each other to begin with. They could have been friends, they could have been--
“Namaari,” Raya said. She leaned forward, hand outstretched, “Are you oka—?”
Sisu’s voice was so sudden that Namaari nearly jumped out of her skin. She twisted around as the Dragon weaved silently around her and then Raya before settling into a relaxed position and forming the last point of a triangle with them. That seemed to be how they often ended up. Raya and Namaari, and Sisu circling the two of them.
Sisu was as beautiful as she ever was and Namaari felt her guilt disappear as surely as if a light had been shined into the darkest reaches of her mind.
“So what’s going on? Did I miss anything? Did I interrupt anything?”
Raya’s mouth opened and closed a bit like a fish and Namaari stifled a laugh.
“Nothing’s going on.” Raya folded her arms, “We’re just chatting about dinner.”
“Uh huh.” Sisu blinked her eyes at Raya, then shot a discerning look towards Namaari. It was always both really difficult and really easy to look into the dragon’s eyes. Easy, because of how beautiful they were and how much Sisu’s entire existence meant to Namaari. Difficult, because it was like looking into her soul reflected back onto her; and Namaari did not always like what she saw there. Chuckling, Sisu’s eyes darted from Namaari to Raya and then back again.
Oh, that look on Sisu’s face spelled trouble and Namaari tried to head it off at the pass, “This one has been stalking me and learning my favorite foods, just to lure me into dulling my senses.”
“If I wanted to stalk you you would never know,” Raya countered.
“Okay, you two kids are really oblivious.” Sisu tilted her head back, cackling, before she bounced to her feet. Spinning around, her tail smacked into Raya, sending her flailing into Namaari, knocking them both over. By the time Raya was pushing herself up, Sisu had flounced away.
Namaari swallowed, staring up at Raya and her tousled hair that draped around them. Raya’s cheeks darkened, one hand on Namaari’s arm and the other on her chest. She yanked the second away as soon as she realized what she was groping, but Namaari threw caution to the wind and grabbed her by the back of her head and pulled her down into a kiss. Raya stiffened for a heartbeat before melting on top of Namaari, the kiss deepening with every beat of their hearts. Raya moaned, and Namaari responded by rolling them over and pinning her down.
Raya immediately flipped them back over and like much of their relationship it turned into sort of a struggle, one that was only resolved when Namaari relented and let Raya have her pride. Truthfully, she didn’t mind either way, and it had been energizing in a way that she’d always hoped for. Namaari was contemplating how best to get her hands into Raya’s tunic when she heard the tinkling of metal.
Both of them sat upright, Raya straddling Namaari’s lap and Namaari craning her neck in the direction of the sound.
A few yards away, Tong stood with Noi. Namaari watched in disbelief as Tong dropped several coins into the toddler’s tiny, outstretched hand.
“You bet on us?!” Raya shouted.
“I bet Namaari would have been on top,” Tong replied, and Noi gave them a smug look.
“Technically they were both on top,” Boun said, popping up from behind their friends and holding out his hands. With heavy sighs, Tong and Noi handed some coins over to the boy.
“I am going to kill all of you,” Namaari hissed, but Raya put a hand on her chest and she immediately calmed down.
“If anyone is going to kill them,” Raya said casually. “It’s going to be me. But I’ll give them a head start.”
Namaari grinned at her, then started to count, “One. Two. Three…”
Somewhere nearby, she swore she heard Sisu’s laughter again.