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Chapter Text

Raya sat down on the edge of the steps. The stone underhand was chilled from the night air. Namaari sat next to her, folding her feet under her.

“Beds have been a surprising stranger to me,” Raya said.

“What do you mean?”

“The softness.” Raya gave a half-laugh, “It sounds stupid saying it out loud. But it’s too soft for me.” Every time I’ve tried to sleep in one since- since everything happened, I feel like I’m going to sink through. I guess I got to use to the dirt.”


“Stupid, right?”

“No. No.” Namaari shook her head. “I wouldn’t think that.”

“I would. It’s just a bed. I used to sleep in one perfectly before.”

Namaari fidgeted with a bit of hair between two fingers, “I was the reason you lost that bed.”

Raya exhaled, closing her eyes for a moment, “It was a lot more than just you.”

“But I was a factor.” Namaari looked at her.

Raya met her gaze, silent for a long moment, “It was a lot more than just you.” She said again, “And it wasn’t like I didn’t have opinions. Heart wasn’t completely whipped out. I had people I could have been with, but I choose to wander by myself. Aside from Tuk Tuk.”

Narmaari’s shoulders dropped and she drew her knees up under her chin, “I can’t even imagine what it was like for you. The chaos of those first days, to be in that alone.” Namaari remembered those first days the clearest when she thought back on the years the Druun had plagued them. The numbers kept climbing each day as they lost more and more of their people. At times the advisors of their council wanted to stop counting. Her mother refused too. ‘The moment we stop counting we will only see what the Druun have taken from us as a community but we must not forget each number is a life taken. Each number is a person we failed to protect.’ That was her mother had said. Namaari couldn’t imagine what she would have done if the Druun had decimated Fang the same way it had Heart and she had to live after that. Namaari’s life was her mother. It was Atitaya. It was her people. Without them, she wouldn’t be whole.

“I don’t really remember much of those first days,” Raya said, “It was just a blur. I washed up near the Spine border and I was lost for a few weeks before I found a landmark I recognized.”

“Wait, washed up?”

“Oh. My Ba, he threw me in the river to protect me from the Druun.”

Namaari covered her eyes with her hands. Raya huffed and nudged Namaari.  

“It’s hard to talk to you if you’re going to feel bad for everything you’ve done in the past.”

“It’s hard, with my pass, to have a conversation with you that doesn’t remind me of everything I did.”

Raya looked up, rubbing her arm for a moment, “You did fuck each other up a few times.”

“That’s putting it mildly.”

“But the way I see it, us being the heirs of Heart and Fang we’re going to have to keep interacting in the future. We can let the past dictate that every conversation we have is going to feel like pulling teeth. Or we can say screw it.”

“You make it sound easy.”

“I don’t think it’s easy at all. Politics on the whole I’m still getting used to it again. And with you, talking about our past, it hurts. But listening to you talk today in that vault. Or when you explain the reasoning behind the design of a roadway or a bridge. That’s okay. I like talking with you then. I want more of that. I want to be able to talk about, anything with you, without it hurting. I don’t know how we’re going to get there, but I don’t think avoiding what we’ve done to each other is going to solve anything.”

Namaari looked at her, eyes flittering over her features before her gaze turned up, mirroring Raya’s.

“You have any ideas how we’re going to do that?”

“Well, shit, I thought you’d know,”

“Why would you think that?”

“You’re so good at,” She gestured at Namaari, “That stuff.”

“That stuff?”

“The people stuff.”

Namaari laughed, “People stuff,” She repeated.

“You know what I mean. I’m not good at any of that.”

“You’re selling yourself short.”

“I am not. I have no clue how to be a leader. But you meld so easily with your people.”

“You handled that conflict with the family we brought here.”

“No I didn’t. You gave me an out that they took. I had no solution for them. But you did and they weren’t even off Fang. And you still offered them a place.”

Namaari exhaled through her lips, smiling faintly, “They were almost to blows when we arrived. You talked them down before I ever offered anything. And can I tell you a secret?”

“Sure, not I’ll make no promise to not tell Atitaya.”

Namaari chuckled, “Oh, Atitaya is already aware of this. The truth is I don’t know how to be a leader either.”

Raya kicked her, although the force she put behind it wasn’t there. It was more of a shove than a kick. “You don’t need to make me feel better.”

“I’m being honest here.”

“For someone who doesn’t know, you’ve been doing a good job of it.”

“You’ve only seen have to deal with people in and around the expansion. It’s easy to lead when there’s a goal we’re all working towards. The hard moments are when you don’t know what the next goal should be.”

“I’ve been watching you for much longer than the last few days. You’ve always been a competent leader.”

Namaari’s mouth was dry, robbing any response from her.

“For so many of my people, I was the young princess, not tall enough to reach the top shelf. And suddenly I’m a young woman expected to lead them.”

“You’re still not tall enough to reach the top shelf.”

“Shut up, binturi.”

“Give them time. It’s only been a few months. It’s going to take time for normal to return.”

“I don’t know if normal is something we will find again.” Raya leaned back on her elbows. “I mean, until a few months ago normal for us was trying to kill each other.”

“I could stab you, if it makes you feel better.”

Raya laughed, “You could try.”

“You don’t think I could?”

“I know you couldn’t.”

Raya gasped as two knuckles jabbed into her side, hard enough to steal the air from her lungs.

“Not fair,” Raya wheezed, “I thought we were having a moment.”  

“We were. And then we had a moment where I stabbed you.”

Raya lashed out, grabbing for Namaari, only she was prepared, leaning out of the way.

“Binturi, take your hit like a warrior.”

“Only a poor warrior gets hit,” Namaari smirked.

Raya leapt at her, grabbing her collar.

“Hey!” Namaari rolled with the momentum, pulling Raya over her body and pinning her to the ground. Only Raya was counting on that, throwing her shoulder into Namaari’s as she pulled her weight over, taking them into another rotation that ended with Raya on top, hand hovering above Namaari’s neck. Namaari’s chest rose and fell, once, twice. The third time with a heavy huff.

“It's too late to be doing this anyway.”

“So you ceded? I win?”

“If it makes you feel better.” She moved Raya’s hand away from her neck.

Raya stood, holding out her hand for Namaari which she took, letting her help her up.

“I haven’t thanked you, for what you did today.”

Raya tilted her head, puzzled, “What did I do today?”

“You jumped into harm’s way to help Atitaya. Twice. You went down that hole after one of my men without a moment’s hesitation.”

“Oh. That? That was…Anyone would have done it.”

“Not anyone,” Namaari said, holding her gaze, “But a leader- a leader does things like that.”

“Sure.” Raya snorted, “A leader would put themselves in harm’s way carelessly? A good leader would protect their people best by being there too lead. I’m too reckless for that.”

“My mother has a saying. Good leaders know that be keeping themselves alive they’re giving themselves more chances to keep their people alive. But the best leaders recognize the difference between protecting oneself and hiding. If you weren’t a good leader you wouldn’t be so willing to give up your own safely for the sake of people who aren’t yours.”

“We’re Kumandra. They are our people. Or, I want to come to think of them as that.”

“Kumandra. Another new normal we will all have to come to terms with.”

“Add it to the list.”

“If Talon ever decides who’s leading them, what’s your father’s first plan for that council of his?”

“He wants to establish formal leadership for the people.”

“Is he proposing himself? Or you?”

Raya did a double-take at that, laughing, “Me? That’s crazy.”

Namaari hummed, “Is it? You brought us together. You seem, to me, the perfect candidate to lead us forward.”

“Weren’t you listening when I said I don’t know how to be a leader to my own people in Heart?”

“I was. I was also listening when you called us all Kumandra.”

“That’s different.”


“Being a servant to the people is different than leading them.”

“If a leader isn’t there for the service for their people then who are they there for?”

“I’m not going to be the leader of anything any time soon. Besides, Ba doesn’t have plans to take the leadership. He wants a council. Joint leadership. Each chief has a seat at the table, everyone has a voice.”

“That’s why he needs Talon to pick their leader.”

“Can’t offer one seat to two people.”

“You think the other tribes are going to agree to a joint council?” Namaari asked.

“I don’t know. Sometimes I still think peace is too good to be true. But you had a point when you said no one wants to be the idiot who risks the druun’s return by breaking the peace.”

“No one wants to be that.” Namaari agreed, pushing down a yawn.

“I’ve kept you up,” Raya said.

“No, no.” Namaari shook her head, “I’m enjoying it.”

“We should rest,” Raya deflected, turning to make her way back to her room, “Big day ahead.”

“Raya,” Namaari started to say but she was already walking away. Namaari sighed, “Good night.”

The next morning Atitaya greeted her by pressing her thumb into a sore spot just to the left of her chin. The flash of pain made her pull away suddenly.

“Did we miss that yesterday?” She asked, “We checked for injuries before we retired and you didn’t have any.”

Namaari touched the spot, wincing when she found it tender, “It must have happened last night, with Raya.”

“Excuse me?”