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and in spite of it all, you'rе still my everything (when we're nothing at all)

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I

 

To say that Raya was excited would be an understatement. After one year of projects, schemes, plans, maps, arguments, and everything that goes into a safe trip around the world, they were finally going to do it. She could barely contain the pure joy coursing in her veins, and she also couldn’t stop smiling. Planning this was a little bit stressful, but even then, she was already feeling good.

 

After all, it has been one year and a half ever since the Druun were pushed back out of the world. One year and a half ever since the dragons returned to the world. One year and a half after Kumandra was brought back together.

 

One year and a half since she got her Ba back.

 

One year and a half ever since-

 

“Are you coming or what?” Raya was pulled back from her daydream by Namaari’s voice. Though the words were ones that could often come off as impatient, the playful tone and the small smirk on Namaari’s face made them much lighter.

 

“Oh, yes!” Raya nodded, smiling. “Of course,” she said, and then turned to her father, who stood beside her at their home entrance. She stepped forward and hugged him. “Are you sure that things will be okay here without my help?”

 

“Yes,” he chuckled. “Believe it or not, I was in charge for some time, even before you were born.”

 

Chief Benja ruffled her hair, and Raya giggled, trying to get away. “Ba!”

 

“Now go, dew drop,” he leans down to whisper something to her. “It is rude to keep a princess waiting.”

 

“Ba!” Raya exclaimed indignantly, and then stepped away from him, a slight blush colouring her cheeks as she walked backwards and stayed only a small distance from Namaari. For a while now, her father has been teasing her about Namaari, for whatever reason.

 

“Have a safe trip, you two,” Chief Benja said, bowing to the two young women respectfully with his hands joined in a circle, and they did the same.

 

Raya turned around, and Namaari waited for the other to reach her before joining Raya in her walk. The silence was comfortable enough, and Raya tried to only look at Namaari’s profile out of the corner of her eye, not wanting to be caught full on staring. It still gave her a nice view of Namaari’s sharp jawline, of the golden accessory she wore on her ear. It reminds Raya that she wears something of equal colour around her strong biceps, and…

 

Raya suddenly wished to be in her room, where she could easily bury her head in her hands when thoughts like these hit her. ‘Dragons,’ she thought. ‘It’s only been a few minutes and I’m already a mess.’

 

“How are you and your father holding up?” Namaari asked, suddenly.

 

“We’ve been doing alright!” Raya responded. “With all the help that we’ve received, reconstruction is basically done. What about you and your mother? Is the expansion going well?”

 

“I can say the same. And, yeah, it’s going well,” Namaari hummed and nodded. “It has been one year and a half, and I still can’t believe that the world was willing to forgive us. To forgive me .”

 

“You saved the world, Namaari,” Raya told her, and this time, she looked at the other woman fully, only to find that Namaari looked back at her. It made Raya halt. Namaari’s eyes still held some sort of disbelief, though it was not as much as when they were starting the reconstructions. At that time, Namaari always looked so guilty, so full of remorse, so ashamed…

 

At the time, Raya did what she could to help her, and there was so much going on that she didn’t pay much attention to her own feelings. Now, seeing the remnants of those feelings and remembering the couple of times Namaari cried in her arms after a meeting, overwhelmed and scared and filled with guilt. The times she apologised for crying. The times she said she didn’t deserve to and dismissed her own feelings. The times she demeaned herself.

 

It made Raya’s chest hurt, and she gulped when Namaari looked away.

 

“We saved the world,” Namaari said, and started walking once again. “It wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for you and the others.”

 

“And it also wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have you,”   Raya’s response came fastly as they reached the end of the bridge. “The moment you decided to trust us, and we decided to trust you, we were able to do it. Not as separate fragments, but together. As Kumandra.”

 

“You sound just like Sisu,” Namaari chuckled. “So much optimism.”

 

“Is that supposed to be an insult?” Raya raised an eyebrow.

 

“On her? No. On you?” Namaari looked her up and down and Raya won’t ever admit the amount of heat that coursed through her veins. “Let’s just say that I prefer sarcasm.”

 

“Ugh, binturi,” Raya rolled her eyes and tried to hide the small smile that started to form on her lips.

 

“Getting on your nerves already, dep'la?” Namaari asked in a tone that she probably knew how much it affected Raya.

 

“Hah, yeah, no,” Raya looked at her companion with a grin. “You wish.”

 

Namaari’s answer was a small chuckle and a shake of her head. The two of them kept walking, heading to one of the ports that were constructed during the rebuilding. The talk while they headed there was light, filled with playful banter and chuckles. Raya had to admit, being able to be with Namaari like this was really nice.

 

They spent so many years ready to jump at one another’s necks. They hurt each other so much, so deeply. Raya was so immersed in her anger and her bitterness that she never realised that Namaari was hurting, too. They were both twelve when it happened, and though age is not an excuse for some actions, misguidance at a certain age is. There is no way a child would’ve thought of such a thing all by themself.

 

And there is no way Namaari could have known that the outcome would have been the one that happened. She didn’t wish for the Dragon Gem to break. She didn’t wish for the Drunn to be freed. She didn’t wish for Raya’s Ba’s death.

 

All she wanted was prosperity for her home, and her mother most likely convinced her - no, taught her that the way to that was to guard the Dragon Gem. And Chief Virana probably received the same lessons - and she certainly didn’t want the Dragon Gem to be broken, either. Besides, the five Lands had such a grudge for another, and Raya can only begin to imagine how egotistical Heart seemed to the others. Prospering while there were others that hungered.

 

Namaari thought that she was doing something good for her Land. And she most likely blamed herself for the freeing of the Druun just as much as Raya blamed herself for taking her to where the Dragon Gem was located.

 

And then, came the six years after that day. Raya travelled around, while Namaari was growing and training and becoming the leader and the warrior that would command the Fang Land after the time for Chief Virana to pass the title came. One of them still had one parent for guidance, the other only wanted the one that she lost back.

 

“We’re here,” Namaari smiled at her, already in the boat, one hand held out for her. Raya smiled back, taking the other’s hand and feeling the wave of electricity that went up her arm and heated her neck and face. She then jumped in, and she felt Namaari’s gaze on her.

 

Raya looked up into Namaari’s eyes, and noticed that she had an unreadable look in them. The emotions there were unknown to Raya, and she blinked a few times, lips parting on just how beautifully they made those dark brown irises gleam. She wanted to ask what that meant, she wanted to ask Namaari what those emotions that she had never seen in her eyes before were.

 

“Good… morning, ladies!” Boun exclaimed as he dropped in the boat, making both women jump, hands parting as they looked anywhere but one another. Boun’s eyebrows furrowed, and his mouth started opening. But Raya was faster.

 

“Nothing!” she answered the unsaid question. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Namari push a bit of her hair behind her ear, looking away. If before she was hard to read, with only a hint of her turned-down lips to show she was unreadable.

 

“What…?” the boy tilted his head to the side, seeming confused. “I was just gonna ask if you’re not bringing Tuk Tuk.”

 

“What do you mean, I’m not…?” Raya’s eyebrows furrowed, and then she rolled her eyes and groaned, frustrated. “I told them to bring Tuk Tuk here,” she rubbed her face with her right hand while the other was on her hip. Then, Raya looked at her friends apologetically. “Do you mind waiting for a bit? I’ll just fetch him and we’ll go.”

 

“Fine by me,” Boun gave a playful salute.

 

“Sure,” Namaari responded, smiling tightly and nodding.

 

Raya smiled back, and then rushed to get Tuk Tuk.


II

 

Travelling the waters to Talon was a good, calm experience. Sometimes, they would get out of the boat and explore the land. Seeing as the Druun are now gone, they could walk through the woods with little to no worries while Boun cooked them lunch. Raya has to admit that she would enjoy having her other friends on this trip, but Noi was growing up and needed a stable place to be at - though she could handle herself fairly well for a baby - and Tong had his family and tribe. 

 

At first, Boun was uncertain about it, but after a while, he said he needed a break from his “obnoxious sister”. So he had been aiding in the Heart-Fang water transactions for a bit over three months now. And predictably so, he started missing home and his family, so he had taken the opportunity of this trip to go see them. So he had been in the plans for only about two weeks now.

 

And Namaari…

 

Well, Namaari had been on board for this trip since the very beginning. So after Tong and Noi declined, and Boun delayed his answer, it kind of became “their thing”. They planned it all together, and whenever there was a meeting to speak about Fang’s expansion, Namaari would escape somewhere else to talk about it. Namaari’s excitement matched Raya’s own, and they talked and bantered and made plans together.

 

The memories of those afternoons that were filled with laughter and warmth made Raya smile as they walked through the woods. She kept her eyes on Namaari’s muscled back as the other woman guided her through the forest. The trees were of beautiful, bright green leaves, and the ground creaked as they stepped on fallen ones. There were animals roaming the trunks, and Raya was pretty sure that she had seen a snake at some point.

 

 Eventually, Namaari stopped walking, which caused Raya to halt as well. They were in front of a clearing with low, light and bright green grass, and a small lake of  crystalline water on the other side. Raya smiled at it brightly, and then looked at Namaari, whose lips were parted and eyes were wide in awe. She looked at it for some seconds, and then back at Raya, smiling softly at her.

 

Namaari’s eyes were so gentle, and suddenly, the look she had given Raya in the boat a few days ago was back. It danced around her irises, dilated her pupils ever so slightly. And it also matched her smile, and Raya doesn’t recall ever thinking that Namaari could ever look soft. Yet, here she was, giving her that look that Raya didn’t really understand, and smiling at her like she was a beautiful clearing bathing under the midday sunlight.

 

Raya didn’t really know the meaning behind it, but her heart still squeezed weirdly inside her chest, and she gulped, but her eyes didn’t lie with the affection gleaming in them. But then, another feeling crawls up her body - telling her that it’s already enough that they trust one another. That it’s enough that they’re friends.

 

That she shouldn’t want more.

 

So she clears her throat, and looks back at the lake, avoiding Namaari’s eyes, and missing the way the other warrior’s eyes drifted down, and her features shifting. Missing the woman’s small sigh.

 

Then, Raya looked at Namaari with a smirk and a quirked eyebrow.

 

“Last one in helps Boun with the dishes!” Raya exclaimed, already running to jump in the natural pool, discarding her clothes on the way to the water.

 

“Hey!” Namaari shouted, doing the same and trying to reach the lake faster while also discarding the bag with some of their stuff. It was of no use, because just as she approached it, Raya was already jumping in. Namaari, defeated, got in the water more calmly as Raya dived, finding that though it was relatively small, it was also quite deep. When the Heart princess emerged, Namaari glared at her. “You’re a cheater.”

 

“You’re only saying that because you lost,” Raya splashed some water at Namaari’s face.

 

“I only lost because you cheated,” Namaari retorted, splashing back at Raya, using more force.

 

Soon enough, a splashing war had begun, with them swimming around and getting as much water at one another’s faces as they could. Their laughter filled the clearing as, after a while, splashing became wrestling. They dived, pushing each other, and getting their hands all over the other’s faces. And when they emerged, Raya was sure to give Namaari a splash on the face as they caught some air.

 

Raya dived, grabbing Namaari by the legs and pulling her down with her, not hearing the shriek that echoed through the clearing. Even underwater, Raya could make out the anger in Namaari’s face, and she had to emerge so she could laugh. What she did not expect was for Namaari to get back to the surface right behind her, and jump on her back, one arm coming around her neck to rest a hand on her shoulder, squeezing. The other wrapped around Raya’s torso, causing her to swallow a gasp as a strong hand gripped her side while Namaari pressed her bare front to her back.

 

“Wanna play, princess?” Namaari whispered in her ear, voice raspy, and - oh, holy Dragons - hot breath against her skin. Namaari gripped her stronger, bringing her closer and nosing at the curve of her jaw. Raya instinctively leaned back into the hold. “Then let me show you a good time.”

 

Raya didn’t know what she was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t to be pulled back into the water. She barely had any time to prepare and to hold her breath before they dived back into the lake, Namaari’s strong grip never faltering. Raya tried struggling for a bit, but then she realised that it was a waste of energy and relaxed. After a few moments, Namaari took them back to the surface and released Raya.

 

“What in the name of Kumandra was that, Namaari?” she asked, making the other woman laugh. “And you call me the cheater?!”

 

“What, were you expecting anything else?” Namaari smirked at her. Raya swore that this woman would be the end of her.

 

“Maybe a warning before you try to drown me would be nice next time,” Raya huffs. “Remind me to never let my guard down around you again.”

 

Something in Namaari’s face fell, and only then did Raya realise the meaning behind her words. She had meant it so playfully that she didn’t even consider how the words would affect Namaari.

 

“I’m sorry,” Namaari said, and before Raya could respond, she was out of the water.

 

Raya stepped out of the lake, too, heading to their bag and grabbing a towel. She and Namaari faced away from one another, and Raya dried her body feeling like the weight of the world had settled on her shoulders. She grabbed her clothes, putting them on before turning to Namaari.

 

“Namaari…”

 

“Yes?” the taller woman didn’t look her in the eyes. Raya suddenly preferred the look that she couldn’t understand.

 

“I didn’t mean it like that,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s alright, binturi,” Namaari responded, uttering the last word affectionately and smiling tightly at Raya. It didn’t reach her eyes, and she didn’t give Raya the time to say anything else. “Let’s head back. Lunch must be ready.”

 

And all Raya could do was follow her back to the boat.

 


III

After that day, Namaari closed off slightly, and she would brood for some parts of the day. Mostly at the ending of the afternoon, when she sat with her back against her Serlot in an isolated corner of the boat, caressing his furs and looking up at the sky. She still treated Raya well and smiled at her and was as caring as Raya had found that she could be. But she still wouldn’t actually talk to her. And Raya tried to distract herself in those minutes, listening to Boun’s endless tales about his time assisting in the Fang-Heart transaction.

 

But as interesting as the stories were, Raya couldn’t stop her gaze from travelling to Namaari’s form. She tried not to show how much it made her heart tighten and her heart ache, but she was pretty sure that Boun had noticed.

 

“You should just talk to her, you know?” the boy said one day as he made them some dinner. “I don’t know what happened, but I’m sure that she won’t refuse you if you try to.”

 

“I… can’t,” Raya rubbed the back of her neck, looking down.

 

“And why not?” Boun looked at her, eyebrows furrowed and head tilted. “I mean, you’re friends. If you don’t try fixing things when they go wrong, then what will you be?”

 

“I-I know that, it’s just…” Raya rubbed her face. “I don’t… I don’t know, Boun, it’s just so complicated.”

 

“What’s so complicated about it?” he turned his back to Raya and kept cooking.

 

“I… wanna talk to her and reassure her that I do trust her. A lot. But she seems to want her space, because I said something that made it sound like I don’t. And I’m just trying to read when it’s the best time to approach her,” Raya groaned, frustrated. “I’m just trying not to make her feel any worse than I already have.”

 

“She seems miserable when she broods with her Serlot. Alone,” Boun said before tasting the soup. “How is that doing her any good?”

 

“I don’t know!” Raya exclaimed, and then noticed that she had shouted. She looked back, seeing both Namaari and the Serlot’s gazes on her. Namaari had a slightly pained look in her eyes that lasted less than two seconds, but that still shattered Raya’s heart. 

 

The Fang warrior replaced the pain with a small smile and a brief wave of her hand.

 

Raya waved back, and then turned around, gripping her hair with her hands.

 

“Ughhh,” she groaned through gritted teeth. “Why am I such a damned disaster?”

 

Boun didn’t respond.

 

“It doesn’t help that she’s also so pretty,” Raya kept going. “She’s so… like, I don’t even know. I don’t know how to describe her. She’s a lot.”

 

“Who’s a lot?” a loud, bright voice asked. Sisu.

 

“Shhhhhhhhhhh,” Raya shushed, eyes widening. She did her best not to look back and check if Namaari was looking.

 

“Sisu!” Boun exclaimed and ran to hug the dragon with a bright smile. “What are you doing around here?”

 

“Well, I could smell your food from the deepest part of the river!” Sisu laughed. “Amazing as always, Chef Boun.”

 

“I serve to please,” he responded and ran a hand through his hair, giving Sisu his signature smirk. She laughed at him.

 

“Sisu,” Raya heard Namaari’s voice, seeing that she had approached the scene. She bowed to the dragon respectfully.

 

“Oh, come on, you,” Sisu pulled Namaari in for a hug, and all the woman could do was chuckle and hesitantly wrap her arms around Sisu. After they pulled away, Sisu looked back at Raya as Namaari took the seat beside hers. Raya involuntarily tensed. “Why did you shush me, by the- oh. Oh.”

 

It was like something clicked in her mind and suddenly, she had the key to all the knowledge in the Universe. Which she likely already did before, being a divine being, but that’s irrelevant.

 

“For the Skies,” Sisu laughed. “I knew it! I’ve known it for a while now, but-” she looked at Boun and he nodded, making a ‘mhmm’ noise. “I wanna know everything.”

 

“Am I the only one who is lost in this conversation?” Namaari asked.

 

“Believe me, I’m about as lost as you are,” Raya answered.

 

“The two of you are so oblivious,” Sisu laughed again. “But it’s not in my jurisdiction to interfere in this. So, paws tied over here.”

 

“The dragons have abandoned me to the suffering,” Boun groaned.

 

“I’m sorry, kid,” Sisu patted his shoulder. “Can I stay for dinner, though?”

 

“Sure!” he agreed. The two started chatting, and Raya couldn’t make out what they were saying.

 

When she looked to her side, Raya’s eyes met Namaari’s gaze. It was intense, but at its core, it felt similar to the one that she’d seen there those other times. Namaari then sighed, turning her face and resting her elbow on the table, looking away and at the view.

 

Raya was able to catch a glimpse of the look in her eyes before she faced away, though. And it looked a lot like guilt.

 


IV

 

The following days turned to weeks, and not much changed in that space of time. The only thing that changed was the added guilt in Namaari’s eyes whenever she looked into Raya’s for too long. So she started avoiding the other woman’s gaze when they talked, looking down at her feet instead. Her smiles became less frequent, but Raya still saw a bit of them when she caught Namaari staring when she thought that Raya wasn’t seeing her.

 

Sisu had stayed with them until they got to Talon, wanting to see Noi and her family. When Raya told her about what had happened, Sisu started rambling about misunderstandings and how they could easily fix it with a gift. So after being dragged around and avoiding one pickpocketer, Raya came across a stall that caught her eye.

 

The object of her interest was a silver upper arm cuff designed to represent a Serlot. The pointy ears were painted in black, permanent ink, and the metal was worked so it looked like it had stripes. The eyes were of the same blue as the dragon necklace that Namaari had given her when they first met.

 

“Whoa…” Raya let out. “This is gorgeous.”

 

“She’ll love it!” Sisu exclaimed, victoriously.

 

After buying the gift, Raya and Sisu started heading back to the boat. Surprisingly, it was a silent walk, which made it become unsettling quickly. Raya thought of attempting to initiate conversation, but Sisu seemed deep in thought, so she thought it better to not disturb her friend. Only when they were almost approaching the boat did Sisu speak up.

 

“You know… sometimes, we keep waiting until the best time comes, but it might be too late before it does,” Sisu looked her in the eyes, voice solemn. “Sometimes, when you care about someone, you have to show them so they know. Talk to them so they understand. A human life is short, Raya. Don’t waste yours waiting for a ‘best time’ when you can make one.”

 

“I…” Raya looked at the package in her hands. “I’ll think about it. And try to do that, too.”

 

“Okay,” Sisu responded, back to her cheerful self. And then, they kept walking towards the boat.

 

Sisu left them a few days after that, as the boat set sail to Spine territory. Raya couldn’t stop thinking about what Sisu told her, but she also couldn’t bring herself to actually reach out to Namaari. Because… what would she even say?

 

“Here, have this gift. I hope it makes up for implying that I don’t trust you when I know that that is something that hurts you” sounds really bad to her. Just apologizing feels empty, like she isn’t putting enough effort or thought into how much her wods affected Namaari.

 

She could always…

 

No, not that. She doesn’t want to say that to Namaari in a moment that would make it seem like she’s trying to force the other woman to forgive her. Which is a little bit dumb, since she knows that no one can really force Namaari to do anything that she doesn’t want to do.

 

The only one able to convince her is her mother, but then again, it’s not like she follows the Chieftess’ every order with no question anymore. Virana isn’t a bad person, or a bad leader. And she’s not a bad mother, either. But she is good at being convincing, and while that can be a good thing when it comes to negotiations, it might not be that good in other matters.

 

Such as making your young daughter believe that it would be wise to try stealing the Dragon Gem. And then being the one behind the primary cause for the Druun to be unleashed.

 

So nowadays Namaari is wiser, and she forms her own judgement before following her mother’s. Which doesn’t mean that there is a strain to their relationship; Chieftess Virana actually seems to appreciate her autonomy of thought and the maturity of her choices. Namaari has told Raya that her mother said that “while listening to the elders is important, and their judgement is of high esteem in the society, a leader must trust their decisions. There are choices one has to make without any head but their own.”

 

So it’s not like Raya would be forcing Namaari to do anything. But it still felt weird to bring it up in a moment like that.

 

So Raya keeps to herself, too, while a million thoughts take her mind and she tries to decide which course of action she should take. To make it all even better, when they get off the boat at the shore near Spine territory, Boun tells them that he’s sorry, but he really wants to get home. So he won’t be accompanying them anymore.

 

Which is fine, because Raya is totally ready to be alone with Namaari.

 

Only them, Tuk Tuk, and the Serlot. On a trip through the woods and snow that leads to Spine. What in the world could ever go wrong?

 

Except, of course, for the bandits that have been wandering around the trails that lead to the Spine tribe. The ones that Tong had warned them about, and the very reason why they had brought their weapons in the first place. Kumandra might be united again, and reconstruction may be walking with sure steps, but that doesn’t mean that everyone suddenly became beautiful sunflowers that will smile at you at any chance they get.

 

Not everything is a Sisu daydream or a Chief Benja plan.

 

“To your left!” Raya shouted, seeing a large man coming at Namaari. As the other woman blocked a blow from his axe, Raya extended her sword and disarmed another one.

 

Things were going pretty well for them, the two women fighting back to back in some moments, switching opponents as they battled with mastery and fierceness. Fighting against one another, they were dangerous, but when on the same side, they were deadly. So soon enough, most of the bandits were either unconscious or trying to run off.

 

Raya hit her last one on the head with the flat of her blade, making her fall to the ground. She was about to turn to Namaari to brag over finishing faster than her when she felt something collide with her body. Raya recognised the press and the weight as Namaari’s body. The force of the impact sent her far to the side, scraping her elbows in the process, and she was about to ask what in the world was that for when she heard it.

 

A sharp gasp that pierced through her ears and settled in her head like twin daggers. 

 

Raya looked at the source, watching in horror as Namaari fell to her knees, an arrow under her left breast, the tip sticking out through her lower back. Someone attacked them from the trees. Raya looked up, eyes wide, searching for who could be the responsible for this. She hears a rustling behind her, and turns around to see a slim bandit readying a crossbow, perched on a tree and wearing an attire that made them blend in well.

 

Bastard.

 

Raya’s teeth gritted and she was overcome by rage. A kind that she hasn’t felt ever since the day that the Druun had been defeated once again. She extended her sword and, giving the bandit no time to react as she swung it like a wip at them, making them lose their balance and fall off the tree. From the noise, Raya was pretty sure that they broke something in the fall, and after some seconds of no noise, she concluded that they were unconscious.

Finally secure that nothing would threaten them, Raya rushed to Namaari, who was being supported by her Serlot. She slid on the ground to settle beside the Fang warrior, and Raya’s hands hovered over the other woman’s body, trembling. Her eyes searched for a way to try and help Namaari, but they ended up settling on Namaari’s face.

 

She was sweating, and her eyes were clenched closed. Namaari’s teeth were gritted, and she let out a hiss every now and then.

 

“Namaari,” Raya whispered, and her voice came out weak and trembling.

 

“Take… t-take it... out,” Nammari pleaded in a pained and low tone.

 

“I-I…” Raya’s breath was starting to come out quick, hurting in her ribcage. “No. No, Namaari, you’ll… you will die, I-I can’t.”

 

“Please,” Namari begged. She never begged. Everything about this was just so wrong. “It… it hurts, Raya. P-please…”

 

“Namaari…” Raya’s voice broke in the middle of the name.

 

“Please…” Namaari begged again, her eyes opening a bit. Raya held back a sob and nodded.

 

She brought Namaari’s front closer to her own as gently as she could, but Namaari still let out a small grunt. Raya’s apology was almost inaudible, but she felt Namaari’s weak nod as she laid her head on her shoulder. Raya inspected the tip, finding that it had gone completely through. Raya feels her throat closing as she remembers what her father taught her about not ever taking out arrows until she could get medical assistance.

 

Yet, here she was, about to go against her best judgement.

 

“Namaari…” she muttered. “I can’t do it.”

 

“Raya…”

 

“I’m sorry, but I can’t kill you,” Raya blurts out. “I… I can’t,” the last word is broken by a sob, and she hugs Namaari close as gently as she can.

 

“H-hey…” Namaari urges Raya to pull away, and afraid of causing her pain, the Heart princess pulls away. She lays Namaari back against the Serlot, and finds that those dark irises are gradually losing their glow, but they’re still giving the look. The one that had Raya curious, that made her heart beat faster. But right now, it only made her eyes close as tears spilled. “Look at me,” Namaari requested, one hand on her cheek, whipping away the falling tears. “Don’t cry, dep'la. Not for me.”

 

“Namaari, please.”

 

“Live a… good life,” Namaari brought her face closer, making their foreheads touch. Still looking into her eyes with that same gaze. “That’s my… only wish.”

 

“How can I do that w-without you, binturi?” Raya asked. Namaari chuckled. Then, she laid a kiss on the corner of Raya’s mouth, making the shorter woman close her eyes. It only caused more tears to fall from Raya’s eyes. The tightness in her chest grew to despair when she felt Namaari’s hand fall from her cheek. “Namaari?”

 

When she pulled back and looked at Namaari, she found her eyes closed. It was almost a peaceful sight.

 

“Hey, Namaari.”

 

Raya tried nudging at her, tried urging her awake.

 

“Please, say something,” Raya sobbed. “A-anything.”

 

She grasped at Namaari’s shirt, laying her head on the woman’s chest.

 

“Namaari…”

 

Her fists trembled.

 

“Namaari!” it came out like the cry of a wounded being, echoing through the trees.

 

And then, only Raya’s sobs could be heard.

 


V

 

Raya sat on a chair in one of the medical tents in Tong’s tribe, watching as Namaari laid on the bed, eyes closed and breath steady. There was still a lump in her throat and a tightness in her chest, but relief was also present, seeing as Namaari looked peaceful and free of pain. Raya wanted to take the other woman’s hands in hers, but whenever she reached out, she felt herself tremble.

 

The memories of the moment when Namaari had practically begged for her to take the arrow out and, with it, take the pain as well as her life away always came crashing down on Raya. It reminds her of that fight in the Fang palace, when Namaari seemed to accept her fate when she was disarmed.

 

The knowledge that she could have ended the Fang princess’ life in both occasions had Raya sighing, resting her elbows on her knees and rubbing her face. A life without Namaari was now something inimaginable for her, and yet, she was constantly close to having it happen.

 

Come to think of it, this time she was much closer. And she was once again reminded of what had made saving Namaari possible.

 

Raya heard the sound of some sticks cracking, the distinct noise of steps approaching them. Still, she didn’t look up, too focused on the sobs that caused tremors all over her body. It probably wasn’t anyone from Spine, because she had just told Tuk Tuk to go get them for her. But at this point, she didn’t really care, either. The thought that she was losing Namaari took away all her strength momentarily, and all she could do was accept that her fate might be similar.

 

“Now, this is a mess,” someone said behind her. They kept walking closer, and from the heaviness of the steps, Raya could tell that it was a dragon. “May I know what happened here?”

 

Raya didn’t respond, but out of the corner of her eyes, she could see that the dragon’s paws were of a very light green with some white mixed into the furs.

 

“Look, my name is Khoi,” the dragon approached then, and Raya finally looked up, seeing that the rest of Khoi’s body was the same mix of green and white. “I’m the dragon of cure, so if you tell me what’s going on, I can probably help you?”

 

“She’s dying,” Raya said, voice hoarse and low. “S-she took an arrow for me and now…” a lump started forming in her throat. “I-I couldn’t even… she a-asked me to take it off. It was hurting her, and I-I didn’t even help her go painlessly. I-”

 

“You did good,” Khoi put a paw on her head. The dragon’s eyes shifted Namaari’s form, a glow appearing in them briefly. “Life and death have a delicate in-between where balance rests. I can’t really mess with that, but I can guarantee that the most serious part is dealt with.”

 

“W-what do you mean?”

 

“Some of her organs were damaged by the arrow,” Khoi explained. “I can fix them if you take the arrow out. But you’ll still have to deal with the bleeding.”

 

“Why can’t you heal all of it?” Raya asked, genuinely curious. Khoi chuckled.

 

“As I said, there’s a balance between life and death. If I cure a deadly wound entirely, I will be favouring life over death. One life over many others that were lost in the same way. I can give you a headstart, but the rest of the work… it is yours to do.”

 

Raya’s thoughts were interrupted by a weak cough and a low grunt. She lifted her head, eyes going to Namaari’s form and finding that she had awakened. Their gazes met, and Raya saw relief and joy in Namaari’s eyes, a small smile forming in her lips. Raya tried to match it, feeling her eyes well up with tears as she took in how alive Namaari looked.

 

She thought of telling her how scared she was.

 

She thought of telling her to never do that again.

 

She thought of telling her about the dragon who saved her life.

 

But instead…

 

“What in the name of Kumandra did you think you were doing?” Raya asked, her whole body tense. Namaari’s smile dropped. “Why would you even do that?”

 

“The bandit was aiming at you,” Namaari answered, her voice rough from lack of use. “It’s not like I had much of a choice.”

 

“Do you…” Raya’s hands started to shake. “Do you really believe that I could handle that? After everything that happened… do you really think that I would be able to take watching you go down like that?”

 

“Do you believe that I could handle it?” Namaari shot back. “Don’t act like you wouldn’t do the same.”

 

“It’s not… I’m…” Raya groaned. “I would do the same. But why did you beg me to kill you?”

 

“So that’s what it is about,” Namaari looked away.

 

Raya didn’t know what to say after that, and she only kept looking at Namaari, waiting to see if she would say anything else. When the silence continued, she stood up and kneeled beside the bed, resting her forehead on the empty space beside Namaari’s body.

 

“I trust you,” Raya said. “I… I don’t know if you were trying to prove that I can trust you, but I already do. I don’t want you to die for me, Namaari. I don’t want something temporary, like me getting injured, to end with you getting killed. I don’t enjoy getting hurt, but I would easily do it if it meant that I… that I wouldn’t have to…”

 

“Raya,” Namaari called, and Raya looked up at her. “It was going to kill you. They were aiming at your heart. You wouldn’t get as much time as I did. So don’t dismiss it as just an injury. I may have seemed reckless, but I promise you that I thought it through.”

 

Raya felt a hand on her cheek, and only then did she notice that she was crying. Namaari prompted her to get on the bed, moving to leave enough space for Raya to be able to lay on her side. The Heart princess took the invitation, lying her head on Namaari’s right shoulder and sighing.

 

“We’re both big idiots, aren’t we?” Raya asked, and Namaari laughed. It was followed by a wince. “Are you alright?”

 

“Yeah, it just…” Namaari grunted a bit. “It kind of hurts to laugh.”

 

“I’ll try not to be the funniest person in the world around you, then,” Raya joked. “Though it might take some effort.”

 

“Don’t worry. You’re succeeding right now.”

 

“Ugh, you’re so rude,” Raya rolled her eyes, but pressed closer to Namaari, wrapping one arm around her torso.

 

“Don’t lie to yourself, dep’la,” Namaari chuckled. “You love it.”

 

“Nah, I just humour you so you don’t feel too bad about yourself,” Raya bit back.

 

“Careful with my fragile princess heart,” Namaari responded sarcastically. “You might break it one of these days.”

 

“Awww, do you mean you like me?”

 

“Hah, in your dreams,” Namaari answered, and Raya looked up at her. The Fang warrior was looking down at her, and though her smirk was teasing, her eyes held a familiar softness. Raya was almost sure that the gaze matched her own.

 

“In my nightmares, you mean,” Raya taunted, trying to hide how warm the look made her feel.

 

“Oh, please,” Namaari scoffed. “We both know that you think I’m great. Actually, I think that you are the one who likes me.”

 

“You’re so full of yourself.”

 

“Right back at you.”

 

“Binturi.”

 

“No, you.”

 

“Ah, I see that the princess of Fang has awakened!” a deep voice sounded from the tent’s entrance. It was Tong, already coming in. “I was starting to fear that I would have to deal with diplomatic issues.”

 

“Don’t worry about it, Chief Tong,” Namaari chuckled. “I am recovering well.”

 

“You had to see Raya’s face when we found you two in the woods,” he said and Raya felt warmth creep to her face. She groaned as he laughed, hiding her face on Namaari’s shoulder.

 

“Oh?” Namaari questioned. “That sounds interesting.”

 

Raya kept her face hidden as Tong told Namaari about the rescue mission.

 


+ I

 

The following days went by with Namaari recovering quickly. She and Raya went back to the pace they were in before that day in the clearing, playfully bantering, trading looks and always staying as close as possible to one another. Raya would also watch as Namaari played with the children of Tong’s tribe, engaging in their daily activities.

 

Anyone who saw Namaari’s hardened exterion wouldn’t ever be able to tell just how good she is with them. And she actually enjoys it. Whenever she’s around the kids, there’s a brightness to her eyes and a certain life to her smile. Her laughter is always loud and lively.

 

Namaari also likes telling stories to them, and that’s the activity Raya engages with the most. It’s just too enjoyable to see the warrior acting as the many characters of her tales, making voices and narrating the events. Raya finds herself mesmerized with how she captures the attention of even the tribe’s adults when she tells the stories.

 

It led her to the conclusion that there is a lot that people don’t know about Namaari, and that all the layers that she revealed made her even more beautiful. Namaari is already gorgeous to the eyes, but the more Raya heard, the more she observed, the more breathtaking Namaari became to her.

 

One day, waking up in the room that Tong “accidentally” arranged for them with only one bed, Raya found herself staring at Namaari’s face as she slept. Even with a bit of drool coming out of her mouth and a low snore leaving her chest, Namaari still looked absolutely gorgeous to Raya.

 

And that was when she concluded that she had fallen in love with Namaari.

 

That day, she had also decided to finally give Namaari the gift that she had bought for her back in Talon. It was their last day in Spine, and the people had decided to make it special, so they didn’t get a lot of alone time for the entirety of the morning and afternoon. The evening was taken by a banquet, and everyone talked to them excitedly.

 

Raya did enjoy their company, but she really wanted to talk to Namaari.

 

Wanted to tell her of the overwhelming feelings in her chest.

 

Wanted to be with her in that way.

 

So when the banquet was finally over and they were free to do as they pleased, Raya let out a discreet, relieved sigh and invited Namaari for a walk. The two of them wandered side by side around the village, taking in how it looked in the night, with the moonlight bathing the houses.

 

Raya stole some looks at Namaari, and she felt the other do the same. Eventually, their hands were joined, and Raya was sure to intertwine their fingers. She pressed closer to Namaari with a long sigh, closing her eyes and trusting that the other would catch her if she were to fall while walking like this.

 

“You know…” Raya started, softly. “I was scared. That’s what I wanted to tell you when you woke up, and… and I wanted to ask you to not do it again. I’m sorry if I made you think that I was mad at you.”

 

“You fooled me for a minute, but then I understood,” Namaari told her. “You don’t have to apologise. I understand you.”

 

“And I’m also sorry for making you believe that I don’t trust you,” Raya looked up at Namaari. “Back in the clearing. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

 

“To be fair, I overreacted a little,” Namaari chuckled.

 

“I don’t think you did,” Raya shook her head. “It’s a boundary of yours, and trust is a sensible subject for you. I’ll be more careful next time.”

 

“I appreciate that,” Namaari smiled at her. “And I’ll try reaching out to you instead of just brooding in a corner.”

 

“That would be nice,” Raya giggled. Then, she finally took in their surroundings, and found that they were in a very secluded area of the village. Raya looked around for a bit, and then her eyes met Namaari’s, before slipping down to the taller woman’s lips. She cupped Namaari’s cheek, caressing it with her thumb. “May I?”

 

“Please…” Namaari answered, like she was holding her breath.

 

The Fang princess released it through her nose in the form of a sigh when Raya’s lips met her own. She gripped Raya’s hips with her hands, humming when Raya pulled away for a bit to readjust her position. Namaari gasped into the kiss as Raya’s lips captured her lower one, and she did the same to Raya’s upper lip. The low sound that came out of Raya’s throat was simply sinful.

 

Raya pulled away again, putting a hand on the curve of Namaari’s neck while the one that cupped her cheek went to the back of Namaari’s head. Raya caressed and gripped and soon enough, Namaari found herself pressed against a wall, kisses being spread around her face. And then on her jawline, going up, and she bit back a sharp gasp.

 

“You’re so beautiful,” Raya whispered. “I’ve seen you, Namaari, and you’re gorgeous. All of you.”

 

“You’re…” Namaari sighed when she felt lips make contact with the sensitive skin of her neck. “You’re marvelous. I thought so then, and I think so now. You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen, dep’la.”

 

“I…” Raya pulled back, and looked Namaari in the eyes. It was the same look that Namaari had given her so many times before, and Raya found herself breathless. There was desire. There was affection. There was care. There was an overwhelming amount of love. And she realised: Namaari had been in love with her all this time. “I am in love with you.”

 

Namaari closed her eyes, a sigh trembling out of her parted lips. “Then kiss me, binturi. Because I love you, too.”

 

And so Raya did, bringing her lips to Namaari. This time, it was impatient, passionate, like they couldn’t get enough of each other, but still were willing to try doing so. Raya’s hands slipped down to Namaari’s hips and she pressed the other to the wall harder. Namaari’s gasp was swallowed by Raya’s eager tongue, and she wrapped an arm around Raya’s shoulders, her other hand burying into the silky, long hair.

 

The kiss went on and on, gasped breaths and small moans being the sounds that left the two women.

 

“I love you,” Namaari said, gasping the words when they separated briefly. “So much.”

 

“I love you,” Raya pecked her lips. Namaari didn’t let her pull away, initiating another passionate kiss. And another. And another, until Raya pulled away, chuckling. “Though your eagerness is flattering, there’s one more thing I was planning to do tonight.”

 

“You’re so forward,” Namaari chuckled, and Raya blushed.

 

“I-it… it’s not-” Raya felt like her face was on fire. “Like, not that I don’t want to, but- well, y-you know, I didn’t even know what to expect, so- ugh.”

 

“You’re adorable,” Namaari laughed, cupping her cheek before laying a kiss on the other. “What were you planning, dep’la?”

 

“I… got you a gift,” Raya said, sheepishly. “Back in Talon,” she reached behind her, into the bag she was carrying around and handed the small, velvety box where the bracelet was being kept to Namaari. When the woman opened it, her eyes gleamed in awe.

 

“Raya, this is beautiful…”

 

“Um… you are, too,” Raya blushed, and Namaari chuckled.

 

“Binturi,” she whispered, pecking her lips.

 

After that, they headed back to their shared room. Their trip was only beginning, after all.