Every Wasted Moment
Amber Michelle

Inspired by Gauntlet theme #32, "I kept your tie," and there will be a second part someday. There's a minor reference to Call of the Heron.

Summary: He said he would pull Altina to the heavens and give her a taste of eternity.


Once, Altina married a man for love - not his beauty, as her opponents suggested, nor his voice, which he would have indulged her with as friend, if not husband. Lehran was generous; he had everything and nothing, a goddess by his side, another enamored with him, flitting to his shoulder and dashing away, favors in her wake - cherry blossoms, gossamer thread, diamonds like dust. Altina didn't know what she herself offered to him. A sword arm, when divine grace allowed him the walk of battlefields unscathed?

Earth, instead of heaven.

A child he created with words whispered in her ear, his desire a river running deep and warm within her.

She kept a lock of his hair in a cedar box, tied at one end with a black silk ribbon, a smooth length still perfect, neat, a decade after it was cut, each hair so fine it disappeared when held to the light. Three feathers hid in another, long as her arm, sleek, black, buried beneath her wedding dress in a chest at the bottom of the cathedral, where she remembered them only sometimes as she lay alone on a bed they once shared and recalled the way his wings brushed her shoulders, her ankles. Their daughter, now four, reached for the sky when black birds winged past her and chased their flocks when they alighted in the garden.

I'm a bird! I'll fly!

And if that twisted Altina's vocal chords into a knot, she could still smile, and clap, and tell her that was right - someday she would wing among the stars.

When her daughter greeted the new consort with a lilting father and ran to his arms, the pressure behind Altina's eyes, the tightness of her skin, the burning acid in her throat, made it impossible to swallow. Her lips stayed firmly closed against the words that welled up in her throat like bile. She'd made a promise to the dragon king, who appeared to escort her husband to his new home. He was a shadow taller than Lehran and without wings, his clan emblazoned on his forehead in red. He looked down at the cradle when he spoke to Altina, gazed at their daughter, said she was a beautiful child-- but what else could be expected of the issue of the heron clan?

Find a new husband, Dheginsea told her. Never reveal the babe's heritage.

The child looked like her, Altina realized: indigo hair curled around her shoulders, eyes of gold. Her arms and legs were still short, plump, but they would grow to be long, slender, and strong. It was her hands that reflected the other half of her parentage-- her fingers had a tapered look to them, like the slant of a wing, and the shape of her eyes would be narrow like his.

He named her Sarai when he held her with both hands, her newborn cries rending the camphor-laden air of the birthing chamber. Sarai for the first woman, for the issue of his queen's womb, and he made her name a song in the oldest of tongues, the one only he and the goddess still lived to share. Altina remembered the way the lamp light brightened when his voice danced the notes, the sheen on his hair turning gold from brown, his skin a soft glow like the moon. The goddess shined her light upon him when he sang, it was said; some went so far as to claim he was a god.

If I were a god, Lehran told her when he heard that story, I would--


I would pull you to the heavens and give you a taste of eternity.

She'd traced the outline of his lips when he said that, smiling. Did she not have the privilege of tasting him whenever she liked? That was good enough. More than enough.

Sometimes Altina forgot an eternity to her was merely a day for Eternal Lehran, or perhaps an hour. He touched her every moment, found her every hours to place a kiss on her lips, her cheek, her temple, as if he thought she would disappear the moment he turned his back. He stole her paperwork and lured her to the bedchamber, woke her at night to take her again. Some day, he said-- someday I will remember this and regret every wasted moment.

Altina had not understood then, but she watched Sarai lavish her affection on the wrong man - it was Kerria rose her earthly child chose, fat, five-petaled yellow blossoms bigger than her hands - and saw only wasted moments, days, years.

Lehran was no longer of heaven, no longer apart. He could be reached. All she had to do was stretch a little farther, call a little more loudly. What did Altina care if he sang the goddess's hymns? It was his heart she married - his heavy-lidded, lazy smiles in the morning, the way he covered her with his wings when she was cold, his hands beneath her dress, between her thighs, his face against her swollen stomach, ear catching every sound and every heartbeat of the child he longed for and yet only gazed upon once, when he named her with the most precious word in his memory.

These moments did not have to be wasted. Perhaps he would remember that, if he saw them again. Just once.