I am an idiot. I've been waiting turns for golden Soleth's mating flight, for the chance to best our lazy Weyrleader F'lep at something and the chance to win Weyrwoman Patria's love. All the time I ignored the other dragons in the Weyr. I've been caught up in a few mating flights, but Tirenth was never successful, and so it never had an impact on my life past losing an hour and getting a terrible headache. In my excess of ambition, I knew that the next time the queen rose, my beautiful Tirenth could catch her. I didn't take the shellcracked madman into account, nor his lethargic, pale green. Of course she would rise in the evening, screaming that hideous call of a lustful beast, calling the males after her.

The other wingleaders were smarter than I. They kept their bronzes out of the flight by pulling them away, as we're told queenriders once did, when there was more than one queen. Tirenth would not heed me. He refused my warnings, my supplications. He was the strongest, fastest male who chased Absinth into the sky, and they fell together. I felt the wind around my wings - his wings --

and Absinth's rider in my arms, crying out in a voice that mocked his dragon. I spent the rest of the day in the bath, using a month's worth of soapsand. For once, I was alone in my own head. Tirenth slept entwined with his new mate.

The next day, Soleth rose. Tirenth blinked at the flight of bronzes rising after her, one flash of orange in his eyes, then twined his neck with Absinth's and went to sleep before F'lep's bronze Moranth caught the queen again. He will be Weyrleader again, for however many more turns it is until Soleth rises. F'lep sleeps in our Weyrwoman Patria's bed, and I am only a wingleader. If he knew how much I hate him, I wouldn't even be that.

Tirenth asks me, in a sleepy, sated voice, what is so bad about Absinth's rider. One would think a man's dragon would understand without being told.

* * * * * * * * *

I don't think anyone in the weyr can blame me for thinking he's beautiful. He's got plans, too, you can see it in his eyes -- his deep blue eyes, like the waters of Igen in the sun -- and he talks about them to his wingseconds. I'm not that. I'll never be that. I'm nothing to him, even now, but a difficult member of his wing. It doesn't matter. Thread hasn't fallen for hundreds of turns, and it may never fall again. What does discipline matter? We should be concerned with enjoying ourselves, and taking what pleasure we can in mating flights.

I know he did, until he stopped being his dragon in that inexplicable flash that happens too soon, sometimes. Then his eyes widened and he saw me instead of my green beauty, this dingy weyr instead of the bright, open sky. He fled, hardly remembering to redress himself.

He can't be as unhappy as all of that, or his dragon would react differently. Absinth tells me that Tirenth is content,but he's a little worried about his rider. So am I, especially when I hear Absinth crooning to her mate in the back of my mind, and I know that if Tirenth flies her again, he and I will be back where we were then, and he won't have anything he can do about it.

Is this my fault? They say that a rider's preference can influence the dragon, and of all the riders in the Weyr, I would have him if I could, in the union that mating flights are supposed to grant. By the golden egg of Faranth, I don't know how Tirenth could have won if he were so against me as he seems. I never wanted him coerced, unless the coercion made him as pleased as I am. I can't undo the flight, and I don't know if I would.

Tirenth seems happy, and I can't help but be infected by Absinth's bliss. Perhaps he'll come around, soon, before the aftereffects of the flight fade. I'll have to try to talk to him, soon. Before her next flight, at least. He might not talk to me without that pressure of time.

* * * * *

Seven months. Only seven months' reprieve -- though it wasn't a reprieve. I've worked harder hours in the last seven months than since I was a weyrling, doing the hardest chores of anyone in the wing. Perhaps that penance will be over today. Absinth rises to mate, and her calls stir the Weyr. Is that Tirenth just behind her -- me -- so determined? I heard J'ras calling out to him, forbidding him, was that his voice? Whoever it is, he is slow and we are fast, we can evade them all.

There are other bronzes and browns in the Weyr, in the sky. I know them by sight and by name. Most of their riders are considerably more congenial than J'ras. Some have soft, loving hands and warm beds. No one else is J'ras, who takes his duties as wingleader oh, so seriously. He says that we may be the only Weyr, but that means we ought to be prepared to defend the planet when Thread returns. Any rejoinder of "if Thread returns" sends him storming from the room. I used to say it to aggravate him, before his dragon's passion pulled him into my bed. What he'll do to me if he finds himself there again --

It doesn't matter. All that matters is flying, the cool breeze on my -- Absinth's -- wings, calling out to the slow blues and dodging a brown -- into a waiting bronze's grasp. We know it is Tirenth. Too many mornings on the Rim, sunbathing, too many afternoons on a shared ledge. We know the touch of his skin as his neck twines ours, as we begin to fall.

J'ras is crying even as he holds me in the unthinking clasp of one linked with his dragon. There will be bruises on my shoulders tomorrow. His fingers loosen abruptly, and he begins to pull away. I reach up to take his arm, to stop him -- how can he tolerate this? -- and he stares at me. Confusion and desire mingle on his face, but both are obliterated by disgust and a fresh cascade of tears. He orders, "Let me go," but this is not the wingleader's voice. This voice is rough with too much emotion, which ought to be as commanding as the normal clarion tones. He can't command me, not in my bed, sticky with sweat and anger.

"You tried to get Tirenth away," I say, half a question.

He closes his eyes and turns his face away. "He wouldn't obey me."

"This will happen again." I don't believe in prophecy, but for this moment, I can see the future: turns of Absinth and Tirenth twining necks when J'ras is not there to forbid it, how many more flights like this one, too many nights when he shares my bed and will not meet my eyes. I hate it.

So does he. "This won't happen. Never again." He raises a hand as if to slap me, then flushes crimson and pulls his arm out of my grasp. "You must tell me when she's due to rise."

"Do you think Tirenth will obey you if he knows why you're leaving?" His fingers strike my cheek as if he has not left enough marks on my body. I can hide my shoulders, but not my face. Everyone knows that he hates me. Did he have to make it painfully clear?

"He must." His voice is hoarser now, but I can hear desperation in it. He deserves to be desperate if he won't listen to reason.

"He didn't. He won't." He doesn't hit me, this time, but the weight of his eyes and the misery in them is almost more than I can bear. "Listen to him, J'ras. He knows what is best for you."

He had looked away and begun to dress himself, but he glares at me now. "How dare you? You are not 'what is best' for me. You're nothing to me."

"And you, my wingleader, are nothing more than that." He nods curtly, as thought he'd been waiting for me to say it, and pulls on his shirt. "After midwinter."

"What?" He didn't mean to look at me, but he does it anyway. I can see the streaks from tears on his cheeks, and the last vestiges of lust hazing his eyes.He would deny both emotions if he could. The desire is not his fault; his dragon caught mine, and if things were better we could have mirrored that union. Irrational, but I still want him, though he hit me. It will fade, once I've bathed, once I've found clean clothes.

"Absinth's next mating flight. After midwinter. I'll tell you when it's close so you can, can visit your family for a week."

He shudders and nods, then strides away from me. He stops in the doorway, facing out, to deliver his last order of the day. "Tell her to leave Tirenth alone." He sounds like the wingleader again.

"I will."

Absinth makes her way home after several hours. She needs a bath as much as I had needed one, and though I am exhausted, I can't bear the thought of her with Tirenth's scent all over her skin. Once she is clean, I sleep next to her in her weyr for the first time in turns. She is sorry, and it is good to have someone who loves me.

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