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More Than I Hoped

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Sometimes, when she closes her eyes, Danica could still see what her life could have been like if things had gone according to plan. She can see her sister, alive and well, her belly heavy with pregnancy and her alistair at her side, protecting and defending her from all attacks, helping her to stand straight and proud before their people, serene, in control, composed. She can see her children around her, the eldest daughter holding that quiet composure that Mara had always possessed as a child herself. She can see her sister leading her people, keeping the war going even when the burden is so heavy that at times it seems like it would break her delicate body, which would have been so soft because she had never taken time to learn how to defend herself because she had faith in her guards.

Other times, Danica sees past her sister’s death to where she is the one ruling the Avian through the war that had gripped her people for countless generations. She saw herself there, in court, listening to her generals and commanders, to her alistair and her brother as they gave her news of what was happening. Mostly, she saw herself walking among her people, listening to her people, living and breathing, but little more than a symbol for them, a person of whom they placed their faith, their trust, and the meaning of their lives upon. She saw herself walking though the Keep, with her own chicks around her sometimes, and other times off with a tutor or somewhere they would not be underfoot.

Sometimes, she saw herself with Vasili, still alive and well, always beside her. She could sometimes even sense him nearby, offering her that small, awkward smile that only she was rarely allowed to see. She could see their bonding ceremony, could hear his calm and steady voice as he gave his loyalty and devotion to her. She could see the children they would have had together, all beautiful, the girls with his smile and her eyes.

But after he died, she saw less and less of that fantasy. Now when she thought of him, she saw first his death, then all the endearing qualities about him.

After a while, she could see herself with Rei. Not out of love, but out of expectations and compatibility. She could see him beside her, guarding and guiding her just as he always had. She could see the ease at which she would be with him, and how their friendship would ensure a lasting relationship-not that there would be any other kind. She could see herself sharing the heavy burden of their people together, as they both did their best to ensure the safety of them all, even if it came at the cost of their soldiers, of who would be mourned for, though briefly, but carried in their hearts forever.

When she married Zane, though, things changed. At first, all she could see was what he was and who was first in his heart: his people. She was not comfortable with him, could not bring herself to push herself out, but at the same time, felt herself reaching out to him. So her daydreams turned to what she thought was the most logical of her daydreams: a world in which there was no more tension between the two, where she could sleep without hearing the screams of the dead, without the stench of death and fire all around her, and where she and Zane were on good terms. But as she fell in love with him, they changed. Instead of being on good terms, they were friends, then lovers, becoming that which she had always secretly wished she could have with Vasili. Slowly, children became involved, and she could see their brood running all around, full of life and happiness, with bright eyes and faces that radiated a kind of joy she never knew as a child.

But when she found out that she could no longer have children after her first, that dream died. And although she celebrated her daughter’s life, she could not help but still silently grieve the loss of her other unborn children.

Still, when it was all said and done, she could not begrudge fate for giving her the life that she was granted. For allowing her to have something that she would not have dared to hope for in her wildest dreams: an end to the war, a beautiful daughter, her family complete, and a man she genuinely and completely loved who loved her back just as fiercely.

So when Zane asked her if she regretted anything, she could honestly say:

“I regret nothing, my love.”