Author's Note: I love the Daine/Numair pairing, and I wish we got to see what happened after the end of RotG – which, of course, is one of the points of fanfiction – to explore what happens next. Anyway, this is my first posted fanfic, so I decided to start with a short one about Daine and Numair. If anything—spelling, grammar, rating, title, etc, are wrong and/or can be improved, please let me know. Reviews appreciated and flames will be considered if they have merit or ignored if they are the ramblings of a deranged mind—I have plenty of my own mental ramblings, and they come from a mind more deranged than anyone who might read this fic.

Disclaimer: If I owned Numair, Daine, or any of the characters mentioned here, not only would I be wealthy, famous, and not needing to hide behind a pen name, but Numair would be MINE! So, needless to say, I do not own any of the characters or settings, Tamora Pierce does; I'm just borrowing them. Don't sue – I'm not only a poor college student, I'm a poor college student taking the year off to work on my writing—broke doesn't even begin to cover it.

Stumbling Steps
Himura Seraphina

"There you are."

Daine looked over her shoulder in the direction of the deep, gentle voice with a smile. "Were you looking for me?"

Numair, her teacher, friend, and love leaned against one of the trees at the edge of the small clearing in the Royal Forest where she lay after conversing with some of her animal friends. He smiled, making her shiver. "Always, sweeting."

He was so handsome, she thought. Fully six-foot, five-inches, he towered over nearly everyone, especially her own five-foot-four frame, and yet moved with a powerful grace despite his size. Swarthy skin and glossy black hair tied back in a horsetail revealed his southern origins, and his eyes were dark and warm set amid strong features.

Daine loved him with everything she was, and felt the warmth of his love for her to the depth of her soul.

"Now that you've found me, what's next?" she asked, just a little wickedly.

He loved her passionate sensual side even as he was constantly surprised by it. She was so small, yet embodied so many contrasts—soft blue eyes and delicate features paired with a stubborn chin; small curvy frame containing firm, lean muscles, and an innocence that was both endearing and arousing even as it marched alongside a worldliness that came from her having lived through loss, trauma, and a war. Daine was, to his eyes, the most beautiful woman in the world—for all that she was only seventeen.

Therein lay his problem. Not only was he fourteen years older than his love, but she was still an adolescent. He'd loved her for several years, and for the last year she had known of it—and reciprocated. Yet he refused to take the next step, to become her lover in truth because she was so young. He feared, deeply, that she would wake up and find her interest in him a waning infatuation. But when she spoke like this, with a mixture of playfulness and desire, he found it impossible to remember her age.

"I get to look at you, of course."

She laughed and rolled to her feet, then took two running steps towards him, leaping into his arms. When he caught her, she pressed her lips against his chin. "I love you."

"I love you too, magelet."


After the evening meal, which Daine ate in the Rider's mess hall, she gathered several of her leather-bound texts and went to meet Numair for lessons. The books were precious to her for two reasons, having nothing to do with their cost—they had taught her so much about her friends among the People, allowing her to heal and more; and they were gifts from Numair.

She entered the main Palace and made her way to his rooms on the second floor. Numair, as one of the kingdom's—no, the world's—most powerful and talented mages, occupied a set of rooms when at the Palace that included a sitting room, bedchamber and bathing room, a study/library, and a workroom—which was shielded magically and had reinforced walls, floor and ceiling to contain the occasional explosion which resulted from an experiment.

Daine didn't bother knocking as the door was spelled to allow her entry. "Numair?'

"Here, magelet," came a muffled reply from though a door to the right, sending Diane into the study, where she found him sprawled in a large armchair, frowning over a large tome. A number of other books, scrolls, and sheaves of papers lay scattered on the desk that was within his arms reach.

"What's going on?"

"Jon wants to know more about the origins of the various immortal races—a number of the university mages are also working on it—but unfortunately, most of the texts concerning the subject are so old that they can't be read in the original form, and have to be transcribed and translated. It's slow going, so I've been recruited."

"Recruited? Or did you volunteer?" she asked with a smile, to which he shrugged with an answering smile. She knew him too well to think that he had been forced into this. "Any luck?" she asked, settling on the footstool near his feet.

"Hmmm—most of it is speculations of other scholars, not fact."

"You know, I wouldn't be surprised if even the immortals didn't know for sure—d'you remember what Rikash told me? That Stormwings were dreamed up by a human who was sickened by war? All he knew for sure was that Stormwings were born of a mortal imagination—everything else was just a myth."

"Very true—actually, it was hearing that story which got Jon interested in this project. But you do have a point." He paused, looking up from his book, frowning absently at the ceiling as he did when deep in thought. "Perhaps another of the immortal races would know—if not their own origins, but that of one of the other races," he mused out loud. "Surely, if some are younger or older than others, some of the immortals would have been aware of the beginning of another species."

"Well, I'll be sure to ask, the next time I run into a spidren, if they happened to observe to birth of a race and would they speak slowly while I take notes?"

He blinked in confusion at her sardonic tone, then looked down at her. "Certainly not—I didn't mean—I was referring to one of the more friendly immortals, Daine."

"Really? Because when it comes to gaining esoteric facts, you tend to run short on logic."

"Avoiding spidrens has nothing to do with logic—besides, you'd never get a straight or intelligent answer from them."

"Probably the main reason you aren't considering asking them."

"I was, while musing, thinking about the dragons," he said firmly, an eyebrow raised, as he ignored the jabs she was merrily taking at his scholarly habits—partly because they were accurate. "I'm sure Diamondflame wouldn't mind answering a few questions."

Daine chewed her bottom lip, unknowingly drawing Numair's thoughts from scholarly pursuits to more worldly ones. "You could be right—when he comes to bring Kitten back next week, you might ask him. Numair?" She noticed where his focus was and smiled slightly. "See something more interesting than dragons?"

"Most definitely," he groaned, setting his book on the desk with the rest before reaching out to draw her onto his lap. "You have no idea what you do to me," he murmured, leaning into bite her lip himself.

"Oh, I have an idea," she managed before they both lost themselves in the taste and touch of the other.

Daine's hands tangled in Numair's thick, soft hair, loosening it from its tie, as he drew her tight to his chest, torsos so close that not even air could come between them. She allowed his lips free reign over her mouth, neck and shoulder for a time before she tugged him back to meet her own lips, glorying in the heady taste and feel of his breath, lips, and tongue on her flesh and mouth.

The feel of her, as always, drove him to the brink of madness, and he only barely managed to retain his sanity and control. She was, by turns, shy and demanding, both allowing him freedom to explore her and fighting for dominance. No one, not even in his adolescence, had had such an effect or fueled such passion in him—nor made him feel half as much, in body or heart.

Finally, as he edged closer to snapping the final thread of his control, he managed to draw back slightly, still holding Daine. She had managed to loosen the laces of his shirt, and his own hands had slipped under hers to rest high on her back and ribcage, his thumbs brushing against the underside of her breasts, which he couldn't seem to stop stroking gently. She shivered slightly as he did so, face and lips pressed against the juncture of his neck and shoulder as she straddled him. Her hand was inside his shirt, against his chest, and her tongue darted out to touch his skin, causing him to shudder.

"We need to stop, Daine," he managed at a whisper, his breathing still erratic.

"Why?"

He paused at the simple question, as the answer was so complex. He found it nearly impossible to think normally around her in most cases, and in the position they were in, it was twice as difficult—largely due to the fact that most of his blood was a long way from his head.

"Because we'll go too far if we don't stop."

"Numair," she said calmly, softly, from his shoulder. He wished he could see her face, and yet dreaded having to face those deep blue eyes. "Numair, nothing would be 'too far' with you."

He froze—could have sworn he stopped breathing. It was the first time she had said anything openly about finishing what they had started frequently in the last several months, stating what her eyes had told him countless times. All his worries and fears began to recede beneath a combination of love, wonder, and pure desire.

"You—we—Daine, we shouldn't."

"Why?" she repeated.

When he didn't answer, she drew away enough to look him in the eye while remaining entangled in his arms. He had been right to worry about her eyes—they were a stormy blue, faintly glazed with passion, and steady with a determination he had seen more than once and which often lead trouble for the one on the receiving end of the look—him, in this case.

"Numair, I love you; I don't know how many times I've told you so. You always get angry when I doubt that you would want to stay with me, so why do you do the same?"

He blinked at her, opening his mouth to dispute her logic before closing it with a snap. Damnit, she was right.

"You always—hold back—when we do this, and then draw away before distracting us both. Why? Do you not want—"

"You can't possibly be sitting where you are, right now, and utter that statement honestly," he said bluntly, flexing his hands slightly, which pressed her even closer to him and the absolute proof that lack of interest was not a problem.

She blushed slightly and trembled, but continued to meet his eyes directly, smothering to brief thought that he could embarrass her into dropping the subject. "Then what is it? Why don't you—you know, any other man who had a woman in this position wouldn't be questioning anything, or be making excuses!" she blurted out, angry and frustrated.

"He would if he loved and respected her," was his reply, equally frustrated and angry, but also very, very firm.

"I know you love me! No one's ever loved me the way you have—you see me, all of me, know all my faults and still love me not despite of them but because of them. And you were the first person, next to Ouna, who respected me—and even with Ouna, she respected my skill with horses, but in everything else I had to prove myself. But you—I was barely thirteen, and you saw enough in me, respected me enough, to give me learning, and books—and to listen to my opinions and ideas, and let me act on my own. You trusted me when Pirate's Swoop was attacked, after only a bit of training, to use my magic and help, and everyone else took their cue from you. You've given me nothing but respect, and anyone who says differently can say it to one of my arrows!"

Numair drew her back tightly to him, pressing her face to his shoulder. Daine knew her voice had risen and she'd begun to ramble slightly, but she had to make him see—what, exactly, she didn't know. He always held back, just a bit, trying to be responsible, but also held by his own fears—that if he went too far, did something wrong, she would stop loving him. She had the same fears, and neither of them had mentioned marriage since the day she had killed Ozorne, almost a year ago. But she knew that, if they were going to have any kind of a chance to make this—make them—work, it had to start here, with honesty and openness about their relationship and fears.

"I don't—I don't want you to regret anything, sweet," she heard him murmur into her hair. "Everything we've done, that we've had together—if it falls to pieces, there's nothing to regret. But this is something that you might wish to undo, and if ever that happens—well, if loosing you in the first place didn't kill me, then knowing that you would want to wish away being my lover would."

"I could never regret anything about what's between us, Numair," she said, tightening her arms around him, speaking into his neck, "only what isn't between us—and there is no one, not in all the realms, who I would rather have as a lover—as my only lover," she finished, her voice fading to a whisper as images swirled in her head—memories of what they'd shared mixed with hazy dreams of what could come next.

A large calloused hand tangled gently in her chestnut curls, drawing her face from his neck to where he could meet her gaze with his own dark one. He stared in her eyes for a long moment, measuring something, before his face tightened slightly. Daine opened her mouth to speak, half-dreading whatever decision he seemed to have reached, but he swooped down to catch her lips in a brief, intense kiss before she could voice any of the questions swirling in her head. When he drew back, he rasped out two words, which were half plea, half demand. "Be sure."

She answered him with a kiss of her own, no less intense than the previous one, holding all the certainty and passion she could muster. Her stomach did a brief flip and she drew back, realizing that Numair had surged to his feet, still holding her, and started across the room.

He kissed her again as he carried her through the study and sitting room and to the door of his bedchamber, before gazing steadily at her as they paused at the threshold. "No regrets, magelet," he said softly, both asking her and stating his own feelings. She cuddled close to him, supported by his arms and her legs wrapped around his waist, surrounded by his warmth and feeling both their hearts pound where their chests met. Whatever difficulties they might have—not the least of which was the difference in their ages, nor that they would have to reveal themselves to their friends at some point—she knew, absolutely, that she loved him, and she needed no Gift to read the equal measure of his feelings in his eyes. This was right for her, for him.

"No regrets, Numair," she whispered, and he walked across the threshold, still carrying her, and nudged the door so that it swung shut as they took their next steps forward.