Update A/N: Just editing, no rewriting, I promise!
A/N: Okay, I'm posting this mostly because if I stare at it any longer, I'll lose what's left of my mind. I don't think this is as good as my other one-shots-but then I said that about 'Threshold' as well, so what do I know—I'm just a writer. I re-wrote the last 1,500 words at least three times, and I think this works pretty well, but I've also been working on this for four hours—and its now 4:30 am, so all my judgment is shot. We'll see.
Anywho, I have another one-shot in mind for when Daine and Numair's relationship becomes public knowledge, but I think I'll wait on writing that, unless one of my other personalities takes over and wants to write it. I'll wait until I see how well this one does—if it isn't great, then I'll try to write this story again. I'll also be working on 'Lingering Ghosts' this weekend, so I should post another chapter there by Monday. In the meantime, feed the nice writer's ego and review, so I know what route to go next.
Disclaimer: Blah, blah, blah; the characters aren't mine, but I did kidnap them and perform lobotomies, resulting in the behavior/actions below. Don't sue, or hunt me down and lynch me. Neither would happy outcomes—although the lynching would probably be less painful.
"You'll catch your death, magelet; come out of there."
"But it's beautiful, Numair."
Her reply was absent and she faced the ocean and the setting sun, though it wasn't the view that held her captive. In fact, her eyes were closed as she stood, a slightly build young woman, knee-high in cold sea water, her soft lips curved in a delighted smile.
He sighed, both exasperated and amused, from where he watched her. A tall man, fully six foot, five inches, with a swarthy complexion and glossy black hair and strong features, he was a dramatic contrast to his companion. She stood only four inches over five feet, with fair skin and chestnut curls, lovely but not stunning features, and was a good fourteen years younger at a bare seventeen. Her delicate frame held lean muscle and tremendous stamina, and housed a stubborn and loyal heart, and a passionate soul. She had seen and experienced terrors, far beyond her years—experiences matched by the silver strands that shot through his dark mane.
"Magelet, you can listen to them tomorrow," he said sternly—his stubbornness matching her own.
"The whales will be there tomorrow—and you did say that they're migrating in this direction, so they'll be closer still. Come out. Now."
She turned, scowling at him, warm grey eyes both annoyed and resigned. She recognized that hint of steel in his tone and knew he was going to be difficult. He could be immovable, even in the face of her strong will, particularly when he was concerned for her. It was sweet how he fussed—irritating, but sweet.
Grumbling, more for show than anything, she picked her way through the waves, careful of the rocks hidden beneath the surface, making her way back to the dry beach. One foot still in the water, she paused, savoring the eerie and haunting melody of the whale song, before walking towards her teacher, friend, and lover.
"I haven't heard whales singing in almost two years, Numair," she grumbled as she reached him, bending to retrieve her discarded boots. As she straightened, his large hands wrapped around her arms and hauled her against him, capturing her lips a in a soul-searing kiss.
"Was that worth it?" he asked long moments later, his voice husky, both their hearts pounding against each other.
"Well…" she considered, laughing at his scowl even as she pulled him into another kiss. "I s'ppose so," she finally concluded, still teasing.
"You 's'ppose so', hmmm?" he muttered, eyes glittering as they met hers. The light tone faded, cared away by the sea breeze as she shuddered, trapped in his heated gaze.
"I need to weigh all the facts," she murmured, eyes locked with his. "Aren't you the one who says that for results to be conclusive, experiments need to be repeated?"
"Very true—many, many times, for accurate results." Her boots lay forgotten in the sand as his kisses carried her away far beyond the sounds of the ocean, wind, and whale song.
His back to the rocks behind him, he cradled his love in his lap, where she pressed her cheek to his chest. He savored the indulgence of being able to simply hold her, be with her, without the tensions and worries of daily life.
"I love you," she said softly. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
He tightened his arms around her, burying his nose in her curls. "You'll never have to find out, sweet."
"I wish…" she trailed off
"I know." He wished the same, though her thoughts went unsaid. They wished that they had more time together, that their were less obstacles in the way of what they shared; they wished that the Immortals War, which they were still cleaning up from, had never happened, and that all the troubles of the kingdom that they were sent out to investigate didn't exist. They wished for less death and fighting, less bandits and immortals, less bloodshed, and less need for their skills.
They wished, most of all, for peace.
"Things are settling down, magelet—why else would Jon have allowed Thayet, Alanna, you and I the time away from the palace to be here?"
"How long until the next battle, the next war? There's always more fighting, Numair; always others like Ozorne, who seek power. There's always more bloodshed."
Her voice was tight with tears and anger and, underlying both, a soul-deep weariness. The last year and a half had worn down every drop of strength, every reserve they both had, and it was only that exhaustion—not only of the body, but of the mind and spirit, and magic—which would have her, so steady and valiant, voicing her doubts.
"And there will always be moments like this, sweet; bits of peace and solitude, wonders like your whales—and time for us, to be together."
He felt her take a deep breath, pressing her face into his chest, gathering herself, and he brushed a light kiss on her head, willing some of his own waning strength to her. Wishing he could just take her away where she could rest, recover, and be safe—though she'd be bored mindless inside a month. So would he, for that matter.
"If you didn't bring me here to listen to the whales, or to canoodle, why did we come here?" she asked, looking up at him, her tone teasing. There were still shadows in her eyes, but some of the brightness that was so much a part of her had returned.
"'Canoodle'?" he questioned archly. "Didn't I mention once before what a charming term that is?"
"You can call it anything you like; it doesn't change what it is."
"Is that what we were doing?"
"It wasn't exactly an anatomy lesson."
"That depends on your definition, I suppose; I certainly learned a great deal."
"Nothing you didn't already know."
"Sometimes re-exploring old territory is as stimulating as uncovering new knowledge."
She laughed, a full-bodied sound that made her shake slightly in his arms. He grinned down at her charmingly.
"What did we come down here for?"
He stood, setting her down on her feet, keeping his arm around her shoulder. "I wanted to be with you, magelet."
With a smile, one that still held hints of shyness despite a year's worth of confessions of love, as well as a month of being lovers, she pressed against his side. "Well then, why don't we go for a walk?"
"Do you think the trainees will be alright tonight?" Thayet, Queen of Tortall, asked absently as she stretched her arms, gazing up at the rising full moon.
"Anyone who isn't will wash out tomorrow," Onua Chamtong said bluntly. "If they can't hack an overnight exercise without us holding their hands by this point, they'll never be Riders."
"Where's Sarge?" Alanna of Pirate's Swoop and Olau, called the Lioness, Champion of Tortall asked, pushing back her coppery locks from her forehead. "He should have come with us."
"He wanted to turn in early tonight, since he doesn't have to 'run herd on the greenies'."
The lady knight chuckled. "Well, he deserves it—but I'd rather be out here when I have the spare moments. Jon didn't have to let any of us accompany the trainees this summer, not with all the messes still being cleaned up. Remind me to kiss your husband when we get back to Corus, Thayet."
"Ahem," was the laughing response from the tall, rough-looking man at her side. His nose was long and crooked from breaks, and his warm eyes laughed from his tanned face. Even in the moonlight, which bleached the colors out of everything, affection shone in his gaze.
"I'm right here, lass. Can't ye wait 'til I'm out of earshot afore ye talk of kissing someone else?"
"You'd rather I did it behind your back?" she teased.
"I'd rather ye not do it at all, but I suppose that's too much t' ask me wife."
"You could convince me," she suggested wickedly.
"Alright you two, save that till later, or go back to the keep," Onua laughed.
Alanna grinned, her smile more suited to a young urchin than a seasoned knight and baroness with several children of her own. George, rogue-turned-noble, chuckled. "A walk in th' cove was yer idea, Horse Mistress."
"One you agreed to, Master Cooper."
"What about Daine and Numair?" Thayet questioned as they reached the steep path to the private cove of Pirate's Swoop. "Didn't they want to come?"
"I couldn't find them; Numair's likely off somewhere, resting—he might have gone to his tower for the night. Seeing as it is his home, although he hasn't been there in months."
"Probably in the woods gossiping with the wildlife—unless she's shapeshifted somewhere. Besides, I think they both need time to unwind by themselves. Half the reason Jon sent us all on the Riders summer training camp was to recover from the last year—and Numair and Daine have had some of the worst of it."
Alanna sighed. "You're right, you know—they've spent one week at the Palace for every four on the road since they recovered from the end of the war. They're in higher demand than the Own, what with all the immortals settling in the human realms. Poor girl looks ready to drop."
"Numair's not much better—Jon asked us to hold the summer training at the Swoop so he could send them both along and still be able to reach them in an emergency. He said that Numair's reserves were down to the dregs. If he's drawn into a serious mage-duel, he might start drawing on his life-force."
George hissed as Alanna nodded solemnly. "I've only ever seen him so drawn after he'd spent three years hiding from Ozorne—gods curse his black soul. Even the war didn't take quiet so much out of them; it didn't last long enough."
"They're not back at the Palace three days before Jon's got them off in another direction," Onua sighed. "Daine told me she doesn't even bother unpacking anymore. The war drained a lot of our resources, and we're still cleaning up the mess, but the knights, Own, Riders, and soldiers are pretty much interchangeable—but we've only one black robe and one Wildmage, and everyone seems to need them."
"Mayhap they could stay here once th' trainees leave," George mussed aloud. "They'd still be near enough fer Jon t' summon if there's need, but far enough away that they can't be called fer every little thing."
"I'll suggest it," Thayet agreed. "At least until mid-autumn, so they can recover some of their resources. They'll be no use to anyone if they drop dead of exhaustion."
The four reached the end of the trail, coming to stand on the rocky beach. The moon lit the cove well enough to see by, but cast deep shadows among the cliff and ragged boulders. The tide was out, giving a reasonable expanse of beach to wander.
As they walked past the rocks scattered along the bottom of the cliff, two figures came into view fifty yards away, meandering along the shoreline. While they were out in the moonlight, the cliffs' shadows hid the newcomers from sight.
"You weren't the only one with this idea, Onua," Thayet commented. "It looks like Numair and Daine decided on the beach as well."
"Not too surprising—Daine was probably looking for whales and dolphins."
They watched, pleased to see, even in the moonlight, that both mages were relaxed and at ease. Daine walked backwards, facing Numair, gesturing as she spoke. The words were nothing but an indistinct blur over the sound of the waves, but they could hear Numair's laughter and Daine's responding giggle.
"Shall we join them?" Alanna asked.
As she did so, Daine stumbled, falling backward. In a flash, Numair's hand shot, grasping her arm and pulling her towards him.
The watchers stared in shock as, instead of steadying and releasing her, Numair drew Daine against his body. Highlighted by the full moon, it was easy to see his arms wrap around her waist—and hers rise to encircle his shoulders. Instead of two distinct forms, there was only one when the mage bent to capture is student's lips with his own.
"Wha—" Onua managed.
Daine broke from his arms, running several steps, only to spin back and face the mage. Her laughter rang out, and she dodged Numair's grasp, laughing.
Silver-laced black fire wrapped around her when she turned to run again. Laughing shouts, only one in a few words distinct, followed.
The words, and the laughter accompanying them, were silenced when Numair once more scooped Daine into his arms, drawing her into another, lingering kiss.
It took several moments for anyone to gather enough wits to speak. "When the hell did that happen?" Alanna demanded quietly.
Thayet watched with growing amusement. "I've no idea—I thought they would be dancing around each other for years."
"What?" Onua demanded, and Alanna turned to stare at her queen.
"They were half in love with each other when they came back from Carthak, and the last few years cemented it—you mean you didn't notice?"
"No!" Onua was adamant, but Alanna chewed her lip, remembering Numair's behavior in Carthak—he hadn't acted like a teacher looking after a student, but a man protecting a lover. She had thought, later, when his behaviour had been no different than normal, that it had simply overprotectiveness due to being in the country he had once fled, but maybe…
George was watching the moonlit couple calmly. "D'you think they'll come up fer air soon?" he asked with a chuckle.
"George? Don't you—" Alanna demanded, not precisely sure what she was asking—only knowing she felt left in the dark, and was very frustrated with her friends.
"Lass, they're more'n grown, th' both of 'em, an' able t' make their own choices, especially in this. If they're happy together, why should it bother ye?"
"Yer just upset at th' surprise—ye never did like 'em much."
Onua said nothing, still staring at the couple, who had broken off the kiss and were still wrapped in each others arms.
"Onua?" Thayet questioned. "What's wrong."
"Why didn't they say anything? Why didn't Daine tell me?"
George sighed. "They're both stubborn, Onua, an' private folk. They deal with their troubles in their own heads, an' hate askin' advice on anythin'. Talkin' about such things—it's like askin' fer help, in their minds. And if they're as tired as ye've said, they've barely had th' time to think, much less chat about what's happened betwixt 'em."
Onua frowned, considering, and then sighed. "I suppose—but still—"
"—they should know to trust us by now," Thayet finished. "We're certainly not going to criticize them for their choices, but they never seem to remember that."
"Well," Alanna fumed, "we'd best remind them."
Daine was hard pressed not to laugh even as tension held her muscles stiff. Unlike their watchers, she and Numair could hear every word being spoken by her friends thanks to the wind carrying their voices. When Onua has been so silent and Alanna had sounded angry, she'd been afraid that by revealing the truth, she would lose the friendship and respect of two of the most important people in her life. Her friends still sounded upset, but not over her and Numair, only about their deception. She blew out a relieved breath against Numair's shirt.
"Well, magelet? Shall we?"
When he had heard their four friends reach the beach, he'd asked her, quietly, if they should take the opportunity to explain the changes between them. He'd been solemn, a sure sign of nerves, and Daine had made him laugh when she suggested that telling them seemed rather dull—wouldn't showing them be more effective. A moment later, when she'd tripped, he'd taken her suggestion to heart.
Long months of travel and fighting, of negotiating between immortals and humans, of battling spidrens and Stormwings and bandits, and rebuilding from the destruction of the Immortals War, had worn them both to the bone. The one bright spot in the last year had been each other and exploring what they shared. Even that was fraught with tension, however—not only were they both deeply afraid that the other would come to regret the relationship, but they had hidden it from everyone, including their friends. Daine was common-born, and a bastard to boot—even though her father was actually a god—and Numair was from a higher class, as well as being well-educated, and there was fourteen years between them. Despite that, their relationship might have gone largely unmarked—if they weren't famous and very much in the public eye.
Both knew, within themselves, that they were wholly committed to the other—it was lingering fears that one day, the other would see something they no longer wanted that haunted them. Still, over the last weeks, those thoughts had surfaced less and less as, in becoming lovers they had begun sharing more of those draining thought. Once spoken, their fears seemed to lose some of their strength, particularly in the face of Daine and Numair's steady, informal commitment to each other.
"They're going to kill us," she murmured.
"I doubt it—though Alanna may maim us slightly—as George said, she dislikes surprises."
Daine chuckled lightly against Numair's throat—they had heard all that their friends had said, and George's cheerful assessment of his wife was highly accurate.
"Alright," she sighed, humor fleeing, "we'd best get this over with."
A large, long-fingered hand rose to lift her chin, drawing her eyes to his own. In the moonlight, his velvety brown eyes looked black, but the adoration she had become so accustomed to was still apparent. She could honestly no longer imagine not seeing that love in his eyes everyday—and was finally beginning to believe that she would never have to.
"They're your friends, Daine—they won't turn away from you because you had the poor sense as to fall in love with someone inappropriate."
"You're not inappropriate, your perfect, at least for me—after all, who else is fair mad enough to put up with me?"
He chuckled softly. "No one."
"You weren't supposed to agree," she grumbled, smiling faintly as he brushed a lingering kiss across her forehead. "Let's go now, before I lose my nerve."
She took his hand firmly in her own, gripping it for support and solidarity, as they turned towards the cliffs. Onua, Alanna, George, and Thayet watched them with varying degrees of shock and amusement when they saw no surprise at being observed in the lovers' faces.
"That's mages for ye," George declared loudly when the pair was closer. "Never do anythin' along a straight road when they can take a windin' one."
"A great deal like thieves, who never use a door when there's a window," Numair told him.
"At least thievery is honest work."
"That's a contradiction of terms, George."
"Doesn't make it less true, lad. I suppose that just tellin' us what was in th' wind was too complicated fer ye."
"Life would be extremely dull if one took the simplest path all the time."
"Numair!" a very angry Lioness roared, "will you give a straight answer for once in your gods-cursed life!"
Daine flinched slightly at Alanna's tone, even knowing it was frustration and not true anger. Numair squeezed her hand in his as he responded mildly: "Of course, Alanna, as soon as I know what the question is."
Alanna hissed, long and low, before George wrapped an arm around her waist—as much to calm her as restrain her. "Now, lass, ye've got t' give 'em a trial before ye hang 'em—'tis the king's law. Let 'em speak their piece afore you let lose."
"You're all mad," Daine said firmly, gripping Numair's hand even as she looked up at him, "you included. Goddess bless, it's not that complicated."
"What I want to know is how long this," Thayet waved her hand, indicating the lover's linked hands, the beach, and all that had gone on there, "has been going on. I thought I was paying rather close attention to you both, but you slipped this past me, so perhaps not." She smiled at them both. "I am glad though—I thought Numair might pine for several years, while you, Daine, would steadily ignore any hint of you own feelings. This is a pleasant alternative."
Daine scowled at her queen. "I don't ignore my feelings—I'm not daft."
"Just stubborn," Numair murmured, then raised a brow at her when she glared, daring her to deny it.
"You're a fine one to talk—and you would have pined for me."
"Oh, no, I'm sure I would have eventually gone mad enough from loving you to let it slip."
"'Mad enough'? What does that make you now?"
Thayet smiled behind her hand while George laughed at them. "Well, ye definitely sound like lovers."
Daine scowled at him in turn, then chewed her lip slightly. "I'm sorry," she started, "for not telling you."
"We're sorry," Numair said firmly, rubbing his thumb along her palm as she smiled at him, "but we would likely do it again."
"Goddess bless, why?" Alanna growled.
"Did you really think you couldn't tell us?" Onua demanded.
"No!" Daine shouted forcefully. She loved these women—of all her friends, she was only closer to Numair than these two. Onua, who had given her a chance despite her youth and her lies, who had become first her employer, then her friend and mentor, and eventually an older sister, who had brought her to Tortall and opened her life to all that had happened; who had been her first real friend, not only in Tortall, but in her life. And Alanna, who had been a legend come to life, a myth who was flesh and blood, who swore and cursed and was shorter than expected, who made mistakes, and just by being herself had shown Daine that if the Lioness was a normal woman, then an ordinary peasant girl from Galla could make something of herself as well; Alanna had made her see that nobles were human too, and had trusted her—not only with a job or a duty, but with the defense of her home, husband, and children while she fought for her country.
"It wasn't like that," she went on in a normal tone. "It just ended up a secret— when we were in the Realm of the Gods, so many things happened, including seeing my family, that when we confessed our feelings, it was just—part of the whole adventure. And then, when we came back, there was the war—and then recovering from the battle—and we didn't even talk about it for weeks, because it was different when we weren't in the immortal realms, or about to maybe die in battle, and it seemed more real then—and that made it even more frightening than even the final battle with Ozorne. And we were scared," she began to ramble. "About what was happening between us, and what might happen, and if it would last. I couldn't talk about—I thought—it was like a dream," she whispered, dropping her eyes. "One where you can't tell if it's a dream or real, and you want it to be real, more than anything, but you're afraid it's not, and you're afraid you might wake up. I thought, if I talked about it, everything would go away—that I'd wake up in my bed, and none of this would be real. It'd kill me, I swear it, to lose everything from the last year, because I love him so much it hurts, but it's a good hurt, and I don't—I can't—I'm sorry," she managed, feeling Numair's arms wrap around her, drawing her back into his warm embrace, tucked against his chest. Tears burned her eyes and throat, and she drew in his special scent—spice and soap and skin—to steady herself. She vaguely heard Thayet murmur something, and felt a large hand that belonged to George on her shoulder, but focused on Numair; his scent, his warmth, his heartbeat.
"It hasn't been easy," Numair said quietly, rubbing a hand along her back, stroking her hair as he was wont to do. "Between us we've enough fears to drown a village, and enough worries to sail a fleet on. This way, at least, we had privacy to deal with them, without advice or anyone observing us—however well-intentioned they might be. Daine was right—it often felt like a dream, and for quite a while I would wake up in the morning and not know all this was real or not."
Alanna tugged her earlobe. "I understand—Goddess knows what kind of worries I went through when I fell in love—and I certainly didn't lay my heart and fears bare to anyone." Daine turned her head to smile at Alanna, and met Onua's thoughtful eyes.
"You didn't want to jinx it," Onua murmured, understanding in her tone.
"Exactly," Daine exclaimed, turning in Numair's arms, her back pressing against his chest. "And I thought, maybe, if we started talking about it and people knew, then Numair would look at me through their eyes—and not like what he saw."
He growled slightly, squeezing her lightly. "Don't be ridiculous, sweet."
She smiled at him faintly. "Not anymore—well, mostly. Besides, you were scared of the same thing." He leaned down to kiss her forehead gently—agreeing with her, and reassuring her that he was overcoming that fear.
"I just wish you hadn't felt you couldn't talk to me," Onua sighed, her tone more like her normal one. "You do realize that you'll have to tell us everything that happened, in detail, before we forgive you."
Alanna grinned as Daine blushed and Numair groaned. George chuckled, and commented slyly, "Startin' with how Daine's shirt came t' be inside out."
Daine looked down at herself and blushed furiously while Thayet and Onua laughed. Alanna pursed her lips and glared sternly at both lovers. "Really, you two, the cove?"
"I seem t' recall, darlin', a time or two when—"
"Not another word, George Cooper."
"I thought you two looked very relaxed when we came down here," Thayet managed.
"Thayet!" Daine gasped, then looked up at Numair, elbowing him. "This is your fault—you should have said something."
Numair looked down at her, a light blush on his cheekbones, and, much to Daine's embarrassment and the whole party's amusement, said dryly, "Magelet, I wasn't paying attention to your clothes."