Author's Note: Hi everyone! I'm back again. It's been a while since I've written a Tamora Pierce story. I've been working a lot on my Harry Potter fic and got writer's block. This story will hopefully cure me of it. You don't want to hear about me though. Let's move on now, shall we?

IMPORTANT! PLEASE READ.

This story contains slight sexual references. Only very slight mind you, but they're still there so I've made this story PG13.

This story is a one-shot.

Please bear in mind that the flashback doesn't end until you see the words END FLASKBACK.

Oh, and the characters might be a little OOC.

KEY:

Plain italics are people's thoughts.

Underlined italics is Cloud speaking.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of it.

A Little Too Late

Daine's usually calm, blue- grey eyes were full of fire when she stormed into the palace stables after breakfast.

She made her way down to the stall that housed her grey mountain pony, Cloud, earning glances that held varying degrees of shock and surprise from the hostlers.

The horses she passed neighed and whickered in concern but she didn't stop or say anything until Cloud looked up at her from the hay she had been contentedly munching.

"We're going for a ride," Daine said angrily, through clenched teeth.

Half a candle mark later, they were riding through the Royal Forest with Cloud becoming increasingly annoyed at the silence, which she promptly decided to break.

"You and the storkman told the rest of your herd, didn't you?"

Cloud felt Daine's hands tighten on the reins.

"Yes, we did. We both decided that six months of sneaking around behind their backs was long enough."

"I assume they didn't take it well?"

"You can say that again," Daine retorted sullenly and dismounted to sit on a rock by a stream. "Do you want to know what they said, what they thought?"

"Whether I want to hear it or not makes no difference. You'll just tell me anyway."

"Exactly, so no smart comments, alright?"

The mare sighed, knowing she was in for a long haul. "Alright, but let me eat, will you. I'm hungry. After all, you DID cut my breakfast short."

Daine nodded. "Well…"

FLASHBACK

"Are you absolutely sure you want to go through with this Magelet?" Numair asked her for what seemed like the hundredth time that morning.

"Yes, Numair. They ought to know the truth; I thought we agreed on that."

"We did, but they might not say what we both want to hear."

"Before today, I was the one worried about that kind of thing and you were the one reassuring me."

"Well, roles have switched."

Daine rolled her eyes as they neared the double doors to the private dining hall that the King and Queen shared with their close friends. Two palace guards stood outside, as stiff as boards. The only time they moved, when they weren't fighting off intruders, was when they opened the doors for the people entering the room.

They stopped outside the doors so that Daine could straighten Numair's collar and he could re- pin the few curls that had escaped from her hair pins.

Numair smiled at the beautiful young woman in front of him and had to silently remind himself that she was his. He'd had to do that a number of times since the end of the war. He could never quite believe his luck.

"Shall we proceed, fair lady?" Numair asked, sounding like a nobleman.

He gave her a full court bow and offered her his arm.

Daine giggled, placed her hand delicately on the arm offered and, with eyes twinkling, replied, "Why thank you, good sir, indeed, let us proceed."

Daine snapped open the fan that Queen Thayet always made her carry when she wore a dress and fluttered it expertly.

Grinning broadly, Numair nodded to the guards to open the doors and it was like that that they entered the dining hall.

From the moment they entered, Daine knew that her friends were aware of something different between Numair and herself.

She suddenly realised that she and Numair must have looked like lovers, (which they were, but no one else knew that), when they walked in, arm in arm, with Daine fluttering the fan she was supposed to use to gain male attention.

"Good morning all," Numair said cheerfully, grinning like an idiot.

King Jonathan, Thayet, Alanna, George and Onua (A/N: I know she usually eats with the Riders but everyone needs a change!) all mumbled "good morning" in return and watched as Numair pulled out Daine's chair for her and poured her some juice.

She thanked him and he took his seat beside her.

They all helped themselves to the different foods set along the table before Alanna leaned forward and said suspiciously, "Are we missing something here?"

Daine, whose mouth was full of porridge, glanced across at her then over to Numair.

He nodded imperceptibly so Daine hastily swallowed her mouthful, cleared her throat and sat up straighter.

"Actually, now that you mention it, there is something," Numair said diplomatically.

"Oh yes?" George said. "And what would that be exactly? Knowing you two, it'll be something complex and difficult to understand."

"Complex? Oh no," Numair replied, shaking his head. "It's not complex at all."

Daine piped up. "Although you might find it a tad difficult to understand."

"Are we going to hear what it is any time today?" Onua asked, smiling.

Daine and Numair looked at each other. Numair looked pale under his tan and was chewing on the inside of his lip. Daine gripped his hand under the table, giving him moral support.

He turned back to their friends, took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"Daine and I… are… lovers. We have been since the end of the war."

Daine stared around the table at the people she'd known for what seemed like eternity. They accepted her for what she was and had helped her through so many things. They knew her and had known Numair longer. They would understand.

Alanna chuckled as if she were humouring them. "You're kidding, right?"

Daine shook her head slowly. "Uh, no, we're actually perfectly serious."

"But Daine!" Thayet exclaimed. "What about your reputation?"

Daine saw Numair wince. She knew that that particular matter still plagued him.

"What about it?"

"It will be ruined!"

"Oh please," Daine said, waving a hand nonchalantly. "People have had us in bed together since he took me on as his student. The only difference, is now, they'd be right."

"You don't know what you're getting yourself into," Alanna said. "Pleases Daine, find someone else. Numair let her go! Use some common sense!"

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Alanna. You see, I love her. I always have."

"And in any case," Daine replied, getting annoyed. "It's too late for all that. I'm already involved. I know what I'm doing and I think I can safely say that I know Numair a lot better than any of you do. Numair would never hurt me."

Everyone was shocked when Onua leapt to her feet, sending her chair crashing to the ground. She was angrier than anyone had ever seen her.

"No!" she said forcefully, cutting through the air with her hand. "No! Daine you are much too young!"

Daine gasped and jumped to her feet. "I'm almost seventeen!"

"Daine, let me let you in on a little secret," Onua said softly but still angrily. "You might think you're in love, but you're not. You're a vulnerable young girl who has a crush on a much older and experienced man."

"No! That's not how it is!"

"Daine! Listen to me! At your age, you cannot possibly know what love is!"

"Onua! Why are you acting this way? I thought you'd be the first to approve."

Onua sighed. "You don't understand. You're a child, Daine."

Daine shook her head vehemently. "No Onua, you're the one who doesn't understand. I'm not a child. I've seen and been through too many horrible things to be a child."

"But-"

"For three years, Numair and I have travelled around, most of the time with only each other for company. I needed someone to understand me and he needed someone so that he wouldn't be lonely. We needed each other. How could you not think that we would fall in love with each other?"

As Daine spoke, Numair watched everyone's faces. She had persuaded George and Jon and was winning over Alanna and Thayet. Only Onua stood firm.

"I was so frightened of falling in love that I didn't realise that I already had. I trust him Onua. I trust him with my life. I've had to. Please, I'm asking you to trust me and my judgement now."

"I can't Daine. I've seen what he's done to some women. He's taken up with them and then dropped them like trash when a new one comes to court. He'll do the same to you. When he does, I'm here for you.'

"How can you see him that way? I don't care what you say and think. I love him! You're never too young to fall in love!"

With that, Daine ran from the room in tears.

Daine ran all the way back to Numair's suite of rooms. For the last few months, she had spent so much of her spare time and so many nights there, that they almost felt like hers.

In the back of her mind, Numair's rooms, whether he was in them or not, meant safety, reassurance and love. Just the smell of his cologne would calm her, or make her wild, depending on her mood.

About a month after the war had ended, Numair had fixed his door, (which was spelled to allow only certain people to enter), so that she wouldn't have to knock and be physically let in.

When she reached the door, Daine said the password, (Magelet, despite her protests), and was let into the room.

She changed into the spare breeches and shirt that she always kept in Numair's rooms and threw herself onto the bed sobbing. Burying her face into the plush, downy pillows, she smelt not only Numair's scent, but also her own and it slowed her tears and brought a smile to her face.

It disappeared just as quickly when she thought of Onua's last words.

'"When he does, I'm here for you." '

How dare she? How could Onua treat her that way? Daine knew that Onua had once been married and then almost beaten to death by her husband, but she didn't have to treat Daine as if she were three.

'I know what I'm doing,' Daine thought to herself. 'I'll ask for help or advice when I need it and I certainly don't remember asking for it at breakfast.'

Daine felt the bed sink and a large hand she knew all too well smoothed her hair.

"Are you alright Magelet?"

Lifting her head from the pillow, Daine looked into Numair's beautiful black eyes and saw in them his deep concern for her.

"Yes Numair. I'm alright. Just angry."

"I should have warned you that Onua would probably react that way."

Sitting up, Daine said urgently, "But why, Numair? Why did she react that way? I know about her husband but she's got lots of other friends who are married and it's not like she went around warning all the other women you slept with!"

"Oh Daine, it's so simple. You're making everything too complicated; thinking too much."

Daine frowned impatiently and Numair drew her to him, kissing her forehead.

"It's the same situation I'm in, Magelet. She loves you and with love comes worry. She's just worried about your well- being. She doesn't want you to get hurt the way she did."

"But you'd never beat me, Numair."

"No, but sometimes, words cut deeper than physical blows."

Speaking into his shirt, Daine said, "That's certainly true," remembering all the things that Onua had said.

"I think I'll go for a ride and cool off," she reasoned.

Nibbling her ear lobe, Numair murmured, "If you want, come and find me sometime after lunch. I'm not doing anything."

Daine smiled and kissed him on the lips. "You can count on me taking up that offer."

She left the room in a much better mood than the one she arrived in.

On her way out of the palace though, Daine came face- to- face with Onua and found her anger return, this time multiplied a thousandfold.

Turning, she stormed out off to the stable to find and saddle her pony.

END FLASHBACK

"So what do you think about that then?" Daine asked her pony, a while later.

Cloud, who'd been drinking out of the stream, looked at her and replied, "The storkman was right, she's worried about you. You're over- reacting."

"I'm over- reacting!" Daine spluttered.

"Yes, you never did like being talked down to, even as a foal."

"So what do you think, I should apologize or something?"

"No, you're the one who was done wrong by. Onua should apologize but you have to be understanding and go talk to her. Be the bigger person and make the first move."

Daine sighed, knowing that, once again, her pony was right.

"Fine. Come here, we're going home."

Daine found Onua in the Rider stables a little before lunch checking over the Rider ponies.

"Onua?"

The older woman turned to face her and Daine saw that her eyes were red and puffy as if she'd been crying.

"Oh, Daine, did you need something?"

"Yes actually. I need to talk to you."

Onua sighed. "I know what you want to talk to me about Daine, but I stand by what I said this morning."

"Why? Numair's your friend."

"It's not that simple."

"Onua, all I want is to feel loved and special. Is that so much to ask?"

"From Numair, yes. I'm surprised he even has the word 'love' in his rather extensive vocabulary. He doesn't care about love, Daine, just sex. He'll bed anything in a skirt."

Daine shook her head slowly. "Maybe that was true once, but not anymore. He's different now Onua. He spent the better part of his life looking for the right woman. It's just that she happens to be me. Neither one of us could help it, Onua."

Onua stared at the person in front of her, no longer a girl but a young woman and still fighting with everything she had for something she believed in.

Onua's shoulders drooped in defeat. She knew when she had lost.

"Do you really and truly love him, Daine?"

Daine nodded. "More than life itself."

"And do you believe that Numair honestly loves you?"

"Yes Onua, I do."

Sighing, the older woman ran a hand through her hair and said, "Then who am I to stand in your way? You're both old enough to do as you please. I wish you both eternal happiness."

Daine's lower lip quivered as fresh tears welled in her eyes. She threw herself into Onua's arms and hugged her fiercely.

"Thank you," Daine whispered into Onua's ear and released her as Numair and Alanna entered the stable.

"Oh sorry," Numair said. "Are we interrupting something?"

Onua fixed Numair with an icy glare but immediately softened when she felt Daine touch her arm.

"No Numair," Onua replied. "I just finished wishing both you and Daine well. I'm sorry about how I acted."

Numair grinned as Daine joined him and he wrapped his arms around her.

"Thank you, Onua. I promise, I won't hurt her."

"I know, Numair. I don't know how I ever thought you could."

"Now that everything's back to normal-" Alanna began.

"Normal?" Daine asked. "What's normal?"

Everyone laughed and made their way back to the palace for lunch.

A/N: Well, that's it. This has taken me the better part of three hours to type up, so I hope you all like it. I do but like I said, the characters are really OOC. Don't hold it against me. Well, you know what to do now! Review!