Disclaimer: The characters are Tamora Pierce's, not mine.
Numair opened the door for Daine and gestured for her to enter. She was so cold she could swear there was ice in her veins instead of blood. She hurried into his tower rooms, stomping the snow from her boots. Black fire shot from his hands to the fireplace to turn what had previously been a cold log on a colder grate into a crackling fire. Another flash of black fire dried her clothing with a steamy hiss and she felt warm for the first time in hours. "Gods, I love you," she said nonchalantly, grinning.
Time seemed to stop. Numair, completely frozen in place by the words thought, She loves me? He felt his eyes open wide and his jaw drop. Luckily, she had her back to him as she held her palms out in front of the fire to warm her hands. Numair had been struggling with something since their return from Carthak. He had a growing affection for his 15 year old student and it was a daily fight to not make a fool of himself. He struggled to say something in response, to ask what she meant by that. What should I say?
Daine rolled her head around her shoulders, releasing the tension that an hour of shivering had placed there. "If there's any one spell I want to be able to make my magic do, it's that one." A curious expression crossed her countenance. "Are you alright? You look positively frozen. Aren't you gonna' thaw your own self too?"
"Oh, right," he said, shaking his head as if to shake off the stupidity he had just experienced. She didn't mean she loves me. She meant she loves my Gift. He used the same spell on himself, drying his clothing with a hiss. He took a deep, meditating breath and said, "Well, nothing like a freak storm…"
"Blizzard 'smore like."
"Okay… blizzard to destroy a good lesson." They had walked into the edge of the forest to discuss and study indigenous plants and their magical uses. He had wanted to see how many she could recognize. The storm had come out of nowhere and piled snow on them. "I think somewhere there is an untrained weather mage in a towering temper."
The notion struck her as funny and she laughed. "There's somebody whose toast you don't want to burn."
He chuckled. "Well," he sighed as the heat finally reached his digits, "I could haul out my books on flora. We could try to learn from pictures."
"Do we have to," she mock whined. She stuck out her lower lip and opened her eyes wide, grinning up at him. Then she batted her eye-lashes. It was positively adorable.
Numair ruffled her hair, "Magelet, you'd have made a good puppy."
"I can," she said mischievously, "right now if you like." She flopped her head from side to side, making dog ears appear from her own bare pink ears.
He couldn't help it. He let out a hearty laugh. It was a deep baritone sound that she loved to hear. He doesn't laugh enough, she thought as she turned her ears back to normal.
"So if you're not interested in indigenous flora, what, pray-tell, are you expecting me to teach you today. I don't think teaching you that my fire is warm is a good enough excuse to have you in my rooms unchaperoned." That last part was a reference to something Alanna had said to them in Carthak.
Daine rolled her eyes and said, "Oh please. I'm safe with you. There is no one in the world I trust more."
His face turned serious and then a shy smile touched the edge of his full lips. "Thank you, Magelet, I do believe that is the kindest compliment anyone has ever paid me."
Daine saw a sadness in his eyes that she had never noticed before. She wanted to embrace him, but held back. Looking around, she saw five brightly colored balls sitting in a bowl on an end-table. Once, he had entertained her by juggling these. She thought Numair was a curious mixture of contradictions. On one hand, he made mounting a horse look the most difficult feat mankind endured. On another, he was the most graceful man at any ball (other than King Jon) and women swooned just at the thought of being his partner. Though he had an annoying habit of getting lost in a book for days, he didn't seem to need them while on journeys. And his hand-eye coordination seemed impossibly bad when she tried to teach him to use her long bow, but he could do something as difficult and fun-loving as juggling, and do it well. Numair never ceased to amaze her. She thought she could spend a life time trying to know all there was to know about him. She grinned mischievously at him. "Could you teach me juggling?"
A huge smile crept across his face. "You want to learn to juggle? That could be fun." He grabbed three of the colored balls and juggled them for a minute. She hadn't even realized he had tossed one out of the string at her until she almost missed catching it. "You're not off to a good start, Magelet," he teased.
Over the next hour, he patiently showed her again and again what she needed to do. Much to her frustration, she spent more time chasing the balls she had dropped then actually keeping them in the air. Nearly at the end of her tether, she said, "I'm hopeless."
"No, you're not," he said, eyes dancing. "It just takes practice and a feel for the rhythm."
"I'm a mess," she said dropping the balls yet again. "It's a wonder you are still willing to work with me, when I can't learn the simplest things."
"Of course you can." There was genuine affection in his eyes now and she felt a strange sensation, as if he had captured her gaze and she couldn't look away. She felt a fluttering in her stomach. "I have an idea," she heard him say.
Numair moved behind Daine. He positioned her hands, palms up and put a ball in her left and two in her right. Then he placed his large hands over the backs of each of own. Now as if she was some strange doll, he used her hands to juggle. She was enraptured by the movement of the balls and didn't even notice when at last he pulled his own hands away and hers continued to make the movements.
"Look, look, look," she shouted excitedly when she finally realized what had happened. "I'm doing it. I'm juggling."
They both laughed at her girlish exclamations, and then she dropped a ball. "Aw no!" she cried crestfallen.
"It's alright, Magelet. You just need more practice. But you did juggle. I knew you would."
She turned to face him and tried again. This time she didn't need his help. She kept the balls circling in the air for six minutes before the inevitable flub happened. But she was far too happy to care now.
"As enjoyable as this is, it is probably time for you to get back to your rooms, Magelet. People will talk."
She rolled her eyes again. "I 'spose you're right." She put her coat and hat back on. "Can I take the balls to practice?"
"Sure," he laughed. He stuffed the balls into her coat pockets.
Suddenly she flung herself into his arms. The embrace was warm and wonderful. He held her there for a moment, knowing full well that her feet were a foot off the ground. "Thank you," she said and kissed his cheek. Then she jumped down and hurried out the door. He could hear her call, "I can't wait to show Onua" as her voice got further and further away.
He just stood there with his fingertips pressed to the place where her lips had touched his cheek.