My first Tamora Pierce fanfic. I've been lurking for a while, waiting to put this up until I had time to revise it. It's a bit long for a oneshot, and the characters might be a tad bit OOC at times, but I hope you will enjoy it anyway.
Disclaimer: Anything that you recognize belongs to Tamora Pierce.
"Veralidaine Sarrasri, stand still!" Thayet was exasperated. That much was clear, though why she was so insistent on dressing Daine up like a porcelain doll for Midwinter was less so. When Daine had cautiously asked the question, Thayet had replied that it was because Daine already resembled one so much with her clear fair skin, large blue-grey eyes, and mounds of curly brown hair. At Thayet's response, Daine had pulled a face and shut up.
Despite the fact that she was trying not to push the queen's testy mood to outright anger, Daine was unable to stop herself from squirming as the seamstress pinched dove grey silk at her waist and inserted several sharp silver pins. She pushed away a wayward thought of Thayet turning her into a pincushion and wondered where Alanna and Numair were. Surely one of them should have come by now to rescue her from the horror of dress fittings. Daine glanced out the window of Thayet's spacious dressing room and was startled to see the sun high overhead. She had been trapped with the queen since early morning. As the seamstress inserted another pin in the other side of the dress, Daine squealed in surprised indignation, startled from her previous thoughts.
Thayet opened her mouth to scold, her green hazel eyes stormy, but the Lioness chose that moment to saunter in, violet eyes sparkling. If she hadn't been working diligently to avoid the queen's wrath all morning, Daine would have rushed to thank the Lioness on bended knee saving her from the queen's temper. "Ah, Thayet, I thought you might have Daine caged up in here." To Daine, Alanna added, "Don't worry. Numair's coming to spring you from this prison of a dressing room."
Daine's shoulders relaxed as she drew in a deep breath. "Thanks be to the gods," she murmured. The seamstress chose that moment to insert the last of her sharp pins in the delicate fabric, and Daine's shoulders flew up to rest around her ears again. "Thayet, this is fair ridiculous," Daine told the queen, feeling safer now that the Lioness was here to back her up. "What need have I for such fancy clothes?"
Thayet ignored Daine, turning to the seamstress as the woman tucked her sewing materials away in her basket, finished for the moment. "Don't forget the embroidery along the collar and bodice," she instructed. "That will finish the gown perfectly."
As the Lioness exclaimed at Thayet for trying to dress Daine like a court peacock, the wild mage chanced a glance in the mirror, and her blue-grey eyes opened wide. She had known the dress was elegant, and possibly even alluring, but nothing prepared her for her reflection. The dove grey fabric made her eyes seem to radiate blue and made her pale skin look creamy and smooth. Made of clinging silk, the dress plunged from Daine's shoulders to reveal a small amount of Daine's cleavage. The bodice cupped her breasts intimately and emphasized a trim waist and full hips. "No. Absolutely not," Daine breathed, horrified.
The queen, the Lioness, and the seamstress turned to the wild mage as one. Thayet's voice was stern. "Daine, you look stunning. What could possibly be the matter?" she asked as the Lioness snickered.
"I am not wearing this, Thayet. I look like a court lady! And a scandalous one, at that."
Thayet pursed red lips and crossed her arms over her chest, a steely glint in her eye as she surveyed the young woman before her. Before she could say a word, however, a large figure stormed through the door.
"Thayet, please explain to me why you are keeping my apprentice locked up in your dressing room two days before Midwinter. It is bad enough that she will not be able to study for the rest of the week due to your silly feasts and festivities, and she ought to be studying now! I've searched high and low! I thought someone had kidnapped her. I see now that I was correct," Numair told the queen, agitated.
Thayet rolled her eyes and gestured to Daine, who was frozen on the stool she had stood on while the seamstress had made her adjustments to the gown. "There she is! How do you like my handiwork?" the queen asked slyly.
Numair glanced at Daine, ready to round on Thayet again, but he found himself unable to look away from the picture his student made on the stool, blushing in an exquisite grey gown. The cloth clung to her slender body sensuously, and he found that she did not look at all like the student he had met three years ago. She looked like a woman, whose sharp wit and intelligent eyes now matched a tempting womanly body.
The Lioness chuckled at her friend's astonishment, his eyes wide and mouth agape. Standing on tiptoe, she firmly pushed his mouth closed. The click of Numair's teeth coming together woke master and student from their reverie. Numair seemed to shake himself as Daine looked away from him, her cheeks bright red. Then he rounded on Thayet and Alanna.
While Daine alone could not convince the queen that the dress was hardly appropriate for a girl of her age and station, Thayet was shrinking under the weight of Numair's gaze. "What did you do to her?" he demanded through gritted teeth, his voice ominously quiet.
Thayet drew herself up, though she was still dwarfed by Numair's six feet, five inches. "I'm sure I don't know what you are talking about," the queen snapped, her eyes fiery. "She looks pretty, doesn't she? Don't think I didn't see that look in your eyes, Numair Salmalin. You know as well as I do that she looks damned good."
Numair glared, searching for the lost threads of his argument. "It's just not her, Thayet. You wouldn't try to dress Alanna up in yards of silk and velvet skirts and lace petticoats. Why must you do it to Daine?"
"Exactly! The Lioness isn't forced to play dress-up!" Daine's breasts bounced dangerously in the flimsy bodice as she hopped down off the stool to stand beside Numair, who averted his eyes with difficulty. He put a large hand on her bare shoulder, trying not to notice how soft her skin was as he smiled down at her. He gulped when he noticed what the low collar of the dress and his height revealed to his eyes and carefully looked away.
"Say, Thayet, don't you think she's a bit young to wear a collar so low?" Numair asked, too-perfect control in his voice.
Thayet rolled her eyes at the mage, her words tinged with acid. "Numair, she's sixteen. As I'm sure you can see, she's practically a woman."
Alanna hugged Daine around the shoulders as heat flooded the wild mage's cheeks. Numair spluttered incoherently before turning away from the queen to focus his attention on the Lioness. "And you condone this, Alanna?"
The Lioness pulled back to look at Daine, violet eyes searching her face. Daine averted her own eyes, embarrassment making them burn with unshed tears. "I'm afraid there's not much I can do, Numair. Thayet is very nearly a force of nature, and she is right. Daine has somehow blossomed into a young woman without any of us noticing it."
"Not the point," Numair bit out, but he was not about to waste time arguing with the two ridiculous women. "Magelet, if you will change out of that gown—" he spat the word "—I believe it is time for lessons."
"Gladly," Daine replied, stepping behind a dressing screen in a corner of the large room. As Daine began to strip off the rich garments and toss them haphazardly over the screen, Numair made a hasty exit.
"This isn't the end of this conversation," he warned the two older women, closing the door.
"Thank Mithros you found me when you did!" Daine said as she strolled down the hall with Numair, more comfortable in an unadorned ensemble of shirt and breeches. "I was certain Thayet was going to keep me there all day, and even Alanna did not seem inclined to challenge her on the matter."
"Magelet, if you don't want to wear that gown, you don't have to," Numair intoned carefully. "I'm sure we could find something more suitable."
Daine sighed. "I'm sure we could, but I would hate to hurt Thayet's feelings. She asked me at Midsummer if she could design and finance my Midwinter dress, and I agreed, thinking that she would be more reasonable and include me in the thought process. It appears that I was wrong, but she's still my friend."
Numair knew better than to argue with Daine's regard to other people's feelings. "Well then, let's go. If you're going to be in fittings all day tomorrow, too, we need to get as many lessons in now as we can."
Several hours later, Numair watched as Daine completed the healing on a cat that had gotten on the wrong side of a palace cook one too many times. The cat ambled away, his paw restored to good health, but Daine instantly fell into a deep sleep, sprawled in Numair's lap.
Numair, his thoughts on the earlier comments of Thayet and Alanna, studied the wild mage. Her dusky curls covered his lap almost entirely. Small hands clutched in the folds of his shirt. Full lips, parted slightly, curled into a contented smile as she pressed her new-found curves to him in her sleep. Numair's eyes widened, and he leaned back. Alanna was right. Although he hated to admit it, even Thayet was right. Daine was becoming a young woman. Soon, he knew he would cease to be her closest companion. She would get married, have babies, and live a full, happy life. Though the thoughts tormented him, he forced himself to examine each and every one so that it would be less painful when the day came that Numair would see her taken away from him. He smoothed her tumbling curls with a large hand. Daine nuzzled her face into that hand, her fair skin a stark contrast to his own.
Though he hated to wake her, he knew they could not continue to sleep there in that hallway. If anyone were to see Daine asleep with her head in the mage's lap and him looking at her so tenderly, they would get the wrong idea. The rumors would be vicious. Cautiously, Numair gathered the slender girl into his arms and stood. Daine twined her arms around the mage's neck, one hand clutching at the laces of his shirt. Numair tried to untangle the girl's hands from his shirt, but she only smiled and strengthened her grip. Gritting his teeth, Numair carried the wild mage to her home in the Rider barracks, ignoring the knowing looks they received along the way. Most of Tortall already had them in bed together, and denying the rumors would only convince the gossips that they were true.
Onua was just returning from the stables when Numair reached the barracks and ran ahead to hold the door to Daine's rooms open for him. "What happened? What's wrong with her?"
The sight of Daine passed out was no longer alarming, as she often fell into a deep sleep after healings, but the miserable look on Numair's face frightened the K'mir.
"She's just tired from a healing," Numair reassured the woman, forcing his face into a fond smile. The muscles of his face strained, and he wasn't sure if he got the smile quite right, but he was in no mood to care. He laid the girl on the bed and pulled off her boots.
Onua hesitated for a moment, wondering about the grave expression that had previously marred her friend's features, but she knew she had ponies and trainees to attend to early the next morning and slipped out to find her own bed. Numair tucked the wild mage into bed, pulling the covers firmly up to her chin. Relenting, he cupped her cheek in a large hand and pressed a soft kiss to her forehead with trembling lips. "Sleep well, Magelet."
Daine rolled over on her side, pulling the blankets with her so that she was thoroughly entangled in them. Numair crept out the door and leaned against the wall, wondering what this girl—young woman, he corrected himself—was doing to him.
The next day, Daine was awakened by two fairly heavy objects landing on her legs. Too heavy to be the cats that normally slept with her, Daine decided and opened one eye warily. A pair of sapphire blue eyes and a pair of green hazel eyes stared back at her intently, only inches from her face. Daine scooted back hurriedly, and the two children came into focus.
Thom, Alanna's oldest son, and Kalasin, the princess, jumped delightedly on the bed. "Our mamas sent us to fetch you," Kally told the wild mage with a grin on her face. Thom nodded. Without Roald, their little group seemed to have a piece missing, but the older boy was in the pages' barracks preparing to be a knight.
She wondered what Alanna and Thayet could possibly want so early in the morning. When she realized that the only rational answer could be dress fittings, Daine groaned. Kally climbed into Daine's lap, studying the wild mage as she scrubbed hands over her eyes wearily. Catching the princess's concerned gaze, Daine said, "I'm all right. I'm getting up." Kally and Thom climbed off her as she headed for the bath.
Thayet pinched the cloth at Daine's waist between her fingertips. "I still think it ought to be taken in a bit more here. I want the fabric to sit flush against her waist to emphasize the fullness of the skirt," she instructed the seamstress as she released the cloth and returned to circling the wild mage.
Daine looked drowsily to Alanna who was observing the preparations with amusement. "What are you wearing, Lioness?"
Alanna cracked a smile. "I, too, have been given a royal order to attend tonight's festivities in proper attire, which is to say, a dress. It's an indigo satin with jet beading."
"At least I'm not the only one. Why don't you have fittings to go to?" Daine grumbled.
"I commissioned my dress months ago, youngling, and had the fittings then."
Daine turned her attention once more to the dress as Thayet continued to circle like a vulture, and found a last objection she might make to the silk confection. "Thayet, I'm going to freeze in this. There's snow on the ground!" The dress had only thin straps to hold it up. Sleeves would have been more practical for the weather.
Thayet grinned impishly, finally in a good mood. "There is one last piece to your ensemble," she explained. As Daine groaned, Thayet opened a wardrobe and withdrew a deep blue woolen surcoat shot through with threads of glittering silver. Daine's breath caught in her throat. It was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen, and practical as well. She turned awed eyes to Thayet who nodded in satisfaction.
Daine slipped the gown on, relishing in the feel of silk against her skin despite herself. She pulled at it, making sure the long graceful skirt fell correctly, accentuating her figure. She pulled on the fitted surcoat over the dress and slipped her feet into soft grey slippers.
A maid sent to do Thayet's bidding tamed the girl's wild curls and left them streaming down her back. As Daine looked in the mirror, she couldn't help but admit that Thayet might have been right. She did look beautiful, not that she would admit it within anyone else's hearing. A soft knock at the door roused Daine from her reverie.
She opened the door to find Numair examining his reflection in a window across the hall. "Haven't you done enough preening yet this afternoon, Master Salmalin?" Daine teased. The mage was infamous for the great amounts of time it took him to prepare for events such as these. Numair turned to face her and she found that they matched quite well. Under his black mage's robe, he was clad in deep blue breeches and tunic over a startlingly white shirt.
Numair allowed himself a quick glance over her, and his breath whistled out. "Great Goddess, you look pretty."
Daine blushed as Numair offered her his arm, overly formal. Daine took it and the two made their way down to the feast. The banquet hall was as lavishly decorated as Daine was herself. What appeared to be thousands of long white tapers lit the hall, glinting off the finery in the room. The deep blue beads nestled in the embroidery on Daine's bodice winked in the candlelight. The hall clamored with noise as pages brought out rich food and strong drink and offered it to the gathered nobility.
Daine had never had wine before, but she quickly found the beverage to her liking as they were served a selection of deep red wines by their page. Course after course of delicacies was rolled out, but Daine hardly dared eat in the company of so many noble guests. Each time she had nearly drained her wine goblet, she turned to find it refilled.
"It's the pages," Numair whispered in her ear the third time it happened. "They find it thoroughly amusing to see if they can get everyone drunk at Midwinter."
The pages were very successful in their endeavor to intoxicate the wild mage. By the end of the meal, Daine's limbs burned with a pleasant sort of fire and the hall had been reduced to a mass of swirling colors and sounds. When they all got up to go to the ballroom, Daine clung to Numair's arm to avoid falling and giggled as the room swayed. Numair maneuvered them out of the procession and held the wild mage by the shoulders in front of him. "Daine," Numair said slowly. "How much wine did you have?" He watched as her eyes slid from his face to a point behind him, scolding himself mentally. He should have watched her more closely, or had harsh words with the page that had continually refilled her wine glass.
Daine shook her head, the fire in her veins pooling where Numair's hands gripped the bare skin of her shoulders. "Let's go, Numair. Jonathan would not be pleased if we missed the ball," she said with a graveness that was ruined by the fact that her words slurred together sloppily. Her wandering eyes fixated on the stone ceiling just above them. "Look, Numair! Mistletoe!"
She jumped, trying to reach his lips so far above her. He caught her in midair before she could land and fall. Daine threw her arms around his neck, trying to pull his lips closer to her own.
"Magelet," Numair growled, fighting his desire to let her have what she wanted so desperately. "You're not thinking clearly. Don't do this. It wouldn't be proper."
"Oh, come on," Daine giggled, rubbing her nose against his neck.
"No," Numair replied in a stern tone he had never used with her before.
Daine pressed her hands against his chest, pushing away from him, and he set her down carefully. "Gods, Numair, you're no fun! It's Midwinter! All I wanted was a kiss!" She swiped at her eyes and her fingers came away wet. She stared at them, mystified, and then at him, and then she began to stumble away. "I'll just find someone else!" Her voice was thick and she couldn't think why. As she stumbled away the floor rose to meet her, but strong arms caught her just in time. She looked back to find her face just inches from Numair's again.
"I don't think so, Magelet." Numair swept her up in his arms forcefully and marched down the corridor toward his rooms, ignoring Daine's struggles to get free. Eventually, she relaxed in his arms.
"You're going the wrong way to the ball, you know," Daine informed him finally.
Numair chuckled despite himself. He only let her down when they were safely inside his rooms. Daine looked about, confused. "Did you change your mind?" she asked, pressing close to him.
Numair grit his teeth and wondered briefly if he ought to worry that this nervous habit would cause him to lose his teeth well before old age. Brought back to the present by Daine's hands fisting in his robe, he pushed her away. She was over-estimating his self-control. He pulled one of his shirts out of his dresser and handed it to her.
"You can wear this to sleep in. Change." He turned toward the wall.
Even in her drunken state, Daine detected the steel in his voice and knew better than to test his limits. An angry Numair was a scary Numair. She pulled off the surcoat and dress, dropping them in a pile by the chair. Next came her spider-web-fine hose and the intricate corset that Thayet had insisted upon. She pulled Numair's huge white shirt on and tied the laces at the collar. The shirt fell below her knees, and she sighed, thinking of how silly she must look, drunk and in Numair's room, wearing his shirt.
"Are you decent?" Numair bit out.
Numair turned. Daine tossed her delicate grey slippers in the pile with the rest of her discarded finery. She seemed to have sobered up a bit. "Sorry," she said, tears in her eyes, her words still slightly slurred by drink. "I'm ruining your Midwinter."
Numair sighed and pulled her to his chest. He buried his hands in her hair as she sobbed and murmured soothingly into her ear. When she had calmed, he got her a glass of water and took her to his bedroom. "You get the bed, Magelet. I'll sleep on the settee." Or not at all, he added silently to himself.
Daine lay obediently on the bed in his sparsely furnished bedroom and pulled the comforter over herself. Numair turned to go, but was stopped in his tracks when Daine asked, "Stay with me?" Her voice was soft, her eyes bleary. She looked young and vulnerable in his big shirt. And she was scared. He knew it because he was scared, too. Scared of the overwhelming feelings that were lurking just beneath the surface. He shook his head to clear it. She was so young and so very, very drunk.
"Sorry, sweetling, but I'm not tired. I'll be in my study if you need anything."
He thought he heard her whisper "just you" as he closed the door. It had been a long night. His study was dark, but the comfort of the familiar room surrounded him the moment the door closed. He lit the lamps and candles and settled into an unfinished experiment.
Numair didn't realize the sun had risen until he heard a knock on the door and looked up to find the room amply lit by the windows behind him. He set down his ink brush. "Come in."
Daine stumbled through the door, her hair sticking out in all directions, her bleary eyes squinting against the light.
"Well, good morning, Magelet," Numair said warily, wondering if she was going to throw herself at him. She looked too disoriented to begin her antics of last night again this morning. "What can I do for you?"
"G'morning," Daine croaked, cradling her head in her hands as she took a seat and got right to the point. "I have a few questions for you, the first being: How did I get here and why do I feel so awful? And why am I wearing your shirt? And can you please be a bit quieter? My head is throbbing."
The edges of Numair's mouth quirked up as he bit back a grin, but he lowered his voice out of sympathy for the girl. He had been in her position more than once. "That's three questions, Magelet. And you were drunker than I thought. You don't remember anything?"
Daine gingerly shook her head, looking miserable. Numair related the events of the previous night. The more he told the wild mage of her behavior, the brighter Daine's cheeks burned. "Gods, I'm so sorry," Daine said when he'd finished the story, refusing to look at him.
Numair chuckled. "Let's take care of that hangover and then I have a gift for you. It is Midwinter, after all."
"How exactly do you plan to take care of this gods-cursed hangover?"
"We'll just go see Alanna. She'll put you to rights in seconds," Numair explained, steering the curly-haired girl toward the door.
"Numair, I can't leave here wearing nothing but your shirt," Daine protested.
Numair stopped dead, eyes wide. Daine ran into his broad back. "And you can't leave wearing the clothes you wore last night. Imagine how people would talk. Could you shapeshift and go back to your room to get clothes?"
Daine took in a deep breath and tried to sink into the meditation. She closed her eyes, attempting to shift into the form of a bird. Her heart pounded in her chest in time with the blinding throb of her head. Aches ran threw her body and she felt slightly nauseous. As much as she tried to force the distractions back, they returned louder than ever. She turned paler and paler before finally opening her eyes. "I can't," she said weakly, struggling to contain the tears gathering in the corners of her eyes and the sobs tearing at her throat. "I feel too awful. I can't concentrate."
Numair's brow furrowed. "Well, I can get Alanna to come here, but we're both going to have some explaining to do."
"As long as she heals me first." Daine waved a hand lazily and sunk onto the settee, curling in on herself.
Moments later, the Lioness walked through Numair' door and halted abruptly, staring at Daine who lay on the settee, still clothed only in Numair's shirt. Numair stood in the doorway of his study, hands clutching the top of the doorframe. Alanna rounded on him, a sickly sweet smile on her face. Her voice was perfectly civil when she spoke, but Numair could hear as she clenched her teeth. "Numair, why is Daine in your room, on your settee, wearing your shirt, on Midwinter morning?"
Numair held out both hands as Alanna stepped threateningly toward him. "Please, Alanna, tend to Daine before you go settling scores with me."
The Lioness's face softened. "Of course." She kneeled at Daine's side, purple magic emanating from her fingers. "Are you okay, sweetling?" Alanna asked softly, brushing Daine's hair tenderly from her face.
Daine smiled weakly. Alanna was as close to a mother as she had, and the wild mage often felt that the King's Champion and her husband, the Baron of Pirate's Swoop, had adopted her into their brood. "It's not what you think, Lioness."
Numair explained what had happened as Alanna healed Daine, leaving out certain details that he knew would embarrass the girl to no end.
"Drink lots of water and rest," Alanna instructed Daine before turning to Numair. "And you behave yourself."
Numair was partially relieved and partially disappointed that Daine had not renewed her pursuit of him that morning. It was just the drink making her act that way, he reminded himself forcefully. After her healing, Daine had just enough strength left to shift to the shape of a barn owl and fly to her room to fetch Numair's gift. When she flew back through his open window, she dropped a box gently on the table and picked his shirt up in her beak, flying to his bedroom.
When Daine emerged, again clothed in nothing but his shirt, Numair said dryly, "You know, you could have shifted back at your room, put on decent clothing, and walked here."
"I rather like this shirt," Daine retorted wearily, dropping back down onto the settee. "I may steal it."
"Hey! I don't steal your clothes!"
"Numair, sweet, you obviously wouldn't fit in my clothes," Daine said reasonably, indicating how large his shirt was on her.
"Nevertheless, I do not steal your clothes," Numair replied, smug. As Daine opened her mouth to argue, Numair placed a hand over her lips. "Stop arguing with my flawless logic and open your gift." He handed her a small box, impeccably wrapped. Daine took it from him and shook it next to her ear, wanting to hear if it jingled. Belatedly, Numair realized what she was doing. "Magelet, that's cheating!"
She untied the wide satin ribbon slowly and tied it in her curls. Peeling back a corner of the wrapping paper, she ripped the lot of it off in one fell swoop. She pulled the lid of the box off and squealed in delight and surprise. "Numair, I can't possibly accept—"
Numair reached past her to draw the sapphire pendant and silver chain out of the box and clasped it gently around her neck, his long fingers smoothing the chain into place. "It's yours, Magelet. Besides, it matches the sapphire ear drops I gave you last year."
Daine ran to the mirror in his bedroom to admire it properly. Just as suddenly she ran back into the room and threw her arms around the man. "Thank you, Numair! I can't wait to see what it looks like with the ear drops. Open yours now, please," Daine said, handing him a fairly large box that was neatly wrapped.
Inside that box, there was another wrapped in different colors. Inside that box there was another, again slightly smaller, and wrapped. Several wrapped boxes later, Numair crowed, "You fiend! The suspense is killing me!"
Finally, Numair reached what seemed to be the last box and tore through six layers of paper feverishly as Daine laughed until her lungs hurt.
Inside was a rare tome of magic from the Carthaki University that Kaddar had helped her to obtain and a painting of Numair, Kitten, and her, precise in every detail, done by the court painter Volney Rain.
Daine had expected Numair to dive into the book first, and was astonished when he picked up the painting in trembling fingers, tears in his dark eyes. "My little family," he murmured under his breath, crushing Daine to him. So that Daine could hear him, he said, "Thank you, Magelet."
AN: So what did you think? I rather like it myself, but I want some fresh opinions. Review please!