Numair sat back in his chair, overwhelmed by his revelation. He loved her. He saw it now. He had always loved her. He buried his face in his hands. Even though he loved her, he couldn't tell her! He could just see it now…Daine would laugh at him, scoff at him for turning sentimental. But, he thought, what if she felt the same way? Then Numair shook his head. There was no way she would. Why would she?
Knowing that he loved her was hard enough. The fact that he could never act on his feelings and sentiments was even worse.
Without warning, silver fire erupted on the ground next to Numair's chair. He started in shock, but soon recognized the badger's musky, woodsy scent and bossy demeanor. The badger ignored Numair, albeit acknowledging him with a small nod. The badger braced his two front paws onto Daine's coverlet and stuck his nose into her ear. He seemed to be conversing with her.
The badger then turned to Numair and looked up at the big mage with piercing black eyes. "She'll be fine. If all goes well, she'll wake up around dawn. Look after my kit Master Salamín."
Before Numair could respond, silver fire blossomed around the badger, and he disappeared just as suddenly as he came. Numair released his breath—he had not been aware that he stopped breathing. He felt as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Daine would live. And yet, in the midst of his joy, he could not feel but a bit apprehensive. Would he ever be able to treat her with the same camaraderie as before or would his feelings give way and betray him? Numair shook these thoughts to the side…now was still not the time to worry about these trivial details. All that mattered was that Daine would live…wasn't that enough?
Night passed by. The stars that festooned the darkness gave way to clouds of pink and orange as the sun rose. Dawn came and passed and still there was no change in Daine. Numair's worry resurfaced. He planted himself back in his seat by her bed trying to make himself comfortable. As he looked upon Daine's face, a tiny movement caught his eye.
Her eyelids started fluttering; her still hands began to twitch. What seemed like a century later, Daine opened her blue-grey eyes and looked around the room. The first sight she saw was Numair's weary but overjoyed face.
"Numair," she croaked, voice rusty with disuse. "You look awful!"
Numair gave a weak chuckle and pulled her upright for a bone-crushing hug, forgetting in his joy that she had only began her recovery. He quickly released her and Daine settled her head back once more onto her pillow.
"Goddess bless Daine! I was so worried I was going to lose you." His voice cracked at the very end, his calm demeanor crumbling at the edges.
"Mmm, I'm hurt," Daine mumbled, her eyes closing once more. Numair leaned in close to hear her last words before she gave way to sleep. "I thought you of all people would know that it's gonna take more than some fever to keep me from you."
"I'll be here when you wake up magelet," he promised, brushing one palm across her cheek.
Daine slept to midday, awaking to find Numair reading a tome of Tortallan history that she had never seen before. Sensing she was awake, Numair slid the book off his lap and scooted forward in his chair to take a hold of Daine's hands which lay on top of her coverlet.
"How are you feeling? Better?"
Daine looked into his eyes and saw worry etched onto his face. She nodded and saw relief flood over him.
"What?" she said, seeing questions written all over his face.
"Nothing," he answered, a bit too quickly.
"You want to know what happened don't you?" she accused.
"Maybe. Okay yes, I do." Numair caved. "How in the Goddess' name did you manage to recover so quickly?"
"Badger told me it wasn't my time yet," she told her friend matter-of-factly. "He told me I had to come back here, but I didn't need him to tell me that."
"What do you mean?"
"It was you." He instinctively squeezed her hand with the gentlest of pressures. She wasn't even aware that he had done so.
"I beg your pardon?"
"You kept me here Numair. When I was almost near to the Black God, I heard your voice. You called me back. When I heard you, I knew I wasn't ready to leave you behind."
Numair's hand squeezed Daine's small one harder as he heard her admission. Mayhap there was hope for them after all.
Later on that day when Daine fell asleep once more, Numair gazed intently at his wrist until a gold chain appeared, boasting a small oval gold locket. He came so close to losing her this time, he didn't want to risk losing her again. He quickly snipped off a lock of her hair and clipped it on one side of the locket, securing it in place. For a long moment, he held the bracelet in the palm of his hand. He viewed the locket with a steadfastness that one day his wish would be fulfilled, that one day his love for her would no longer have to be hidden away. The locket became a bittersweet token of his love.
As he closed the locket and stuffed it unceremoniously into his pocket, Numair effectively and simultaneously veiled his love for her as well. In time, he would let her know. But for now, he sighed inwardly, he would just have to hide it. Hide and bear it. Feeling a bit disheartened, Numair looked down at the face of his sleeping friend and secret love.
Reaching into his pocket, he fingered the locket. A lover's token indeed.