A/N: Here's a long Daine/Numair oneshot, finally! Light fluff. It's been too long since I really wrote Daine and Numair. Please read and review, I appreciate it so much!
Characters: Numair, Daine, others
Time: Sometime between Emperor Mage and Realm of the Gods
Disclaimer: Everything you recognize belongs to Tamora Pierce. Not me.
It was a fine day for anything: clear skies mirrored by meltwater streams, new buds on every bush, animals emerging from their warm winter abodes. Spring had arrived in Tortall at last. It made Numair smile, as he did every year, when he gazed out upon the beautiful green grasslands surrounding the palace. In his youth, neither Tyra nor Carthak were ever privy to a season so fresh and fine. It was indeed a fine, glorious day for anything – except what he had to do.
For Daine the Wildmage was nowhere to be found, and yet, in an increasingly common occurrence, King Jonathan required her presence in his formal court. From what the king had told Numair – which, admittedly, wasn't much – there were delegates set to arrive in mere hours from the Copper Isles, a place famous for the beauty and diversity of its wildlife. Their leader had specifically requested to meet the "young lady of the court whose charm lies not with men, but with every other of nature's creatures."
Numair had smirked when he heard this, though he'd had to hide his grin rather hurriedly from Thayet's sharp eyes. But his only thought had been that, clearly, the leader of the Copper Isles had indeed never met Daine. Every man who knew her knew also of her unconscious charm. I am no exception, Numair thought wearily.
But nevertheless, knowing very well Daine's disdainful attitude toward courtly niceties and common procedures, Numair had decided to warn her weeks in advance, and remind her of the meeting's importance in many of their lessons. In retrospect, he realized, that had probably not been the best plan of action.
For today, Daine had quite conveniently made herself scarce since daybreak, and no one had seen hide nor hair of her since. And, of course, as her teacher and the one who had informed her in the first place, it fell to Numair to track her down.
"You find her, you make sure she's presentable, and you come here, both of you in your finest. Do you understand me? Above all, make sure she's here, on time," Jon had growled at him. Numair did not intimidate easily, but the look in Jon's eyes – matched by his wife and his Lioness from behind him – made Numair wince and hurry away to do the king's bidding.
Now Numair stood, completely at a loss, in the middle of the springy grasslands. He had shed his black robe long ago, but the sun was still warm against his white silk shirt and fine breeches. He had checked the stables first, but knew she wouldn't be there, for precisely that reason – it was inevitably the first place he would look. Next he checked her rooms, the Riders' barracks, and the kitchens in case Kitten had gotten too impatient to wait for dinner. All were perfectly empty of his quarry. Out in the grounds now, Numair knew she had to be somewhere. But it was such a large place.
She was probably in mouse form, he reasoned, tiny and easily hidden, chattering away with the little creatures who had just woken up from winter. Or perhaps she was a bird, sitting out of reach on the highest parapet. Well, she must have forgotten who would surely be searching for her. Three years as her teacher had taught Numair a very great deal about how to handle her natural eccentricities.
With a deep breath to clear his mind, Numair put himself in the mindset of his shifted form, his black hawk. But he took care not to actually transform. His transformations were not like Daine's – he didn't possess true wild magic in any sense. But even so, a successful shapeshifting spell like the one he had mastered required a certain sense of animal instinct. In the mental state of his hawk, he had a stronger sense of Daine's wild magic, especially if she was transformed as well.
After a few moments, he felt her presence, coppery-gold in his mind's eye. It was very faint, but he would know it anywhere from the warmth that tickled through his Gift and into his heart, even with only the slightest touch. She was not too far from where he stood – to his right, in the woodlands. He could reach her quickly if he followed the stream.
Wiping his brow, Numair headed gratefully into the cool of the forest's shade, calmed by the bubbling brook beside him. He felt like all of his steps were much too loud as twigs and pebbles crackled under his boots. He cast a small but tricky spell around his feet to minimize the noise. If Daine heard him coming, she would bolt like a scared deer.
However, his spell seemed to be successful. Rounding the base of a large birch tree, Numair saw Daine, sitting right there on the other side. She was pulling her oldest, most patchy linen shirt over her head – she had clearly just returned to human form. Numair flushed suddenly when he wondered what would have happened had he rounded the tree just a few seconds earlier.
"Is this where you've been hiding all day?"
Daine jumped to her feet. The various animals around her – mice, sparrows, even two foxes – scurried away at once. "Horse Lords, Numair," she scolded, crossing her arms under her chest. "Don't sneak up on me like that." She narrowed her eyes at him. "I should've heard you coming."
"I wasn't sneaking. I merely cast a spell to make my footsteps inaudible."
He saw her mouth the word "inaudible," appearing to think it over. Then she donned a triumphant, if annoyed, expression. "So you were sneaking! You didn't want me to hear you, at least!"
"Only because I knew you would run, and I so longed to see you," said Numair cheerfully. He sat down next to the river, patting the ground beside him. Still glaring daggers at him, Daine sat, turning her head stubbornly away from him.
"I won't let you charm me. I'm not going to meet those degalates."
"Delegates," corrected Numair. "And I hadn't planned to charm you. I had planned to present a utterly infallible case of my opinion, convincing you to return with me based solely on the soundness of the truth and my argument."
She shrugged. "It all sounds the same to me," she said.
"You haven't listened to it yet."
"Well, I know it will."
There was a long pause. The river, a rather deep section, Numair noticed, flowed quietly at their feet.
"Let's start with the positives," began Numair. "The Copper Isles are known internationally for their kindness and appreciation of animals and nature. I'm sure they will have many stories to tell you of wondrous creatures that you have never known."
Watching her out of the corner of his gaze, Numair saw her lips twitch, a mere glimpse of the soft, warm expression she always wore around her People.
"And the negatives?" Daine said.
"Well. You must wear your finest dress – not a ball gown, of course, but a dress nonetheless – and sit idly and with the most proper of manners while King Jon conducts the necessary business. He will do so either before or after you have been introduced, but we both must remain present throughout."
She bit her lip, clearly pouting. Studying her properly for the first time, Numair decided that he had to say something that would make her appreciate his presence even less.
"And you must wash your hair," he said, nodding at the dust and forest cover that cluttered her wild brown hair. Idly he leaned over to pick out a few twigs and leaves, wondering at the softness beneath his fingers, even with all the dirt.
"My hair is fine!" Daine said, affronted. She glared at him again, and as they were so much closer now, the effect was doubly frightening. "It's the middle of the day! Where's the point in washing it now, when I'll just go get it all mussed again when I take Cloud out for a ride, or clean her stable, or feed Kitten – which you haven't done today, I presume, because she was whining all morning - "
Numair winced. In the furor of preparation for the delegates, and Daine's absence, he had forgotten to find breakfast for Kitten. "I agree with you wholeheartedly, magelet. It's pointless. But you know it's not up to me. We must both look presentable today."
"Presentable," Daine said, spitting the word out like it was game meat on her tongue. She shifted around so that she was laying on her stomach, her elbows almost slipping into the river, her face cupped in her hands. Her reflection frowned wearily back at her.
Squinting through the canopy to the sun above, Numair guessed that he had maybe half a candlemark before the delegates arrived. Maybe. The time had come for more drastic measures. As he glanced at Daine, her small nose nearly touching the water and the tips of her hair already caught in the stream, a very drastic idea indeed began to materialize in his mind. He twined his fingers through her hair again, and she tilted her head towards his touch.
"Please forgive for what I must now do, Daine," he said somberly. "Realize that I gave you plenty of opportunity, begged you, even, for this to be taken care of any other way. Please hold your breath."
"Numair, what - ?"
But before she could protest, Numair dunked her head in the water, watching as the river pulled out all the dust and leaves. Sure, they had no soap, but it was better than nothing. After just a few seconds, Daine jerked her head back up again, a half-circle of shining water droplets following the whip of her hair. Drenched and dripping, her hair tumbled past her shoulders, soaking her shirt.
"Numair!" she gasped furiously, fresh-faced from anger and the cold water. "What was that for?"
A hand over his mouth, Numair couldn't suppress a laugh. "I told you. You had to wash your hair before the delegates from the Copper Isles arrive."
Her eyes gleamed, but Numair couldn't tell if it was with annoyance or amusement. He himself was struggling not to keep smiling at the sight of her, clear water still dripping over her face. She rubbed her eyes and blinked to clear them.
"Well, now I can't go! I just look all wet and silly."
"Nonsense," Numair said, quite without thinking. "You look lovely with your hair wet."
For a second, she studied him with her vivid blue gaze, frowning, as Numair realized belatedly what he had said. She looked contemplative.
"Funny you should say that," Daine said. "Because so do you!"
With incredible speed, she reached into the water and splashed him all over, before he had any time to mount a defense. She laughed as Numair spluttered, dripping wet.
"Daine! These are my nicest clothes!"
She only shrugged, smiling broadly. "A little water can't hurt."
Numair smiled at her smile. "Well, if that's so, surely you won't mind if I even the score?"
So he splashed her right back, his large hands able to bring up quite a bit more water. But when she scrambled to her feet, giggling, she stumbled, and fell backwards into the water with a little "oh!" of surprise.
"Daine? Are you all right?" Numair asked when she surfaced, shaking her head like a dog. Her clothes billowed around her in the deep water, and her booths weighed her down, but she was just tall enough to reach the bottom.
"I'm fine," she said, grinning and swimming over to him. "But… a bit lonely in here."
He saw, in her mischievously sparkling eyes, what she was about to do, whole seconds before she had even begun to move.
"Oh, no," muttered Numair.
Daine grabbed his hands and pushed away from the rocky bank as hard as she could. Helpless and unsteady on his knees, Numair followed her, tumbling headfirst into an icy, refreshing splash, Daine's hands still holding his. She pulled him out into the middle of the river, where he surfaced for air, glaring at her but unable to truly feel angry at all.
"Oh, you've done it now," he said teasingly, shaking his head. He let his feet sink to the bottom, heavy in his boots. The water just barely failed to cover his shoulders.
Daine, however, couldn't reach the bottom here. She struggled for a bit to keep herself afloat, splashing him all the while. But soon she gave in, too weighed down by her shoes and clothes. She grabbed Numair's shoulder and held on to him instead, smiling. Her breathing was fast, and he could feel it warm against his cheek.
"You started it," she said innocently.
"That I did," said Numair. "So it's only right that I finish it, correct?"
And he dunked her again, this time hearing her laugh as he did so. He saw her shake her head under the clear water and run her fingers through it, as if bathing. Bubbles from her underwater giggles floated to the surface. She placed both hands on his shoulders to pull herself out of the water, shaking her head; the tips of her hair whipped across his face. Her proximity was enchanting. Both of their shirts, he realized, were thin and billowing, and the current drew her slender legs and soon her whole body even closer to his own. When she glanced at the sky, the sunlight glistened off the water droplets caught in her eyelashes, like little diamonds sparkling on her skin.
"How long did you say we had until the those people arrived?"
Numair started and glanced at the sky too. Suddenly he remembered why he had even come looking for her in the first place, besides the fact that he was slowly coming to realize that he enjoyed her company far more than was appropriate. Cold dread followed the river's chill into his heart.
"Gods spare me," Numair muttered. Quickly he began to drag them back to the bank, for since Daine couldn't touch the bottom, she was still clinging to him for support. "Jonathan will kill me. Dead on the spot. It has been ever so nice to spend time with you, magelet, but I fear that this may be the last day you will see me alive."
"Nonsense," Daine said smartly. She hauled herself out of the river first, clambering over slippery rocks, and offered a hand to Numair. He took it gratefully, and without pausing, pulled her along at a run, back towards the palace.
"Won't the king be mad that we look like this?"
"He'll be madder still if we're not there at all. Run, quick, Daine – there are their horses. They must be here already."
At once Daine picked up her pace, so much so that she soon drew ahead of Numair on the open grasslands, the palace in sight. She cast a teasing glance over her shoulder, challenging him.
As if ordered to do so, Numair complied with her unspoken request, overtaking her with his long strides, much to her chagrin. He barely even noticed where they were going anymore. Together they flew though the corridors, slipping in their damp boots, drawing many strange looks from the maids and servants along the way that neither Daine nor Numair noticed.
Daine almost tripped when they skidded to a halt in front of the king's meeting room. Quickly Numair caught her, then flung the door open, and they stumbled in together.
This time, they did notice the strange looks. Every person in the room – of which there were quite a few – stared openly at them. Dimly Numair realized exactly what they had just done, and the kind of sight they must be making. They simply stood there, mute under so many shocked gazes, in soaked clothes that clung thinly to their skin, and dripping large puddles onto the floor. Their hair hung messily around their flushed, damp cheeks; their breath came in gasps from running so hard, so fast. Numair and Daine glanced at one another, eyebrows raised, completely at a loss.
The king sat at the head of the table, with Thayet at his right and Alanna at his left. Thayet's face was a mask of cool unconcern. Alanna, however, clad in a pale violet tunic overlaid by her finest mail, was struggling to suppress a grin. The eyes of the Copper Islanders were wide in their dark, striking faces.
"May I introduce Daine the Wildmage," Jon said at last, his voice boiling with suppressed rage. "And her unfailingly loyal servant, my black robe mage Numair Salmalin," he said, rather dryly.
Numair could take it no longer. He shared a secret smile with Daine, who winked in return. At the same moment, they started to laugh, soon joined by Alanna and many of the other Tortallan council members. The Copper Islanders joined in rather hesitantly, and even Jon's furious countenance softened a little.
"A pleasure to make your acquaintance," Numair said, taking Daine's hand and bowing, their hair flinging a crescent of water droplets over the group as they did so.