Disclaimer: Tamora Pierce owns Daine, Numair, and all the rest...I just like to borrow them and make them dance to my tune sometimes. Any errors are of course mine. Go easy on me, this is my first published fic. :)
The third evening out from Corus, Daine confronted Numair as they sat beside their fire, eating the stew she had prepared for their supper.
"What's going on with you?" she asked, trying to meet his eyes, but his gaze was fixed on his bowl. "You've hardly even spoken, let alone touched me, since we left the palace. Is something wrong?"
Numair stared at his bowl and cleared his throat before answering, his eyes still downcast, "No, magelet, nothing's wrong it's just…" he trailed off, sounding uncertain.
Daine was almost shocked at her companion's behaviour. Numair the charmer, Numair the glib, Numair the courtly, at a loss for words? Something was definitely going on. She reached around the fire to him and tilted his chin up, forcing him to look at her, something he had done to her many times. In the twilight, lit by flickering firelight, he looked very young, and the look on his face might have amused Daine had she not been so concerned.
"Really, Numair, what's wrong?" His sudden behaviour change over the past few days worried her. "I mean, you're acting so different these days, an' I thought…" she trailed off, unsure how to voice her scattered thoughts. Her confusion was worsened by the fact that he still refused to make eye contact.
Then Numair looked directly at her, and the look in his eyes dispelled her half-formed fears that he had, maybe, stopped…she broke off that train of thought quickly.
Next he spoke, and his words calmed her chaotic fears, "No, magelet, never, it's only that…"
"What?" Daine prompted.
"Well, when we were planning this trip, certain mutual friends of ours came to talk with me…"
"And?" Daine had never glimpsed this side of Numair in all the years they had been friends. He was normally so self-possessed, and now he seemed to be only a boy, no older than Daine herself.
Numair spoke haltingly, his voice coming close to cracking like the young man he resembled just then. "Well, they expressed certain…concern for you. They wanted to make sure I wasn't…taking advantage of you."
Hearing his words, Daine's concern was replaced by a rising sense of annoyance. "Who?" she demanded.
Numair looked slightly uncomfortable as he replied, "Well, Onua, for one. And the Lioness. And Queen Thayet. Even Cloud has started giving me odd looks behind your back."
That surprised Daine, for her faithful pony had always liked Numair. But overpowering both that and the sense of gratitude she felt at having friends, having important people care about her, was a feeling of anger at those same individuals.
"What business is it of theirs?" she burst out.
Numair looked slightly pleased. "That's essentially what I told them. But it started me thinking…I am almost twice your age, magelet."
Daine glared at him. "We've been over this before. I don't care about that, an' I thought you didn't either. I love you, and nothing is going to change that, least of all what other people think. Even our nosy friends."
A sudden smile lit up Numair's swarthy face. "I hoped you would say that," he said, "I'm sorry for being so silly. I think I'm becoming insecure."
Daine laughed. "You? Insecure?" she gasped, "Never!"
"You'd be surprised," he replied, quirking his eyebrows.
Daine simply smiled, shook her head, and went back to her meal. After a few spoonfuls, though, she placed her spoon in her bowl and scooted around the fire to sit beside Numair, feeling a need to be close to him. She had been worried, and she needed the sense of reassurance she always gained from being near the man who had been her teacher and friend for the past four years. As their relationship had changed over the last half-year, moving beyond friendship into something wonderfully new, the comfort she felt when she was near him had only increased.
She snuggled herself into his side, and he shifted his arm to let her move closer, his long arms allowing him to continue eating his dinner.
He bent his head and kissed her smoky brown curls, whispering, "Love you, magelet."
Daine sighed contentedly, and replied, "Love you too, Numair."