A/N: Final chapter! Thanks to everyone who reads and supports this. I really appreciate all your comments! I know this idea has been done, and done well, many times by the fandom, so it means a lot that people are reading my version.
Speaking of reading things, though... If you want more Daine/Numair canon-ish time period, you could take a look at another story I recently posted, Temptation Lake. I really liked how it turned out, but discouragingly, no one has given it a review ;_; I don't mean to be one of those review trolls, I usually don't do this. But it's very sad to get NO comments, right? The whole fandom in general needs to be more review-y, I think - I'm going to make an effort starting now to review more fics. Hopefully I'll remember to review EVERY fic I read. *endramble*
Stalking silently through the palace hallways the next morning, Numair arrived at his destination unseen. Only now that he knew Daine's illness was lessening in its severity did he allow himself to finally tackle this project that had been floating in the back of his mind for some time. He knocked on door of the workshop belonging to the court artist, Volney Rain. He was a plump and friendly fellow, grinning jovially when he answered the door.
"Master Numair. Good to see you, good to see you. How's the lady Daine?"
Rain was fond of Daine, having entrusted one of his beloved dogs to her care. The dog in question, a mangy but energetic little mutt, nipped at Numair's boots, healthy and happy. "She's doing better, but not fully recovered yet. Rain, I have a commission for you."
"Aye, and I'll be glad to fill it. What of?"
Numair gulped. He had to pull this off right, or he'd never hear the end of it. "I need a miniature of the lady Daine," he said, trying to sound as cool and careless as possible. "It's for an experiment. It'll need to be about the size of a fingernail."
"That small?" said Rain. "I know her face. I can do that." He looked at Numair slyly. "Might this be…?"
"It's for an experiment," Numair insisted, and Rain looked away.
"O' course, o' course. I can have it ready for you by this evening. Things have been slow lately, so I'll get to starting it right now."
"Thank you," said Numair, passing him the appropriate coin, plus a copper noble extra. "Don't tell anyone I asked for it."
"Aye," said Rain, taking the gold with a knowing look in his eye that Numair didn't appreciate. I'm making a focus, not a lover's token, he thought irritably. But he had no reason to complain that evening when he saw the artist's fine work. He had captured Daine down to the finest detail, highlights in her curly hair, storms in her eyes, delicate nose and stubborn chin. Numair ran his fingers over the tiny face.
Rain had set the portrait in a gold locket. Numair dug around his drawers until he found a broken gold chain amongst the mess that was his desk. A flicker of black magic repaired it and affixed the painting to one of its links, though the metal grew very briefly white-hot and nearly burned the skin off his palms. He cursed; sometimes he hated the power that made him so incompetent when it came to simple magics. Now came the difficult part.
Carefully Numair placed the lock of hair he had taken from her without her knowledge in the clasp of the locket. The hair, as something that had been in her possession for a long amount of time, would provide the magical connection he needed to find her. The picture would remind him of what he was searching for and make it easier for him to go to her, or so he told himself. All that was strictly needed for the magic was the hair. Closing his eyes, Numair laid his hand over the locket and began to murmur, weaving the spell with memories of her at the forefront of his mind.
It was well past midnight when he finished. He knew he had done it right. The whole bracelet glimmered with sparkling dark magic. Numair fastened it around his wrist, then performed one more spell. It would now be unnoticeable to anyone but himself.
There, he thought with relief and pride. I'll never lose her again. If she needs me, I'll always be there.
Numair feel asleep right there, his head on his desk. Daine would scold me so if she saw me like this, he thought before exhaustion overtook him at last.
Daine remained bedridden for a week longer. But she had overcome the worst, Alanna and Baird said. Her fever was down, having fought off the worst of the blood infection, and the cuts were near fully healed. She would make it through. Knowing that fact made Numair's legs go so weak he figured he might as well stay in his chair, since he'd probably topple right over if he tried to walk. Daine was waking up more frequently now, too, and able to keep down some soft foods. Every time she woke and saw him there, she rolled her eyes, but he could tell she was pleased.
"You look terrible, by the way," she told him bluntly. "You're all pale, you haven't shaved, and you look thin. Have you been eating enough?"
"Thanks ever so much, magelet," said Numair, touching his rough cheek curiously before feeding her another bite of porridge with cinnamon and sugar. "I'm glad to know you appreciate my bedside vigil so much. How does the porridge taste?"
"I just don't want you to get sick," she insisted. "And it tastes like porridge, finally."
Numair's response was interrupted by the entrance of Duke Baird's blond, twelve-year-old son, Nealan. He was dropping off freshly laundered sheets. "Hello, Nealan," Numair said instead.
"Nealan, is it?" said Daine, smiling kindly at him. "I should thank you for taking care of me. You and your father have been wondrous hard workers."
Nealan blushed furiously, his whole face turning beet red at being addressed directly by Daine herself. He muttered something incomprehensible and dashed out of the room as quickly as if he were being chased by a spidren. Daine blinked and turned to Numair. "Was it something I said?"
"I think you've got an admirer," said Numair with a wink, while she stuck her tongue out at him.
"If my arms weren't so dratted weak, I'd take that porridge spoon and whack you across the head with it."
"Open up," he said, smirking and lifting another spoonful. Daine just rolled her eyes again.
When she had eaten her fill, she started to doze off again, but not before she demanded that Numair leave, clean up, eat, and rest too. "And I'll know if you haven't," she said blearily. "'Bye, Numair."
"Feel better soon, sweetling," he said, cupping her cheek briefly.
"Nothing," he said quickly, cursing the strange endearment that had escaped his lips. Why had he said that? "Sleep well, magelet."
Soon Daine was strong enough for Numair to accompany her out of the infirmary. Onua had already brought her to the stables so she could see Cloud, and Kitten and Zek just barged into the infirmary whenever they wanted to, but Daine had all manner of other friends she wanted to greet, too. With her arm around Numair's waist, she stumbled out into the grounds where they usually had their lessons. The grass was wonderfully cool on her bare feet and legs – she wore only a simple shift and short breeches – and the sun was warm on her cheeks. A few clouds pulled it in and out of view, keeping the afternoon from getting too toasty.
It's good to see you all too, she told all the People who gathered around her. I was just sick, that's all, but I'm better now.
What made you sick? said a curious squirrel, who reminded her of Flicker back in Dunlath, though this creature's fur was gray instead of brown.
Unicorn blood, they tell me, she said seriously. You must all be very careful when dealing with immortals, do you understand?
They all told her that they did, and that they would do as she suggested. Comforted, Daine gave them all a pat and sent them on their way. Then she fell onto back in the grass, watching the sky.
"I hate not being able to do anything," she muttered. "I want to get out and ride, to fly, to work."
Beside her, Numair settled his lanky legs into a butterfly position. He was one of the only grown men she knew who could still sit like that. "The more you take care of yourself now, the sooner you will recover," he said. "I don't want you pushing yourself and falling ill again."
Daine nodded. Numair's tone was light, but she detected real concern behind his voice. "It was really bad, wasn't it, what I had?" she asked him, studying his long face for his reaction.
"You were fighting for your life," he said quietly. Daine's breath caught at the pain she heard beneath his words. "It was down to you to pull yourself through, and there was nothing any of us could do to help. There was nothing I could do."
She hated to hear him so anxious. So this time, she pressed her small palm to his cheek. "I heard you, though," she said. "You were telling our story. You know, how we met, our lessons, some memories, and all. I heard it. It helped me wake up."
His dark eyes grew wide. "Truly, magelet?"
"Truly," she repeated with a grin. "So don't go calling yourself useless, master mage. Your hand was warm round mine, too. So, thank you, Numair."
The smile that lit his face warmed her even more than the sun overhead. Back with Numair, free in the outdoors, she felt almost as lively as ever. Daine threw her arms around his neck and was rewarded by his rumbling laugh and strong embrace in return.
Out of the corner of his eye, Numair saw the small gold bracelet on his wrist, invisible and substanceless to all but himself, catch a gleam of sunlight and reflect it back into his eyes. The blinding flash was surely the only reason his eyes grew wet, he thought to himself. He composed himself in time to support Daine back to the palace, return her to Duke Baird's care, and promise to come back after she woke for supper.
"Thanks again, Numair," she said as he turned to leave. She even stood on her tiptoes to place a brief kiss on his cheek. Numair smiled and nodded at her, warmed straight to his heart.
The castle was a much calmer, happier place since Daine had begun to recover. There were no strained expressions on the faces of all his friends, no nervous animals around every corner, no owls hooting all the night. Alanna was staying long enough to see Daine fully healed, and Numair, missing the Lioness's company, found her in the training yard, sparring with Jon like they were still pages. Thayet and Buri watched from the sidelines, so Numair joined them.
"How's Daine?" asked the queen, though thankfully, the question no longer had the soft, nervous tone of some days ago.
"Quite well," reported Numair. "I just took her out to talk to some of her animal friends. She's always glad to get out of bed."
"I would be too, confined for so long like that," said Buri, shuddering. "Poor girl. I'm glad she's finally getting better. It was scary, these past weeks."
Thayet nodded fervently. After a time, Alanna and Jon, noticing their audience, came to join them.
"Got to keep our king in shape," Alanna said with a grin, wiping sweat from her brow with a handkerchief Numair offered her. "How's Daine doing?"
"Quite well," said Numair again, smiling.
"No handkerchief for me?" said Jon indignantly. Alanna tossed him the sweaty one, and they all laughed. "I would have had you this bout if we hadn't stopped to chat."
"That's what you think," retorted Alanna. It was good to be back among friends, laughing and smiling, Numair realized. None of them had laughed like this since Daine had fallen ill. We can't function without her anymore, he recalled with a grin.
As the king, queen, and Buri headed off toward the kitchens and dining hall for supper, Alanna held Numair back. "Walk with me a moment, Numair." Surprised, Numair nodded.
They took a circuitous route through the courtyard and along the inside of the wall. Numair waited patiently for Alanna to speak. She glanced at him sharply from those vivid violet eyes. She could kill a man with that glare, if she wished to do so, he thought nervously.
"How are you doing, Numair?" she said finally.
"Me? Fine," he said, a little confused. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Oh, stop it," the Lioness said irritably. "You've been through the Black God's realms and back these past few weeks, as surely as Daine has. Don't deny it. This was harder on you than anyone else, much as we all love Daine."
He blushed. "She's my student, after all. And my friend. Of course I've been concerned."
"'Concerned' doesn't quite encompass sitting by her bedside every spare moment of every day, Numair. All I want to say is be careful with her, and be smart."
"Alanna, I don't - " What was he going to say? I don't understand? I don't know what I'm doing?
Thankfully, she interrupted him with a raised hand. "I've said my piece. You'll figure it out soon, I'm sure. Just keep it in mind, all right?"
"Of course," said Numair, still bewildered, "but - ?"
"Care to join us for dinner?" someone called out. It was Onua. They had reached the kitchens, and she was waving them over. Alanna shouted a greeting in return and hurried off, waving Numair to follow.
Numair sighed. Sometimes it was immeasurably frustrating to have women – no, these women, he thought, watching as they conferred in low voices, grinning back at him - as his closest friends. Men didn't speak in riddles.
Still, despite what he said to Alanna, he immediately forgot their entire conversation upon catching sight of Daine, supported by Duke Baird, entering the dining quarters to eat with the group. Many clapped and cheered, Onua gave her a one-armed hug, with her Rider friend Miri on the other side. He watched as she said something to Baird and pointed to the seat beside Numair. Everyone else clustered around them. Daine looked tired, but happy, her eyes alight as she smiled and laughed once more.
"It's good to have you back, Daine," Numair said, to vociferous agreement.
"It's good to be back," she replied, beaming up at him, as beautiful now with her messy hair and pale skin as she had been in Carthak when she was dressed up her finest. Numair blinked, temporarily distracted, before her eager voice pulled him back into the conversation at hand. "So, come on! Tell me everything I've missed!"
"Just all of us being worried about you," he said mischievously, appealing to all the others for support. They laughed, agreed with him, told stories, ate long and well. Full of good food and relief, Numair leaned back in his chair and finally – for the first time in weeks – let himself truly relax.