Their arrival to Corus after the disaster that was the trip to Carthak was a massive relief for Numair. He'd barely taken his eyes off Daine the entire way back, frightened that she would disappear again, and the safety of the palace came as a source of comfort for the distraught mage.
As the days wore on, he found himself fighting harder and harder to keep from watching her. He kept telling himself that it was because he wanted her to be safe, but it was just his way of trying to deny that it might have been more than that.
You're twenty-nine, Numair, he told himself, You're twenty-nine and she's only fifteen. She's your student. Stop it.
He continued to teach her the lessons that she needed to learn, though they were becoming fewer and fewer. She drank in the information at a speed that still astounded him, and still found time to help Onua with the ponies of the Queen's Riders.
Every few weeks, he had to come up with a new excuse for why he didn't want to go back to his tower home near Pirate's Swoop. He was running out of ideas, and every mission that the king sent them on was a welcome respite from the constant struggle of trying to determine yet another legitimate reason for why he was staying around the palace.
Just after midwinter that year, Daine took sick. She had a particularly bad case of unicorn fever, and no one had any idea where she could have caught it. He spent most of his time sitting in a chair by her bed. Buri and the rest of his friends continually tried to force him away from her bedside to eat in the Rider mess with them, but he continually shook them off, and they gave up after a few days.
One day, just over a week into Daine's illness, Numair was sitting beside her bed, his hand inches from hers. She was sleeping peacefully for once (The fever typically brought hallucinations and nightmares, and it was rare that she settled for longer than a quarter of an hour), and he was content to just sit there with her. He had started to bring his books with him, so that he would have the excuse of continuing to devise her curriculum, but the knock at the door didn't leave him time to resettle himself with a book.
Onua walked in and shut the door behind her. Her eyes softened as she looked at the sleeping girl, who had become much like a daughter to her, before she looked back at Numair.
"How's she doing?" Onua asked.
"Alright," Numair said, "She's been sleeping for the last hour or so."
Onua nodded absentmindedly, "That's good."
She took the chair opposite Numair's, and they sat in silence for a while, occasionally glancing at the bed to make sure that Daine was still asleep.
Eventually, Onua sighed, "It's alright, you know."
"What?" Numair asked, breaking out of his reverie and glancing at her, "I'm sorry, I lost my focus for a moment. What did you say?"
"I said that it's alright," Onua said.
"What is?" Numair asked, eyeing her curiously in an attempt to mask his discomfort.
"You're allowed to love her," Onua said, "We all do, you know. She's one of us now."
Stifling his urge to tell her to leave, Numair swallowed. He shifted in his seat, "I'm well aware that she's one of us, thank you. It's hard to forget."
"Numair, I think you missed my point," Onua said, leaning forward in her chair, "You are allowed to love her."
"I'm afraid I don't understand," Numair said.
Onua sighed, "I know that you understand exactly what I'm saying, don't give me that. I know you too well, or are you forgetting that?"
Numair swallowed again. She was right, she did know him too well. Regardless of how many friends he'd made since his arrival in Corus, Onua Chamtong was his first, and best. She was watching him, her gaze level, as he fought to put words to his thoughts, "I- I can't love her, Onua."
"Why can't you?" Onua asked, leaning back in her chair and continuing to gaze at him, "There's nothing stopping you."
"Yes there is," he muttered, looking down at his hands.
Onua watched him, her eyes widening slightly. In all the time that she'd known the mage, she had only once seen him become so uncomfortable, and that was the first time he met the king. In fact, he was still more comfortable then. It was a sight that she was unaccustomed to and not sure how to deal with, but she decided to try anyway.
"What is it, then?" Onua asked, "Certainly not me, though you're probably aware that if you do anything to hurt her, I will maim you, black robe or not."
"I'm fourteen years older than she is," Numair said, continuing to twist his hands together, "Fourteen. I'm nearly thirty, and she's not even sixteen yet."
"She's older than her years," Onua said, "You know that as well as I do, Numair. Fourteen years really isn't that much, when you think about it."
He raised his head, fixing his eyes on hers, "How is fourteen not that much?"
"Think about her mother," Onua said, "Her father is a god, Numair. He's most likely millennia older than her mother was, and Daine turned out fine. Well, she has a lot of wild magic, but other than that, she's fine."
"She lost her mother and grandfather to bandits," Numair said, "How is that fine?"
"Alright, it's not fine," Onua said, "But that's my point. She's seen things that most people don't, especially not at that age. She's grown up a lot more than you or I am probably aware of."
"Be as that may, she is still my student, and I'm still her teacher," Numair said, "It wouldn't be appropriate."
Onua rolled her eyes, "Since when have you ever cared about propriety? Are you sure that you're not Numair's opposite?"
Numair smiled a little at that, though it fled from his face quickly, "It's not about me and my lack of propriety. It's about not damaging Daine's reputation."
"Do you really think she would care?" Onua asked, "I repeat, she's been through a lot. She knows better than anyone what is or isn't worth breaking convention for, and anyway, there are plenty of us who would come to her rescue. She has nothing to fear from the court gossips. At least, no more than anyone else does, and neither do you. They would hardly say anything about you anyway. Regardless of how silly you can be, you're still a black robe mage, and they're still frightened of you, even if they won't admit it."
Numair sighed, "I suppose."
Onua exhaled slowly, "She needs someone to love her, Numair, and I mean properly love her, not all of this 'we love you because you're you, but also because you've done more than your fair share of work to keep this realm alive' sort of love. The girl is practically my family, but she needs more than that. No one can replace her ma, and I wouldn't dream of trying. She's never had anyone in your place, though, so you don't have any set precedent to follow. And she may not have realized it yet, but she wants to be with you."
"What makes you say that?" Numair asked, his eyes widening.
"Have you not seen her?" Onua asked, "Anytime someone suggests that you go home for a while, she's ready to follow you. She won't let you go on any missions unless she's there with you. You're the first person that she wants to see when she wakes up in the morning, and believe me, she's not much fun to be around when she's first woken up if you aren't there. Need I go on? She loves you, Numair. She just hasn't realized it yet. She will, eventually."
"And if she doesn't?" Numair asked.
"Then you'll have to make her," Onua said, "Not force her, but show her. She needs you, she's just unfamiliar with all of this. Give her time, and she'll realize it."
"I still can't help but feel like I'm doing something wrong," Numair said after a few moments of silence, "Everything I've learned from society has taught me that it is."
Onua chuckled quietly, "Love doesn't always listen to what society thinks is right."
"Look at you, turning into the philosopher," Numair said, smiling slightly.
Onua shrugged, "It happens. Just because the general public thinks that something is bad, it doesn't mean that it is. You'd do well to remember that. And if it helps, I always did wonder if this would happen."
"What do you mean?" Numair asked, "And this time, I genuinely do not understand."
"Well, maybe not always," Onua said, "But ever since the battle of Port Legann, when she hadn't been with us long… She fell asleep on you, and it was the most peaceful that I'd ever seen her since she started working for me. She looked like she felt… safe, with you, like she wasn't afraid, and that's what made me start to wonder. You make her feel safe, Numair, and that's more than any of the rest of us were ever able to do, not the way that you do." There was a moment of silence, and then she stood up, "Duke Baird told me that if she was sleeping soundly, and it lasted for longer than three quarters of an hour, it meant that she was out of the worst of it and that she'll just need to keep resting for the next week, but then she should be fine. I just thought you should know. Consider joining us in the mess now for lunch, maybe?"
With that, she left the room. Numair watched her go, and his ears caught the quiet tune that she was humming to herself.
He looked down at Daine one more time before rising from his chair and stretching, feeling his muscles groan after such a long time sitting down.
"Goddess bless, magelet," he murmured, leaning down to brush his lips gently against her forehead before exiting the room, pulling the door shut tightly behind him. A few moments after he left, she rolled towards his chair.
"Numair?" she mumbled. Her eyes fluttered open, and she glanced around the empty room in confusion before her eyes shut again and she drifted back to sleep.
Ahhh I just love them so much :3