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Quiet days had been scarce since the fall equinox, what with more and more Immortals being pulled through the barrier all the time, and Numair was thoroughly enjoying this one. A well-heaped sitting room hearthfire, a half-read book of Scanran mythology, and a new batch of winter savory hung to dry in his workroom.

Jon had promised him (and, by extension, Daine) at least five days of rest at home before they were expected back on the road. It had only been a day, but already Numair could feel the wear of the road easing away.

He'd been reading for about ten minutes when Daine walked into the room and collapsed onto the other end of the plush sofa, shucking boots and socks and wincing as she rubbed her feet.

Understandable, since she'd done a lot more walking during their herb-hunt than he had and shapeshifting into temporary fur was... inconvenient when there was snow on the ground—or, well, the 'fur' part was convenient, it was the 'temporary' part that wasn't.

Which brought him yet again to wondering if anything could be done to keep her clothed after she shapeshifted. Space magic was tricky in itself when there was Conservation of Matter to be considered. The Gift gave you a bit of leeway with it, but not much. Squeezing himself into hawk form and keeping himself light enough to fly had been a challenge in and of itself.

Daine's wild magic connected her to nature, and her shapeshifting abilities stemmed from there. It seemed to resemble a god's or Immortal's magic more than the Gift in that way—the ability to ignore certain universal laws at the price of hyperspecialization. Sadly, hyperspecialization in nature (in mammals, birds, and reptiles, to be more precise) didn't lend itself to manipulation (or retention) of textiles, and even if he managed to bespell clothing to transform with her—

Daine sighed softly, tugging his attention away from that line of thought. Turning to face him and lean back against the arm of the sofa, she wedged her bare toes between two of the cushions and said, "Spots' tack is going t' need replacin' soon, and the larder's low on that cheese you like—C'pniro?"

"Caprino," Numair corrected, half-smiling. She looked—and sounded—ready to doze off at any moment. He tugged the hem of one of the legs of her breeches, pulling her foot free of the cushions. "We'll go to market in a few days."

She obligingly unfolded her legs and braced them against his thigh instead, smothering a yawn in lieu of an answer and dropping her head back, her dark curls spilling over the crimson pillows. She flinched when he squeezed her foot (he could see now that the sole was a painful-looking shade of dark pink), then groaned and melted when he added a spark of healing to the touch.

(All those years spent learning control in university, and it was only now that he had gotten enough of a grip on his Gift enough to do simple magics like this, even if he could only manage it in the quiet moments. Well, he'd gotten here eventually.)

He returned to his reading, smiling at the sound of her deep, satisfied sigh.

He made his way through the hilarious, fascinating tales that characterized Scanran myths—he was familiar with the story of Yazhead's half-mortal son crossdressing to save his sister/mother/friend (it depended) from an unwanted marriage and retrieve his sword, but this was the first time he'd seen someone say it was an Agent of Chaos she was being pressed to marry, and mentions of Agents of Chaos were rare enough for this to be noteworthy—only half-aware of Daine's foot in his right hand as he absently massaged the healing into her skin.

He did notice when she tugged it out of his grip and replaced it with the other one, bruise-heat replacing cozy warmth, but just barely. Fegurð, the would-be bride of the tale, had arrived, claimed the sword, and was now attacking the would-be groom—who was bleeding chaos into the cracks of reality as its blood was spilled.

...This was either a creative retelling of the original myth, or a factual account of what had actually happened. He would have to look for records of what had been happening geologically around that time; maybe there would be a clue.

He let go of the healing once he registered that it was no longer needed, but continued mindlessly tracing patterns over Daine's instep, kneading her arch, stroking the knobs of her ankle as he read, all soft skin over sturdy sinew.

She really needed new boots, come to think of it. Today had shown that. One more item to get when they went to the market, no matter how much she may protest. Perhaps he should threaten to buy her a dress as well.

(Peripherally, he was aware that she was breathing fast and shallow, her throat clicking in swallows that were more frequent than should have been strictly necessary, but, well... these were absorbing myths. He loved Scanran folklore.)

He resurfaced after the third tale in the collection—the rest seemed to be fairly basic versions of the classics, sadly enough—and gave Daine's ankle a squeeze.

"Magelet, I do believe you need new boots," he informed her before he forgot, finding a scrap of paper with which to mark his page. He had found that voicing things to her made them easier to remember—Daine had faith that he'd actually do them. He looked up from the book. "Remind me when we go to..." He trailed off.

Instead of finding her half (or wholly) asleep like he had expected, he found her cheeks flushed a deep rose, her soft mouth slack, and her chest rising and falling at a rate that was almost panting.

...Daine?

He soothed the arch of her foot in concern; had he missed the signs of her getting sick?

Except instead of giving him a grumble of discomfort and denial, she shivered, shifting her hips restlessly. Those piercing blue-grey eyes had gone hazy, half-lidded and dark, defenseless and sweetened.

It wasn't an expression he'd ever seen on Daine's face, but it was a familiar expression nonetheless.

He just usually saw it pinned between him and a mattress.

He couldn't completely put down what he did next to scientific fascination, no matter how much he wanted to later, but it was some kind of fascination that had him caressing her foot again, more deliberately this time. He went for the undersides of her toes this time, running his slight callouses through the curl of them, then dragged his nails lightly up the inner side of her foot, up to cup her heel and stroke the space under the jut of her ankle.

She inhaled sharply and squirmed again, eyelashes fluttering as she bit her lip, and a frisson of satisfaction jolted through him at that reaction—it felt like same kind of reward as earning her smile except somehow deeper and... more.

Then those eyes focused on his face, and the haziness turned into something lost and pleading and wanting—

"Numair...?" she sighed—practically moaned, raspy and throaty—

(Some terrible little voice in the back of his mind knew, knew that if he were to slide his fingers into her quim now, he would find it very, very wet.)

At that thought, Numair yanked his hand away from her foot like it had burned him. It almost felt like it had, horror and shame searing and icing in his veins.

That was Daine. He couldn't— He wasn't—

Daine.

"Sorry," he blurted. "I didn't realize..."

(Didn't realize what, exactly? What he was doing to her? That she was his student and a teenager and not one of the court ladies?)

"'S okay," she said in the same voice as before. A puzzled frown crinkled her brow as she stared down at her feet. "Felt nice."

There was something mingling with the shame that wasn't shame, and the shame-not-shame was entering a feedback loop. The way she'd said that—he'd eat his book if she had a clue how vulnerable she was right now.

"Still, that was—inappropriate." He cleared his throat and opened up the book again, though what he hoped to achieve with that was unclear. It wasn't as if he would be able read at the moment. "Won't happen again."

"Oh," she said, and he could lie to himself and say that her tone wasn't one of disappointment, but it would be a lie all the same.

Mithros, Mynoss, and Shakith.

Daine had sensitive feet. He'd... he'd remember that. Not for the sake of thinking about—

He'd just remember it. It wouldn't happen again.

He stared at the first sentence on the page for a solid ten seconds (ten seconds of Daine catching her breath and swallowing little noises while she was at it) before he really, really had to escape.

"It's late," he announced to the fire. He couldn't look at his companion. "I'm going to bed. Did you lock everything up?"

There was a lag in her response that he tried not to dwell on. "...Everything 'cept the cellar."

"I'll get that, then. Good night, Magelet."

He tousled her hair as he passed, because she was his student and a teenager and this was how their relationship was supposed to work, but she leaned back into his hand and gave him an upside down smile that was too sweet to ignore, and the reminder wasn't nearly as effective as he wanted it to be.

Tack and boots, he repeated to himself as he locked up the cellar and then climbed the stairs to his bedroom. A swing by the dressmaker if it was necessary. The Caprino would have to wait until the Pirate's Swoop got a new batch of imports. There was more winter savory to be found (dead useful, that stuff) and they needed to wash and air the bedding sometime this week too; it had been a while since the last full clean.

Tack, boots, tack and boots, boots and tack—tack and boots and stormy blue eyes softening into velvet, dark curls fanned out on a pillow, a smile of unquestioning trust and blatant adoration and cheese and herbs and laundry and...

He stared at his bed for a long moment once he got to it, trying and failing to unthink that split-second image of Daine in it.

Eventually, he decided that spending the next several hours treating herbs at his workdesk wasn't a terrible idea at all, really.