Numair looked around Daine's suite at the Palace, chuckling a little. Even after over almost three years, his apprentice avoided frilly or 'maidenly' items like poison. Books and tools covered almost every available surface. Her riding boots, one presently occupied by a drowsy hedgehog, lay tossed on the floor.
Daine herself was likely still asleep. She'd been at the stables quite late the previous night, helping one of the Riders' mares deliver a foal. Numair had kept his distance. She was more than capable of handling the problem without his help. He didn't intend to give her any reason to doubt it; hovering was not on.
He peeked through the half-open door of her bedroom. She was curled up in a pile of blankets, two puppies and a young dragon snuggled in beside her.
A knock at the outer door caught his attention . The suite was locked; Numair had a key, but ordinary Palace staff were expected to wait for permission to enter.
"Breakfast, magelet, " he called over his shoulder as he went to open the door. He heard her stir, and Kitten whistle a happy greeting.
He took the food-laden tray from the servant, ignoring the flash of unvoiced disapproval in the younger man's eyes. Numair's presence in a young girl's room, unchaperoned, would be 'improper' to some people. Few would risk angering a sorcerer by saying so, however.
"Mm." Daine joined him in the sitting room. She'd pulled on a robe over her nightdress. "Porridge?"
"And hot tea." He scrutinized her face. " No magic lessons for today. You need a respite."
She gave him a shy but pleased smile.
He pulled out a chair for her before seating himself. Kitten joined them , sitting on a high, padded bench they'd had made for her. She and Daine ate in quick, neat bites. Numair downed a cup of tea, not really having much of an appetite.
"Alanna sent over that book of Tortallan history . Care to look at it?" he suggested.
"If you'll help me puzzle out the harder bits. Tortallan writing still give me a headache sometimes." Daine pushed a lock of dark hair away from her eyes.
"Gladly. " He leaned over, tucking the hair behind her ear.
The touch woke an impulse to follow the brief caress with a kiss. He firmly squelched that idea, and sat back.
"Uck, I need a bath first." Daine stood abruptly. "I'll just go and be quick about it."
He watched her retreat. Kitten gave a little trill that sounded faintly smug.
"None of your sass, youngling," he chided.
She gave him an innocent gaze that said plainly "Who, me?" without needing to make a sound.
Numair blew out a breath, looking away; rubbed at the back of his neck.
He recalled only too well a quarrel they'd had once at Dunlath, when he'd implied that he could make Daine come away to safety with him.
"Maybe you could, and maybe you couldn't," was all she'd said.
He still wondered from time to time if she realized that he'd been bluffing. They'd never tested it; Daine's magic wasn't the sort that lent itself directly to sorcerers' battle, like calling fire or casting wards. But he'd known from the first time he'd Seen the crimson threads of wild power wrapping around her, almost blinding him, that if she didn't yet outmatch him, that was a lack of knowledge, not of strength. It had been humbling, as well as intriguing. A surprise, and a challenge any teacher-mage worth their robes would have clutched at with both hands. Metaphorically speaking.
Daine trusted him and his teaching. He suspected that It would be entirely possible to blur the lines between teacher and student, to lead her to believe that a lover's touch was what she wanted most. She was a midwife's daughter; one skill she had inherited from Sarra was a confidence to speak honestly and sometimes bluntly on matters of sex. So Numair was aware that while she was attracted to men, she--unlike Numair-- had yet to experience anything beyond occasional kisses and flirtation. He could make her feel so good that she wouldn't care about anything else.
And every moment of it would be a damnable lie.
She didn't just want sex, admiration or romance. She hadn't come to Tortall looking for that, but for a home, a family , when hers had been ripped away from her. A place to belong. People who could accept her, as an equal--or in many cases, a superior.
Could he offer her that? Not only a few more years as her teacher, but--always?
Did he want to?
And another realization followed that; even with the 'noblest' of intentions, Daine wasn't the only one now in need of a (cold, in his case) bath.He left a hastily scrawled note on the table, telling her he'd return shortly, and exited the suite.
When he returned , he felt somewhat calmer. Daine had dressed, and started a fire in the hearth to combat the air's chilly bite. Midwinter was only a few days past. An opened book rested on her lap.
Numair hung his coat on a peg near the door, and joined her.
"I swear they paid this fellow by the letter. " Daine gave him a hopeful look.
Numair sat next to her on the divan, scanning the page . Kitten snuggled in on his other side. He put an arm around each of their shoulders; began to read aloud.
Daine interrupted politely once or twice to ask questions . He did his best to answer, though he had to admit he was less familiar with the history of Tortall's ruling family than, say, Carthak's emperors.
At some point Kitten dozed off. Numair carefully extricated himself, and got up.
"I believe you owe me a lesson, magelet."
"You said I should learn to make that stew you cooked for us, a fortnight ago. Shall we?"
A mischievous gleam lit Daine's blue-grey eyes. She was up and leading him to the kitchen. Clearly she meant to give him no chance to have second thoughts or to back away. He laughed softly, following her to the cupboards.
Numair chopped vegetables and mixed spices under her direction. She was able to show him how to dice an onion without shedding any tears, nearly a magical feat in itself.
Kitten observed, her scales turning an amused misty green when he unintentionally launched a potato across the room mid-scrubbing.
Daine's lips twitched as she retrieved it. "You're doing a fair job. You ought have seen me the first time Ma tried to teach me how to bake bread. I dropped a bag of flour. Took days to clean it all up. Grandda and I looked like snow-knights."
"I'm sorry, like what?"
She and Kitten exchanged a conspiratorial glance. "A game we'd play after a hard snow. I'll show you later."
"All right, " Numair conceded. He knew when he was outnumbered. Happily so.