A/N: Written for Sesquipedalian at the Goldenlake Secret Admirer Exchange! Hope you enjoy!
The first time Daine had waited in vain for her swain, she'd been sad. Certainly not so far as heartbroken, (they'd only kissed once, and Daine was a sensible girl) but certainly sad. But the girl was sixteen and pretty, with a short memory besides, so she'd attracted another beau soon enough.
This one she liked even better than the last. He was a stable-boy at the palace, very kind with the horses. He talked her into climbing the hayloft with him and entertained her with grand plans for the future. She didn't believe them, of course. Daine didn't really think he believed the either. But to tell him so would have taken the fun out of the game that they both played.
The relationship continued even through a two-month long absence on Daine's part, when Numair had insisted they go south to observe the mating patterns of some creature or another. Daine thought it a fair waste of time, (she did not need to see her friends mating) Numair had insisted, and she knew that her education was important to him.
She'd returned to the Palace, worried that the stable-boy would not remember her. But he did, and he made it clear that he still liked her very much. The day after she returned, Daine walked down to Corus and purchased a pregnancy charm. She didn't think she was ready to use it, but she didn't want to be wrong. When she returned, Numair found her. He seemed strange and flustered, and he wouldn't quite meet her eye. Daine didn't think much of it- she was thinking ahead to the night she had planned with the stable boy- and sent him away so she could change. She wore a blue dress and earbobs.
Daine waited at their agreed meeting place for an hour. Then two. Then she watched the sun go down, and she tapped her foot. She was fair aggravated when she finally set off in search of him. She never did find the stable-boy, but she did find Numair exiting the stable (which, in retrospect, was an odd place for the mage to be).
"Oh, hello." said Numair, scratching the back of his neck. "I was just saying hello to Spot. Don't you look pretty."
"Have you seen Cadoc?"
Daine and the Stable boy never rendezvoused again. He blushed and stammered when she talked to him next, and Daine figured he hadn't liked her so much after all.
Next was Perrin. He was handsome. And his kisses were sweet and nice, and Daine quite liked them. He was a clerk at Court and a full three years older than Daine. She liked him more than she'd like any of her other conquests, and he was more persistent than they'd been, though always polite. Several times with him Daine got quite close to needing her pregnancy charm, but something always interrupted them: an emergency with spidrens, a crisis with stormwings, or. . . Numair. Actually, Numair seemed to interrupt them quite frequently.
"He's too old for you," Numair grumbled after finding them in an alcove once. He was tomato red and his fingers were sparking black somewhat ominously.
"Oh, he's fine." said Daine, exasperated now that her swain was gone.
Numair hmphed, turned to storm away, then spun back around on his long legs to peer at her chest. Daine crossed her arms. "What?" she said self-consciously.
"Where's your charm?"
Numair coughed rather pointedly.
Daine looked down at her chest and saw only the badger claw; no pregnancy charm in sight. "Oh," she said, blushing. "It must have- when I shape-shifted earlier. . . I didn't notice."
"You lost your pregnancy charm," said Numair, sounding strangled, "when you shape-shifted. And you didn't notice. How foolish are you?"
Daine tossed her head, angry now. "Don't call me foolish. I wasn't going to-"
"Yes, you were, and you're not ready."
"No, I wasn't, and I'll decide what I'm ready for, thank you very much!" she cried. She choked back an embarassed sob. She was humiliated, and he was right. That was a fair irresponsible thing to do. "It's none of your business, Numair. Leave me be."
Numair shook his head. "You're going to ruin everything." he said quietly. "We're together now, we're a team. What am I to do when you get with child? Or married?"
"Numair, I won't. I won't." said Daine tearfully, but he'd already walked away.
Daine went to the clerk's office the next morning, steeled to end it. But when she'd found Perrin, it was he who said, "I can't do this anymore."
Daine blinked. "What?"
"It's not that I don't like you. I do. But this can't continue, Daine." said Perrin. He continued, "I was going to let you down easy, you know, just not show when we met the next time, but then you came and found me."
Daine took a deep breath. "Perrin, not showing to a meeting is not letting a lass down easy. And. . . why?"
"Honestly? Your friend, the mage. Should I say 'friend'?" he asked sardonically.
Daine snorted, fire running through her body. "We're hardly friends at the moment. Excuse me, Perrin."
She left the clerk's office and stomped down the Palace halls, one destination in mind. As she did, the pieces started fitting together. Her swains, so enthusiastic before, suddenly cowed to look her in the eye. The surprise journeys, the month-long absences. Numair coming out of the stable. He never visited Spot. Always managing to chance upon their hiding places. Daine snarled, garnering an odd look from a courier. He dared. She would give him a piece of her mind.
She pounded on his door.
Numair opened the door a crack, brown eye visible. "Well, I can see you're angry-" he began calmly.
"Angry? I'm furious. Let me in." Daine snarled, shoving her foot in the door.
Numair sighed and let her in, then sat heavily in a chair. "Let me explain. Your anger is justified-"
"I'll kill you!"
"-but perhaps you'll understand once I've said my piece." Numair looked up at the girl, fists balled, looming over him. His brown eyes were soft. "I'm sorry. Please sit down and let me speak, then you can do whatever you want with me."
Daine exhaled shakily. "You hurt me. I thought there was something wrong with me." She sat.
"I'm sorry, Magelet. I truly am. I should have handled it differently. But I saw you and them and it terrified me. You've. . . you've grown so fast. You were a girl yesterday, and tomorrow you'll be a woman. I couldn't handle it."
"So you threatened them to stay away from me."
"I didn't. . . threaten, exactly-"
"You threatened them."
"All right, I threatened them. I thought it would buy me more time."
"More time for what?" asked Daine. "I don't understand, Numair."
"I'm not sure. More time to come to grips with the fact that you're a woman now, and no longer my student?"
"Numair, you haven't taught me anything in years. . ." Daine pointed out.
"I don't want to hear that, Magelet." Numair smiled lightly to tell her he was joking, then his face became serious. "No, you're right, but you still needed me. I'd never been depended on until you came along. Now I'm afraid that you'll depend on those boys instead of me." he said sadly, twisting his large hands in his lap.
I'm angry at him, I'm angry at him, I'm angry at him, Daine told herself. But her stubborn chin wobbled, as did her resolve. She stood up, walked over, and put her hands on top of his to stop that infernal hand wringing. "That's fair silly." she said quietly. "I depend on you more than anyone. And I know it was foolish what I did last night, forgetting like that." she added. "But you can't keep doing this. You've got to trust me."
Numair shook his head. "I do trust you. I don't trust them."
Daine took her hands out of his again. "Trusting me is trusting them, Numair. I can make my own choices!" she insisted.
Numair stood up swiftly, putting his hands on her shoulders. Now Daine had to look up to see him. "Let's compromise."
"No, let's do things my way." she said stubbornly.
"Hear me out. If you wait till the Summer- six months away- to do any more kissing, hand-holding, or. . . " -He coughed discreetly to spare her the embarrassment, but Daine would have none of it-
"Canoodling, sex, lovemaking, that sort of thing?"
He blushed red, took his hands off her shoulders, then put them on again. "Yes, that sort of thing," he said, scandalized, "then I'll- I'll. . . do whatever you want."
Daine stepped back so she could have a better look at him, shocked. "You'll do whatever I want." she repeated. "This means that much to you?"
"All right then. . ." said Daine, and a delicious idea popped into her head. Did she dare? She looked up at the mage through her lashes. He looked faintly uncomfortable with the topic and was still rosy from all his blushing. That decided it. "You'll have to do the same then." she said finally.
"The same. . ."
"Till the Summer. Though if I'm still irresponsible come June, we might have to lengthen it a bit."
"Daine." His face was a mixture of pain and extreme redness.
"What?" she smiled sweetly. "You have needs? Hormones? Urges?" Daine knew all about his women. She'd never been able to do anything about it till now.
He sighed. "I suppose I wouldn't be able to justify them to you, would I?" Numair said, resolved to the idea and looking rather wan.
"Not a bit. And I'll know if you cheat, too." said Daine. "You'll know as well."
"Threats," Numair muttered, shuddering at the idea of being set on by wild animals.
"I mean them. Well, it's a bargain. Don't get up, I'll see myself out."
Numair seemed rather glued to his chair. "I hate you." he grumbled. Six months. . .
"Well, I love you." said Daine cheerfully, and let herself out.
Numair heard the door close. "I love you, too." he said. It was worth it.