Numair watched her from the doorway, as transfixed by her as she was by the waves crashing against the shore. Dusk was settling around them but a thin line of pink sky still peeked through the haze along the horizon. All these years gone by and he thinks he will tire of the sunset before he does of her.
As if sensing him she turned, looking over her shoulder and smiled. He returned the gesture and left his post at the door, walking into the damp breeze. He settled next to her, leaning against the bannister. He tried not to think about how his arm pressed against hers, or how she pressed against him—just a little bit. Tried not to think about that night in the snowstorm where she had pressed against him more passionately. How long ago had that been now—eight years, nine? He tried not to think about their kiss in the wake three years later; the waves lapping at their ankles. Her young body—barely twenty-five then—standing next to his and eager for his touch.
He expected each year to dull those memories but they never seemed to fade, much like his adoration for his young friend. She would laugh to hear him call her young now and say that was no longer the case. Her eyes would crease at the thin lines that were just beginning to appear. Little by little signs of the passing time were showing—like the grey hairs that seemed to be coming more frequently on his own head. She would always be young to him, though—younger, too young.
"Out with it." Her words startled him.
"Out with what?"
"Whatever it is you have on your mind. I usually let you stew but I'm feeling curious today." She wiped damp hair from her face, turning her head to look at him. He took her in—flushed face, and lips just a little blue from the cold, and shirt just a little sheer from the ocean spray.
"Why haven't you married?" He wasn't sure which one of them he surprised more. She blinked at him and turned away again. He shifted to the sound of her sigh. Quiet stretched out between them, the only disturbance the breaking waves, and he wondered if she would answer. When he had accepted her silence she broke it.
"I asked my mother the same thing once." She spoke into the wind. "I must have been eight, maybe nine. I knew she had had offers."
"As I know you have." He studied her, noting her half-smile. They had never talked of her lovers, but you couldn't help but notice these things when you were as close as they were. She pressed on, ignoring his remark.
"It's one of the few times she brought up Da—nothing detailed, mind you, but she actually spoke about him." She swallowed hard. "She said once you've felt a love like that there's no way you can go back. Everything else just pales in comparison, you know?" Even after all this time, when she spoke of her childhood her accent started to creep back in.
"I do, actually." His chest was tight. She spread her hands out across the banister, propping herself up, and he couldn't help but notice how close their fingers were. He thought about reaching out and covering her hand with his own. He didn't. He never did.
She looked at him, studying him carefully before sighing.
"I suppose that always stuck with me. Now I just can't settle." She looked down, eyes resting on where their hands lay so close together. Her finger twitched, barely perceptible.
"So you've chosen to stay alone?" The thought saddened him but she laughed quietly.
"I haven't joined the convent quite yet. Who knows?" She shook her head, "Maybe I'll find something better, or similar, or different. I like to think my time hasn't run out yet."
"Ah, the dreams of the young," he quoted a poet he knew for a fact she disliked, smiling at the way her nose scrunched up.
"You don't have a foot in the grave quite yet." She leaned over, nudging his shoulder with her own.
"Closer than you."
"No one can know that." They both shifted, the conversation turning to a matter they would both rather leave untouched. An inescapable possibility of their chosen lives.
"I understand what you are saying all too well, Magelet," he redirected. "But I hope you're happy." He meant it. She propped her chin on her hand and looked at him. "You're very studious today." He looked away, becoming uncomfortable under her gaze.
"I want to ask who." She turned away, speaking to the waves once more. "I won't though," she cut him off, shooting him a meaningful look. "If you had wanted to tell me you would have a long time ago. I will say that I've always wondered what the extent of your attachment to Varice was. Young love and all." She made another face and he couldn't help but chuckle.
"No, sweetling, not Varice." He hadn't even thought about the woman in years—it was reassuring to know that some things did fade after all. "Are you taking issue with 'young love'?" He teased.
"Not at all. Mine was young love once."
"It's gotten older." She shrugged.
"Practical, really. Love's a part of you, isn't it?" She shivered at the uptake of wind. "I've aged, why wouldn't it?"
The stood together, watching the last of the color bleed from the sky and the horizon fade from sight. She shivered again, and straightened.
"It's getting cold. I think I'll head in." She wrapped her arms around herself and turned away but he caught her sleeve. He had surprised himself, not realizing he had any design until it was already underway.
"I don't get to ask who?" He tried to keep his tone light, tried to hide the fact that he was bracing himself. The look in her eyes startled him. It was the first time that night that he saw sadness there. Sadness and something else—hurt?
"I didn't ask."
"I've never pretended to be as good as you." It was stated as a fact. She sighed, and pulled away.
"Numair, don't do this." She shook her head. "Can't we just leave it be?"
"I don't understand." He stood to face her now, leaning back against the bannister and crossing his arms across his chest.
"Don't do that." She was getting exasperated now. "You playing ignorant all these years is well enough. I appreciate your attempt to be sensitive but I made my peace with your decision a long time ago, Numair. Just because I haven't married doesn't mean that I'm crying myself to sleep." She turned to walk away but turned back almost immediately.
"Can't we just go on as we have? I don't know if you feel bad or—" she swallowed hard and collected herself. "You don't owe me anything, Numair. Please don't feel that you do." There was anger in her eyes but also compassion. Numair gawked at her, eyebrows raised.
"Numair," she rubbed her forehead, "There was a time when I wanted answers. That night we were trapped by the storm," she couldn't look at him, her face turning red at the memory, "or my twenty-fifth birthday when—" She motioned to the beach below them, where he had held her to him all those years ago, unable to say the words. She sighed and looked at her feet.
"I know I made things difficult back then—it wasn't my intent. I just thought—" her voice cracked. "I got my answers one way or the other and I accepted them. Things happen sometimes and it doesn't mean anything greater. You're lost, or fearing for your life, or dying and we're so close but not that close. Lines get blurred. Sometimes they get drawn again. It's okay." She shrugged, looking at him with over bright eyes.
Her words seemed to take forever to sink in. Like the chill of the salt-water it crept into his skin, into his very bones. He covered the distance between them in two short strides, lifting her from the ground and covering her lips firmly with his own. In an instant it was five years ago, her lips still tasting like salt, and four before that, her hands threading through his hair and the feeling of her the only thing he cared about.
It lasted only a moment before she broke away, pushing him back. She looked unfocused, like she wasn't sure if she wanted to yell or cry. She opened her mouth to do one of these two things but he pulled her back in for a crushing hug.
"We are idiots." He kissed her hair and heard her muffled voice coming from his chest. He released her just enough so that she could free herself and breathe.
"Are you deaf?" She was indignant but he was too wrapped up in his realization to much care.
"For the first time, I think not." He laughed at the absurdity of it all. Daine looked as though she wanted to speak again but he shook his head. "Daine, love, it's you. It's always been you, it will always be you. I thought you knew." There was a long silence before Daine exhaled and rested her head on his chest.
"I thought you knew." She said finally. He laughed, stroking her hair.
"I think, perhaps, we may sometimes be a little too alike for our own good."
"Goddess, all the wasted time." She pulled away and looked up at him. He leaned in and kissed her again—softly this time.
"No, all the time we have now." He stroked her face. "If you would like, that is." Nerves crept into his voice.
"I would like." She offered a shaky smile. He understood. It was an overwhelming sort of joy.
"Let's go inside." He moved her in front of him, guiding her forward. "I think we have a lot to discuss."