Numair tugged at the collar of his robes, feeling stifled even as the cold midwinter air met him at the entry to the veranda. The war had been over, formally, for three months and it seemed that life was only beginning to return to some semblance of normal. Many troops has been able to return home for the holiday, though some were still deployed-Daine included.

George had passed on any updates he received, breaching his normally strict 'need-to-know' policy to placate the mage for recruiting the woman in the first place. News was infrequent and scarce, however, when it came to her well-being. At least any news from her meant she was alive.

He had hoped that she would be home for Midwinter. He knew for a fact that George had given her notice to return home several weeks prior, but he also knew that her movements were unpredictable and that she could not always receive information quickly. As the days had passed, he felt his optimism fade and by the time the banquet had begun and he noticed that no space had been set for her he resigned himself that she would not be there.

He tried to push thoughts of her from his mind, along with the aching feeling that settled in his gut at the thought that the following morning would mark a year since he had last seen her. A year since he had watched her fly away, leaving him with nothing but a cloak heavy with her scent. A year since he'd heard her laugh, seen her smile at him, held her-a year since he'd made a choice that was the honorable one, but not the one he had wanted to make.

He strode across the veranda, wincing as his left knee protested the long strides. A close call with a Scanran mage had left him with a slow healing ache that was doing it's best to linger-though he would take that over the fate of his opponent. He leaned against the railing, stretching his leg out behind him and applying a slow, but firm stretch to the nagging injury. Numair looked out at the barren gardens. Despite the cold, and the thin layer of snow dusting the grounds, there was movement in every corner of the yard.

He laughed, taking notice at how many lovers did not quite seem to grasp how much less the gardens concealed without foliage. Though hardly the most respectable example, it was good to see true celebration at the palace again. It had been two years since he had been surrounded by this much joy, and he relished in it despite the one glaring absence he couldn't shake.

Drawn by a familiar lilting voice his eyes were drawn to the east, where they fell upon a red-headed knight leaning against a man's shoulder. He had meant to avert his gaze, giving George and Alanna some well-deserved privacy, when he noticed they were not alone.

Daine stood with them; war-weary, thin, and glowing. She was talking happily with the Lioness and her husband, but her gaze was settled firmly on Numair. She smiled when she saw she had caught his eye and he stood abruptly, ignoring the sharp pain in his knee. He strode down the stairs as quickly as he could without drawing attention to himself, his long legs carrying him quickly to the group.

"You're home." The statement came out breathless as he approached, eyes firmly on the wildmage as the older couple stepped aside to make room. He stopped, leaving space between them and acutely aware that they were not alone.

"I am," she beamed, just as breathlessly. "I came to find you but you'd already left and I was not fit for public."

Alanna sniggered, "I heard. Did Onua really make you rinse off in the stables?"

Daine broke eye contact with Numair just long enough to throw a sour look at her friend. "No. Though I think I need new towels." Her last statement was sheepish, a blush spreading across her already flushed face.

"It's good to have you back, lass," George interjected, "I have a lot to thank you for." The relief in his voice was evident. He, perhaps more than anyone, understood the dangers of what he had asked of her.

"It's good to be back. It's been so long I feel like I'll have to learn my way around again." Her grin faltered, replaced by a polite but tentative smile. "Where's Lenore?"

Numair blinked, lost for a second. "I have no idea," he said finally, with an indifferent shrug.

"Oh," her grin returned, though she tried to temper it, "I'm sorry to hear that."

"Me too." His expression mirrored hers, not even fully hearing his own words.

"Have you been given leave for a rest?" Alanna asked, looking over the other woman with the concern of a mother.

"Yes, cleared with Jon." It was George who spoke, directed at Daine. She turned to their friends, releasing a sigh of relief.

"That's fair welcome news."

"You're welcome to travel with us to the Swoop-" Alanna's words were lost on Numair, who remained transfixed on Daine. He fidgeted with the hem of his robes, anxious and enraptured at her presence. Several moments passed before Numair cleared his throat, not caring in the slightest what he may be interrupting.

"If you'll excuse us." He grasped Daine's hand, pulling her away and not caring to offer any excuse or acknowledge Alanna's muttered 'please' and accompanying eye roll. He moved quickly, only slowing so that Daine did not have to jog.

"Numair," she started but was cut off as he smiled at her but kept up his pace.

"Patience, magelet, just a little further." Numair led them through the sparse foliage to the small path that led between the walls and the outside of the east wing where the mages floors were located. Soon they reached a small door, half-covered in browning ivy, and he fiddled with the rusting handle until it opened. He ushered her ahead of him, out of the cold, into a nook of an entryway that led to a thin, windy flight of stairs; an old, out of use servants entry.

He reached for her hand again, pulling her so that she spun around to face him. Before she had time to speak his hands were on her waist and he had pressed her into the shadowy niche beneath the stairs, pressing her back against the cold stone and his lips against hers hungrily.

She responded in kind, arching her breasts against him and winding her hands into his hair where she grasped him roughly. His hands delved under her cloak, feeling the swell of her breasts and the curve of her hips. He deepened the kiss as they explored, lost in the sensation of one another. They broke away with a mutual gasp. Daine looked at him, drunk with lust. Her breathing was heavy as her hands continued to run over his chest.

"I thought you might be taking me to your rooms," her voice was husky.

"I am," he murmured, covering her lips with his own once more. There was no hesitation with the return this time. He coaxed her lips apart, feeling her surrender and sink into him. Hands and lips wandered, and clothes were becoming more displaced when he pulled away again. She groaned, trying to close the distance once more, but laughed softly when he pulled back out of reach.

"Feeling the need for some extra luck this year, Master Mage?" She eyed him coyly and he blushed, though his gaze was serious.

"Yes," he nodded, earnestly, "I am feeling the need for a lot of luck. In fact, to be certain that I have enough I am going to kiss you more, right now," he eased his lips over hers, softly, "and then I am going to take you to my rooms and kiss you again," his eyes travelled over her in a way that made her squirm and left no question as to his intentions. "And then, tomorrow morning, I am going to kiss you again." His lips brushed the skin beneath her earlobe, "and again the next day." He moved down her neck, relishing in the whimper that escaped her as his tongue found a sensitive spot above her collarbone. "Unless you have any objections?"

"Oh, be quiet," she grasped his collar, pulling him down to her. "Midwinter's luck, Numair," she murmured as the distance between them closed once and for all.