"I think that was the pass," Numair stopped abruptly, long fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. Daine dropped her pack to the ground, trying to restrain a frustrated sigh. Numair turned to her and she raised her eyebrows in response to his expectant gaze.
"Just waiting for you to tell me you told me so," he grumbled, dropping his own pack to the ground and pulling out his map.
"Didn't think I needed to." She griped, unable to stop herself after a long, vexing day. He didn't answer but visibly bristled at her remark.
Daine let Numair study the map, knowing what the result would be, and stretched her arms over her head. They'd gotten a later start than they had wanted from Blue Harbor and decided to take the walk through the mountain pass to reach the next town. At Cloud and Spots pleading Daine had agreed to let them go through the lowlands with plans to meet at their campsite in two days' time.
It should have been a half-day hike but dusk was beginning to settle around them and they were still high in the pass, the mountain on one side of them and a cliff tumbling downward on the other. The awkward mid-autumn temperatures meant that they were freezing one moment, and overheating as soon as the incline increased. Now the sun was dipping below the horizon she was more aware of the chill of the sea spray being carried to them on the wind.
Daine stepped closer to the edge of the cliff, looking out over the waves. She wished they were at the Tower and not moving further away from it. The war had been over for over a month and it seemed as though they would never get a chance to rest. She thought of moving closer to the edge but found herself unable to—memories of the Divine Realms and falling, falling, falling rushing back. It was not a memory she held dear, though many connected with it were her most cherished.
She glanced back at Numair to find him watching her closely. When their eyes met his gaze flicked to the edge of the cliff and back to her. He blushed and turned back to the map. He worried—perhaps now more than ever before.
She stepped back and leaned against a rock outcropping, stretching her legs out in front of her. She watched Numair study the map, recognizing the furrowed brow as a sign of his frustration. She was irritated too—about a lot of things. The thought of having to backtrack all the way to Blue Harbor was the most pressing. The thought of backtracking all the way to their separate rooms in Blue Harbor was the most irksome.
The first time Numair had been referred to as her 'lover' she had been filled with such anticipation. Thayet, not one know to beat around the bush, had bid then farewell from Port Legann with a wink and a whispered comment to Daine that, 'it's always more fun to travel with a Lover'.
It was a warm, fluttery feeling that settled deep in the pit of her belly. The same feeling she got when he held her close to him, and kissed her hungrily. He had been an absolute gentleman the past six weeks—the perfect example of chivalry. Touches were polite, kisses were chaste, rooms and bedrolls were separate and yet when he absentmindedly placed his hand on the small of her back or moved his thumb in circles at the nape her neck she ached.
On the surface Numair seemed to be throwing himself into their work with an astounding dedication—but she knew him enough to tell that he was discouraged as well. She had pointed out over dinner one night that he had no one to blame but himself for his temperament and got the pleasant experience of dealing with an even fouler one the next day. Since then she had backed off and tried to match his focus for their journey.
Numair swore vividly and Daine stood in response, surprised at his colorful language. He returned the map to its pocket and stood with his back turned to her. When he did not turn to her she approached him and placed a hand on his arm. He moved away from her touch and she felt her own temper rise.
"Let's head back." He lifted his pack and motioned back the way they came.
"It's going to be dark soon." She struggled to keep her voice even.
"We'd best hurry then. If we had mounts we would have been back by now," he jibed.
Daine snatched her own pack and slung it over her shoulder roughly. "Funny, the same could be said if the map had been read correctly."
"You expect me to control where the mountains decide to fall? I couldn't have known the pass was blocked." He was walking quickly enough that she struggled to keep up without jogging.
"I don't see why not. You control everything else." She regretted it once she said it. He came to a stop and wheeled to face her. She wanted to yell at him, to apologize, and to kiss him all at the same time. Instead, she did nothing. A heated moment passed before he shook his head and continued on, but at a slower pace.
"Let's just set up camp," Daine offered after a moment of silence had passed. Darkness was setting in quickly and even though the moon was nearly full she did not like the idea of trekking through the night. It would be nearly dawn by the time they got back.
"There's a forested stretch up ahead. We can make camp there," she pressed when he did not answer. A deep sigh was her only response.
"I don't particularly relish the thought of sleeping in the cold tonight." His voice dripped with sarcasm and she could all but feel her previous repentance evaporate.
"It's not like your bed will be particularly warm in town," she replied flippantly.
"Really, Daine?" He turned to look at her but she couldn't make out his expression in the dark. By the time she had shifted her eyes to those of a cat he had turned away again. "Fine, but we get an early start in the morning."
They reached the wooded section as the moon continued to climb in the sky. Numair cast a protective circle when Daine mentioned that she could sense Wyvern's at the edge of her. The rest of set up was spent in silence.
Dinner was a somber affair. Daine's attempts to draw Numair into conversation were met with what could barely be described as grunts. She would be lying if she said she was much better. Daine didn't even tell him there were merpeople right below them, playing in the waves far below. Merpeople were Numair's favorite Immortal's to encounter and she usually went out of her way to point them out.
Daine felt her already-thin patience run its course when Numair moved his bedroll further away from her own.
"Two layers of padded hide isn't enough? Do you want me to build a wall of sticks too? Or maybe you'd prefer if I just set up another camp further down the path?" She was being unreasonable, she knew, but weeks of little sleep, never-healed war-weariness, and the frustration of being in love had taken their toll.
"What do you want from me, Daine?" He dropped the bedroll, letting it fall into a heap on the ground.
"Odd's Bob, Numair, I think it's fair clear what I want from you." She stared him down, hands on her hips. "What's not clear is why you don't want anything from me." She was embarrassed to hear her voice crack, a fear that had been growing each time he pushed her away creeping in.
"You think I don't want you?" He laughed, but it was not a kind sound. "Hag's Bones, Daine. Have you listened to anything I have said these last weeks? You don't know what you're asking, how things will change—"
"I know exactly what I'm asking—I may not be as experienced as you but I'm not as naïve as you think I am."
"I never said you were naïve—"
"You don't have to say it." She cut him off and he took a deep breath, collecting himself.
"If you could let me finish. I never said you were naïve but you're right—in this area you are." His expression warned her not to interrupt again and she managed to swallow her retort—barely. "It's not something that you can help, but it is a factor nonetheless."
Daine threw her arms up, "Fine, maybe I can't help it. You though—it takes two right?" Despite her anger she was pleased to see the blush creeping along his neck. "And you keep saying that things will change. Good. I want them to!"
"You don't know what you're asking me to do Daine. If I cross that line—"
"So you won't touch me because of something that I can't change, but you won't change it—am I supposed to find someone else?" The words were out before she could stop them and the hurt in Numair's eyes was immediate.
"Is that what you want?" He was shaking now. So was she.
"Of course not." She meant it. "But I do want someone who will touch me." She ran a hand through her tangled hair and stepped back from the fire, towards the edge of the cliff. The cool sea air at her back contrasted oddly with the warmth of the fire at her front.
"That's hyperbolic, Daine. I touch you." He dismissed, moving around the fire towards her.
"An exaggeration," he answered her question before she could finish it and for the first time in a long time it stung.
"Is it?" Her eyes met his and they searched each other. "When is the last time you kissed me? I mean, really kissed me?" She waited for an answer that wasn't coming. He shook his head and walked away again, pacing a path around their camp.
"There are more important things than being physical in a relationship," he was still shaking his head, talking to himself as much as her. Something tickled at the back of her mind. Had she had more presence of mind she would have mentioned it.
"That doesn't mean this isn't important." She rolled her eyes, and was glad he did not see.
"Why are you pushing so hard?"
"Why are you fighting against it so hard?" She crossed her arms over her chest. Every point he made could be turned against him, and vice versa. From behind her she could hear a strange sound being carried on the wind. It was too soft for her to make it out but something about it tugged at her attention.
"I just need time, Daine. You want everything and we haven't even had a chance to rest yet, or take stock—" he broke off, looking down and breathing heavily.
"You're right." She shrugged. "Eventually I want everything, and I am willing to give you time to get to everything but in the meantime you're giving me nothing."
"I give you nothing?" He was decidedly losing the battle with his tempter now. Just as suddenly, Daine felt her own energy dissipate.
"Numair—" She sighed deeply but he didn't hear.
"I give you nothing? Is that really how you feel?" Hurt did not begin to describe the tone in his voice.
"That's not what I meant, Numair, I—" She stopped, suddenly aware of her surroundings, and turned away from him to look towards the sea.
"Then what did you mean because it sounds like the fact that I won't bed you is the only thing that matters—"
Daine didn't hear what he said next, and shushed him which the mage ignored. She walked away, transfixed on the sounds coming from the sea. She moved out from the tree line, standing at the edge of the cliff.
"Oh glory." She breathed. She had been lucky enough to hear merpeople sing on several occasions but she had never heard them sing with Wyverns. It was immaculate. The great beasts were weaving through the air, ascending and dropping down again—their voices seemed to match their movement as they blended with those of the merpeople. It was strange and haunting—and the most beautiful thing Daine had ever heard in this realm or any other.
Something in her voice must have caught Numair's attention because she felt him step behind her—close enough to feel his warmth, but not close enough to feel him.
"Goddess Bless," he whispered. She felt his hand rest on her shoulder and then his arms circled around her and pulled her back against his chest. He rested his head on her shoulder as they watched the spectacle before them.
"I'm sorry," he murmured and she grasped his arms.
"Me too." She felt him squeeze her tighter and inhale shakily. "I just—"
"I know." He sighed, hot breath tickling the bare nape of her neck. She shuddered and felt his breath quicken. The singing sounded far off now—pushed away by his nearness. "It's not fair of me to put so much emphasis on your inexperience. This is new to me too."
She laughed at that but he tightened his arms again and he caught her gaze when she turned her head to him.
"This," he kissed her firmly, easing his lips over hers, "is new to me." She nodded, too breathless from his kiss and the heat in his gaze to form words. He bent his head and pressed his lips to the nape of her neck. Her head fell back as a gasp escaped her lips.
Daine turned in his embrace and pulled him to her—the warmth in her belly coiling tighter with each touch. Numair pulled back suddenly, placing his hands on either side of her face. Her objection was cut when he caught her eye.
"I love you, magelet." There was a need in his eyes that was more than physical.
"I love you too." She replied, smiling and pulling him back to her.
The Immortals continued their song long into the night, as the couple nestled on the cliffside discovered a new rhythm.