Daine swayed, enjoying the warmth from the fire at her front, and the cool summer night breeze at her back. The pasture was a flurry of activity—the newly minted riders celebrating the end of summer and of their training. As darkness fell the party had expanded to embrace all others who were not above such pursuits. Stable-hands, palace servants, clerks, and even the occasional noble had crept into the growing crowd. Two more bonfires has been erected to light the festivities after the first was overwhelmed.
Daine soothed a herd of ponies who were disgruntled by being displaced, reminding them that it was only for a night. A particularly cranky gelding replied that he did not like talking to her when her head was all upside down. She closed her link, giggling and taking another sip from the mug she clutched against her chest. She supposed everyone could use a break now and then.
She scanned the crowd looking for familiar faces. If she was being honest with herself she was looking for one in particular—she had not seen Numair since before the last fire had been lit. She tried to silence the voice that said he had probably left with his companion; the tall, buxom, fair-haired woman she had seen him with. Onua had been right all those years ago. He had a type-and it surely was not her. She supposed at this age she would have to accept that the curves she had hoped would fill in as she grew were not coming at all. Daine tugged at her shirt, unconsciously.
Her eyes fell on Miri and Evin who were goading on some newly minted riders in a drinking game that Daine knew first-hand to be a mistake. While the status of their relationship was always touch-and-go, to be kind, you could always count on them to make trouble together. Movement to her left made her glance over, and avert her eyes just as quickly. Gavin, a bit of fun she'd enjoyed several months earlier around Midwinter—and again when she turned twenty-one, was talking to a pretty red-headed cook. It had been messy, but fun. Now it was something they didn't have time to talk about between being too busy avoiding one another.
She drank deeply from her mug, draining it, and moved away from the risk of having to acknowledge him. She deposited her mug on a table underneath one of the tents as she walked. She considered getting another but the slight wobble in her step and the happy feeling warming the pit of her stomach told her that that she was approaching the line of enjoying her night or loathing her morning.
Cheers drew her to the furthest fire. She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself as she approached—she should have worn a cloak. She was thankful for the warmth even on the outskirts of the huddle. She peeked through the crowd circled around the fire and laughed. Sarge was performing a jig that looked as though it should be impossible for a man of his height and bulk. Onua was next to him, making this likely the only time the pair would be close in height, and attempting to match his movements but with far less poise. Daine sympathized with her friend, remembering her own attempts to best Sarge earlier.
"Going to attempt a rematch?"
"You saw that?" She groaned and turned to Numair who was smirking at the show in front of them. She absently brushed off the back of her breeches again, not sure if she had gotten all of the dirt off. She noticed, enviously, that Numair was tall enough to watch without having to find an opening.
"Me and half the party." He laughed and she felt herself blush, trying to push away the warm-fuzzy feeling that his laughter had induced.
"Oh good," she replied dryly, "when I begin my career as a great entertainer you can tell everyone you were there the night it began." He laughed again and they watched until Onua conceded defeat, calling Sarge something rude. Daine licked her lips, sneaking a glance at her tall friend, and deciding if she should ask what she really wanted to know. Urged on by her alcohol-induced nerve she tested the waters.
"I didn't know you were still here." She said slowly and saw him look at her from the corner of her eye.
"I think we were missing each other—you know I wouldn't leave until I'd seen all of my friends make fools of themselves," he grinned wickedly, "I look forward to it every year." It was her turn to laugh.
"I just thought maybe you had found more enticing entertainment." She blushed as her own suggestion—while it was not a topic they avoided it was not one they commonly spoke of either. Not frankly, anyway. There was a pause and Numair looked at her, as if he was trying to decide if he understood her. Finally he blushed and looked down.
"Just me tonight, Magelet. Isa left a little while ago." Daine nodded, trying not to show that she was pleased, and her eyes fell on his hands. He held two full steins and she met his eyes again, raising an incredulous eyebrow. He laughed.
"She left with her Fiancé, actually," he elaborated, shaking his head, "One of these is for you, actually. Although now I'm wondering if you should have it. I think you may have had enough." He narrowed his eyes at her. She hoped she wasn't swaying—it was a little hard to tell.
"Sorry about your friend."
"Why? I'm not." He shrugged and she smiled, pleased. Daine reached out and took one of the mugs, allowing herself to enjoy the tiny shudder that went through her when her fingers brushed his own.
"One more won't get me into any trouble." She took a sip and he did the same, shaking his head.
"Famous last words, my dear." His endearment caught her off guard and she looked at him, but he was staring firmly ahead. It was hard to tell in the firelight but she thought she could see the ghost of a blush gracing his swarthy complexion.
"Still looking for someone to sweet talk tonight, Master Mage?"
"I'm not looking for anything tonight." She could tell he was embarrassed and couldn't lie that she enjoyed making him squirm.
"Already found it?" She blushed at her own words and Numair took a long drink, shaking his head.
"Careful, Magelet. You'll break hearts with talk like that." He still wasn't looking at her, though she noticed that he had shifted closer—so that their arms just barely touched.
She let a silence fall between them. Their silences were always comfortable—that was one of the great things about their relationship. They didn't need to talk to enjoy each other. This time, however, was different. It was charged—the weight of it heavy with something she couldn't put her finger on, or was too afraid to recognize.
She would be lying if she said they never flirted—it had become another facet of their relationship over the past several years as such things do—but it was always careless. The kind of dallying you do without thinking, design, or investment. The kind that makes a long journey less dreary or the stretches between lovers a little less lonely.
It would also be a lie if she said that her mind did not sometimes wander during their flirtations—what would it be like for him to pursue her in earnest, for there to be meaning to his playful affections? She would be lying if she said she didn't occasionally wonder what it would be like to be seduced by him—if she said she didn't want to know what that was like.
She always tried to push these thoughts away as quickly as they appeared, though in some moments—like tonight—that was harder done than said. They lingered with her and in the happy haze of her mind she couldn't help but let them remain a little longer in the firelight.
She knew he didn't see that way. She was surely a child, and always would be, next to the exquisite creatures he pursued. He was affectionate by nature and, she was sure, indulging her in their wordplay.
"What's on your mind?" He leaned over, so that his soft voice would reach her through the din of the pasture. She blushed, startled out of her fantasies.
"Why?" She didn't look at him, enjoying the feeling in the pit of her stomach from his closeness.
"You look," he paused, thoughtful, and straightened. She heard him exhale as the distance between them increased-felt just a whisper of his breath on her neck. He chuckled softly, "Are you looking for something tonight?" She looked up at him, raising an eyebrow.
"Maybe I am." She leaned over, ever so slightly—just enough to press a little more firmly against him. He took a large swig and chortled again.
"I need another drink."
Despite the hour the celebration was still travelling to a peak as Numair nursed another drink. Neither of them were regular drinkers, but she had to admit she was enjoying watching him let loose as much as she had. Urged on by Daine, Numair had taken a stab at Sarge's jig, but was considerably less graceful. Daine laughed so hard she nearly cried at the sight of his long limbs flailing about—nearly landing in the fire at one point. He had sulked back to her, a little dustier and considerably more embarrassed than when he had left.
"Drink up my lovely, graceless little pets." Sarge found them not too soon after, clutching three cups of whiskey.
"I don't think so." Numair tried to refuse but Sarge pushed the drink into the mage's hand.
"It's my prize for besting each of you. You don't have a choice." He winked at Daine and handed her a drink. She noticed that her's was considerably less full than either of theirs. Numair did as well and evoked a booming laugh from Sarge when he brought it up.
"We're both twice of her, aren't we?" He downed his in one large gulp. Daine shrugged at Numair and followed suit, making a face as the liquid burned its way down her throat. Numair, looking decidedly uneasy, did the same and coughed violently. Sarge shook his head and wandered away muttering about mages who couldn't dance, and couldn't drink.
"Have I not been embarrassed enough tonight?" He asked when he had finally caught his breath.
Sarge managed to cajole them into one more drink before the night was through, and needless to say they were both feeling the effects by the time the fires began to die down and the revelers begin to disperse.
The pair found themselves reclining on some hay bales, tucked away from the center of the merriment and content to chat and watch the mischief unfolding before them. They were nearly flattened by a couple who has snuck away and not seen them, concealed in the dark, until they were almost on top of them—literally—but had had no interruptions since.
Numair had complained of the cold, so far away from the fire, and Daine had snuggled under the crook of his arm and told him she would keep him warm. He did not protest and rested his arm around her, pulling her just a little bit closer. Daine turned onto her side, pressing the length of her body against his and sliding a leg over his. She sighed, happily, and rested her hand on his chest.
"Daine," he murmured when she slid her hand underneath his cloak and began to trace circles in the chest hair peeking from the neckline of his shirt.
"Yes?" She snuggled closer, playing coy. Her hazy mind had no thought for any consequences beyond the heat of his body against hers.
He sighed and smiled, settling. "Nothing." She smiled too, content focus on the feel of his chest beneath her hand. While he was generally affectionate with her he was usually quick to pull back from too much physical contact-he said it was distracting. A glint of light caught her attention from the corner of her eye.
"There! A shooting star!" Daine pointed to the sky, pulling her hand from the warmth of his cloak. "Make a wish!" She turned to him, face only inches away from his own. "Make it something good."
"Something good? And here I was going to wish for something mediocre," he drawled, watching the sky. She pinched his side, softly, but laughed.
"What did you wish for?" She felt her breath hitch when he turned to look at her, keenly aware of the scant distance between them.
"I'm not supposed to tell you. I'm pretty sure that's a rule."
She pouted, stomach dropping when his gaze fell to her lips. "I think there's a loophole." She said, earnestly.
"Yes, I think if we both tell it's fine."
"Is that so?"
"Yes," she giggled and he couldn't help but join her-drink and the late hour affecting both of their humors. "Tell me yours and I'll tell you mine." She shifted again, now laying more on top of him than against him, and the movement brought them closer. She hoped she sounded calmer than she felt. His nearness was making her lightheaded-or perhaps it was the drink. Either way, she was finding it difficult to focus on anything other than him.
"I won't be tricked that easily," he murmured, breath tickling her lips.
"Of course not, a great mage like you won't give up something for nothing," she grinned, leaning closer and meeting his eye from beneath long lashes before she knew what she was doing. Even in her drunkenness she knew this moment. An invitation. The moment stretched out until Numair pulled back with a strangled laugh.
"I think it's time to get you inside." He sat up, pulling her with him, and she released a breath she didn't know she had been holding. She was sure she was blushing, but was also sure she wasn't the only one.
"Why?" She pouted, bits of hay sticking out from her curls.
"It's late, and cold." He shivered for emphasis.
"Was I not keeping you warm enough?" She giggled again.
"That seems like a question I'd be better off avoiding." He stood, holding out his hand to help her up. She accepted and he pulled her to him, both of them stumbling. Daine fell and Numair nearly went with her, barely maintaining his own balance before pulling her up once more and sliding a hand around her waist to hold her-and himself-steady.
The walked together-leaning on one another for support-as Daine used her free hand to pick bits of hay from her clothing and hair.
"You're drunk," she laughed when he stumbled next.
"You're drunk." He shot back as they nearly avoided walking into a fence.
"We're both drunk." She plucked a strand of hay from behind his ear, slurring her words. "You know, I don't think we've ever been drunk together."
"That can't be true." He shook his head. "The Rider's party three summer's ago-"
"No, I was drunk. Sarge convinced me to play that drinking game. You held my hair back and gave him a lecture."
"When you and Lindhall were at my tower last summer."
"No, you and Lindhall were very drunk. I held your hair back and learned far too much about your," she shot him a sour look, "former lovers."
"Ah, yes. We do not need to relive that night."
"Oh no, it was all very enlightening."
"You're a woman of many interests." He partially trampled a bush as they stopped at her door.
"Not really," she eyed him as slyly as someone who was made up of at least half alcohol could. "I like drinking with you, though."
"Is that so?"
"I like doing everything with you." She leaned against her door. "I like doing new things with you."
"New things?" He leaned over her, moonlight allowing her to make out his features-barely.
"Yes," she murmured, "like drinking." She felt breathless, suddenly, and looked down.
"I like doing things with you, too." He said quietly and she smiled, swaying in place and turning her attention to her door.
She fumbled for a moment before the lock clicked and she tottered in, laughing and nearly falling again.
"Careful." Numair chided, following her and swearing when he stumbled over the threshold. He moved past her as she closed the door and lit the lantern on her dresser. He stayed with his back turned to her for a moment before turning around and flashing her a smile.
"I should let you get some sleep." He took a step and she moved to let him pass, leaning against the wall. He paused when his hand was on the handle, hovering over her and peering at her intently.
"Will you be alright?" He placed a hand under her chin, guiding her face upwards to get a better look at her.
"Your hands are still cold," she murmured, meeting his gaze through her lashes.
"What?" He barely had time to speak before she covered his hand with her own and closed the distance between them, crushing her lips against his own.