Numair settled into the basin, sighing as the warmth of the water soothed his aching body. He leaned back, allowing his head to drop against the basin, and couldn't help but smile. He was still vexed with her, to be sure, but the knowledge that she returned his feelings eclipsed even the despair of the previous months.
He'd been reluctant to have her go when they reached his room. In truth, he wanted nothing more for her to stay by his side for as long as possible but he was road-weary, and hungry, and fairly sure he did not smell particularly nice. He was certainly not in any fit state for spending an evening together as lovers. He felt himself blush at the thought. Daine, his lover.
He pushed the thought away as best he could. Despite what had transpired in her room over the summer, he did not want them to rush into anything she wasn't ready for. While he was fair certain she had been with other men—an irksome thought, to say the least—crossing that line in their own relationship was significant. They would need to talk more about the implications of their new relationship, but that was a topic he was prepared to shelf for now—even if he could not fully dispel his fantasies.
He had just about fallen asleep, and hardly washed, when the sound of the door opening and closing roused him. He froze before remembering Daine had told him she would ask for food to be sent.
"If you could please place it on the credenza I would appreciate it," he called out, hearing movement from behind the privacy screen. "There are a few coppers there for your trouble."
"You can keep your coppers," Daine appeared as she moved around the screen and Numair let out a yelp, blushing.
"Daine, I—" She cut him off with a laugh, and tossed a towel into the basin with him. He pulled it into place across his waist, supposing some modesty was better than none. "Daine, I'm a little indisposed." He said, finally, and she laughed again.
"Well if you had actually bathed instead of falling asleep in the tub you'd be done by now!" She had disappeared behind the screen once more, but her voice carried. She came back shortly, pulling an end table with a small covered tray with her which she settled next to the basin within his reach. He felt his stomach growl and realized just how hungry he was.
"I can't complain about the service," he said, sheepishly. "Thank you. You didn't have to come back just to drop off my dinner."
"Oh, nonsense; don't think you're rid of me that quickly."
"I'm sorry?" He had been so distracted by exploring his dinner options he hadn't noticed that she had brought a stool over as well, and was now seated behind his head. "Daine," he twisted to try and get a look at her. "I'm sorry but this really isn't appropriate." He blushed, thoughts falling on the more sordid implications of her being there.
Daine pouted and bit her lip, a habit that never failed to distract him. She sighed and leaned forward, placing a soft kiss on his lips. "I just wanted to see you—we've been apart too long," she murmured. "Do you really want me to leave?"
He paused, trying to arrange a response but hopelessly distracted by the lingering feel of her lips on his. Finally, he sighed and turned back around. "I don't," he said as he reached for a hot roll, noticing that she'd already buttered it for him.
"Good." He knew that tone of voice; she was pleased. "Besides," she leaned forward so that her breath tickled his earlobe, "I've seen you naked before."
Numair felt a hot blush spread from where the warmth of her lips teased his neck all the way down his body. Before he could form a coherent thought, let alone a response, she pulled away with a soft chuckle.
"Bashful, Master Mage?" She reached over him, scooping water into a small basin.
"Magelet, I think you know exactly what you're doing." He turned his head, eyes hot and falling to her lips. It was her turn to blush as she took in the heat in his gaze. She licked her lips and dropped her gaze.
"Playing with fire, no doubt," she grinned, despite herself. "Now turn back round; your dinner is getting cold." He complied, settling back once more and taking another bite of roll. Her fingers landed on his neck, gently sliding up to the base of his head and coaxing him to tilt it further back.
When he did, she poured warm water over his hair. She moved slowly and made sure not to get any on his eyes while letting it fall into a larger basin at her feet. He sighed and closed his eyes, savoring slow bites of a warm dinner, and the feel of her hands as they applied serum to his hair and gently coaxed the knots from his mane.
She worked slowly but steadily, teasing the tangles and rinsing his hair in turn. By the time she finished his dinner had long since been gone and the crackling of the fire was the only sound keeping them company.
"There," her voice was quiet, "now you look more like you." She shifted, moving to kneel next to the basin, and reached out her hand to stroke his face. "More like you, but still very tired. I should leave you to get your rest."
"That would probably be best," he sighed. The regret that had been so clear in her voice was mirrored in his own. He placed a hand over hers, holding it closer to his cheek and kissing her palm. He pushed forward as he pulled her to him, threading a hand through her curls and kissing her so thoroughly he wondered if he were that tired after all. When they parted she kept her forehead pressed against his as they both fought to steady their breathing.
"I love you," she said, between laboured breaths.
"And I you, magelet." He clutched her tighter and willed the moment to last forever, but finally eased his grip if only for the hope that it would be the first of many such moments. She kissed him once more, sweetly, before standing to leave.
Pausing at the screen, she rested a hand on his and turned to him, "Make sure you get enough sleep. Perhaps if you're more rested tomorrow—" she blushed, eyes falling from his gaze. "Well, goodnight."
He sighed when the door closed behind her—both relieved and full of regret. It took all of his willpower to pull himself from the bath and prepare for bed. He was asleep as soon as his head
touched the pillow.
The next day passed quickly enough—a late brunch with Caspian, followed by tours of the Tyran Mages College and lunch with the division masters passed in a blur. Despite his interest in his host's offerings, thoughts of Daine remained at the back of his thoughts no matter the topic at hand. As they moved through the halls, discussing the advancements made in recent years by Tyran herbalists, he couldn't help but turn his head at any flicker of movement in his peripheral—hoping it was her.
Luck was not on his side, however, until dinner finally and mercifully arrived. If thinking of her all day had been a distraction, sitting next to her was torment. It took every inkling of willpower he possessed not to break out into a ridiculous smile when she entered the room, and even more not to blush when she placed her hand on his knee with a light squeeze.
Nevertheless, he managed to engage in conversation throughout the meal with what he hoped was only a friendly familiarity towards his love for those watching them. He could not help, however, notice when she placed a hand over her wine goblet to stop the page from filling it for the gaze she cast in his direction as she did it.
"Not partaking this evening, magelet?" He leaned over, suppressing a grin.
"I'm fair hoping to have plans later tonight, and ones I'd like a clear head for." She blushed and dropped her gaze before turning to a mage on her right who'd asked her a question.
When dinner was cleared, and a suitable amount of dancing had been attempted Numair found her in a quiet corner and tugged at the sleeve of her dress. She followed him, happily, as he led her through the gardens.
Moonlight illuminated the lushness that rapidly enveloped them. The air was thick and sweet, almost as sweet as the feel of her hand in his own. He slowed his pace when he felt they were in a sufficiently discrete area of the garden and allowed her to fall in step. His throat suddenly felt thick, hesitant to break the moment—or to say things that would change things forever. Things were already changed though, the thought came to him as she leaned against his arm in a way that felt familiar. A way that other women on other warm nights had done. A way that she had, once, on that night.
They reached a fork in the path; one leading back around towards the party and the other towards the visitors wing. He stopped, keeping her hand in his own as he turned to her.
"Daine," he licked his lips, "would you—" he faltered and blushed when she laughed quietly.
"Yes?" She stepped closer to him, looking up at him through long lashes. Despite her smirk he could feel her trembling—or was he the one shaking?
He sighed when he met her eye and felt everything fall into place. All the years between them, all the battles and moments that could have—should have—turned into more. He brushed an errant lock from her face. "I would very much like it if you would come to my rooms with me tonight," he murmured, stroking a finger across her bottom lip as it broke into a smile, "if you would like, of course."
She stood on her tip toe and pulled him into a kiss, arms thrown around his neck. He sought to deepen it but she pulled away, grinning, and grasped his hand as she led him towards his rooms.