Numair sighed as he ran out of ink once more and dipped his quill, barely refraining from complaining that they had been out of his preferred brand again —he couldn't take the teasing that she would bestow on him if he made that mistake again.
"That's Merpeople done," he murmured, more to himself than to his companion, "though someday I hope we have the chance to elaborate on this section. I'm curious to see if they begin to differ by region the longer they are in the mortal realms."
Daine made a non-committal noise. She sat on the opposite side of the scroll-laden table, tapping her notes with her own quill. Since midwinter they had finally had the opportunity to undertake a project that had been on the back-burner for years—compiling their field notes into a modern compendium of Immortals. Numair had been itching to put the project to parchment for years now and while Daine did share his enthusiasm her mind was elsewhere.
"What's next? Griffins or Ogres?" He didn't look up as he crossed off merpeople from his running list of entries. "Ogres share more similarity from a social perspective, but geographically Griffin's share a more common habitat." When only the scratching of his quill against parchment answered him he glanced up, "Daine?"
"Hm?" She fiddled with the quill, moving it back and forth between her fingers. "Oh, Griffins."
"Do you remember if we've been able to confirm how far up the coast they're currently roosting?" He paused, brow knit. "Nesting? I suppose we should settle on a term."
Daine chewed on the end of her quill, nodding. Numair looked up with a sigh.
"Perhaps that's enough for today. Before you eat the rest of my quills," he looked at the instrument in his own hand, considering it, "although that would give me an excuse to buy new ones, I suppose."
"I'm sorry," she shook her head, "I'm fair distracted today."
"Well, spring is in the air," he placed his parchment on the table taking care not to smudge the ink. "I won't blame you for wanting an afternoon to enjoy the fresh air."
She deposited her own work on the table and leaned back in her chair. He stood, stretching his arms and neck after sitting for so long in one position. When she didn't follow he paused, watching her as she stared out the window.
"Daine?" He arched an eyebrow, not sure whether he should be concerned or amused.
She sighed, looking at him. "I have something I need to tell you."
"Alright," he responded when she didn't elaborate. Another beat of silence passed and he laughed, nerves starting to set in. "Should I be sitting down?"
"Perhaps," she sighed. "I'm not sure how you're going to react, to be honest."
"Magelet, you know you can tell me anything." He settled against the table, crossing his arms and giving her his undivided attention. She hesitated, taking a deep breath.
"Alistair asked me to marry him."
Numair blinked and turned his focus away from her. He cleared his throat as he stood, shuffling the parchments in front of him into a pile without checking if they had dried. "Congratulations are in order," he looked up at her with a smile that did not reach his eyes, "I told you you'd be married before you knew it."
"I haven't given him an answer yet." She was regarding him carefully, but he was doing his best to avoid her gaze.
"Why not?" He reached across the table, gathering their materials into piles with little design.
She sighed, "I don't know, I—" she shook her head. "I just wanted to talk to you first, I suppose." Her words were quiet and he had to pause to hear them, taking a deep breath.
He turned away, placing a book onto the nearby shelf. "You should do what makes you happy, Daine. And he seems to make you happy."
"He does," she stood and walked to the windowsill where she leaned against it, looking out. "So you would be okay with it?"
He laughed, "If I remember correctly, I was explicitly banned from being your matchmaker after Carthak," he glanced at her and received a sour look in response. "Which I have respected ," he offered in response before turning back to the shelf. "I don't really think I should factor into your romantic decisions." He didn't see the pang in her expression as he said it.
"I value your opinion, and this is a fair important decision."
"And I value your ability to make the decision that is best for you . I just want you to be happy." He couldn't look at her.
"And you think marriage would make me happy?"
"To the right person, I would hope so."
"Do you think he's the right person?"
"That's certainly not something I can answer for you, Daine. Only you can know that," he shook his head. "You love him, yes?" He asked, quietly. He clenched his jaw, willing himself to maintain composure.
"Yes, but," she sighed, "you don't think it's too soon?"
He almost laughed; almost. "You've been courting for what, two years? I'm honestly not sure how any man could wait that long to ask for your hand; I don't think I would last a month." His hand froze on the binding of a green-bound book. He found himself holding his breath as realization and dismay at his own words set in.
He licked his lips, searching for something to say; some way to take it back. He struggled to regain composure before turning to her with a half smile, hoping she was too preoccupied to catch the meaning behind his misstep. But when he faced her understanding was written on every inch of her. The way she looked at him—pity and distress and something else he didn't know how to place—knocked the wind out of him.
He laughed and tried to dismiss the understanding between them, "If I had met the right person, I mean. I'm not sure I could wait to ask her ."
"No, you didn't." She said it so matter-of-factly. His face fell, color draining from his normally swarthy complexion. He shook his head, feeling his breath coming in short and panicked waves, and searched for words though they had already failed him. Words that would not betray him further.
"Why now?" Her voice cracked. "After all this time? After—" she looked away, eyes over-bright. "That's fair cruel, Numair." Her voice was small. It reminded him of the girl she was when she first came to Tortall; a girl he hadn't heard in a long time. One who reminded him of just how young she was. Reminded him of all the reasons he had to let so much pass between them without taking action.
"Daine," it sounded like a plea if he had ever heard one.
"No," she shook her head and pushed away from the sill. "You've waited this long; you can wait a bit more." She ran a hand through her hair, leaving it tousled.
"I'm not sure—" He stopped when she held up a hand and shot him a warning look.
"I have something I need to do, and then I will be back. We'll talk." She turned to leave, hesitating at the doorway as she looked back at him with a shake of her head. The disappointment written on her face was the last thing he saw before she disappeared from view.
He sat down carefully, as if not to disturb the wreckage of so many things laying in that room, and watched as the afternoon turned to dusk.