The evacuation drill was, Zazu thought, something of a betrayal. Here they were, bunking down in the Cephiran castle for a week or so of blissfully peaceful leave after a tour which had taken them way out into the backwaters of the Alliance before they pulled back in to Cephiro – and then the Cephirans up and set off an alarm on them at three in the morning, just when he’d managed to get decently to sleep?
He knew it was a drill, from the moment the alarms went off, because as soon as he bolted upright (and fell out of bed with a thump more startling than it was painful, tangled up in the bedsheets – the guest rooms thankfully had luxuriously thick rugs by the beds) he remembered the smile on Eagle’s face at dinner that night. It was the one which crinkled about the eyes but only just made it to his lips, which meant something was up, but Zazu had been too excited about the leave to really worry about it.
(He wasn’t good at noticing people, but, well. He liked Eagle, and liking Eagle meant worrying about Eagle, which meant watching him for signs of overdoing things or of mad plans in the making – and learning their commander’s somewhat quirky sense of humour was self-defence on the NSX. Eagle was only just back in charge, but Zazu remembered his expressions well enough.)
Which meant this drill was nothing more than a drill, and sanctioned by Eagle, probably to keep the crew on their toes and remind them this still wasn’t home. The crew of the NSX had been mostly adopted by Cephiro, and visa versa, in the past few years; Zazu had heard Eagle worrying about their becoming too comfortable, taking liberties with their freedom here – there were strict laws on what could be imported or exported from Cephiro, for one thing. And Eagle would know better than most how difficult a cross-cultural relationship could be.
Zazu lay on the floor, his feet still caught on the bed, as most of that spilled through his head – and was strongly tempted to just stay where he was. Or at least in his room. The air had a cold bite to it, and he was tired. Yes, it was important everyone knew how to get out of this ridiculous building if it caught on fire or something equally as unlikely, but right now he just wanted to get back into bed…
A knock at the door, five seconds before it was opened, the strangely fluting siren getting louder as sound flooded in from the corridor. “Hey – sorry, Zazu, are you awak- …Are you okay?”
He recognised Ascot’s voice, even if the shadow in his doorway was unrecognisable while backlit and upside down. “’M fine.” Zazu flailed one hand above himself, not moving; bad enough he’d been caught falling out of bed, he wasn’t going to exacerbate it by trying to untangle himself from the sheets. “Your rugs are comfy.”
“…Thank you?” Ascot stepped inside, the door swinging shut behind him, and Zazu stopped squinting as the room dimmed again. “Um. The sirens are for an evacuation, so, if you could get up…”
“Can’t I just stay here?” Zazu whined, wrapping his arms across his eyes. “We both know it’s a drill!”
Ascot laughed, and there was a tug on Zazu’s legs as he pulled the sheet free. “Drill or not, I’m evacuation warden for this level, and I need you to leave. We could carry you out, if you want to be an injured person?”
It was tempting. But Zazu sighed, as his legs came free, dismissing the impulse – whining was bad enough, he didn’t want to be that childish. “Nah, just give me a moment to get a jacket. …Thanks, by the way.”
“You’re welcome.” It still sounded like Ascot was laughing, but Zazu had been campaigning to get Ascot laughing more often for years, now, and even if it was laughing at him there was never anything mean in it. Ascot’s friendship, when given, was unshakable. “Sorry I wasn’t there at dinner last night. I didn’t get back to the Castle until you’d come to bed, and I didn’t know what shift you’d been working. My friends will be happy to see you - Pajero still keeps trying to persuade me he could be a robot if I helped him, which is all your fault.”
“Sorry?” Zazu said, accepting a hand to haul himself upright. He stumbled, head fizzing with static as he got to his feet, and mostly fell into Ascot’s chest and a startled hug. “Um. Whoops.”
“…You’re sure you’re alright?” Ascot asked, and Zazu could see the worried expression on his face clearly at this close distance.
“Fine! Honest! Headrush.” He leant into his friend for a moment more, the warmth comfortable – before he made himself step away and find that jacket, stomping his feet into his boots. “Okay. So, where do we go next?”
Ascot blinked at him, as Zazu opened the door and the light in the corridor half-blinded them. There were footsteps lower down, but there was no one left in sight. “You don’t have to stay with me. You shouldn’t, really – I’m meant to send you on.”
Zazu shoved his hands in his pockets, and shrugged, grinning. The light and the company together meant he was mostly awake by now. “Hey, at least you know I’m not sneaking back to bed if I’m with you? Besides, we may as well start catching up now – it’s been six months since I was here! Messages aren’t like really talking, you know? I missed you. And your friends.”
The shy smile on Ascot’s face was always a prize, even now Zazu won them more easily. “Well, if you insist…”
It took five minutes to sweep the rest of the rooms in the area and then make their own way out of the building, down the emergency ramps which grew from various of the windows on each floor as soon as the alarms went off, spiralling out to end in the gardens a safe distance from the building. Their unhurried walk down – still chatting – had Ferio shaking his head at the two of them when Ascot went to report in, but he didn’t say anything, just waved them away.
The night-time air was cold enough Zazu was chilly even with the jacket, and Ascot was shivering in spite of the cloak he wore – they stayed with the crowd of sleepy evacuees for a minute or two, but nothing much was happening; Ascot tapped on Zazu’s shoulder, and lead him a little way further into the gardens, where there was an open clearing in one of the small orchards. He looked about, slightly furtive, then raised his hands – and there was a happy chattering noise as Pajero shimmered into being, rushing at Zazu with an enthusiasm which would have knocked him over if Ascot hadn’t jumped forward to catch him.
“Pajero! Stop that!” Ascot scolded, but Zazu just laughed, rubbing the creature on the head as it chittered away in the strange click-whistle sounds he was still learning to recognise.
“He’s fine – are you glad to see me, buddy? I missed you too! This guy’s still not helping you transform into a robot, I hear?”
“He only wants to do so because he thinks he’ll be able to sleep while he works like that.” Ascot grumbled, but he was reaching about Zazu to pet Pajero’s head with one hand, the other still about Zazu’s waist, and Zazu was plenty warm enough sandwiched between the two. He twisted far enough to grin back at Ascot – and realised, with something like shock, that he must have grown these last six months; he had been about as tall as Ascot’s shoulder when he left, or only a little taller.
Now he was a good three inches above that – close to being face-to-face with him; something he hadn’t noticed in the dark of his room, but out here there was starlight enough to see, even without the height of the castle gleaming slightly to light the evacuation bridges.
The realisation made him pause, forgetting what he’d been about to say as he stared at Ascot’s eyes, startled again by how bright they were. Pajero chose that moment to nudge forward, and he lost his balance, falling against Ascot’s arms for the second time that evening, and Ascot kept him upright with a startled cut-off sound. “Hey- Pajero, cut that out!”
“It’s – it’s okay.” Zazu said, again, though his voice shook a little this time, and he couldn’t seem to stop staring at Ascot – who was starting to look worried again when Zazu didn’t let go. “I’m fine, really! I just-“ It was, he thought, in a kind of daze – it was probably a bad moment to suddenly notice quite how handsome Ascot was, with those worried eyes fixed on him, such a clear green. “Y-you don’t have a hat on?” He managed, after a moment.
“…You’re not meant to stop and pick things up, in an evacuation.” Ascot flushed, slightly – and he wasn’t letting go, not even as Pajero shifted away a little, finding a comfortable patch of ground to curl up on while he was being ignored. “These clothes were in my glove, but my hat was in my room, so-“
“But you let me get my jacket?” Zazu asked, confused, and then watched as the flush deepened across Ascot’s cheeks.
“You don’t like the cold.” Shrugging, Ascot looked away – and Zazu didn’t stop to think about it, just followed the instinct which urged him to lean in, stretch up the short distance and turn Ascot’s face back towards him with one hand so he could press their lips together.
It was short – Ascot stumbled, eyes wide with shock, and the kiss broke as they both regained their balance. Zazu flushed, biting his lip as Ascot stared at him, trying to come up with some form of apology… and then Ascot was leaning down, hesitating, and Zazu reached up again to drag him close.
They didn’t notice when the sirens stopped, and if anyone came to tell them they could go back inside, they must have taken one look at the scene and decided to leave them alone until they came to their senses again; only when the lights about the castle faded away did they break apart, look at each other – and both break into quiet laughter.
Zazu pulled Ascot closer, still laughing, and pulled him down so he could kiss him one last time. “I missed you. And I missed Pajero and all your friends – but can we please go back inside now? I can’t feel my feet anymore.”
“Yes- yes, of course.” Ascot was still bright red, but smiling, and Pajero made an amused noise when Ascot turned to return him to – wherever it was the creatures stayed when they weren’t summoned, Zazu had listened to Ascot’s explanations of the theory many times but it never really stuck.
They walked back to the castle hand-in-hand, and the Guard left on the gate took one look at their red faces and grinned – not unkindly, just enough to make them both flush again.
Ascot bid Zazu goodnight outside his door, and hesitated – then dipped to press one last kiss on Zazu’s cheek, before fleeing to his own room. Zazu kicked off his boots and fell into bed still in his jacket, still grinning, and without any thoughts of revenge on those who called for night-time drills.