Zazu was on his back in one of the crawlspaces that gave access to the NSX’s engines, headlight illuminating his arms tangled in the wiring above his head, when someone out in the engine room tapped on his ankle.
“Hey, Chief? Your nice young man is here to see you,” Forza chirped at him, and his hands jolted so hard he almost dropped his screwdriver on his own head.
He could hear Ascot’s voice, further away, murmuring a protest. Probably at either ‘nice’ or ‘young’, as since the fire-drill last week they’d been sidling towards something like a relationship… and his entire department had apparently decided flustering Zazu was the best game ever. (He thought some of the Guard in Cephiro might have tried the same at Ascot, if more gently. They’d certainly loomed at him enough for a day when the rumours started going about that he knew they were protective of Ascot - he just wasn’t sure Ascot had realised as much, or how he would take even gentle teasing. But the combined threat of LaFarga, who was their boss, and Caldina, who was just generally terrifying, seemed to be holding them back.)
(Of course, Caldina was teasing Ascot terribly herself, but for all that he went red and spluttered at her, he didn’t actually mind it. He’d told Zazu sheepishly that he’d be worried she was ill if she hadn’t taken the opportunity.)
Flushing, hoping there was enough grease smeared on his face that it wasn’t that noticeable, he extracted his arms and rolled himself out into the main room, pushing up from the flat trolley as soon as his head was clear. Unfortunately, he did both with too much emphasis. The trolley was still rolling, and whacked the back of his ankles just as he flung himself upright. Zazu yelped, as he started to fall sideways, only to crash into Ascot as Ascot tried to catch him. Then they were both falling - straight towards an open maintenance hatch.
There was a flash of light, and several startled yelps from the room at large as clawed hands wrapped about them both. Ascot’s friend - Yaris - held them gently as he set them upright.
Forza was the closest of the other people, and after a moment she patted Yaris on one large feathered arm with a grin. “They’re lucky to have you about, fella!”
“If you’d set the shield on that hatch, he wouldn’t have needed to catch us!” Zazu snapped, before turning to Ascot. “Are you alright? I slammed right into you-”
“I’m fine,” Ascot said, though he was bright red with the attention, and not looking about. From the suddenness of Yaris’s appearance, Zazu assumed he’d appeared without a formal summoning, which he knew was one of the things Ascot and his friends could pull off that made other people uneasy. “I’m sorry that Yaris scared your people-”
At that, Forza snorted loud enough that they both turned to her. “Startled us, but didn’t scare us. Anyone who saves our chief-brat and means the rest of us don’t have to get into the wiring is more than welcome in our space.” Then she grinned. “And have you met our Commander when he’s in a mood? Nothing’s ever going to be scarier than he is.”
Rio, one of the electrical specialists, had been the other side of the room - Zazu rather thought he was one of the people who had yelled. But he came over now, grinning from ear to ear. “Forza’s right, for once - about your friends, anyway, though not about hatch covers! Zazu’s told us enough about your friends that it feels like we know them already.” He turned to Yaris, and nodded. “Pleased to meet you. And you’ll take care of our boy when he’s out and about with your friend, won’t you? He’s pretty useless at dealing with anything that doesn’t have gears, he needs all the help he can get.”
“I’m twenty one years old!” Zazu grouched, automatically, flushing harder than ever - but not taking his arm from Ascot’s waist for a moment. “I can look after myself!”
It was impossible to make an impression on people he’d been working with since he was first assigned to the NSX at fifteen. He’d been nominally in charge of them for almost as long, but they were a cheerfully insubordinate bunch. They just grinned at him - and Rio reached out to pat his head, flattening his hat. Zazu waved his hand away, and glared first at him, then at Forza - who kicked the button to turn the shield on over the hatch before he could hiss about it again, looking far too innocent.
Which probably meant that the shield had been on and Zazu had managed to stumble on the button as he flailed upright. Otherwise she would be looking guilty, rather than amused. He took a deep breath, and tried to stand upright in a dignified manner. “I’m going to take my break. Everyone, leave this section isolated, and get back to work!”
Grinning, the people about the room all turned back to their tasks, leaving Zazu to take Ascot’s hand and pull him from the room without anyone staring. (Someone was whistling the tune to one of the current cutesy pop songs from back home, but if he tried hard he could pretend he didn’t know the lyrics.) The doors into the main hall were large enough Yaris could follow them, looking about with curiosity, but there wasn’t much else he would be able to get into. Zazu looked up at him apologetically, but before he could start apologising, Yaris chirped, patted him on the head just as Rio had, and flashed out of sight.
Zazu blinked at thin air, and then at Ascot. “Do I want to know what he said?”
“Er.” Ascot’s lips twitched towards a laugh, but he repressed it. “…He said he’d look after you if you needed him to?”
That… was probably not all of it, from the renewed flush on Ascot’s face, but Zazu decided it was safer not to ask. He took Ascot’s hand more firmly in his own, and headed along the corridor. “The mess is down this way, if you wanted to get a drink - or did you come over on official business? Do you need me to track Eagle or Geo down?”
“No, it’s not official, it’s… you said it would be nice if I could be around when you took a break, yesterday?”
Zazu remembered that. He also remembered that he’d said it in between several lengthly kisses, and that he’d told Ascot that it was just a thought, he definitely didn’t need to come all the way to the NSX just so Zazu could hang out with him for half an hour when they’d see each other in the evening anyway. That it was a selfish wish, and Ascot should ignore it, he hadn’t meant to say it out loud. (Even if he was going to miss him, this first day he had a full workshift scheduled since they’d arrived in Cephiro this time.)
That he’d come anyway made Zazu’s breath catch, and he couldn’t stop the smile which was probably making him look ridiculous. “I did,” he said, and his voice caught on the words.
Ascot put the slightest pressure on his hand, and Zazu stopped, turning to him. The corridor was deserted in both directions - not that strange, as most of the crew were still lounging about on Cephiro - so there was no one to see as Ascot leaned in slightly and then hesitated.
Closing the gap, Zazu leaned up to kiss him, forgetting about the grease smudged all over his face, and his clothes. Ascot didn’t seem to care, mouth opening against his, arms wrapping about him and pulling him closer.
There was a muffled cheer from the engine room. Zazu ignored it, and kept right on kissing Ascot until they both needed to stop to breathe. And when he moved again, it wasn’t towards the mess hall, but down a side corridor, towards the officer’s rooms which would be deserted this time of day.
He was late back from his break, and got several knowing looks for it, and the crumpled state of his clothes. Zazu ignored them all, worming his way back into the NSX’s wiring with a grin on his face and a lightness in his chest that no teasing could alter. Not even the fact he’d barely eaten anything. Kissing Ascot was a far better way to spend his lunch than any other he could think of.