They don’t really have names, not like people do; their names are more like feelings, things you can’t articulate out loud in Expellian words. So he doesn’t really argue with Rena when she names them Creepy and Weepy; it’s not like he can explain that their names are closer to a hot wind whipping over sand and the weight of a glacier crushing down than any rhyming little nickname she could give to them. They don’t care what she (or anyone else) calls them and they don’t bother having a name for any of his friends, so it’s easier for everyone just to let it be. His dragons are Creepy and Weepy to his friends and his friends are nothing more than flies buzzing about to his dragons.
Their thoughts come in flashes of hot and cold that threaten to take over everything when they’re agitated, threatened. When Ashton had still been trying to exorcise them, his life had been a constant throbbing headache as they tried anything they could to get him to stop thinking about that, stop thinking at all. And the worst part of all is that none of them notice anything’s wrong-- why would they? They’ve only just met, and the only Ashton they know is forgetful and stammering and sometimes enemies with his own feet. He learns what he can and can’t do (can’t spend too much time near Rena or Celine, can’t contemplate what he’ll do in some nebulous future without a pair of dragons on his back, can’t even think about approaching the symbology department of the university once they reach Linga), and so long as he follows the rules he can mostly think the way he’s used to.
They call Ashton something that’s rather like a summer thunderstorm sprung up sudden and violent, and that gives him a little bit of hope that they’re coming to an accord. If they think he is so powerful, maybe they can all work together. Nobody has to exorcise anyone or try to tangle up anyone’s mind or feet or anything else. Things are a little bit better, for awhile.
It’s in Linga, after they meet Bowman-- around the time the dragons have taken enough notice of Celine to give her a name that’s a feeling of cold dread creeping down the back of his neck-- that Ashton notices that not all of this is in his head. No, not at all, because there they are winding over his back and up his neck: scales, tiny and metallic and winking red and blue at him. Until now he could avoid it, but there it is staring at him in the mirror, the fact that these monsters aren’t going to stop until they’re all that’s left.
“Ashton, dear,” Celine murmurs one day as they’re walking through the terrifyingly silent forest that is El now. “We have to talk.”
Ashton isn’t stupid, for all the dragons are doing their best to make him that way. He knows full well the only reason they think of Celine as danger is that she is both the only person who might suspect and the only person who might be able to do something about it. Her power thrums and crackles, lightning in a bottle, even to someone with only the bare hint of talent to sense it that Ashton has. Rena has that power, too, a different and even scarier one, but they don’t think she’ll see. Not a fly anymore, perhaps, but not anything more dangerous than a bumblebee-- a sting, but not the temperament to use it.
Yes please thank you is what he tries to say, but what comes out is a choked jumble of syllables all run together.
“I was talking,” she says, and the lightning sparks as it crashes against the glass, “to Ashton.”
The entire exchange is so quiet that no one else hears them. Why would anyone else be listening? It’s not as if they expect to hear Celine and Ashton talk about anything other than luck spells or the market value of some trinket she’s found or perhaps who they liked best in the Tournament of Arms (all things that they have, in fact, talked about in the moments the dragons tolerate the fear one of his few real friends inspires in them), and so they march on ahead and talk amongst themselves. Celine drops the subject, but she doesn’t speed up her steps. Instead she keeps time next to him, and the dragons squirm.
He catches a glimpse of himself in a shattered mirror in Eluria; his pupils are elongated, almost slits. No one’s noticed yet, because no one pays much attention to Ashton when he hasn’t run into a wall or tripped a trap or knocked over a priceless artifact (aside from Celine, of course, and he’s got a growing suspicion that Leon-- falling star bringing destruction with it, because apparently if Celine is every fear they’ve ever had then tiny, bratty Leon with power bursting out of every inch of his skin is to them what the damned Sorcery Globe is to people-- is watching him with ever-increasing fascination). Still, he takes off his headband and lets his hair fall into his eyes, hides them a little better.
Celine keeps trying, but it’s even harder to listen to her this close to the Sorcery Globe; the dragons can feel every thrum of the horrible, maddening thing, and it sings to them the same way it does every other demon and monster and unclean thing they’ve fought to get this far. (Why hadn’t anyone listened to him? Every other monster they’ve come across has been the same, and the intelligent ones are worse. Why is the one exception the one that’s possessed their friend against his will?)
They’ve just stepped onto the top floor of the tower, which is even worse than the rest-- voices coming from the sky and sending Claude running away from them as fast as he can go, only to vanish without so much as a stirring of the air to show where he’d been an instant before-- when Ashton realizes something terrifying and in retrospect sickeningly obvious about how the dragons refer to him. His name isn’t a sign of respect or partnership from them; it’s a mark of weakness, a joke. It’s funny.
A thunderstorm that rises in the summer, no matter how destructive, is over quickly.