The cloud of steam rising from the pot was rather… green.
Ascot wasn't sure that was right. But he didn't have much experience with Autozam's food - all he'd seen before were the strange jelly-filled pastry things Zazu brought down to Cephiro when he wanted to have lunch while he was hanging out in Eagle's sickroom, or the general vicinity thereof. So Ascot just edged away from the pot, eyeing it sideways.
He was only up on the NSX so his friends could help give Geo and a few other officers a lift down to Cephiro. The little shuttles the NSX carried could do the job, but they had the same kind of issues as all Autozam's technology - they weren't exactly kind to the people using them. Ascot was just one of the people who had been roped in to giving them an alternative while they were parked, a whole ship hovering anxiously over their Captain.
Hopefully Eagle would wake up pretty soon; the looming shadow kept surprising Ascot when he left the Castle, and he didn't like his friends getting too close to it unless he was there on business.
Still, Zazu wasn't bad company, when he wasn't taking things apart and asking Ascot complicated questions about how magic worked. He liked Ascot's friends, which was the only criteria which really mattered after all. And the other crewmembers were a lot less wary of them after they saw Zazu trying to persuade Yaris to come lift him up to the ceiling so he didn't have to climb a ladder. (Yaris had obliged.)
So Ascot had agreed to this whole ferrying people about; it gave him a way to be helpful without getting in the way. Only this time, instead of a bunch of people waiting for him in the hanger, he'd arrived to find they were all still in a meeting. One young woman in an oil-smudged uniform had been waiting for him and waved him in here, the 'canteen', to wait. It wasn't lunchtime yet, so no one else was in there - she'd offered him a drink before leaving him with a large choice of chairs and nothing to do but stare at the one lidded pot on the hotplate at the end of the room.
When he'd arrived it had been steaming a little, but nothing like it was now. It almost looked more like smoke than steam, and the smell was- bad, stinging the back of his throat. He stepped back again, more and more certain that this wasn't right; but he didn't know how he could raise an alarm, or where he could find anyone on this huge ship. Maybe if he just stepped out of the door and called out-
The door opened before he could reach it, and Geo was at the front of the small group of people who entered, all pulling immediate faces at the smell. Ascot's relief at no longer being alone with a decision to make was swiftly lost under apprehension as Geo's eyebrows pulled together and he stalked across the room, yanking the pot off the hotplate and turning it off with a button that was hidden in a recessed panel. He then threw the pot into a larger pot and threw a lid on that, which did mostly contain the smoke, before turning back around. He looked furious,
"I'm sorry," Ascot started to say, "I didn't know what to-"
Geo raised a hand, shaking his head. "Not your fault you didn't expect experiments in the breakroom," he muttered, voice gruff, before stomping back to the door and opening it far enough he could bellow down the corridor. "Zazu Torque! What have I told you about using the canteen for anything but food!"
A clang and some muffled swearing along the way were swiftly followed by Zazu's appearance, smudged all over with oil and with a wrench in his hand. "Shit, did it melt already? I only put it on a minute ago- hey, Ascot, I didn't know you'd be up here today-"
Geo pulled himself up to his considerable height, folded his arms, and glared at Zazu. "Stop dodging the topic. No! Engineering! In the canteen!"
Ascot took a step away, but the sharp tone had very little impression on Zazu, who just waved a hand.
"I just needed to get a bit more oil heated, I was running out and I didn't want to quit halfway through fixing the steering controls."
"They only needed fixing because you decided to mess with them!" Geo snapped, rubbing a hand over his face. "Your oil block burnt dry and was trying to poison your friend Ascot, not to mention the rest of us who walked in here!"
"It did? Shit, sorry, Ascot. It's not very toxic even if it catches fire, so it shouldn't be a problem-"
"No," Geo shook his head, grabbed Zazu by the shoulders, and spun him about. "No, the problem here is definitely you. Excuse us, please." He pushed Zazu out the door, and it shut firmly behind them, Zazu's protests faintly echoing back to them as he was steered along the corridor.
Ascot stared at the door, not sure what to think, for the entire thirty seconds before the three other crewmembers reminded him they were there by bursting into laughter. Ascot turned to stare at them, as one of them went to start clearing up the only faintly smoking pot, and the other two headed for the hot-drink urns at the side of the room.
"Who bets our mechanic's getting kicked off-ship for another 'vacation'?" the man dealing with the pot asked.
"He hasn't started redoing the wiring again this time," one of the two women said, filling a mug. "Hey, you - Ascot? Is that your name? Do you want a drink?" Ascot shook his head, speechless. "Help yourself if you decide otherwise, it'll take half an hour for Torque to find a change of clothes that doesn't have oil all over. Anyway, sooner they tell us how long the Captain's going to be out of it, the better. Torque's not the only one getting a little giddy with the inactivity."
"Yes, we all heard about Kia going around short-sheeting all the beds he could get to," the last woman said, cradling her own drink. "At least that doesn't make such a terrible smell."
"Or cut all power to the washers for a week, remember that?" the man said, sounding almost fond as he worked with a cloth on the blackened pot. "And that was with the Captain here to try and stop him tearing the ship apart to 'fix' her."
Ascot sat himself down and listened, eyes wide, to the various disruptions Zazu - and other crew members - had caused out of boredom over the years. By the time Geo returned, a slouching Zazu with a bag and slightly more respectable clothes behind him, Ascot wasn't surprised to be told Zazu was coming with them and would be spending some time 'getting to know our allies in Cephiro'.
He was just slightly worried that the castle wasn't going to survive the experience.
When they landed, Zazu stood there glaring up at the Castle while the rest of the party headed inside with no hesitations. Ascot hung back beside him.
"If you'd like," he started, hesitantly.
Zazu flinched and looked at him, pasting a belated smile on his face. "Yes? …I really am sorry you got stuck with all the oil fumes, I didn't think anyone would be going in there that time of day."
"That's-" Ascot shrugged. 'Fine' didn't seem quite the right word, he didn't want to encourage further fumigation. "I was just thinking. There's a group of Guards going out tomorrow to explore another bit of Cephiro. They'll be travelling a couple of days, mapping places no one has seen yet. I could - would you like to go with them? If LaFarga says it's okay?"
Zazu blinked at him, then smiled again, the smile smaller but nicer, somehow. "Thanks. That sounds like it could be interesting. You're going too?"
Ascot nodded. He wasn't going to send Zazu off alone with a bunch of strangers. "I could go ask LaFarga - I'll see you at dinner?" he asked, and fled as soon as Zazu agreed, shooting into the castle and almost hoping LaFarga would tell him it was a foolish idea, not even sure why he'd suggested it, but… If he was the one banned from the NSX for a week, he wouldn't want to spend that week sulking underneath it. Besides, away from the castle he could let his friends get a bit more exercise. Zazu hadn't even met all of them yet. It was a good opportunity, that was all.