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Good Company

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Ascot had used up nearly all his magic twice before, in his life. The first time he'd been very small, and collapsed in the woods trying to talk to all his new friends at once, and he spent a month in bed feeling awful afterwards, being looked after by the head of the village who had taken him in.

He didn't like remembering it, because the kindness only made it worse remembering what had happened when they first met his friends - but they had looked after him before that. Not that he really remembered many details, just feeling weak and tired.

The second time had been while Cephiro was falling apart, and he'd felt it happening, felt himself going over the tipping point and collapsing. He spent a day asleep, and was still trying not to use magic if he didn't have to by the time Cephiro was restored. That rush of power seemed to restore him, too, a burst of wellbeing slamming into him. So it hadn't taken him that long to recover, in the end.

This time…

This time it was a perfectly ordinary day until it wasn't. He'd been out in the south-west, helping with construction of a new village - he had a knack for creating things, it turned out, and Clef had persuaded him to go to Presea for some advanced training. She'd declared him more than ready to get out and about helping with the house building and the furnishings a couple of months back, so he'd put himself on the rota - and he enjoyed it, too. Making something useful, something permanent. Umi came along sometimes, but she had faithfully promised that she would spend the day cleaning out the pen the dragonlings were still living in - they were still shedding skin, and sweeping it all up was a complete pain that she kept getting out of.

Or something you thought should be permanent, then you turned at the sound of people yelling and found an entire volcano-laden island crashing down towards you and everyone around you, the village you were building, and the one next to it - the one already populated, with families, and-

"Sound the evacuation bells!" he shouted, even as he flung his hands up and sent every flying friend he had shooting out at the mountain crashing down on them, then tried to reach out and grasp it - bare earth and metal and the smoking heat at the heart of it, and he needed to hold it, not transform it - the pressure on his chest was terrible, crushing, as he grit his teeth and closed his eyes and refused to move.

Behind him, the bell in the shrine started to ring, the sound vibrating through more than just the air - it was hitting his feet through the ground, and it was hitting his chest even before that. His hands were shaking, everything shrieking as he flung enough magic in the air that he felt the hitch in it, far too soon, when he ran out of stored power and began pulling directly from Cephiro - well over the line where he'd fainted before, but he couldn't let go, there were people all around him, he was slowing it - holding it almost still - but he couldn't stabilise the thing, couldn't send it away or find a safe place to drop it, all he could do was hold on-

Light flared beside him, and he heard two voices shouting his name in unison. "Umi, catch Ascot!" Clef ordered, and Ascot shook a little harder - if Clef was here, could he let go, could he-

Arms wrapped about him just as his legs went from under him, and he could feel his connection to his friends snapping one by one as he failed to pull power fast enough to keep all the spells in place, but he still kept grim hold of the mass above them. At least until the sharp crackle of Clef's power filled the air with the tang of ozone, the taste of his power lying metallic on Ascot's tongue as the weight above them shuddered, and lifted.

He let his arms drop, let go of the final spell, and his chest hurt so badly he could hardly breath. Umi was holding him upright - he was against her shoulder, he thought, and was scolding him in a voice which was shaking. Then another set of hands landed on his chest, and a shock of almost-raw magic blasted through him, making his back arch and setting an ache in every bone. But he could breath a little easier. Opening his eyes, he could just about make out Clef's face in front of him.

"Of course you're still conscious, you stubborn- hold on, Ascot, we're taking you back. Umi, you have him?"

"I've got him," Umi agreed, her voice at his shoulder and her arms tightening around his waist.

"Good. Rest, Ascot. It'll be alright."

The fizzle of the transportation spell hit his skin, and it was the final straw - he let his grip on consciousness slip away as the world did.

oOo

The next time he woke up, he was in a bed - his bed, he realised, slowly, with a green-robed healer on either side of him, and Caldina perched by his head, Umi sat at his feet - and Clef leaning on the wall by the door, all of them watching him far too intently - or, no, watching the healers' hands as they rested on his chest.

He felt… like a mountain had fallen on him. Which was probably appropriate, given he rather thought one had.

Umi was the one whose eyes flicked to his face first, and her short movement caught Clef's attention. "Ascot's awake," Clef said, urgency in his voice, and both healers turned - one pulled her hands from the spell over the hollowness of his lungs to brush her hands over his face instead.

"Sleep, and heal," she ordered.

Ascot wasn't sure she even bothered with a spell - he fell back under anyway.

oOo

The next time he woke there was just one healer, and Umi had taken Caldina's perch by the pillows, slowly running her hand over his hair. Caldina, meanwhile, was at the foot of the bed, having a quite but very intense debate with Clef about something, if all the hand-waving was any clue.

He shifted a little, and Umi looked down at him, and smiled. "Hey," she said, voice soft. "Don't worry, they're having an argument over who gets to go destroy the entire Priesthood for dropping an island. Neither have realised LaFarga's already gone. Here, sip this."

She held a glass to his lips and he sipped a little, almost automatically, only realising how dry his throat was when he tried to swallow. The healer, who was still at work - and who he thought actually might be a different man to the one who'd been there earlier, lifted one hand and lay it on the side of Ascot's neck, and with a few more tentative sips, it was a lot less like agony to swallow. But it was incredibly tiring, somehow; he felt Umi moving the glass away as his eyes slid shut, and he couldn't work out how to make his voice work to protest it, and ran out of time before he was asleep again.

oOo

The third time he came too, he felt - exhausted and aching, but more like a person.

He blinked his eyes open, and stirred a little, trying to sit up, and a set of arms wrapped about his back and helped him get higher on the pillows. Blinking, he looked at Umi, then around the room.

"Just you?" he croaked.

Umi held a glass to his lips again - this time he could actually taste the potion that had been added to the water. "Just me," she confirmed. "It's been two days, you've missed the fun part where you had your own personal healer around the clock. You scared me."

"Sorry," Ascot murmured, apologising for the fact she'd been frightened - he wasn't going to apologise for having done it, for all his memory was a little dubious on what he'd done. He remembered the mountain coming down, remembered the bells ringing out alarm.

"I'm meant to be the reckless one," Umi grumped again, holding the glass so he could take another sip. "And Clef's the one who knows how to move mountains about. Leave it to us next time, okay?"

"You weren't there," he pointed out, certain of that.

"You're not going anywhere without at least one of us for the next decade, so we will be next time," Umi said it firmly. Ascot wanted to laugh, but all he managed was a sigh, and his eyes were trying to close again.

"M not sleeping again," he muttered, trying to use her shoulder as leverage to get a bit further upright - only she put one finger on his shoulder and pushed him back down into the pillows.

"Yes, you are. You need to sleep so you can get better. Healer's orders."

"But-"

"Sleep."

oOo

He opened his eyes again to argue with Umi, only to find she was gone, and Clef sat on his other side, concentrating silently on the report he was reading.

Ascot had a moment worrying about Clef being in his bedroom, because they might be seeing each other (and Umi) but they hadn't worked out how to tell Caldina this yet. But that took a lot out of him, as did the stalled fight with Umi.

Clef looked up just as he closed his eyes.

oOo

When he next woke up, Umi was at the end of his bed with one of her notebooks and a textbook at her side, frowning at it and making notes.

This sleeping thing was getting deeply irritating, but the way people kept switching out on him was just - disorienting. "Are you just not letting me be alone?" he grumped, trying to push himself upright. His arms ached at shoulder and elbow, and at every joint through his wrist and hand, but they obeyed his orders this time and managed to get upright.

Umi's head shot up. "Yes," she said, sounding completely serious. "Here, let me get you something to drink."

"I can hold it," he protested, as she picked up the glass from the nightstand and held it to his lips.

"Oh, really?" Umi asked, with a challenging tilt of her head.

Ascot got his hands around the glass, but when Umi started to let go, it tilted uncontrollably, the weight of it too much for his weak control. He glared at his hands and let Umi hold the glass to his lips again.

"Why do I still feel so bad? It wasn't like this last time," he muttered, and Umi snorted at him.

"Well, by most accounts you shouldn't be alive, so you're doing pretty well - you used way more than your own magic, and just hitting the end of that should have knocked you out."

"I was too frightened to pass out," he admitted, letting his eyes close.

Umi stroked one hand over his face, the touch light, and reassuring him this was real, when everything else felt wrong through the layer of pain and whatever potion they had him on. "You're getting better. This will pass, the Healers all agree you're recovering well. Just rest, okay?"

oOo

This time, Clef was curled next to him in the bed, on top of the covers but with one arm around Ascot's shoulders. He noticed Ascot shifting when he woke, and offered him the glass yet again.

Ascot sipped, but eyed it when it was taken away again. "Why don't I need the bathroom?" He asked, suspiciously.

"Healer's spells," Clef told him, pulling him close. "They're coming in every couple of hours to check on you and cast anything necessary."

"Oh. Okay." He rested back on the warmth of Clef's chest, still feeling unpleasantly fuzzy-headed. And Clef was still in Ascot's bed, in his room. "…Caldina's going to kill you when she sees you," Ascot said, leaning harder against Clef. He couldn't find the will to be worried about it, but he felt, blearily, that he should at least point it out.

Clef muttered something against his hair, and it took him a moment to process the noise into words.

"…Did you just say 'she can bite me?'"

"Pretend I managed to say fight, it's a little more dignified," Clef said, and shifted slightly so Ascot could curl further into his lap, pulling the sheets up higher. "At least my death will probably be quick and quiet, if she's trying not to wake you. But it's fine. Go back to sleep."

He should probably object, or something, but Clef was warm and real - warmer than he normally felt, which probably meant Ascot was running cold, and his eyes slid shut.

oOo

Umi was back, the next time he woke up, curled by his feet, but Clef was still acting as his pillow. They were having a very quiet argument over his head.

"But if I go out there, she'll see I've changed, and she'll know I haven't been in here the whole time anyway!"

"At least she knows you're mean to be here - if I go out there we'll end up in a shouting match about me sneaking in which will wake Ascot up."

"Well, why did you sneak in?" Umi sounded - and looked - exasperated. "If you'd just come through the door instead of transporting yourself- "

"Then we'd have argued then, and the longer Ascot can sleep, the better!" Clef snapped, his shoulder shaking slightly under Ascot's head. "We've somehow managed not to let on that we're in a relationship for two months, and Ascot should be the one who decides when we tell her otherwise. Plus, she's terrifying."

"Says the man who made three grown priests cry just by walking into the room and looking at them," Umi muttered.

"And I'm actually holding Cephiro's attention here, which should be helping Ascot, so I should stay and you should go. She's expecting you, you're the one she called out to collect dinner, it's not a terrible crime that you went to change your clothes."

"Because somehow if I'm Ascot's room, that's different to you being here?" Umi glared at Clef, still not spotting that Ascot was awake, which meant she was really irritated.

Clef shifted a little under him, and Ascot had to close his eyes as the world span a little at the motion, so he missed whatever face she pulled at Clef's response - "Well, you're not blowing off your job to be here, so it's more friendly and less- I don't know. She likes you. Me, she tolerates, and I'm not thinking she'll tolerate me in Ascot's bed."

"So go out and talk to her in the sitting room and it'll at least go better than when she walks in on you!" Umi snapped back, and Ascot couldn't help it. He snickered, and both of them stopped arguing.

"Oh, Ascot - here, have a drink." Clef helped him up and held the glass to his lips, and by the time he'd managed to drink half of it - straight water this time, so far as he could tell - Umi was sat by his knees, reaching out to hold his hand as Clef set the glass back.

For all it was only happening because he'd hurt himself - and he wasn't ready to ask quite how badly he'd managed to do that, not yet, he could feel the faintest flickers of his magic so he knew he hadn't burnt himself out entirely and that was enough for now - it was nice, having both of them with him in his own room. "What did happen?" He asked. "The Priests lost control of something?"

Having a mountain fall on him was not an experience he really wanted to repeat if he could help it.

Clef made a noise in his throat that was almost a growl, incoherent with anger, and Umi reached over Ascot to ruffle his hair. "They had a bunch of trainees they were teaching to shift one of the floating islands a little and re-anchor it elsewhere - you know how they move them once a week so nowhere gets the shadow all the time?" she explained, while Clef shook his head and offered Ascot the glass again. "Well, they were in the middle of that - only the instructors decided to have the lesson outside, and didn't check what else was going on, and when a couple of young mages lost control of a water spell in the next garden and it blasted through them, they lost control - and their instructors didn't manage to grab it back."

"You came to me," Ascot said, looking back at Clef. "I remember that. I couldn't hold it, but you did."

"You were doing more and far more competently than anyone could have asked you to do," Clef told him, setting the glass down and wrapping his arm about Ascot's shoulders more securely. "The local Priest should have been able to do something, but apparently they've only got a newly-qualified one in the next village over - who did at least manage to set off the alarms, but couldn't have ever held something that large. And the new village didn't have anyone assigned to it yet, and- I'd felt the disturbance in the gardens and dropped in, and Umi was only around the corner in the dragon's pen so she got there almost the same moment I did. They explained what was happening and Umi remembered that was where you were, and- we came." Clef shrugged, the movement disorienting, then winced as he realised what he'd done. "Umi kept hold of you until we could get you back to the healers."

There was more to it than that, Ascot knew. "The mountain?" he insisted.

Clef pulled a face. "I moved it and stuck a stasis on it. The Priests can have it back when they prove they've got the right people in the area to actually catch it in emergencies," he muttered.

"…You caught it yourself?" Ascot had thought so, but he'd wondered. It had been so big, but if Clef could do it, then surely Ascot should have been able to do something more than he had-

Tapping him on the nose, Clef called Ascot's attention back to the room, to him. "You have never been trained to move land masses, and it is not a simple spell you can intuit in a moment's crisis. You did brilliantly, Ascot - you saved more than a hundred lives, holding it that long."

"You're a hero," Umi agreed, leaning in and pressing a quick kiss to Ascot's dry lips.

"But-"

"I have had six hundred years more experience than you, and was taught the basics by my Pillar when I was curious and there was time enough for her to gently show me how it works," Clef said, firmly. "Which has pissed off the Priests no end, but they deserve it, given how badly organised they were- you did brilliantly." As if to accent the point, Clef leaned in himself, tilting until he could catch Ascot's lips with his own, no more and no less pressure than Umi had managed.

Ascot held Umi's hand a little tighter, letting his eyes open slowly as Clef turned away - and then Clef went dead-still against him, and Ascot brought his head up to see the open door at the end of the room - and Caldina looking in.

"…Well," she started, taking a deep breath. "I came to find what was taking you so long, Missy, only to find- this! What do you think you're playing at?"

Umi's head had shot around when Caldina started talking, and she just blinked, apparently startled silent for once - but Caldina's question at the end was directed at Clef, not Umi. And Clef took a deep breath - Ascot could feel it, and the way he tensed as he went to speak.

Ascot held his hand up instead, palm out at Caldina. "No," he said.

Caldina frowned at him. "Ascot-"

"No yelling and no arguments and no anything until I'm better," he insisted. "You're not arguing without me there, and I'm going to fall asleep again, so you have to promise."

"But-"

"No," he insisted, voice as strong as he could get it. Which was quite firm, when his arm was shaking badly from being held up for less than a minute. "Promise."

Caldina fidgeted in the doorway a moment longer, but he kept watching her, and eventually she just threw her hands up in the air. "Fine! Fine, we wait until you're better and then talk about how this is a terrible decision-"

"Good." He slumped back against Clef again, and Umi took his hand once more. "I don't care, they're mine and I'm keeping them."

Clef snorted at that, and Umi grinned at him, lips twisting up in amusement. But his eyes were sliding shut once more - he was starting to wonder if there was a sleeping potion in the water, that would explain how quickly he was going out again.

He did, at least, hear Caldina sighing and saying "Well, you'd better come and fetch food for both of you, Missy. LaFarga will have to go fetch his own meal."

Umi pressed one more kiss to Ascot's face, her hair falling across his shoulder as she leaned in, then she was sliding off the bed and leaving Clef to lower him down again.

"You've delayed it, at least." Clef said, amusement in his voice. "But she's still going to yell."

"She can yell all she wants, she can't stop me," Ascot said, his tongue slurring slightly over the words. "Please don't give me any more potion next time?"

"The healers laid a sleep compulsion on you, it's not a potion, I promise. I will talk to them about lightening it off when they return,"

Ascot nodded, and curled up again, yawning. She'd promised no yelling until he was better, not just after he could stay awake. That should give them plenty of time to win her over. In the meantime…

As there was likely nothing he could do about Clef and Umi fussing and keeping him company, he at least wanted to be awake to enjoy it. Which would make this recovery better than either other time, even though he'd technically hurt himself worse.

He fell asleep looking forward to waking in their company.

oOo