Basal 71st, 1042

The first thing Azaleon saw when he came to was Clover, eyes lit up with an amber light. When he blinked and turned his head, he saw Kuiper, holding his hand. Kuiper would have rather Clover not be in the room at all, even if he was unspeakably grateful to her and Remedy. Anxiety gnawed on him. He’d known something like this would happen. It just took one missed dose of gold Thauma, just one. Azaleon had missed eight doses.

“Are we in the–” Azaleon tried to ask, then started coughing. His throat and chest must be sore, Kuiper figured. He’d been stabbed neatly between the ribs, right into his right lung. A few inches upwards and to the center and the blade would’ve pierced his heart.

Clover’s eyes flashed back to normal. Well– closer to normal. The center of them was still that orange color, pulsing with light. Kuiper’s grip on Azaleon’s hand tightened. Azaleon, for all of his surprise and confusion, was doing a remarkable job of looking nonplussed.

“Here, I have some water over here,” she tried to offer him a glass, then immediately spilled it all over him once she got a better look at him. He blinked down at the wet blanket, then back at her. Kuiper sighed.

She’d seen. No denying that much, considering that reaction.

“...Twilight strip still?” Azaleon finished. “Are you okay, Clover?” His voice was scratchy and dry from disuse. “Your eyes are…different,” he said. If she was shaking so much she couldn’t hold a glass, then she probably wasn’t okay. Kuiper wasn’t sure if he’d prefer that her shakiness was due to her surprise, or the healing process draining her.

Either way, he thought she should probably sit down.

“Um, so are yours,” she said.

Kuiper leaned down, speaking Eventidian. “You’ve been out for days. Eight. And the Wonderworkers here wouldn’t let me use any Thauma on you, not after how much amber they used trying to keep you alive. And with so many people around, sneaking it in was impossible, I’m sorry.”

“Oh, well shit,” Azaleon responded back in Eventidian, his now bright green eyes huge and panicked. “So…don’t suppose you think Alouette would let me borrow those goofy glasses they’ve been known to wear, do you?”

“This isn’t really the time for jokes. More than that, I thought you were going to die. Call my priorities skewed if you want, but I don’t think Clover knowing is the worst case scenario.”

“Can you two stop speaking in a language I don’t understand? I mean, I know you wanted a more private moment, probably, but– your eyes are green,” Clover crossed the room, pulling the sheets off the other bed. “Here, here’s some dry blankets, sorry, I just– I got startled. Your eyes are like, green green.”

“Yes– sorry, is that a Cachet on your hand?” Azaleon asked, evidently just as nosy as Clover was. She startled, as if she’d forgotten it was there, then went to grab the gloves Aspen had tossed at her earlier from where they still sat on the bedside table. She yanked them on, as if she still had time to hide it. Kuiper supposed it was better she remembered now before she walked around the healing center, flashing it at anyone who passed by.

They both stared at each other. Then, Clover snorted, and Azaleon couldn’t help it, he was laughing too. Kuiper didn’t think it was so funny. If it’d been anyone other than Clover in here, both of them would be screwed. Gods, he didn’t even want to think about how Aspen would react. He might have handled the revelation that Clover was the other Quasar with surprising grace, but this? It would be doubly unfortunate, considering the kid was growing on Kuiper a bit. He’d never admit that out loud, though.

“I was out for eight days and you became the other Quasar?”

“I also have Remedy, the God, inside my body. Long story. Or maybe not? Anyway, I’m trying to be really nice about the…implications of that,” she gestured vaguely in the direction of his face. “Kuiper, you don’t seem surprised. You knew?”

“I’m not admitting to anything that could get either of us locked up. In fact, we’re both colorblind. You can’t prove otherwise.” He crossed his arms, and Azaleon laughed again, then winced.

“Ow. Stop making me laugh, it hurts,” he complained. “What do you mean you have a God inside your body, Clover?”

“Oh, no, I’ve had an awful, long, eventful day. I think I deserve some good gossip before I tell you about that. Between me and you two, I used to eat up those royal family gossip magazines; I mean, they had the horoscopes in the back, so I had to read through the other stuff to get to that part, anyway, so, is it like, a cousin situation or–”

“Clover, you just spilled water all over him. Let him change into clothes that aren’t wet first.” Kuiper said dryly. “Then we can talk while His Highness is still out of the room.”

“Talking behind his back feels like…” Clover faltered. “You want me to lie?”

“Well, it’s not really an ideal situation, but…yeah. Look, I wouldn’t be asking you to, if it wasn’t important. Don’t you think I would’ve told him if I was able to?” Azaleon asked gently. She was young and didn’t know the full situation. Her hesitation was totally understandable, but they needed to quell her worries before it became a problem.

“I don’t know. Why can’t you?” She pressed her lips into an unhappy line, looking down at the sheets she was still holding. “I just found out my brother tried to lie to protect me, and I gotta be honest, I’m pissed about it. His Highness is probably the only person in the world who gets how I feel about having this, so…” she ran a thumb across her Cachet on her left hand. “Lying to him doesn’t sit well with me. Doesn’t Alouette know? They can tell when people use their gold Thauma, right?”

“Alouette knows I use Thauma pretty often to change my eye color. They don’t know why, and I don’t think they understand the significance of such a thing, anyway. And if I can’t use Thauma for a while, I may have to ask them to do that divinity thing and change them back to brown. It’s not so different from hiding that mark on your hand, you know.”

She crossed her arms defensively, and he thought that might have been the wrong thing to say.

“I only just found out about it, it’s not like I was keeping it a secret on purpose.”

Kuiper cleared his throat, about to step in and do damage control, when the door slid open.

“Clover, you were taking too long, River said you’d be right with us. I thought you were passed out in some random hallway, exhausted as you were, so I graciously came to–” Aspen froze beside Clover. “Retrieve you,” he awkwardly finished. Kuiper was sure he’d never seen Aspen so genuinely at a loss for words.

“Father’s going to kill me,” Azaleon said under his breath in Eventidian to Kuiper, who had gone very still, like maybe Aspen wouldn’t explode if they stayed very still. Aspen went from stunned in silence to angry in less than a second.

“I can speak Eventidian you absolute brick-for-brains, and I have a few choice words in that language for you so Clover’s ears don’t bleed from how crude they’re going to be!”

“If it had been up to me I would’ve told you!” Azaleon sputtered. “Don’t get mad–”

“Oh, would you? We’ve been traveling together for how long? And you haven’t yet, despite seemingly having chances in the dozens by now. You’re not related to me, no one in my family has ever been born such a coward–”

“Last time I checked you also had to answer to King Alder.” Kuiper cut in.

“That may be, but I don’t– I wouldn’t have–” Aspen stuttered. “No, you know what? I’ve had enough news for this day, and this week in general,” his eyes flitted to Clover, who’d gone stiff and hesitant to jump into the conversation, then his gaze dropped to the floor. He was mad, obviously, but Kuiper had to commend his self-restraint, if nothing else. “We will talk about this later. I’ll decide what to do with you once you recover. Until then, I don’t want you to speak one word to me.”

Just like that, he was storming out of the room. Clover glanced between them and the door, and then sighed, taking off after Aspen down the hall.

Kuiper could hear her calling to him, saying maybe he should hear Azaleon out. He appreciated her effort, though it was her place as much as it was Kuiper’s.

“That could’ve gone better.” Kuiper muttered, sitting on the bed. “You okay?”

“I’m more concerned about Aspen. If he was going to find out, I’d rather have been the one to explain it, not have him stumble upon me like this.”

“As usual, that would be your concern. But ‘decide what to do with you’ sounds like it might get back to Alder; we could leave before it gets to that point. You know I only got this job for your sake, to be with you. I know you’re attached to the idea of this working out, but it might be time to face the reality of the situation and leave before it gets bad.”

“You want to leave? After hearing how Clover felt about her own brother leaving, I could never do that to Aspen. I don’t care if he hates me. He needs family who isn’t…”

Well. Kuiper wouldn’t argue that King Alder was objectively awful, putting so much pressure on Aspen, especially after finding out he was the Quasar as a child and therefore deciding Fern Helion’s royal family must be favored by the Sol God.

The Queen was often ‘on morale tours’, which was code for ‘I don’t want to be a part of this family and would prefer to run around to random towns, getting my ass kissed by strangers instead of raising my children’, and, according to Azaleon, Kuiper doubted the prince saw her more than a handful of times a year.

Princess Saros was married off to a woman in Lacus Mare, so even if she wanted to be a part of Aspen’s life, she couldn’t be overtly involved.

Before they’d left on this trip, Kuiper couldn’t recall ever seeing Aspen look happy to speak to someone at length, and he’d never seen any friends at all, or family Aspen didn’t hold at a formal arm’s length.

“Besides. Leaving now would be proving Alder right,” Azaleon added.

“Gods forbid that, even if it lands us in a cell.” Kuiper sighed. He knew Azaleon, for better or worse, would run mental laps to justify his spite towards the king by saying it was all for Aspen’s sake. And sure, some of it definitely was; but Kuiper wondered if his partner even realized how obvious he was sometimes. At least he was channeling his issues in more productive ways now, unlike when they were teenagers. Kuiper admired and resented his partner's tenacity in equal measure. “Don’t go doing anything stupid about it.”

“From a healer’s bed? What could I possibly do?” Azaleon said with a grin.

“Don’t.” Kuiper restated, then leaned down, pressing a kiss to Azaleon’s forehead. “Let him come back and talk about it when he’s ready. In the meantime, I’ll go get you food. I’m glad you’re awake.”

“Thank you,” Azaleon murmured.

prev chapter next chapter