Granting Favors 11 - Restless Night
Jamil wakes up in the middle of the night, and Azul finds himself unable to go back to sleep.
After some fruitless attempts, they make conversation to pass the time, inadvertently growing closer and gaining a better understanding of each other.
Word Count: 6,403
(At the end of the chapter)
Jamil sat bolt upright, the remnants of his dream slowly fading in the back of his mind.
Blinking away the haze of sleep, he looked around and tried to figure out where he was.
He’d been lying down on a mattress on the floor, and on the bed to his left, there was a figure sleeping peacefully, his silver-blue hair almost glowing in the dim light.
Ah, right, Jamil remembered.
He ran a hand across his face, taking a deep breath and standing up to stretch. He was not sure how long he had been asleep, but it was the second time he had dreamt of Azul and he wasn't eager for there to be a third.
The medical kit he had brought was by the foot of the bed; he picked it up and placed it on Azul's desk, taking a seat to examine its contents. Hopefully, he’d find something useful, especially since he saw that Azul had taken the last of his Sundrop Elixir.
He took his phone from his pocket and browsed the internet for information on merfolk.
The medical treatment varied per species; someone with a part octopus form like Azul would have a different treatment compared to Jade and Floyd whose merforms were part eel. And by law, only medical professionals were allowed to treat merfolk in their human forms because their biological components would be too complex.
Maybe he could at least get more of the Sundrop Elixir for Azul; he didn't have the ingredients to brew it himself, but he could check at the infirmary tomorrow if they have more of the potion.
A soft rustle got his attention. He looked over at the bed and saw Azul slowly sit up, rubbing his eyes.
"You're awake," Jamil said, still not used to seeing Azul without his glasses.
Azul turned to him and blinked sleepily. "Yes."
Jamil looked at the time on his phone. "Only three hours later. Less than, even."
Azul sat up properly and covered a yawn with his hand. "I suppose so."
"Don't tell me you plan on staying up," Jamil said, glancing at the work files on Azul's nightstand.
"You're awake," Azul pointed out. "Haven't you gone to sleep yet?"
Jamil averted his eyes, his treacherous mind reminding him of the dream he had mere minutes ago where Azul was spooning him to keep him warm.
It's because of that damn blanket that smelled like Azul, but Jamil had no choice but to use it; he just had to fall for a guy who lived in the coldest dorm.
"I have," Jamil said, looking at his phone instead of Azul. "But I'm a light sleeper, and I guess my body's not used to sleeping in a new place."
"Is it too cold?" Azul asked. "I'm afraid there's nothing in here to make a fire."
"It's fine," Jamil took out a small filtered thermos and a pack of tea leaves from the medical kit. "I'm just gonna make tea. Do you want some?"
"Alright," Azul nodded.
Jamil put the leaves in the thermos and cast a spell for the water to slowly heat up until it boils. Then he took out two teacups and set them aside. Before leaving his room at Ramshackle, he had vaguely remembered that Azul liked to drink tea, and he brought the thermos and cups from his bedside table.
Meanwhile, he noticed that Azul was being strangely quiet. He turned to him and saw that he seemed to be deep in thought.
"What is it?" Jamil asked.
Azul seemed hesitant to speak, but he said, "Would you... would you like to borrow a hoodie?"
Jamil stared at him in surprise, he never expected to hear those words from Azul Ashengrotto. "Whose hoodie...?"
"Mine," Azul picked up his glasses from his nightstand and wore them.
"You own one?" Apart from PE classes, Jamil had never seen Azul in anything besides a suit.
"They're comfortable," Azul grunted as he got down from the bed and stood up, his face scrunched in pain.
"Hey, wait," Jamil stood up and blocked his way. "What are you doing? Can you even walk yet?"
"That's what I'm trying to find out," Azul said, slowly straightening his posture.
"At 1 AM?" Jamil didn't budge. "At least wait until morning, give yourself more time to recover."
"I'm just going to get a hoodie from the cabinet, it's a short walk."
Azul sidestepped to get around him and tried to walk fast, but he only managed two steps before he gave a soft gasp and his knees buckled.
"Whoa, okay." Jamil was already there, his arms around Azul's waist. Luckily he was quick to step back and get in front of Azul again just in time to catch him.
"Damn it," Azul cursed under his breath, his hands gripping Jamil's shoulders.
Jamil slowly but firmly pushed Azul back to the bed, making him sit back down. He stepped back and crossed his arms.
"You're endlessly stubborn. I don't even need a hoodie."
Azul raised an eyebrow at him. "Your hands are cold. And don't think I didn't feel you trembling under your jacket."
Jamil clenched his jaw. So maybe he was very slightly shivering from the low temperature, but that didn't mean he had to borrow Azul's clothes.
"I'm fine," he insisted.
Azul narrowed his eyes. "You went through all the trouble of staying here to make sure I take care of myself, but you won't do the same? How hypocritical." He put his feet up on the bed again and moved to lean against the headboard.
"I told you I'm making tea," Jamil said. "It would help keep me warm."
"For several minutes, yes. It's hours before sunrise. Do you plan on drinking tea the entire night?"
Jamil glowered at the sarcasm, but Azul returned his glare without so much as a blink.
"Get yourself warm or get out of my room."
"Wha—" he searched Azul's face to see if he was bluffing, but the Octavinelle Prefect wasn't easy to read. He huffed in exasperation and put a hand to his forehead. "You're the one who's sick, you should be thinking about yourself."
"I can think of multiple things at once, it's a talent," Azul said lightly.
Jamil just gave him a deadpan stare.
"The hoodies are folded in the top drawer on the right." Azul looked back at him smugly. He knew he had won that one.
"Ugh," Jamil stormed off to the cabinet. "You're so irritating to take care of."
"And yet you're still here.”
Jamil pursed his lips, fully aware of that fact and was trying not to think too much of the reason.
"Don't make me regret it," he replied as he opened the cabinet doors and pulled open the drawer.
"No one is telling you to be here," Azul said more seriously.
"I'm telling me to be here, so shut up." He took a hoodie from the top of the pile and slammed the drawer shut.
"Hey! Be careful with that."
Jamil closed the cabinet door and wore the hoodie over his jacket before walking back to Azul. "Happy?"
Azul stared at him, and a small smile appeared on his lips. "It suits you."
His face warmed at the fondness in Azul's gaze, and he looked down to fidget with his sleeves.
The hoodie was a navy blue color, and it was big enough that even with his jacket underneath, it still fit comfortably. The fabric was even softer than he had expected.
He went back to his seat and checked on the tea. When he saw that it was done brewing, he uncapped the thermos and carefully poured tea in the cups.
"Yeah?" He handed a cup to Azul.
"I didn't say anything... strange to you earlier, did I?" Azul asked as he took it.
"What do you mean?"
Azul frowned like he was trying to remember. "I have this vague memory of us having a conversation right before I drifted off to sleep, but I don't remember much of it."
Jamil realized what Azul was talking about, and he took a sip of his tea to buy some time to think of an answer. He didn’t know if Azul would like knowing what he had said while under the medicine’s sleep-inducing effects.
"I'm not sure. You were talking quietly and—"
"Oh no," Azul suddenly said. "I told you about the lullaby."
"Yeah," Jamil lightly drummed his fingers on the desk, not knowing what else to say.
"Remind me never to drink that potion again if there's anyone around." Azul attempted to hide his reddening face by drinking his tea, holding the cup with both hands.
"What..." Jamil began, genuinely curious but not wanting to sound too eager. "What did you sing?"
Azul looked up at him in surprise, clearly not expecting the question. "It's a well-known lullaby from the Coral Sea. My mother used to sing it to me whenever I couldn't sleep."
He thought of asking Azul how the song goes, but Azul's voice was still a little hoarse and he didn't want to ask him to sing with a sore throat.
"Should I return the favor and sing you to sleep, too?" Jamil said to lighten the mood.
Azul chuckled, his shoulders relaxing. "A VDC member singing just for me? What an honor."
"Now you’re making me feel pressured, why would you say that?”
"Because I'm proud of you," Azul said nonchalantly, oblivious to how his words made Jamil's stomach flip. "How are rehearsals with Vil?"
"Uh," Jamil cleared his throat. "He already had an original song and choreography prepared, and we've been practicing those for the past three days. It can get challenging, especially with the role I was given, but I've always enjoyed singing and dancing so it's still fun most of the time."
"The role you were given?" Azul asked and took another sip of his tea.
"Vil assigned me as one of the main vocalists, along with him and Epel."
Azul smiled. "And you accepted it."
"Yeah," Jamil nodded. The tea wasn't too hot anymore, so he finished it and set down the cup on the desk.
Azul sighed in feigned disappointment and shook his head. "I had to persuade you for weeks in Alchemy class before you showed your talents, but you immediately did it for Vil?"
"I did it for myself," Jamil corrected him, trying to suppress a smile at Azul’s theatrics.
"Even better," Azul beamed, then he finished his tea as well and handed Jamil the empty cup.
Jamil took it, all too aware of their fingers brushing against each other.
"You should get more sleep, you barely got three hours," he told Azul as he put the thermos and cups back in the medical kit. He could wash them when he got back to Ramshackle.
"I could tell you the same thing." Azul removed his glasses and placed it back on his nightstand.
"I know," Jamil sighed. He had to get as much sleep as he could if he wanted to perform well at rehearsals tomorrow. Vil already wasn’t happy with him suddenly leaving Ramshackle; he couldn’t afford to look like he was slacking.
He left the medical kit on the desk and went to lie down on his mattress by the foot of Azul's bed.
It was very unlike him to be caught in unexpected situations because he always did things with proper planning; but now here he was, in Azul’s bedroom wearing his hoodie.
Staring up at the ceiling, he realized how similar tonight is to the night after Azul saved him from drowning. They had a phone conversation then too, before Azul went to Scarabia and insisted to stay the night in his bedroom.
"Couldn't we have done the things we did for the same reasons?" he remembered what Azul said just three hours ago.
Jamil let out a breath and covered his eyes with his arm. That night at Scarabia, they fell asleep holding hands after Azul had sung to him. He couldn't remember any of that, and even though he kept wondering how Azul felt that night, he'd rather not get his hopes up. Having expectations would only lead to disappointment.
He heard movement from the bed; it sounded like Azul was tossing and turning.
"Sleep," Jamil reminded him.
"I can't," Azul replied irritably. "My entire body hurts and I can't find a comfortable position."
Jamil removed his arm from above his eyes and looked at Azul's direction, only seeing the bed frame. "Are you really gonna go back to classes on Monday? Maybe you should take a few more days off."
"I've already missed two days of classes, and I need to return to preparing for the festival as soon as possible."
Jamil shook his head even though he knew Azul couldn't see him. "You're really still thinking about work."
"You of all people should understand, Jamil," Azul said lightly. "Or are you telling me that you don't work at all when you're sick?"
Jamil decided to ignore that. "How are the preparations coming along?"
"The menu has been finalized, we went with the suggestions that you and Trey made. Though I still need to organize the roster for the two days of the festival, so I can assign who would take shifts attending the Mostro Lounge booth. The preparation for the Board Game Club booth is another matter entirely; Idia is making us work on assembling a virtual reality board game."
Jamil furrowed his eyebrows. "Huh, I've never played a board game like that before, but I guess it's expected coming from Idia."
"I'm not exactly familiar with all the technology we have to set up, so it's proving to be a challenge. Fortunately, Ortho is a great help to all of us; he has far more patience than Idia when it comes to explaining the function of each gadget."
A question nagged at the back of Jamil's mind, he had first thought about it when they talked about the VDC rehearsals. "Where would you be during the days of the festival? Will you be attending to the booths?"
"Yes, though I haven't decided yet which booth I would focus on. For the second day, Floyd suggested opening Mostro Lounge in the late afternoon for some musical performances, but we haven't finalized that yet either."
"On the first day, would you be managing the booths for most of the time?" Jamil tried to choose his words carefully. "Or do you also plan to go around and... check out some of the other stuff in the festival?"
Azul was quiet for a few seconds before he replied. "Are you asking me if I would watch the VDC performances?"
Jamil cursed himself. He had almost taken over Scarabia single-handedly by fooling everyone with his words, but when it came to Azul he couldn't even string together a question without his real intentions being found out.
Azul chuckled. "Of course I would be there, Jamil. Maybe after your performance I'll even brag to some people that I sang a duet with you once."
"Shut up," Jamil mumbled, pulling up his hood to hide his face under it.
Neither of them said anything else after that, and for several minutes Jamil tried to will himself to sleep. The cold wasn't bothering him anymore thanks to his two layers of jackets and the blanket, but his mind was still fully awake.
With his face covered in Azul's hoodie, he could smell the detergent. It seemed freshly washed and he wondered when Azul wore hoodies at all. Maybe he only wore them here at Octavinelle, whenever he didn't have any classes or work at Mostro Lounge. But then again, Jamil couldn't imagine Azul willingly not going to work.
"What changed, Jamil?" Azul asked quietly, like he wasn't sure whether Jamil was still awake.
"What do you mean?" he frowned.
"Back then you barely tolerated my presence even in Alchemy classes, and I've lost count of the times you've told me to leave you alone."
There was no malice or hurt in Azul's voice, but Jamil still felt a twinge in his chest at the reminder of how he treated Azul back then.
"Now you've come to my bedroom to make sure I'm okay, and even insisted on staying the night despite Vil undoubtedly preferring that you remain with the rest of your group."
Jamil swallowed. He knew what Azul's next question was going to be, but he had no idea how to answer it.
"Why are you doing this?" Azul spoke slowly, genuine confusion in his voice. "How did you go from 'get away from me' to 'can I stay'?"
Jamil pulled back his hood and stared thoughtfully at the ceiling. "I'm not sure. I don't know how it happened...” he said, talking to himself just as much as he was replying to Azul. He was still trying to figure that out, too.
"How about you?" he asked Azul instead. "Why were you always so interested in me? In recruiting me, I mean, for Octavinelle," he quickly clarified, his face warming up.
"I thought I answered that already."
"Don't just say I'm 'intriguing'," Jamil rolled his eyes. "There are other students here who are more skilled and talented than me. Riddle, Vil... Why did you keep trying to recruit me when you could have used that time to convince them instead to work with you?"
Azul was quiet for a while, and when he finally answered, his words surprised Jamil.
"Because you remind me of myself," he said. "You're not satisfied with how the world sees you, and you have all this potential to get exactly where you want to be. People like Riddle and Vil, they're quite happy with where they are now. But you clearly desire more, even if you tried to hide that desire for a long time. So I thought that out of everyone else... You might understand me the most..." Azul's voice faded to silence.
Jamil had no words for that; he tried to think of something to say, but he just kept staring at the ceiling. All that time of Azul proposing that they work together, and Jamil never really asked or even wondered why Azul was doing that. Maybe if he had asked, things could have turned out a little differently. Maybe they would have been friends sooner.
But would he have believed Azul back then if he had told him that explanation? Would Azul have even admitted to it in the first place?
"I suppose it sounds selfish," Azul said as a response to Jamil's silence. "But I never pretended to be selfless, anyway," he said matter-of-factly.
"I don't think it's selfish." Jamil finally managed to speak, taking a breath to gather his thoughts. "Wanting someone to understand you... isn't that what everyone wants?"
They were both quiet for a few seconds before Azul spoke again.
"Was I right?" Azul asked him. "Do you understand me?"
"I think I do," Jamil said without hesitation. "I understand what it's like to always want to put work first before anything else, even when you're literally getting sick. And if I had left you alone tonight, you might have stubbornly done that work on your desk instead of resting."
"Why—" Azul cut himself off with a sigh.
Jamil waited but Azul didn't continue. "Why what?" he prompted.
"Why would you care about that? Do you go to this much trouble for all your friends?"
Jamil squeezed his eyes shut; he hadn't even entirely processed his feelings yet and Azul was already asking for an explanation. "Do you? You stayed the night in my bedroom too when I was the one feeling sick."
"Are you just going to keep repeating my questions back to me? I've explained my reasons that very same night. Hold on—" Azul stopped abruptly. "Is that why you're here? To return that favor? I told you that it wasn't a favor for me—"
Jamil quickly stood up and threw his pillow at him. "This isn't a favor, Azul. Why do you always have to be so annoying about favors?"
Azul sat up in surprise and held the pillow that had landed on his chest, then he smiled in amusement. "I must be less annoying now since you're willingly staying in the same room with me."
Jamil rolled his eyes. "I stayed because I thought you'd be asleep the entire time. If I had known you'd be talking so much, I would have reconsidered."
Azul chuckled and tossed back the pillow.
Jamil caught it, noticing that it seemed difficult for Azul just to do that simple motion.
"Is this the first time you've stayed in your human form for too long? You can't even throw a pillow properly." He put the pillow down and sat on the edge of the bed facing Azul.
'Yes, in hindsight, I should have known that there would be dire consequences," Azul brushed a hand through his hair. "My merform is significantly larger, and containing it for too long had put quite the strain in this human body. So I won't be joining any pillow fights anytime soon."
"I doubt you'll join pillow fights even when you're well. It has nothing to do with work and you don't know how to relax," Jamil said with a straight face.
"Oh, look at that, you already know me so well," Azul said playfully. "In any case, you should go to sleep. You still have rehearsals."
Jamil tried to think of how to help Azul sleep too; it didn't feel right to just go to sleep and leave him alone when he was still in pain.
"Do you wanna watch some of the rehearsal videos?" he suggested to Azul. "It could distract you from the muscle pains, and who knows, you might feel sleepy afterwards."
There was a hissing sound as Azul took a sharp intake of breath between his teeth, looking at him in amusement. "I'm really not used to this caring side of yours."
"Don't tell anyone, you'll ruin my super scary reputation," Jamil said sarcastically and got up to get his phone from the desk.
Azul wore his glasses and moved aside to make space for Jamil on the bed; he sat beside him and pulled the blanket over his lap to keep his legs warm.
"Vil always takes videos of the rehearsals so we can see how we perform and what needs to be improved," Jamil explained as he pulled up a video on his phone. "This is from our first rehearsal."
Azul leaned closer to see the screen that Jamil held up in front of them. It was much warmer here, sharing a blanket with their shoulders pressed together, and Jamil found himself relaxing and leaning into Azul as the video started.
There they were at the Pomefiore ballroom. Vil, Rook, and Epel were in front while Jamil and Kalim were at the back with Ace and Deuce. They had only practiced the song and choreography for an hour before Vil started recording, so none of them were very familiar with the routine yet. There was very little harmony, and their dancing looked scattered.
"Ace and Deuce are dreadful," Azul commented as the video continued to play. "I can't dance but even I know that's not how it's supposed to look. How did they pass the auditions?"
"From what I heard, Rook convinced Vil to take those with potential and a lot of room to grow. Something about uncut diamonds ready to be shaped." The video ended with Vil saying that they'll take a short break before continuing.
"Hm, not a bad perspective. Let's see the next video, then." Azul leaned against Jamil, too.
"For this one, we just focused on practicing the song," Jamil said as he swiped to the next video. "We memorized it and worked more on the timing and harmonies."
They all stood in a line as they sang to the music, some of them were tapping their feet and swaying along to the rhythm. Ace and Deuce still held a copy of the lyrics in front of them.
"The harmonies do sound much better now," Azul said approvingly when the video ended. "And you all seem more confident. You said this is an original song by Vil?"
"Yeah, he said it would be best to perform an original instead of just a cover." Jamil swiped a few times to get to the most recent video. "This was our rehearsal just a few hours ago, the vocalists and choreography had been finalized already."
Vil was front and center, with Jamil and Epel on either side of him. The rest of the group was positioned behind them with enough space to dance.
The music played, and Vil sang first, his voice clear and resonant, not missing any notes despite dancing to the upbeat music at the same time. Despite having seen him perform many times already, Jamil was still impressed at how Vil maintained his graceful energy despite the complex choreography; even his facial expressions were always consistent to the lyrics of the song.
They moved like a geometric puzzle, closing and expanding in sync with the music. The blocking shifted and Epel moved to the front, singing the lead vocals while the chorus harmonized, their voices blending in smooth layers.
Then the song transitioned to a faster tempo, the beats became more prominent and Jamil was at the center, rapping the bridge while performing the breakdance routine that Vil taught him.
Jamil wrinkled his nose at how sloppy some of his movements were. He was still holding back at the execution of some steps, and his handstand at the end wasn't exactly in sync with the beat.
"I didn't know you could dance like that," Azul turned to him with wide eyes, ignoring the video where Vil was singing again.
"Yeah," Jamil scratched the back of his neck. "I haven't really had time for it since the school year started, so I'm glad that I could do it again for this performance."
"Very impressive, Viper," Azul smiled. "No wonder you got one of the lead roles."
“I still have a lot of practicing to do, I’m not used to dancing and singing at the same time.” The video ended and Jamil put his phone down on the mattress. "Floyd told me you guys used to perform too back at middle school."
Azul nodded. "I played the piano and sang, as you know, while Jade played contrabass and Floyd played the drums. We never danced, though. It was all song performances."
"Do merpeople have some version of dancing under the sea?" Jamil asked curiously. "You have music and singing, there must be dancing, too."
'There is, and it's similar to how humans dance on land. Some merfolk like to dance during special occasions and social gatherings."
"But not you?"
"I had ten limbs underwater, Jamil. It was hard enough to swim around."
"You only have four limbs here," Jamil pointed out. "Maybe you should try it."
"I'm a man of many talents, but dancing is not one of them."
"You weren't so bad when we danced at the masquerade," Jamil said without thinking, then his face warmed when he realized what he had just brought up.
"I barely managed that one," Azul said, leaning his head back on the headboard. "And only because the movements were slow."
Azul didn't seem to mind that he mentioned the dance, but now Jamil could feel himself starting to overthink because of Azul's lack of reaction. Did he forget that they almost kissed that night? Or he remembered but it didn't really matter to him?
"How about you? How did you become interested in dancing?" Azul asked, breaking Jamil's train of thought.
He blinked, taking a few seconds to understand Azul's question. "Oh, Kalim had a lot of traditional dance classes when we were kids, and he wanted me to join him. It wasn't really much of a choice for me."
"You enjoy dancing now, though, as is evident in those videos. It seems you have developed a fondness for it growing up."
"I guess," Jamil shifted in his seat.
"What's wrong?" Azul asked, lifting his head from the headboard to look at Jamil's face better. "Do you not enjoy it?"
"No, I do, it's just..."
He had never talked about it to anyone before, mostly because it didn't feel like something people would care about. But seeing Azul look at him with curiosity and even concern, Jamil thought that maybe Azul was right; maybe they could understand each other the most.
"Dancing just didn't seem to fit with people's image of me," he explained. "It wasn't a useful skill for a servant, unless I was doing it because Kalim asked me to. So the idea that I could do something just because I wanted to, because it was fun for me... It's a difficult concept to understand when you're born a servant. It took me a long time to realize that I could dance by myself, not just whenever Kalim wanted someone to practice with."
"But surely you played games as a child? For fun?" Azul asked, his eyebrows furrowed.
"I did, and my parents would strictly remind me that I always had to let Kalim win."
"Goodness," Azul shook his head. "No wonder you Overblotted. I would have too, if I'd been in your position."
"You did Overblot," Jamil reminded him with a raised eyebrow. "You didn't need to be me for that."
Azul chuckled, and Jamil felt himself smiling, too. Just weeks ago he never would have thought that he could talk to someone so comfortably about Overblotting. For the first time, the topic didn't leave a bitter taste in his mouth.
"Either way," Azul adjusted his glasses. "It's good to know that you allow yourself to do what you want now. I was pleasantly surprised that you agreed to be one of the lead vocalists."
"I almost didn't," Jamil admitted. "When Vil assigned me the role, I almost said that Kalim should take it."
"Ah, and what made you accept it?" Azul tilted his head slightly.
Jamil recalled what he had been thinking at the time. "I trusted Vil's judgement. If he thought I was more suited for the role, then I must be."
"I always knew you were talented," Azul said smugly, like he had just won an argument.
Jamil rolled his eyes. "You keep saying that."
"It's hardly my fault you don't believe it," Azul said pointedly.
"There are lots of talented humans out there, you just haven't been on land long enough to know. But soon enough you'll have someone else to pester about working with you."
As soon as he said the words, Jamil realized he wasn't exactly happy about that idea, that someday Azul might find someone else more interesting.
"Hm," Azul hummed thoughtfully and leaned his head on the headboard again with his eyes closed. "Well, you're the one who's here right now keeping a sick octopus company. So as of the moment, you're my favorite human to pester."
Jamil stared at Azul, blinking at the fact that he just called him his favorite human. Azul had said it playfully, and 'pester' was obviously added in to mean that it was just a joke, but still Jamil was surprised at how casually he said the words. It didn't sound like Azul's flattery of him back then, when he had deliberately crafted his words to try to butter him up. Now Azul sounded like he was just comfortably talking.
Azul opened his eyes and Jamil almost flinched at being caught staring.
"Do you still have a headache?" he blurted out. "You keep leaning back."
"It's not as bad now," Azul straightened up and stretched his neck from side to side. "Who knew having a human form could be this troublesome."
"What was it like when you first went on land?" Jamil asked, he’d never really thought about what his merfolk schoolmates had to go through to study at NRC. "That was only two years ago, right?"
"Yes, there's an organization that helps merfolk go on land for their studies or work, and they also provide us with the shifting potions for free while we stay here. I reached out to them after middle school along with Jade and Floyd, and they happily taught us what we needed to know and gave us our first batch of potions."
"Was it painful when you transformed the first time?" Jamil couldn't even imagine how it would feel to have his body magically change and his limbs be contained into a much smaller form.
"It was," Azul sighed at the memory. "And trying to walk on two legs when you've lived your whole life walking on eight was not easy at all. Oh, and the blurry vision was a surprise. I never needed glasses in my hometown, but when I went on land they turned out to be a necessity. I don't mind, though. They do make me look more sophisticated."
"You're really complimenting yourself now?"
"Somebody has to, and you're doing a poor job of it."
"You want me to call you sophisticated in your sweater and ruffled hair?"
"With that attitude, I'd rather you not call me anything."
Jamil's chuckle was interrupted with a yawn that he covered with his hand. "My turn to lean back now," he said sleepily as he did just that against the headboard. "Anyway, I hope you don't get stubborn in ten days and refuse to change back into your merform when you need to. You worked hard to learn how to walk in your human form, it would be a waste if you just get sick again and not even able to walk two steps."
"It was incredibly foolish of me, yes." Azul rubbed his temple.
Jamil felt his eyelids getting heavy and he realized how comfortable Azul's bed was. "Why did I have to convince you to get proper sleep last week? Your bed is so much softer than mine at Scarabia. If I had a bed like this, I'd be sleeping for hours every night."
"Ah yes, that's one of my favorite discoveries during my first days on land. Mattresses and pillows are nonexistent underwater; I grew up sleeping on a shell. So of course I bought the softest bed I could afford when I got here." Azul yawned and leaned back, too.
Jamil let his eyes close, and that was the last thing he remembered before drifting off to sleep.
When he felt himself waking up, he didn't know how much time had passed, and a part of him wanted to burrow deeper into the blanket and go back to sleep. But when he tried to move, he felt Azul's head on his shoulder, and he realized that he had also been leaning on him, his cheek resting on Azul's hair.
Jamil opened his eyes and gently lifted his head off Azul's, careful not to wake him up.
He hadn't noticed in the darkness of the night before, but Azul's room had a window on the wall behind his desk, showing the clear blue sea right on the other side of it.
Sunlight softly illuminated the rippling waters, making the window look like a moving painting. It was an entirely different view from what he sees in his room at Scarabia, but it was beautiful in a way that he hadn’t even thought of. Despite all his dreams of travelling, he had never imagined waking up underwater.
He felt around for his phone on the bed and checked the time; there was still about an hour left before he had to go back to Ramshackle.
Azul stirred beside him, Jamil’s movements must have woken him up even when he tried to be careful.
"Good morning," Azul said blearily as he got up from Jamil's shoulder and straightened his glasses.
"Good morning," Jamil smiled at how Azul's voice sounded normal now. "Feeling better?"
"I do, actually. There is still some muscle pain, but it's much more bearable now." He closed and opened his hands in front of him like he was testing them.
"That's good," Jamil nodded, relieved.
"How about you, though?" Azul suddenly remembered. "Aren't you running late already? What time is it?"
"It's okay, it's not even breakfast at Ramshackle yet," Jamil assured him.
His phone dinged; he looked at it and saw that Vil had texted.
I hope you're still planning on returning.
Even through text he could hear Vil's strict tone.
"They're looking for you?" Azul guessed.
"Yeah," Jamil showed him Vil’s message.
Azul smiled in amusement. "I can already see him frowning. You better go back before he locks you out."
Jamil's hesitation must have shown on his face, because Azul pointedly said, "I'm fine. I think I can walk now, and if I need help with anything I can call Jade."
"Okay, if you're sure," Jamil relented.
He stood up and returned the blanket and pillow that Azul had lent him, then he placed the mattress back in the cabinet.
"Should I just go right down the main stairs again or…?" he asked when he picked up the medical kit from the desk.
Azul frowned in confusion. "Of course. Why shouldn't you?"
Jamil gave a half-shrug. "I was just asking in case… you didn't want anyone to know I was here."
Azul's eyebrows lifted. "Why would I mind anyone knowing? Vil knows, and Jade as well since you had spoken to him last night."
"I don't know," Jamil fidgeted with the handle of the kit. "You didn't even want me to be here in the first place, so…"
"I don't mind even if my residents see you coming out of my room, Jamil," Azul said. "But if you don't want that, then I suggest you leave immediately before anyone else on this floor wakes up."
"I don't mind either." Jamil shifted awkwardly on his feet, then pointed at the door. "I'll get going now."
Azul nodded, "Alright."
Jamil went out the door, but he stopped in the doorway and looked back at Azul, drumming his fingers on the doorframe.
"I'll uh… see you around?"
A smile pulled at the corner of Azul's mouth. "You will."
Jamil smiled back before closing the door behind him.
- Thank you for waiting for this chapter! I hope you liked it~
- The next one would probably be in November, because for October I’d be starting the fic of this other TWST ship I like (not saying yet who they are) and I’d also be working on the second chapter of “I Do”, the other AzuJami fic I recently started.
- In case there would be any changes in the schedule, I’ll be posting writing updates here and on my Twitter to let you all know about it.
- Thank you for reading!
<– Chapter 10
Summary: Wracked with remorse for triggering Azul’s overblot, you seek out the fallen businessman in hopes of earning his forgiveness.
After finding him on the outskirts of Octavinelle, an unexpected fight ensues and you end up back in his tentacles. But this time they’re gentle, comforting you after a painful truth is revealed.
Sequel to Tentacle Trapped. However, you can read this fic without reading the first instalment.
Over the weeks since Azul’s overblot you’d made an effort to check up on how he was doing. Admittedly, you had been hesitant at first. It had taken ages for the suction cup marks to fade off your skin; a constant reminder of the horrors you could have faced if Jade hadn’t saved you.
Being on the receiving end of all the rage and injustice Azul felt towards his childhood had put into perspective the extent of his pain, and you couldn’t - in good conscience - pretend all was now fine. Especially since you had played a major role in triggering his overblot.
Unfortunately, Azul was nowhere to be found today. You’d checked the classrooms, the cafeteria, Monstro Lounge, and even asked Jade if he’d knock on Azul’s bedroom door, but the eel had come back alone.
“Azul has been acting erratically of late,” said Jade, ushering you towards the front door of the dormitory. You were wary. If he was seeing you out, why wasn’t he steering you to the portal mirror? “Going on morning walks. Afternoon walks. Evening walks, with nothing on his person. He owes me for the extra duties I’ve had to fulfil in his absence. A part of me is debating whether to challenge him for the title of dorm leader.”
You cringed at the thought of Jade running Octavinelle. The eel seemed to sense your discomfort and beamed a sinister grin at you. “But I digress. The currents don’t get strong until late into the night. Chances are Azul’s footprints are still visible in the sand.”
With a brisk nudge Jade tipped you out of the entrance hall and into the crisp ocean. The effects of the breathing enchantment surrounding the dormitory lightly stung the space behind your nose.
“Safe travels, Prefect. Oh, and if you run into a shark…tough.”
Waking through water was laborious. You might have been able to breathe sufficiently, but you still had to drag yourself hundreds of yards into the deep with kilolitres of brine weighing you down. It felt like a boulder was strapped to your back.
Suddenly, about a mile from the dorm the shape of the footprints changed.
You crouched down to get a better look.
What had once been the definite sole of a shoe had become a long groove in the sand, like someone had dragged a pole through it.
Your heart lurched in your chest. Drag marks? Out here in the open ocean there were no street lamps, or ways of communication. What if Azul had run into a shark? Or someone had taken the opportunity to jump him? Jade had said Azul went for walks with nothing on him. Not even his magic pen. And his contract career had no doubt made him enemies.
“Azul!” you screamed, cupping your hands around your mouth. There came no reply. The call left you breathless. This far from the dormitory the breathing enchantment was thin. But you couldn’t get the thought of Azul being hurt out of your head. Rasping, you turned to call in the other direction when something soft slid over your mouth.
You recognised the sensation. The familiar prickle of suction cups caressed your cheeks as a tentacle wrapped around your face. Your eyes trailed its length until its owner came into view. Azul’s lilac skin and other gelatinous tentacles were just as you remembered. They snapped you back to his overblot, making your breathing quicken. Azul tightened the grip around your mouth as a silent scold.
“I’m going to take it away,” he cautioned, “and you’re going to breath normally.” You nodded in understanding. Azul peeled his tentacle off, and looked like he was about to burst into a fit of laughter. It took you a moment to guess why: dozens of suction cup marks probably peppered your face again. Livid, you shoved him. It broke the dam, and he exploded into chuckles.
It was mirthful, without restraint or professionalism.
Your anger didn’t stand a chance against it. You were relieved to see him. Before you could think, you threw yourself forward and wrapped your arms around him. Azul went stiff as a board. You were touching him. The real him. His real form. So tenderly and sweetly. The octopus suddenly became aware of himself. Pathetic, and soft, and weak.
Azul wriggled out of your arms and drew back to look at you. “Why are you here?” Suspicion spiked his gaze. “I can take these impromptu meetings in my human form, but why have you sought me out now? Is it to make fun of me? Go on then.” He opened his arms and tossed his head back. “Lay it on me. There’s nothing you can say that I haven’t already heard. And you’ve already seen me at my worst.”
You looked at the floor. “Azul, I don’t blame you for thinking the worst of me after what I did, but I’m not here to make things worse between us.”
Azul sighed. “You’re not? I’d much rather you did. I’d pick that over having my life’s work destroyed.”
After Leona had destroyed the contracts it had taken a while for the effects to kick in, but day by day Azul had lost the talents he’d coveted. His flawless skin had spots on it, his words had lost their melodic trill, and he looked like he’d gone up a dress size.
“There’s nothing to pick on.” You were being honest. “You look fine.”
“I’m not! And why are you out here, Azul? All on your own? Miles from anyone. What if something happened to you? What if a shark-“
One of Azul’s tentacles slammed into your gut. You doubled over in pain as it coiled itself up around your arms, your waist, your chest, and finally slinked itself around your neck. Your body responded, twisting and writhing, but it was no use. Azul’s pupils thinned into horizontal slits, challenging you cruelly. Soft as the tentacles were, they were strong. It had only taken one to put you out of commission and the lightest squeeze would sever your airway completely.
“I’d be fine.”
“Point taken,” you said sheepishly.
“Sharks aren’t indigenous to these waters. Don’t let Jade get inside your head. It was impossible to get the first-years to scrub the algae off the dorm spires without them crying about getting eaten. And as for your question…I’m out here because I need to order things.”
Azul drew his tentacle away. His expression was distant, like his mind was anywhere else but with you. “In my head. You know why I hate this body. How much I’ve suffered inside it. After all, you can only go so many years being picked on for your appearance before you decide to change it.”
“So why are you in this form now?” You tilted your head in curiosity. “The breathing spell still works out here. You could have been human.”
“Did you not see the footprints? I was human until I was out of sight from the dorm. But what would be the point in being human while trying to process what I truly am? I’ve still got to live with myself. When I go home, I will look like this.”
“I just don’t understand what you don’t see. There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Azul rolled his eyes and pushed past you. Speaking with you seemed to be a chore. “Go back. Tell Jade I’ll be home before Monstro Lounge opens for dinner.”
You grabbed his arm. “Azul-“ A tentacle shoved you off.
“There’s nothing you can say to me!” Forgetting that he wanted to be alone, Azul veered on you and shoved you briskly in the chest. You stumbled back, scuffing your ankle on a rock. The pain was sharp but you bit back your cry. “You don’t understand!” Azul’s lilac cheeks had turned purple with rage. “You can’t understand! All those years. My whole life. Don’t even try to cheer me up. You have no idea where to begin!”
Something snapped inside you.
“I don’t know?” You gripped your shirt and stomped forward. Azul drew back in surprise. “I don’t know what it’s like to crave respect, but settle for being left alone? Because every day brings another jab to my character, or my appearance, or my ability?”
Your words froze Azul. His shoulders stayed locked by his ears – poised and defensive – but his face softened. Perhaps a little too much. His cheeks went from purple to pale, his lips appearing almost white. He looked like he’d faint, but you didn’t care. It meant he was listening. An improvement on the last time you’d tried to make him see sense.
“Don’t tell me what I feel! Or what I understand!” Tears stung your eyes. “I know the pain of feeling so pathetic and useless you wonder if there’s any point to you at all. Even now-“
“I have no magic!” you screamed. Your throat was ripped raw. “It takes me hours to complete a task any mage could do in minutes. I have nothing! I am nothing! I can’t contact my family. I’m poor. I’m weak. I don’t understand how this world works.” You rambled off as your face swelled with emotion. Luckily, the sea water carried away your tears but the effect of them remained. “And do people really like me, or do they see me as entertainment? As a show? Something to compare themselves to and be reminded how lucky and strong they are. Is that why they spend time with me? Do people watch me struggle, and laugh?”
Azul started sobbing.
The sound wrested you back into yourself. You were meant to comfort the merman, not make him cry. And especially not make this all about yourself. Shame blanketed you. “Azul?” You reached forward and took him by the shoulders. He just kept sobbing, his head in his hands. You pulled him closer and bound him in a tight hug.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to shout.”
Azul couldn’t speak. He was near hysterics, barely managing a few syllables at a time. You shushed him. There was nothing he could say. Nothing he needed to. His chest heaved against yours, completely surrendering himself as he wrapped you in his own trembling arms.
But his arms weren’t enough. It didn’t seem like he could get close enough to you. You could sense the hesitation in his touch as the first tentacle crawled across your shoulder. The suction cups barely gripped you, so you leant into them for reassurance.
It was the first time Azul had used his octopus form to be gentle with you. A part of your mind flashed back to the overblot, for when his tentacles had been used to restrain rather than embrace, but his softness usurped all your concerns.
The tentacle wrapped itself down your arm. Another mirrored the first, curling from your biceps to your wrist. You flinched at their coolness, like silk sleeves were being draped over your arms.
You didn’t pull back. If Azul needed someone to hold you would gladly fill the role. Side to side you rocked him, a gentle and soothing sway.
It prompted two more tentacles to reach out for you. One went to cup the back of your head while the other snaked around your lower back. It squeezed in support and - trusting Azul’s intentions - you let yourself drop. The tentacle held you up easily. The one around your head played with your hair, lifting and curling the strands around itself.
Every part of you seemed to fascinate him.
“You’re not entertainment,” he breathed.
Fresh tears surged into your eyes. Azul felt their warmth as you buried your face into his shoulder. He pressed you closer. His tentacles held you tighter, like he was trying to wring the sadness out of you.
When Azul at last drew back, the tentacle around your head slid under your chin and turned your face to look at him. His cerulean irises shone against his red sclera.
You felt embarrassed for exposing yourself to him, but when you connect with someone so deeply it’s pointless to pretend. How can you hide a truth they know as deeply as you do?
Azul’s hands rested on your shoulders and guided you down to the sea floor. The remaining tentacles cushioned you against the rocks and silt, stroking your legs tenderly.
He hummed inquisitively.
“I’m not daft enough to believe I’ll get rid of years of dark thoughts and insecurity…but…” You choked on your words. Azul sat patiently. The way he looked at you was unlike anyone else had. There was nothing in his eyes except curiosity. Disbelief. You felt as though he would wait hours just to finish what you had to say. “You’re incredible,” you said.
“You are. You’re so quick to listen to bad things, why not the good?”
“Take your own advice.”
“Just, listen.” Azul relented. “You coveted what you could do. But you’ve earnt who you are. Where are your bullies now? Are they running successful restaurants while getting top grades?”
“I don’t even remember them.”
“So why care about what they said?” You squeezed his hands. A blush rose to his face, but you pretended you didn’t see it. “When they were children no less. I know it hurt at the time but kids are idiots. Just ask Leona.”
That got a laugh. “But they were right. I am clumsy, and squishy, and-“
“I’m not complaining.”
Azul’s eyes snapped to you. His blush deepened.
“I’ve…never been held like this.” You glanced at the tentacles around you. The tips of them continued their curling, as if they had a mind of their own. A blush was drawn out of you as they shifted over your figure, brushing over your sensitive waist and collarbone. Answer enough.
You leant forward.
Azul didn’t seem to know what he wanted to say. He tried the beginning of several sentences before settling on: “Thank you for saving me.”
“But it was my fault-“
The tentacle under your chin whipped to your mouth. You glared at him, your curse coming out muffled, but Azul bat his eyelashes innocently. You could have sworn one of the suction cups kissed your lips. A blush coated your entire face. Azul quickly drew the tentacle away. It curled and uncurled itself in rapid succession before he hid it behind his back, seemingly pleased with what it had just done.
“We-We’ll draw a line under it.”
You cocked your chin in agreement.
The water had turned a dark amber around you. The sun was nothing more than a buttery speck, rippling above the surface of the water.
Azul drew you up and dropped his tentacles. Your body pricked with gooseflesh as water rushed onto your freed skin, feeling as though you’d just opened the window after stepping out of a hot shower. Azul excused himself before disappearing behind a rock. He came back minutes later fully clothed and in human form. “I would have carried you back to the dorm but I’m still not…”
“It’s okay.” You took his hand. Azul’s palm grew clammy but he didn’t pull away. “Just until we get within sight of the dorm.” You winked at him cheekily. “Got to stay professional after all.”
“Agreed. Oh, and Y/N, if you need a job at Monstro Lounge to earn a bit of extra money, just ask.”
The minimal allowance Crowley gave you, and the state of Ramshackle, was incentive enough. “I’m yours. But I won’t be signing a contract,”
Azul raised an eyebrow, a cunning smirk on his face. Just like that he slipped seamlessly back into his business persona.
“My dear, Y/N,” he cooed. “You said it yourself. I either covet or earn. And I’d much rather earn you.”
Author note: Here it is! The sequel!
I love writing Azul because I connect with him the most out of all the characters in TWST. The man deserves to snap out of his (overly) self-critical nature and love himself.
But, of course, things are never that easy. Falling is easy, climbing back up takes work.
I hoped you enjoyed reading.
Please leave a comment/reblogs with comments. They are greatly appreciated. My TWST OC ask box is open.