Tom held the back of the bench tightly, numb fingers aching. He didn’t say anything, though if he had, he wasn’t sure it would’ve helped; he didn’t think the thing was much in the mood for explanations. Relief surged through him when Ezre – in that clumsy, jerky way; gods damn, but Tom didn’t think he’d ever forget it – sat down on the bench, ’cause for a second, when it’d looked out over the frozen water and sighed all sad and longing-like, he’d worried it was planning on drowning the both of them.
If it’d brought Ezre any closer to the water, he didn’t know what he’d’ve done. Gone after them, he reckoned, tried to hold the lad back as best he could. He didn’t know if that would’ve done much good, either. He didn’t know the strength of a confused, half-mad, miserable ghost, but after everything he’d been put through today, he reckoned it’d be a damn sight stronger than him.
Then: a glimmer of silver whizzed through the frosty air, went soaring out over the water. Struck ice, bounced, skidded, skimmed the burnished skin of the water.
A glitter sat in the middle of the pond like a day star, and Tom stared at it.
Sound that came out of the lad’s mouth then could’ve struck him deaf. Eyes widening, Tom tore his gaze away, toward Ezre. He watched the struggles that played out across his face in flinches, in scowls, in expressions he’d never seen the lad make before.
Tsuter, how the thing was crushing the sound of Ezre’s voice in his own throat. Almost unbearable to watch, but he kept his eyes trained on him, and he grit his teeth, and he stood with his boots planted firm in the dirt. His grip on the back of the bench tightened and tightened, white-knuckled, fingernails grinding into the stone. That handful of seconds felt like it could’ve lasted a hundred years, but he wasn’t going to budge an inch ’til he knew what the ghost was going to do next.
Or ’til Ezre told him to get away, such as it was. It was with great reluctance that he let go of the bench and started backing up, crunching in the dead grass and frost. Still tense, despite all his shakiness, still ready to dive back in if he made any sudden moves. “Like hell,” he husked through his teeth at the ghost’s command to take them there, but much longer, and he didn’t think Ezre’d have much of a choice.
When Tom was about even with the tree, he heard a bizarre sound, bell-clear in the frozen silence. The monster’d stopped ranting, he realized, and Ezre was singing, a stream of Monite weaving through the air. Tom paused, holding onto the tree trunk for support, the breath still in his lungs. Warding (or whatever the hell you called it) was all well and good, he supposed, but if a ghost had a hold of your throat, you wouldn’t get halfway through a bit of poetry before –
A garbled howl tore its way out of the lad’s throat, splitting the spell and sending the mona roiling like a storm at sea. The sound needled at his ears long after Ezre’d gone silent, and then the ringing started back up. Try as he might to root himself to his bones, to hold fast to the frame of himself, the mona threatened to carry him off like a scrap of sailcloth on a shrieking gale. He squeezed his eyes shut tight, though he got a glimpse of something before he did, a wisp of something clawing its way out of Ezre.
The nausea that washed over him this time was too much. He felt like his legs’d been reduced to jelly, and he crumpled in the dirt, gagging. He vomited copiously behind the tree.
Felt like ages before the world settled. He shivered into his coat, slumping against the bark. The first thing he noticed was the absence. He’d felt the mona in his field now for so long, buzzing and shifting, that the lack of them was almost eerier than their presence had ever been. Familiar, though, in its way. The air was utterly still. He fumbled in his coat for his kerchief, but his hand was trembling so much that he nearly couldn’t get a hold on it; it took him awhile to wipe his face, catch his breath, get his bearings. He felt like a corpse suddenly given breath. Hollowed out.
The sound of Ezre’s voice, weak and sighing, sent a charge of panic through him. Abandoning the handkerchief in the dirt, he struggled to his feet, scrabbling at the tree. Another wave of nausea nearly bowled him over, but he managed it.
“Lad! Lad? Ezre!” His voice felt odd in his throat, weak and hoarse.
With one hand knotted in his hair, squinting down at the ground – the only thing that wasn’t moving – he picked his way carefully back over to the bench, cursing himself for not getting any further away from the spell. It took him too long to get there, and when he did, he slumped against it, gasping.
“You – what?” Tom struggled to parse what Ezre was saying, struggled to even hear it, given that he was mumbling into the snow. When he did, his lip curled. “Long walk back to – fuck you. Clocking circle. Fuck,” he snarled. He ran a hand through his hair, tangled and cold and wet with dew, shuddering.
Mouth set in a deep frown, he moved around the bench, then crouched beside Ezre. He planted a gloved hand firmly on his shoulder, shaking him.
This time, his voice wasn’t angry; it wasn’t gentle, but it was soft, and it was ragged with thinly-veiled concern. “I don’t care if you failed correctly or succeeded like a godsdamn mung,” he said, “I’m just – glad you’re – can you move? You lay there much longer, you’ll freeze to death. Here, let me – let me help you.” He fought down another gag, another nauseated chill, blinking. “Can you sit up? We got to get back. See if the moa’s still there.”
Gods fucking willing, he thought. If nothing else went wrong today, they’d be some kind of blessed. Since that was what passed for a blessing these days.