AN: Hello everyone! Welcome to our first story! My friend and I (WAM and animorbid) have been writing collaborative stories together since middle school. We love our characters, and have really wanted to share their stories! We've been working on From Ashes for a long while now, as well as a lot of other stories, and we're so excited for you to read them.

From Ashes - Starting Over

Until he was eight years old, William shared a room with three brothers. They had only one closet, one toybox, and two beds between them, and one rarely went around the house without another. William's mother always dressed them in matching clothes, and his father always mixed up their names. Some days he was William, and other days he pretended not to be. Through it all, he was never alone.

He was also not alone when he first had a room to himself, then ten years old. It wasn't really his room - he didn't really own anything in it. Everything in it was meant for someone else who wasn't there. They weren't there, but they always seemed both near and just out of reach. William moved out in hopes of getting away from them.

The apartment was purchased several weeks ago, but this was only his second day there. His things were brought in yesterday, and the later evening of that day was wasted on restless dreams. William could almost believe he spent the entire night counting marks on the ceiling. His morning wasn't as pleasant either, with the emptiness of the apartment and its walls taunting him. Everything he owned was still packed in boxes and bins.

His move across the country still seemed surreal, but not because of the distance. William knew California was going to be nothing at all like any place he'd been. He would have never considered the option if it weren't for the friends that lived there. They'd been more accommodating to him than he thought he deserved. Now twenty and with decades of living ahead of him, William had some growing up to do.

Before starting to unpack his things, William prepared a late breakfast for himself in the kitchen. The crackle of the stove's burner coming to life broke the silence of the apartment, and the heat started to wake him up. He was beginning to lean into the warm air over the cooking pan when his phone rang from across the room.

William stepped back from the stove, startled from an aimless reverie. He realized what he heard a moment later, and slowly crossed the kitchen to check his phone. Without looking at the screen, William knew who the message came from. He could count the number of people with his contact information on one hand.

He still had trouble navigating smartphones, but William eventually opened the full message. It was a reminder sent from Victor, a close friend of the family, that he would be coming by around two o'clock. Generously, and not surprisingly so, Victor also asked if he should bring anything with him. With Victor, that usually meant anything from an assortment of homemade baked goods.

Despite numerous assurances that making something was hardly any trouble for him, William rarely accepted Victor's offers. Victor had done so much for him already, and his own inability to return those favors made William anxious. Instead, he thanked Victor for the reminder - as he typed his reply, he spoke every word under his breath to make sure the message sounded right.

After finishing his breakfast, William stared down the unopened boxes in his living room. He didn't actually own much, but he used more boxes than he needed to because everything was organized so specifically. Before Victor arrived, he wanted to at least put out the necessities the apartment didn't already come with. They outnumbered his personal items, and would fill up more vacant space.

A lot of William's things were actually gifts from his family. When he announced the move, his brothers soon-after took him out for a day of shopping. He returned home with more than he intended to have, and only because his brothers waited to tell him that they would pay for everything.

Despite the uneasy night he had, the memory made him smile. Then, he reminded himself that they weren't there, and began his unpacking.

Two o'clock came around after William finished furnishing his bedroom. He was opening the first of the bins set aside in his study when the doorbell to the apartment rang. Expecting the announcement this time, William promptly put down what was in his hands to answer it.

William took time just two hours ago to get dressed - the preparation eased his anxiousness, and he smiled more readily at the visitor behind the front door. Victor, who looked deceptively young for the kind of wisdom he had, greeted William with a warm hug and an enthusiastic grin. As expected, he held a small plastic container with a few cookies inside.

"I had already made some for Rhea, so don't think it was a nuisance," he justified, all but forcing the gift into William's hands.

William simply took the container with a small smile, deciding not to argue on that. "Thank you, Victor. They're appreciated," he said, letting him in past the door. "I'm glad you could make it over today."

"I didn't have anything going on," Victor said back. He placed his bag next to the couch before putting his hands on his hips. "Where are we starting?"

"Well, I've already finished the living room," William said, heading into the kitchen to set the container down. "I've done my bedroom, too, but there are still things that could go around the apartment… and some kitchenware."

Victor nodded, looking around the room and starting to walk toward the kitchen. "I can set up your kitchen, if you want."

"That sounds like a good idea," William agreed, relieved. Victor knew where things should go better than he did. "I'll get the box."

Victor began to unpack and sort out the kitchen set and silverware, and William watched from across the room. He opened another box of decor, and they worked in relative silence. William thought about saying something to dispel the awkward quiet, but nothing good came to mind.

"So, how are things between you and Francis?" he eventually asked. Francis, his youngest brother, was a safe topic of interest they shared.

"I'm missing him right now, but I'm happy to spend a few weeks with Jon and Scarlet," Victor said, smiling to himself. "I miss them often, too. Plus, I get to help you out!" He turned to give William a smile. "Being in an empty apartment's gotta feel pretty lonely."

William shrugged, not disagreeing. "It's different," he said, "But it's something I'm sure I'll get used to, with time. It helps that the city is a good place for work."

"Getting all of your stuff unpacked should help," Victor added as he continued to organize the kitchen. "It'll feel more like a home."

"I suppose so…" William said, looking at the number of things he still had to put up.

"Plus, I've got a little housewarming gift for you," Victor said. "I'll give it to you after we're done." At that, William turned to Victor with a curious look. He then nodded, biting back the usual response to any gift.

It took the both of them a couple hours to finish furnishing the apartment with what William had left unpacked. There was only his study left to finish, but he told Victor he would handle the workspace himself. Still, he found that Victor was right - he felt better fit in the apartment now that it was outfitted with his belongings.

Victor finished fussing over details in the kitchen finally, before looking over to William. "So, that gift…" He held up a finger, walking over to his bag in the living room. William trailed after him, watching as Victor pulled out an envelope. It was plain and white, with only " Will " written on the back in neat handwriting. He went back over to William, holding out the envelope with a smile that was a bit hard to read.

William took the envelope, looking at Victor curiously as he carefully tore it open. He reached in and pulled out two folded pieces of paper. "What's this?"

Victor maintained his smile. "Concert tickets."

Surprised, William quickly unfolded the top sheet. There were a lot of graphics printed on the paper, but two things caught his eye: the band's name, and a date two months away. "Oh, we're going to a concert?"

"Nope!" Victor's smile suddenly became much more mischievous. "You are, though, with a friend!"

William looked back up at Victor, taken aback. "But, Victor… you're my only friend."

"First of all, that's not true," Victor said back, holding up a finger. "Secondly, that's kind of the point… kind of. I mean, you're in a new place, and it'd be nice to make some friends in the area so you have someone to spend time with when I leave."

"I understand your point," William said, "But I don't know if I can manage that in just two months…"

"You don't have to be best friends by that point, William," Victor chuckled. "Just find someone who you think is cool and invite them to see a cool band. It'll be a bonding experience."

An uneasy feeling passed over William as he stared at the tickets in his hands. "What if I can't find anyone who will go with me?"

"Then I'll gladly go with you, William," Victor said back with a reassuring look. "But as much as I love the band, I'd like for you to not be lonely here."

William sighed, knowing he had no way around this. "Alright… I'll try to find someone to invite."

"I have some friends in the area that I can introduce you to." Victor gave a playful smile. "Did you think I'd leave you to fend for yourself?"

"Well, I wish you would have started with that," William muttered.

Victor snickered. "I was messing with you."

After giving Victor a half-hearted glare, William put the concert tickets away in a side table drawer. The conversation thankfully turned to other things, but Victor's gift remained on the back of his mind. His only comfort was his own trust in his friend.