AN: We're very excited to publish this week's chapter! We're trying to do a posting schedule, so From Ashes will update on Thursdays :) Hope you enjoy!
From Ashes - A Night Out
Despite Victor's time limit looming over his head, William couldn't make himself go out for several days after Rahasai's reading. He had tried to get his mind off of it by questioning Rahasai about the intricacies of his method, but once he was alone with his thoughts it plagued him. Eventually, after failing to even get his own work done, he called Victor in hopes of learning whether or not Rahasai's predictions were truly 'inevitable'.
Victor answered with a cheerful greeting. "Hi, William! How're you doing?"
"Um…" William looked at his work desk, which was covered in mostly unfinished charms. "I'm alright. I hope I didn't call at a bad time."
"Oh, not at all. I was just reading," Victor reassured. "What's up?"
"I was just curious about something," William said, trying to sound aloof. "Have you… gotten a reading from Rahasai before?"
"Oh, of course. Why do you ask? Did you get a reading from him?"
"Yes, I was curious about how it compared to fae divination," he explained hurriedly. "But, um, I wanted your opinion about how… accurate it can be."
"Well, fae divination relies on magic. Rahasai's work relies on his connection to the stars." He paused in thought for a moment. "Now that I think about it, I don't think Rahasai's ever been wrong!"
William held back a groan, instead replying, "Oh, that's… really fascinating."
"Oh, now I'm worried… Did you get bad news?"
"No, no, it was just… interesting. I was just curious, really."
"Hm… Do you want to discuss it or would you rather I leave you alone?"
"It's nothing we need to discuss," William assured, already feeling embarrassed at the prospect. "Um, I should get back to work. I'll let you get back to reading."
"Alright, Will. Take care, okay?"
"You too, Victor." William ended the call, and resigned himself to another few days of feeling awkward.
Later that night, William's phone buzzed with a notification. He turned down the volume on the television, automatically expecting that Victor decided to call him to probe for answers. When he saw a text from an unknown number, the slowly growing reluctance gave way to confusion.
S: hey, this is stephen. we met tuesday. i hope you dont mind i got your number from ahyo
Although he had been avoiding contact, it was mostly due to an inability to meet with Rahasai without the reading coming back to mind. He didn't know Stephen very well, but talking over text was easier than talking to someone in person. He did also wonder why Stephen was interested in talking to him.
W: No that's ok. How are you?
S: im pretty good :) i hope youre doing well too
W: Yes I am
W: Was there something you wanted to ask me?
S: yep, there is actually
S: i was wondering if you're free on saturday
William considered. He had no plans, and it would give him another couple days to move past his social anxieties.
W: I am. Did you have something in mind?
S: yeah, there's gonna be a band playing at a bar not too far from my place if you're interested
S: i'm friends with the drummer, so he'll let us in early so we can get good seats
The mention of a band reminded William of the soon-approaching deadline. He tried not to think about it, and instead about how he'd been wanting to hear more kinds of different music. He just hoped Stephen's tastes weren't too far removed from his.
W: That sounds nice.
W: What is the bar called?
S: i'll even buy you a drink or two if you decide to join me
W: Should I know what a hepcat is?
William had been told that he could come off as snarky over text. He thought maybe this was one of those times, so he tacked on another response.
W: As long as you don't make fun of my choice in drink.
S: don't worry, i have no place to judge. what kinds of drinks do you like?
W: I usually ask for something sweet, or minty.
W: But I don't go out to bars a lot. What about you?
S: i'll drink just about anything. depends on my mood mostly
S: right now i'm reeeeeally in the mood for some hard cider
W: Is there a drink you haven't tried?
S: hmmmm…. don't think so
W: I don't think I've tried hard cider before
S: maybe they'll have some at the bar ;)
William was sure now that Stephen wanted to meet him again. He wasn't sure what he might've done to inspire that attitude, but he took it as a good sign.
W : I suppose I have to go and find out
W: I'll see you on Saturday :)
S: meet me there at 7 then B)
William ended the conversation there with a sense of satisfaction and relief. Maybe it was time for him to be a bit more optimistic.
When William arrived at the bar, there was already a growing line outside of it. The neon lights on the outside lit up the people standing beneath them. The bright colors reflected in the puddles on the sidewalk and the street, leftover from the day's earlier rain. Standing just outside of the alley next to the building, Stephen was entertaining himself with his phone, carrying a backpack on one shoulder. He shifted his weight to one side, pushing his jacket aside to tuck his hand into his pocket. William wondered if he was the only one Stephen invited, but decided against commenting on it. Instead he approached, trying to not seem too intimidated by the noise heard through the doors of the bar.
"Hello Stephen," he said, faux casually.
Stephen looked up from his phone, giving a smile. "Hey, Will. C'mon, my friend's got the back door open for us. They're opening the front doors soon."
William nodded, wringing his hands together. "Right, you mentioned that. Sorry, I should've been a bit earlier."
"Hey, no worries," Stephen said back, standing next to William and putting a hand on his shoulder to guide him toward the back door. "We can still get the best seats in the house."
Although a bit unsure, William followed his lead. "I never did ask, what sort of music does your friend play?"
"They're like a pop-punk kind of band," Stephen answered, walking them past the band's van to the door. William nodded, vaguely familiar with the genre. Stephen opened the door and let William in ahead of him, before following him in and raising a hand in greeting when he spotted his friend setting up on the stage.
"Hey, Stephen," the drummer said, hopping off of the stage and walking over to them. "Is this that plus-one you were talking about?"
"You got it." Stephen put his hand back on William's shoulder. "This is William. Will, this is Ramone."
Ramone held out a hand. "Great to meet you, Will. You ever been here before?"
William politely reached out to shake Ramone's hand. "It's nice to meet you, too. And no, this is my first time actually."
"I hope you have a great time, then," Ramone said back. He glanced toward Stephen, raising an eyebrow with a small smile, then went back up onto the stage.
Behind William, Stephen chuckled and rolled his eyes, before starting to lead William toward a table near the stage. "Anyways, to our seats." The table wasn't too close to any of the speakers and a short walk away from the bar. When they got there, Stephen pulled out a barstool and gestured for William to sit down with a smile.
William shyly smiled back and took the seat, saying, "Thank you." As Stephen took his own place and dropped his backpack under the table, William looked around, taking in the interior of the bar.
The large room was dimly lit by the lights hanging down from the high ceiling. Round tables with barstools around them were scattered throughout the room, and a row of seating ran along the perimeter. To the side of the low stage, the bartender was polishing glasses with a small towel at the bar. The front doors stood open, letting the music playing from the speakers flood the street outside. The only things standing between the venue and the waiting line were the bouncers.
After a few moments, William decided to broach the subject. "So, were Ahyo and Rahasai busy tonight?"
"Not sure," Stephen said with a shrug, leaning an arm on the table. "I didn't ask."
"Oh," William said, surprised. "Well… thank you, for inviting me."
Stephen smiled. "Trust me, the pleasure is mine." William blushed, unsure of how to respond to that.
The room started to fill up with people after the bouncers let everyone in. Stephen glanced around, before standing up from his seat. "Hey, save my seat. I'm gonna get us some drinks. What would you like?"
William thought for a moment, trying to recall the drinks he did like. "I don't know…" he eventually said. "Well, how about you surprise me..?"
Stephen chuckled. "You're giving me a lot of power here." He walked off toward the bar, glancing back for a moment before ordering. William didn't see the harm - his brothers had already tested him with some rather potent drinks at this point. When Stephen returned, he had a glass in each hand. He sat down and placed one in front of William. "Blackberry gin and tonic. Try it."
"Alright," William said easily, lifting the glass to his lips. It was a mostly sweet drink, which he liked, but not overbearingly so. "This is good! Thank you."
"I knew you would like it," Stephen said, hiding his smirk behind his glass of whiskey.
"I did tell you what kind of drinks I usually like," William pointed out.
"You got me there." Stephen leaned his elbow on the table, swirling his glass in his other hand. "What other sorts of things do you like?"
William shrugged, looking down at his glass. "Oh, well, I can't think of anything particularly specific off the top of my head. I like a lot of things - I'm sure you do, too."
Stephen nodded his head. "Alright, fair. How about music? You never did tell me if you like this band's kind of music or not."
"I haven't listened to a lot of pop punk, actually," William said. "I've only started listening to different genres recently, and they've been whatever my brothers recommend…"
"You have brothers, huh?" Stephen gave an interested smile. "Are they as nice as you?"
"That depends entirely on who you ask," William said with a chuckle. Then, it slipped into a fond smile. "But, they are… nice."
"Just nice?" Stephen rose an eyebrow. "There's gotta be more to them than that."
"Well, of course, but I can't really quantify them very easily when they're three very different people," William said exasperatedly.
"Okay, then let's start with the oldest. I get the feeling you're not the oldest."
"What makes you say that?" William questioned, curiously. "But, you're right, I'm technically the second oldest. My brother, Abraham, is the 'oldest'."
Stephen smirked. "Lucky guess. What's Abraham like?"
William paused, considering. "People tend to assume he's… a jerk. But he's really sweet, and we have the most in common."
"Funny, people say the same about me," Stephen said with a laugh.
William laughed along, shaking his head. "If he was more outgoing, maybe you might be more similar. But I don't think you're a jerk… yet."
"Oh, you wouldn't believe," Stephen said back. "Quite a few people think I'm just a superficial flirt."
"What would you call yourself, then?" William asked, genuinely curious.
"Well, that's definitely not an easy question," Stephen chuckled. He rested his chin on his hand, looking off thoughtfully. "Hm… I guess I would say I'm a guy that loves good company."
William masked a smile behind another sip of his drink. "That's a little… how do you call it? Corny?"
Stephen laughed. "Hey, what can I say? Sometimes I'm a little stereotypical."
"I didn't understand before, but I can somewhat see why Ahyo told me you were a 'dork'."
"Ahyo called me a dork?" Stephen questioned, before pulling his phone out of his jacket pocket. "That kid's gonna get sniped next time I see him."
"Well, doesn't that just mean that he likes you?" William asked.
"Oh, don't worry, I'm just gonna give him a hard time," Stephen said back, typing on his phone. A few seconds later, he put his phone back into his pocket. "Okay, you now have my complete, undivided attention."
William smiled nervously. "Um, thank you?"
"We can talk about whatever you want. Have you been super into something recently? Like, I've been crazy into video essays lately."
"Oh, I'm not sure…" he said, hesitantly. The only thing he could think of that technically qualified was work, but it didn't seem like something Stephen would be interested in. "What's a video essay?" he asked instead, deflecting.
"It's like… an essay, but in video format," Stephen said, chuckling a bit. "I'm not sure how to describe it."
"Maybe you could send me some sometime," William offered.
"Well, I'll need a few of your interests so I know which ones to send you," Stephen said back.
"Well… I'm still figuring that out," William said quietly. "I don't think there would be videos about anything from the Fae realm."
Stephen looked thoughtful for a moment, before he covered it up with a smile. "How about we hang out at my place after this and I can show you some of my favorite stuff. Maybe you'll find something you'll like."
William hesitated. He hadn't gone to someone else's home before, and he wasn't sure how comfortable he would be. "Well… how long will your friend's band be playing? It might be a bit late…"
Stephen shrugged. "The band'll be playing for a few hours. We don't have to stay the whole time."
Instinctively, William wanted to use an excuse to say no. But he knew he would never get over his inhibitions if he kept avoiding new situations. "...Alright then," he said eventually. "If that's okay."
"Of course it's okay. I invited you." Stephen sipped from his whiskey, glancing down at William's fidgety hands.
A short silence fell over the table, but William was saved from feeling awkward about it by the band finally calling attention to the stage. He could only half-listen as they introduced themselves, however, daunted about having to approach another one-on-one conversation with Stephen in the future. Here, in the bar, there was enough going on that he could afford to be quiet. Especially as the music picked up, loud and drawing the attention of all the tables. In fact, it eventually got to him, drawing him away from his thoughts as he tried to parse the lyrics from the vocalist.
A few drinks and many songs later, Stephen leaned over the table so William could hear him. "Hey, do you wanna get out of here?" He had the scent of whiskey on his breath.
William turned to him distractedly, a moment passing before he deciphered Stephen's words past the music. "...Yeah, we can go," he answered during a lull in the noise. While his blood kept him from getting drunk, the constant stream of drinks did loosen his nerves slightly.
Stephen stood up, nodding toward the door. "Let's head out, then."
They carefully maneuvered away from the table and through the rest of the bar. Their unoccupied seats were immediately taken by other patrons.
Once they were outside, Stephen looked toward William, tucking his hands into his jacket pockets. "Do you still wanna come to my place?"
William took a deep breath of the cool night air, relaxed, and nodded. "Um, yeah. You mentioned it wasn't very far from here, right?"
"Yeah, it's just a couple blocks away," Stephen replied. "Do you wanna ride with me?"
"...Yes," William answered, unsure why he would do otherwise.
"Alright, cool. I'm parked over here." Stephen started walking them back toward the alley. William followed, only realizing the implication of what Stephen said a moment afterward.
"Wait," he started, looking at Stephen with uncertainty. He didn't appear to be drunk, but William had seen him order a fair amount of whiskey during the night. "Um, should you really be driving? I can't drive, either..."
"Oh, me?" Stephen waved his hand. "Oh, psh, I'm fine. My blood can take it," he said, patting his chest. He brought them behind the band's van. "You know, being a firebird and all," he added quietly toward William. Parked next to the wall was a sleek black motorcycle.
"... I have a second concern now," William said after a moment of taking it in.
Stephen looked back at William. "Yeah?"
"I've never ridden a motorcycle… I'm pretty sure I'll fall off…"
"Trust me, if you just hold on, you won't fall," Stephen reassured. "I mean, if you're really not comfortable with it, we can walk. It's only a couple blocks."
William paused, seriously considering the offer. But then he felt a cold drop on his head, and soon after another. They both looked up, and saw dark clouds around the light of the moon. "Um, you said a couple blocks?" he clarified, shivering under his light sweater. "Then… I think I can handle a quick ride."
Stephen watched William quietly for a moment, before shedding his jacket and holding it out toward the other. "Here. The ride'll be pretty windy."
William looked back at Stephen, and after a moment, smiled gratefully. "Thank you," he said, looking away slightly as he took it to hide his flush. "You won't be cold…?"
"I'll be fine," Stephen said with a shrug. He opened up his backpack and pulled out a helmet, before handing it to William after he put on the jacket. Stephen looked William over with a small smile. "Looks good on you."
William looked down at himself, adjusting the jacket over his shoulders. It seemed just slightly too big for his frame, but it was comfortable. He took the helmet from Stephen, and decidedly put it on. "Well… do I look cool ?"
Stephen chuckled, his eyes lingering. "Yes, you look very cool ."
Suddenly embarrassed by the continued attention, William cleared his throat and indicated the motorcycle. "So, um… let's go?"
"Of course." Stephen got onto the motorcycle, before patting the space behind him.
William sat down as told, but wasn't quite sure how he should hold onto the other. "Should I just… hug you?" he asked, hesitant of his wording.
"You can do that," Stephen said, glancing back to smile at him as he started up his bike.
William scrutinized Stephen's expression, but didn't see a hint that the other might've been uncomfortable. "...Alright," he said, settled, before slowly wrapping his arms around Stephen's torso.
"Ready?" Stephen said over the purr of the engine.
"Yeah, I think so," William replied.
"Hold on tight, then." With that, Stephen set off, driving down the alley onto the street.
He didn't go too fast, taking things pretty easily on the mostly-empty nighttime streets. Despite that, William did hold onto Stephen tightly, caught off guard by the open air rushing past. Like the other had said, though, keeping himself pressed against Stephen kept the fear of falling off at bay. After managing the first turn off the street, he could even reconcile the sensation with an evening flight. Although, those were usually alone, and he was all too aware of Stephen's warm body pressed flush against his.
It wasn't too long before Stephen pulled into a spot near an apartment complex. After shutting off the engine, Stephen let William get off first and followed close behind. William took a moment to take the helmet off and offer it back to the other. Silently, Stephen led William through the complex. William was grateful for the short reprieve, suddenly torn between the reminder of his nervousness and a strange desire that the ride had been longer.
Stephen walked up to a door and pulled out his keys to unlock it. Before opening the door, Stephen glanced back at William. "Home sweet home."
William, being as curious as he tended to be anxious, questioningly peered into Stephen's apartment. Stephen led William in, walking over to the black couch to set his backpack and the helmet on the floor next to it. Most of the walls were filled with framed band and movie posters. On the other side of the coffee table, the TV on the wall had bookshelves of movies and CD's on both sides. Next to a bookshelf was a small table with a record player on it and a wooden box full of records. The kitchen was separated from the living room by a bar counter, and the dining room had a table surrounded by a couple of benches and chairs.
William slipped Stephen's jacket off of his shoulders as he followed the other in. His gaze lingered on the posters and the shelves, referencing different titles he wasn't very familiar with. He wasn't exactly sure what sort of place he expected Stephen to live in, but the obvious placement of his interests made him smile. "You must really enjoy music," he noted lightly, placing the jacket over the back of the couch.
Stephen laughed for a second, holding up a finger. "Hold that thought." He turned that finger toward his shirt, which was dark with water on his shoulders. "Gimme, like, forty-five seconds." He hurried off to his room, kicking off his boots and grabbing them on the way there.
Confused, but not going to question it, William simply watched as Stephen disappeared from sight. After another long look at Stephen's collection, particularly the records, he sat down on one end of the couch. Stephen soon came back in, still pulling his new dry shirt down over his torso.
William looked over as he came back, and immediately caught a glimpse of the other's midriff. It was brief and accidental, but the fact that his gaze lingered for even a moment made him flustered. He tried to catch Stephen's eyes instead. "Um, better?"
"Much better," Stephen said with a nod. He sat down on the couch as well, leaning against the arm of it. "So, you were asking about music?"
"...Oh, right," William recalled. "You have a very… extensive collection. You must have a lot of favorites."
"Oh, yeah, I've collected a lot over the years. All of my absolute favorites are on the middle shelves," Stephen said, gesturing toward the bookshelves.
"The movies, too?" William asked. "You have a lot of those, too."
"Yup," Stephen replied with a smile. "Middle shelf of the movies are my favorites, and middle shelf of the CDs are my favorites." He pointed at each respectively.
William took a closer look at the middle shelves, and immediately perked up at one series of titles. "Oh, Star Wars! I never did get to see any of the sequels…"
"Oh, man, what's the last one you've seen?" Stephen asked, sitting up in his seat.
Abashed, William answered, "The original, when I was eight…"
Stephen's eyes widened. "Well, I guess we're gonna have to start catching you up now ." He stood up and walked over to the bookshelf, pulling a stack of DVDs off of the shelf. He set them down on the coffee table. "We can watch one or two tonight if you want, and you can borrow the rest to finish at home."
"Really?" William smiled excitedly. He couldn't remember everything about the first movie, but he had fondly attached memories of watching it with his brothers. "That would be really great, thank you!"
"Of course." Stephen quietly watched William's excitement as he looked over the movies' cases. "I hope you like them. I personally like the new ones, though a lot of people disagree with me. Except for the last one. That one's pretty bad."
William tilted his head a bit. "Really? Well, if its Star Wars, I think I'd like them regardless."
"I hope so," Stephen chuckled. He opened up one of the cases. "You wanna get started?"
"Yes, please," William replied with an earnest nod, folding his hands into his lap. "Um, you might need to remind me what's going on, it's been a long time for me."
"Don't worry, we're starting from the beginning," Stephen reassured, putting the disc in the player. "And by that I mean they made prequels, so there are three movies to watch before we even get to the one you've seen."
"Really?" William questioned, looking at the full stack of movies again. "Wow, um… okay. I have a lot to catch up on…"
"Don't worry, we can get you caught up slowly," Stephen chuckled. He grabbed the remote off of the coffee table and sat on the couch, before starting to skip through the previews. "And you can always borrow from my collection. Just give them back eventually, please." He finished his remark with a playful smile in William's direction.
William nodded, smiling back and thinking of the numerous other recommendations he had yet to watch. "I'll try to remember that."
Stephen started the movie and settled into a comfortable position on the couch, leaning against the arm and stretching his arm along the back. William stayed as he was, sitting up and barely leaning back against the couch. He tried to focus on the movie, intently watching the first scenes.
It became apparent pretty soon that Stephen liked to comment and make jokes during movies, sharing small details that William might have missed. Sometimes, he said something that William didn't quite understand, but he didn't mind elaborating. At first, William was self-conscious about it, but Stephen's demeanor eventually urged him to ask whatever came to mind. The movie seemed to fly by quickly, but by the end, it was already around eleven.
As Stephen put the DVD back in its case, William checked his phone and said, "It's late… I should probably get going."
Stephen turned around, snapping the case closed. "Oh, yeah. I forgot how late it is…" He set the movie down on the coffee table. "Are you gonna need a ride home?"
William picked up the stack of movies from the coffee table. "Well, yes… but I can call a ride. You don't need to go out of your way or anything…"
"Nah, lifts are pretty pricey," Stephen said with a wave of his hand. "I can take you on the bike, if you don't mind the cold. You can borrow my jacket again."
William bit his lip, but he did feel excited at the prospect of another ride. "...Alright. But I'll need a bag to hold these in," he said, slightly lifting up the DVD cases.
Stephen picked up the helmet and the backpack, before handing William the backpack. "Here, put 'em in this."
"Thank you." William opened the pack and carefully deposited the cases inside. He paused before putting the backpack on after taking a moment to put on Stephen's jacket again.
After running into his room to grab another jacket to put on himself, Stephen placed the helmet on top of William's head, giving it a pat. "Alright, all set." After making sure he had his phone, wallet, and keys, Stephen led William out the door.
Stephen got on the motorcycle and again pat the back while smiling at William. William didn't hesitate so much the second time, getting on behind Stephen and wrapping his arms around him.
Stephen glanced behind him. "So, where do you live?"
"Well, I live close to Park Avenue and Second Street... I can point it out when we get there."
"Sweet." Stephen started up the engine and started driving, decidedly avoiding taking the freeway.
It was a longer drive back to his own apartment. William was prepared this time for the sensation of wind around them, giving him more room for thought. Realizing that he would soon be back under his own roof suddenly left him tired and drained. In hindsight, he was surprised that he lasted so long outside of his comfort zone.
Absent-mindedly, he tightened his hold around Stephen as he worked through the events of the day. He always found himself rerunning through his previous interactions, nitpicking other's expressions or responses. He belatedly realized why he had managed to hold out, why the exhaustion was only hitting him now. He didn't notice it before, but he didn't recall a moment where Stephen hadn't been… encouraging. The other hadn't once pushed him past his own established limits, and William wondered if it was intentional or just natural for him.
While William was lost in thought, Stephen slowed down in the empty street so he could speak over the engine. "So, where are we going?"
William snapped out of his thoughts. "Oh! Right, sorry," he muttered, looking up at the street. "Just turn right ahead… it'll be a blue apartment building."
Stephen followed William's directions and quickly found the right building. He parked in the lot and they both got off of the bike. "Thank you for the ride," William said, taking off the helmet to hand back to Stephen. He lingered on the jacket and backpack he was still wearing. "Oh… I'll have to get the other things back to you once I take the movies up.""
"Oh, yeah, I can wait here if you want," Stephen said.
William thought about his sparsely decorated apartment, but knew Stephen was aware that he only moved recently. "No, that's okay, you can come and warm up before you leave," he replied, gesturing for Stephen to follow him to the front entrance..
"Oh." Stephen smiled, following William's lead. "Thanks. 'Preciate it."
William entered the building code and let himself and Stephen into the first floor lobby. They took the elevator to the top floor, and William led Stephen through the hallway to the front door of his apartment. "Here we are," he said, shrugging before getting his key out. "Um, I can get you a quick drink before you leave, if you want."
"Nah, I'll be alright," Stephen said back, leaning his shoulder against the wall next to the door with his hands tucked into his pockets. "I just wanted to see you off before I head home. I think I've bothered you long enough."
"Well… okay, if you're sure." William unlocked the front door, letting himself into the apartment. He quickly unpacked the DVDs from the backpack, setting the pile down onto his own living room table to deal with later. He then took off Stephen's jacket and folded it up neatly to put into the now-empty backpack. When he popped back into the hallway with Stephen, he handed it back over to him. "There you go. Thanks again, for inviting me out tonight, Stephen."
Stephen hung the strap of the backpack over his shoulder, smiling warmly. "Thanks for coming. I had a really great time hanging out with you."
William smiled bashfully. "I did, too… Goodnight, and get home safe."
"Yeah…" Stephen was quiet for a few seconds, before standing up straight. "Goodnight, Will." With that, Stephen turned around to go back to the elevator. William watched as he headed down the hall, before retreating into the familiarity of his apartment.