From Ashes - Confiding

The downside of his decision to move to California was the distance it put between William and his family. His brother, Abraham, however, could cross long distances without much issue, and made it clear he was only a phone call away from a visit.

William called Abraham down a few days after his second outing with Stephen. He had been keeping his family updated on his transition to the new city, but he wanted to prove that things were going as well as he said. Abraham had professed an interest in seeing a few of the places he mentioned, but William was certain he was also masking his concern.

William decided to invite Abraham out to Hepcat's. He had worried at first about running into Stephen there, but later didn't think it would've been so bad. When they arrived there, however, there wasn't any sign of him or his bike. He found himself disappointed, but tried not to think about it. Especially since his particularly perceptive brother was around.

They bought drinks and took a seat at one of the tables, and William saw Abraham take a cursory look around. He had an inkling that his older brother might like this bar, and smiled to himself at Abraham's subtle interest. "I didn't think you'd want to meet up at a bar," he said, lightly drumming his fingers on the tabletop. "I thought you'd choose a cafe, or something."

"I like the music here," William remarked. He looked towards the stage, which was currently vacant of performers. Then he shrugged, lifting up his glass, "And drinking isn't so bad now that I know what I like."

Abraham looked down at his own drink, and scoffed lightly. "Oh, really? I was under the impression that you didn't like alcohol."

"No," William said back, rolling his eyes. "I don't like the taste of hard alcohol, which you and David exclusively gave me."

Abraham chuckled. "You can't tell us alcohol doesn't affect you and not expect us to test that out. And now you know you can get drunk."

"I said it barely affects me," William muttered, sighing. "And after that experience, I don't think I'll try getting drunk again."

"So, if you're not really into hard alcohol, which is pretty much why you go to a bar instead of just drinking some flowery wine at home," Abraham pointed out, narrowing his gaze slightly, "... then you must really like the music here."

William blinked, and then shrugged again. "Um, yeah. It's pretty good… and I thought you might like the style, too."

"There's no one playing right now," Abraham said.

William flushed. "I didn't know that, I thought they would always have music here."

"Did you pick this bar because you thought I'd like it, or because you really like it?" Abraham questioned, raising a brow at him. "Cause I'm good anywhere, we didn't have to go out."

"No, I just had a really good time here before!" William said back. "I know it's usually not my… scene, but I actually like this place."

When he looked over at Abraham, his older brother seemed to be scrutinizing him. It only lasted for a moment, though, before Abraham seemed to smile at whatever conclusion he made. "Alright, well, heads up - if you want to come here for music, bars usually advertise their shows online."

William relaxed, nodding back at him. "Oh, I'll keep that in mind…" He paused, took a long sip of his drink, and then asked, "So… how are things going at home?"

Abraham's expression softened. "Things are… better now. Less awkward. Still kinda fucking weird, but there's no avoiding that - just dealing with it."

"Yeah…" William agreed quietly.

"There's still letters coming in for you," Abraham noted, making William freeze up. He reached across the table to put a hand on William's arm, saying, "Hey, you're fine, you already made yourself clear. They're the ones who need to take a fucking hint."

William bit his lip, shaking his head. "N-no, I know… I'm good. I just… hoped they would have stopped by now. But I know it's not that easy."

Abraham stared at William for a long moment, and then lightly patted his arm. "Come on, I'll get you another drink. We have more catching up to do."

Abraham left later that evening, leaving William alone in his apartment. Although he usually needed time to decompress after a night out, the absence of his brother's presence left him lonely. He didn't feel tired enough to attempt sleeping yet, but didn't want to be left with his thoughts either - instead of retreating to bed, he curled up on the couch and tried to find something to watch.

Near midnight that night, William's phone buzzed with a message. Surprised, he checked it, and saw Stephen's name on the screen.

S: hey u up?

He didn't even realize how late it was until he saw the timestamp on the message. William still didn't quite feel tired enough to sleep.

W: Yeah, I am.

W: Why're you up?

S: cant sleep. do you wanna go to the park?

William gave a cursory glance up back towards the television. It had been partially distracting, but mostly numbing.

W: I can't sleep either.

W: The park sounds nice.

S: sweet. when will you be ready

W: Just give me ten minutes.

S: see u then B)

William was already dressed from his outing with Abraham. He didn't think he needed to bring much to go to a park, so after waiting inside a few minutes longer, he went out to the building's parking lot. Stephen arrived not long after.

Stephen drove through the empty streets at a faster pace than William was used to. He remained careful on the turns, but sped down the long, curving streets so the cold wind stung their noses. William held onto Stephen tightly, getting shaken more awake by the cold air and the loud sound of the bike's engine.

The park was completely empty, as was expected. Stephen parked the bike and stretched once standing on the ground with a loud sigh. "Good to have some fresh air, huh?"

William took off the helmet Stephen gave him, leaving it on the seat of the bike. "It's… quiet," he noted, hearing barely anything except the distant sound of cars and singing crickets.

"That's what I like about it," Stephen said, looking around with a smile at the different structures and tables beneath the lights.

William watched Stephen turn inwards towards the rest of the park. "Do you do this often?" he asked curiously, noticing just how relaxed the other seemed in that moment.

Stephen glanced back toward William. "Oh, sometimes. I just get in the mood to go out at night occasionally."

"Because you can't sleep?" William asked.

For a moment, Stephen stayed quiet, before averting his eyes. His smile never faded. "Yeah. Hey, do you like swings?"

William thought back to an old memory of playing on a tire swing. He smiled back, and quietly replied, "Yeah… I do."

"Sweet, swings are pretty much my favorite thing." Stephen led William through the park to the swing set, before claiming one for himself and kicking off. William sat down on the next swing over, starting off with a much slower back-and-forth sway. After a few moments, Stephen spoke up again. "So, how have things been for you the past few days? I haven't heard from you."

"Abraham came by to visit," William said, watching his feet as he lightly swung them in the air. "Other than that… not much."

"Oh, how'd that go?"

"It was nice. It was good to see him again." William paused, then admitted, "I always miss them - my brothers."

Stephen glanced over at the other. "How far do they live?"

"They live over on the east coast. So, it's hard for all of them to visit."

Stephen nodded. "I see. What else have you been up to, though? Did he stay all four days since I last saw you?"

"No, he was only over today, actually…" William trailed off, feeling himself tense up. "I really haven't been up to much."

Dragging his foot on the ground to slow down his swinging, Stephen looked over at William. "Watch any cool movies? You haven't asked me for any."

William shrugged. "Nothing in particular - I couldn't really remember anything else in your collection, anyway. I got a bit distracted when I saw Star Wars."

"You have to have done something," Stephen urged on.

"It's not that I've done nothing!" William faltered, suddenly feeling frustrated.

Stephen tapped at his lips with his finger, before pointing it toward the other with a thoughtful look. "I've noticed something."

William drew in a deep breath, and looked over at the other. "...What?"

"You don't talk about yourself very much. I mean, you talk about your brothers a lot, but not really about you."

After a moment, William slowed himself to a stop. "There's not much for me to talk about, otherwise… I don't really have any interesting… interests."

"I doubt that," Stephen said back. "I think anything about you is interesting."

William bit his lip. "I don't really know how to talk about myself, either…"

Stephen cocked his head. "Why's that?"

"I don't know, it's just... it's really hard to talk to someone when I don't know what they're expecting."

"Well, why does what I expect matter?" Stephen stopped swinging, turning himself toward William.

"Because…" William hesitated, and turned away, finding it even more difficult to find the right words when talking to the other face-to-face. "I don't really want to end up… disappointing you, or anyone else. It's not a good feeling…"

Stephen's look turned curious, but rather sad. "You're not going to disappoint me, you know. Unless you secretly turn out to be a huge asshole. Then I might be a little disappointed."

Still looking away, William continued, "I don't know… I don't feel like everything I like fits me… like I shouldn't like those things…"

"You shouldn't like what?" Stephen lifted up his feet, making his weight swing back to the side.

"It's… childish," William said.

"Childish?" Stephen chuckled. "Like going to the park to swing on the swingset?"

A second passed, and then William eventually returned his gaze to Stephen. Stephen was letting his swing twist idly side to side, staring out toward the street. The knot in William's stomach loosened. "I know I'm overthinking it…" he muttered, letting out a deep breath. "... I don't really do a lot of reading anymore, but… I've been collecting some books…"

Stephen glanced toward William. "What kinds of books?"

"...They're comic books."

At that, Stephen grinned. "Comic books, huh?"

William shrugged again, feeling embarrassed and overwhelmed. "I don't know. I used to really like them - I still think they're … cool," he stammered in his defense.

Stephen chuckled. "I'm a Spider-man guy myself. I've loved him since I was a kid."

William paused, just waiting for Stephen to say anything else, watching for… something. But he didn't see anything beyond a slight bit of surprise and the thoughtful expression that followed. "...Batman was my favorite superhero when I was younger," he finally said. "I saw there were movies about him, but… I really liked the older Batman, so I've been looking for the comics I used to read…"

"Did you know about the comic book shop that's about fifteen minutes from here?" Stephen asked.

Nodding, William said, "I think so. I've been going to one to, um, buy whatever copies I could find. That's where I heard that, well… that people think the older superhero comics are weird or 'corny'."

Stephen rolled his eyes. "In exchange for what? 'Gritty realism'? I'd rather stick with the fun stuff."

William smiled a bit. "Yeah, I don't really get it myself."

Stephen started to swing himself lightly again. "Did you think I'd be surprised to hear you're into comics?"

"There are a lot of people who would be," William muttered, following suit.

"I mean, it seems pretty on-brand to me," Stephen said back.

William gave Stephen an incredulous look. "...What do you mean?"

"Well, you're into Star Wars," Stephen pointed out. "Most people I've met that like sci-fi are also into superheroes in some way."

William stared at Stephen for a long moment. It was like the tight knot of pent-up anxiety had snapped rather than loosened. It was so sudden a feeling that he didn't have the time to consider his next words, before he said, "That doesn't make sense - Star Wars is the only sci-fi series I've watched. I usually like character dramas!"

Stephen smiled. "That's also not very surprising."

"Alright, now you're just full of it," William shot back, but without any real heat in his voice. "I've never even hinted that before!"

Stephen snickered. "Why were you so scared of telling me this stuff? Are you that dedicated to your brand?"

William sighed, lifting his head up to look out at the black sky. "It's not that… it's complicated."

"Well, here's a question. Were you surprised to hear I like musicals?"

William thought back to that moment. "I was," he answered.

"Was that a bad thing?"

He immediately shook his head. "No…"

Stephen nodded, shifting his eyes elsewhere. "I see."

Uncertain of what he could say after that, William let himself get absorbed in the quiet, sometimes broken by the creaking swingset. He understood the point Stephen made, and it was a lesson he was constantly relearning. Especially on days when painful memories came back to the surface.

Usually, when it was too quiet, he couldn't stop himself from thinking about them. But Stephen's presence kept him grounded in the moment. The realization made him feel a sudden rush of gratitude.

He eventually broke the silence between them. "Thank you," he quietly voiced, keeping his gaze distant.

Stephen turned a smile toward William. "No need to thank me. I'm probably stepping where I'm not welcome, honestly."

William scoffed lightly in response, but didn't say anything else. He wanted the silence in his own head to last as long as it would.