AN: Forgot to post the last couple weeks. Had some life issues, including losing my job, and just haven't been keeping track of the days all too well. Apologies, but hope you enjoy this week's chapter!

From Ashes - (Don't) Leave Me Alone

One of the most important things that William learned was that change wasn't always unwelcome. It was a difficult lesson to learn, because the unwelcome changes to his life were always the first he thought of. But, the newer aspects of his life were his freshest memories and they were ones that he treasured.

To be honest, the idea of dating someone did fill him with uncertainty. He never had the chance to before - his experiences were limited to what he's seen by the relationships of other people. But Stephen seemed to know and understand that, and like before, never pushed his boundaries too hard. Sometimes, William wondered how he could spare so much patience. Other times, though, it was apparent that Stephen just cared for him very much.

Stephen was an attentive person. He paid attention to William's habits and always seemed to take them into account. He would surprise William with small gifts nearly every time they saw each other, and William always seemed to like each one more than the last. It was more apparent to William now that Stephen had always been particularly accommodating to him - even before they were dating. He had always assumed Stephen in general was overly considerate.

It wasn't always easy, especially in the beginning. It wasn't too long after the concert that Stephen had to return to his work for some time. William strongly noticed his absence, and recognized now that he might always feel this way. But, also as Victor said, he could function just fine without Stephen there. It was actually easier knowing why he missed the other so much.

When Stephen came back, his affections seemed even more apparent to William. When they saw each other, Stephen always seemed to be touching William in some way. With a hand on his shoulder, interlocked with his, in his hair… William wondered at times if Stephen desired the contact more than he did.

Dating didn't make everything change, however - in other ways, it was more of an addition to what was already there. It allowed William to open up to Stephen just a bit more, and somehow William felt like he could more easily understand him.

He started to notice certain things about Stephen. He noticed that Stephen was very rarely alone. When Stephen wasn't at work or spending time with William, he was out with other friends or had company in his apartment. He couldn't quite understand it himself - he would have been exhausted in the same position. Curious, he brought it up once.

They were in Stephen's apartment. William expressed an interest in the other's record collection, and was letting Stephen show him his personal favorites. At one point, Stephen paused to respond to a text message, confirming some plans for the next day.

"I'm surprised you don't get tired from going out so often," William noted as Stephen put his phone away. "Did you even get a day to yourself this week?"

"I find I'm not the kind of person that needs days to myself," Stephen said, turning his attention toward William. "I prefer to be around other people."

"I couldn't do that," William said, tired at just the thought. "Especially with so many different people. I'd lose my own head space."

Stephen shrugged. "I just don't like being alone."

Stephen's words were so nonchalant that William easily moved on from it in the moment. Sometime later, when he had already gone home, he thought about it again. It was a reasonable answer, but William couldn't help but feel that it was still strange to go so far to not be alone. But it wasn't something he was certain enough about to bring up again.

Unfortunately, the parts of his life that William tried to avoid were still ever present. The reminders came in many forms, and they continued to come once they found him. For one, he realized that he still could not bring himself to share a vital part of his upbringing. He still couldn't speak about it even to those who already knew, let alone the new people he welcomed into his life. He could feel the reminder in gaps of conversation, where he hesitated and stalled and instead spoke of something else. He knew it was noticed and ignored out of kindness.

Other reminders were more physical - the letters he kept ignoring, mainly. He had at least become accustomed to those, and was mostly annoyed by them now. They did present another problem. They made him avoid inviting anyone over, even Stephen, out of fear of having to explain their continued existence in his home.

But neither of those things were the most unwelcome reminder by far. The most unwelcome one was the reason he had made such a drastic move in the first place. It was another physical reminder, but one he couldn't just toss out or throw away. Maybe it was physically possible for him - but his upbringing had left him with one thing in particular. Whenever he met face-to-face with the Fae, he felt like a scared child again.

There was an incessant knock at his apartment door, and he answered it expecting the landlord. He opened the door to two people he didn't immediately recognize, until he heard one of them speak in a heavily accented voice. "Hello, we're from Gaelasy University," she greeted. "We'd like to speak with you, if you have a moment."

William straightened, looking down the hall and confirming it was empty. He spoke a moment afterward, adopting a formal tone he hadn't used in months. "I believe I have already given the University my response regarding my return," he said in Faerie.

"The headmasters of the University elected to extend the deadline for your return," the second replied.

"I do not intend to return at any time," he said back, as firmly as he could. "If that was not clear, then pass that message on again."

"If we could just have a moment of your time to discuss possible routes, we'll be out of here in no time," the first Fae insisted.

"The University has a vested interest in your future. You only need to grant us an opportunity to remind you of that," the other added.

The way they spoke was disarming, and in the past it was enough to let slip his defenses. But he knew that if he gave them a single opportunity, it could be enough to undo the progress he had made.

"I thank you for the consideration," he said quickly, stepping back into his apartment. "But I have other business to attend to. I cannot have this conversation today." Before they could make another appeal to him, he shut the door and locked it.

He retreated to his bedroom on the off chance they decided to knock again, but he doubted they would try again so soon. Still, he was trapped in his apartment for the time being - it wouldn't be easy to head off that conversation otherwise. If they were willing to come directly to his apartment, maybe they were even willing to corner him somewhere else. And, if they did somewhere in sight of his friends, they might learn who he really was.