Ash finds rhythm in her solitude, she goes out every weekend to scope out different bands, taking her sketchbook and making notes of any designs of the bands or the patrons she enjoys. She’ll find herself a corner and nurse a glass of champagne, but she won’t dance. She gets lunch with Freddie twice a week, depending on their schedules, and has dinner with his family at Jer’s insistence every Thursday. She tailors Kash’s clothes, and helps cook dinner with Jer, and watches the news with Bomi. Sometimes Freddie and Mary join her, but often it’s just Ash.
She takes meetings with EMI executives and other designers, and collaborates in small amounts on other band’s looks. They like her well enough to keep her with Queen as their stylist, but they don’t trust her well enough yet to give her another band.
When the band Hawkwind reaches out to her of their own accord, tells her they like her style, her designs, Ash is simultaneously delighted and incredibly nervous. Of course she’d seen them on Top of the Pops, had occasionally bopped along to some of their songs on the radio, but it was another thing to work with them.
After everything that had gone down, Ash knows she can’t turn to any of Queen right now, that they’re all too close to Roger for her to feel comfortable talking casually about working with another band. Though that’s not entirely true; Freddie’s always there for her, no matter what she’ll always be able to talk to him, but still, part of her holds back.
She agrees to lunch.
They’re not a small band by any stretch of the imagination; she’s so used to
her boys Queen that it’s a little jarring trying to picture this group of people in her usual glam-rock style. There’s six of them in the main band, and a very pretty girl who grins at Ash when the ginger slides into her seat at the table, early by fifteen minutes and still the last to arrive.
She’s brought a portfolio with her, but she needn’t have; they already know they want to hire her, and the only question they ask is if she works with body paints. Ash frowns, but quickly agrees that she can, she’s spent enough time wrangling the boys into makeup, body paint wouldn’t be too much harder.
It’s easier to distract herself from the emptiness of the flat if she’s throwing herself into her work, distract herself from the fact that Roger doesn’t call. Freddie says he’s just trying to give her space, but Ash has been feeling his absence like an ache. It can’t last forever; his things are still here and he’ll have to come and-
It’s been almost two and a half weeks of self isolation, and three weeks since she’s seen Roger, when there’s a knock at her door. She’s got examples and inspiration scattered about between reams of material and tubs of paint, and she’s just wearing a pair of shorts as she figures out patterns in paint across her own chest, mirroring the photos of the woman, Stacia. The paint is still wet but Ash throws on a singlet to check the peephole.
“You working?” Roger asks when she opens the door, his hands in his pockets, his eyebrows raised. There’s neon paint across her shoulders and collar, still damp and gently bleeding through her white singlet.
“Yeah.” Ash steps back automatically, making room for him to come through, and he steps into the flat, smirking a little as he takes in the sight of it all. “It’s not for you guys.” She’s quick to follow it up with, and Roger makes a noise in the back of his throat that she can’t quite interpret, but when he looks at her, she knows without him having to speak that he’s curious as to who. “Hawkwind.” Picking her way through design debris, Ash carefully picks up a photo of the band, and presents it. This time, Roger’s noise is surprisingly approving, and when he hands it back, Ash sees Stacia off to the side of the performing band, stark naked and covered in paint, and perhaps his noise makes sense.
“I’ve heard some of their stuff.” Is all Roger offers, before he moves around the living room towards the bedroom.
“You here for your things?” Ash asks, and he can’t even look at her to confirm that he is. After a moment, she hears him start rifling through the cupboard, and she goes back to her work. Roger’s seen her naked more times than she cares to count, so she doesn’t feel ashamed to take off her shirt and continue her work as she tries to distract herself from her now sort-of-ex-boyfriend packing up his things in their formerly-shared apartment.
“Brian’s gotten sick of me borrowing his shirts when I don’t wanna wear one of the five that I brought with me.” He tries to bring some levity from the other room, his tone light, but Ash just tries to focus on her work and not on how her heart hurts. They’re not technically broken up, a break she’d called it, not broken up, but Ash doesn’t know how to navigate this tricky grey area, so she stays quiet, withdrawn. It doesn’t go unnoticed.
“Are you okay?” Roger’s leaning against the door, watching Ash as she awkwardly swirled bright paint along her lower back, and she’s so focused she actually jumps when he speaks, smearing the paint.
“Yeah? I’m fine,” Ash grins unconvincingly, and Roger makes his way to her his eyes following the curling designs. He holds his hand out for the paintbrush and Ash hands it over, turning away as he fixes the smudged paint with slow, deliberate brush strokes. “How are you doing?” Ash asks quietly.
“I’m doing good.”
Ash wants to scream, but she feels so fucking selfish; of course he’s good, she’s the one who wanted this to begin with after all, she should be happy that he’s doing well. He must sense something’s changed in her, maybe her shoulders tense, or maybe he just knows, because he stops.
“I should go.” He sighs, and Ash takes back the paintbrush. She doodles patterns on her arm as he grabs his suitcase full of clothes from the bedroom. Standing and stretching, Ash waits by the door as he makes his way through the living room; he hesitates by the door. Just for the moment, Ash lets her resolve falter, and she grabs his wrist, pressing a kiss to his lips. It’s quick, just a peck, but Roger gives her a bittersweet smile. He puts the suitcase down by his feet and takes her face in both of his hands to press his lips to hers.
“I’m sorry,” Ash breathes, still on her tip-toes, lips barely an inch from his. Roger lets go of her, picks up his suitcase again, the handle held in a white-knuckled grip.
And then he leaves.
“You seem tense.” Stacia stands naked in Ash’s living room the following week, patient as Ash does a paint test. The rest of the band will be over in a few hours, but Ash wanted to provide the dancer with a modocom of modesty.
“I haven’t been sleeping well.” Ash admits, her gaze clinical as she outlines a splotch of light blue paint on Stacia’s left boob with some dark blue.
“Oh no, I’m so sorry.” Stacia hums, and Ash looks up to give her a thin smile. Stacia, standing at literally a foot taller than Ash, gives an amused smile back.
“You don’t need to apologise, love,” she assured, moving to repeat the design on the taller woman’s sternum.
“Well someone should, though the sleep-deprived look is quite fetching on you.” She laughs lightly, and Ash grins sharply.
“I brought it upon myself, I’m just still getting used to sleeping alone is all.” Ash moved to Stacia’s lower back as the statement hung in the air. Ash worked diligently in the silence, part of her breathing a sigh of relief to finally be able to talk about this with someone.
“Ah, so boy troubles, I assume?” The smirk is clear in Stacia’s words, and Ash snorts in agreement.
“Unfortunately.” Ash, focused on her work when she speaks, misses the amused, almost knowing twist of Stacia’s lips, but the subject fades easily as the dancer asks about the design Ash was working out against her skin.
Stacia is beautiful, statuesque and gorgeous, and Ash is a little in awe of her. That awe fades however, as Ash spends more time with her and the two develop an actual friendship forms with Stacia coming over a few more times before the tour, for Ash to try out different designs. Afterwards, Ash orders take out and Stacia takes a shower, and for the first time in a long time, Ash realises she’s made a female friend her own age who isn’t just using her to get to Queen; Stacia doesn’t even know she was that close to the band beyond being their stylist. It’s been a long time since she’s had someone like this in her life, and she’s relishing the other woman’s company.
She sees Roger occasionally; not at the flat anymore, Ash doesn’t say it but they both know it hurts a little. Sometimes they’re at coffee shops, but usually after resurfacing from her work, Ash will head over to Brian’s, and Roger reheats some leftovers and they don’t say they miss each other, but when Roger presses a hesitant kiss to her lips, she kisses him back, berating herself the entire time. They’re not back together, they don’t even talk about it - they both need Ash to be the one to bring it up, but she’s too damn stubborn - but they fuck on Brian’s sofa. Roger doesn’t get her off and they both know it, messy and desperate and still mostly clothed. Not long after Roger’s finished, Ash can already feel herself beginning to fill with regret, and also feels a little like she’s stringing Roger along. The guilt is always worse than the regret.
“Ash...” Roger says, still sitting on the sofa in his sweatpants. She’s doing up the fly of her jeans, already on her feet. He wants to ask if she misses him, even a little bit, but he can’t. He doesn’t know which answer is worse.
“I’m not expecting you to wait for me,” is what she says, guilt forcing the words from her lips. “I told you I’d still work with the band if things went south, and I mean it, but-”
“I thought this was a break, not a-”
“I’m working with another band right now; when you need me, I’ll be here, but... it’ll be best for both of us if we don’t keep doing this,” and it hurts, it fucking hurts to say. She can’t look at him.
“Okay.” He’s not going to argue when she’s made up her mind; he thinks she’s making a mistake, but he won’t argue. It’s quiet; they don’t look at each other, he doesn’t offer anything else. Ash leaves.