Love at first sight isn’t real, or, not with people at least, but when Ash sets her eyes on the dingy little bar that’s three blocks from her dingy little apartment, she thinks she’s as close as she’s ever gotten.
“Listen,” the gruff owner of the pub, Uncle Dave, as the regulars call him though he’s not really anyone’s uncle, claps a hand on her shoulder, “you’ve gotta be made of stern stuff to work here, girlie, you think you got what it takes?” He’d been sceptical of her, barely five-foot-three and soft faced, but her character references had been glowing enough for him to put her through training behind the bar.
“I think I can give it a go.” She grinned up at him, expression one of unwavering determination. It’s that determination that gets her through her first shift, thrown in the deep end on a Saturday night during the second week of term for the university half a block away, and everyone’s already looking to blow off steam. The band they’ve hired is… mediocre, and getting progressively worse as they fuel up on their free drinks between sets, and the guy they’ve got on bass slaps her on the ass when she’s going around picking up empty glasses. Even so, she manages to keep smiling, and doesn’t throw the leftover beer that someone had put out a cigarette in, in his face.
“You alright, honey?” Maureen, the only other female bartender, pouring a beer for a kid who looks suspiciously young, gives her a concerned look, but Ash gives her a sunny smile, and heads to the back, arms piled high with empty glasses, to start washing up. Despite the groping, the snide remarks, and occasionally spilled drinks, she loves it, the hum of people talking, of music playing, the smell of smoke and stale beer that she had become so accustomed to during her first year, now a place she hopes she’ll find herself a regular within.
Her saving grace of the night is Freddie, who shows up halfway into the second set, grinning brightly and waving at her over the bar.
“What is the fanciest drink this establishment offers?” He’s leaning both his elbows on the bar, chin resting on his hands when she comes to serve him. She can see the amusement sparkling in his eyes, and playing along, she leans against the bar on her side considering.
“We have the Long Island Iced Tea,” she’d heard a woman at the bar order it about an hour ago, though Maureen was the one serving her, and she recalls what she can where she had been half paying attention to the process, half pouring a beer for a guy who had told her to smile more, “it involves several of the bottles we have behind the bar, and a fancy glass from the back.” She mused, faux serious.
“And you know how to make it already?” Freddie seemed part-surprised, part-impressed, and Ash struggled to keep a straight face.
“No I do not. Would you like a pint?” She asked, already pouring the drink for him, anticipating his answer. He, unsurprisingly, broke out into a grin, agreeing, handing over the money for the drink.
“Do you know when Don’t Forget To Smile is playing next?” Freddie leans against the bar, beer in one hand, watching the band with mild interest, but Ash can’t answer for the customer beside him.
“Dunno, Freds, it’s my first day.” She reminded him pointedly, smiling brightly at the other patron as she passed over his drink and collected his money. To his credit, Freddie lets her finish her job, hanging around the bar and cringing as the band crashed to an uneven end for most, if not all of their songs.
She’s given her second break of the night at the start of their third set, having been at the bar since six, her feet killing her as it just edged on eleven, and Freddie joins her as she sits on a milk crate out the back, lighting up a cigarette.
“Enjoying it?” His eyes are closed, enjoying the thump of the bass and drums though the building without having to endure the actual song. Ash takes a long drag, pulling a notepad from the back pocket of her jeans, along with a pencil she’d swiped from the gambling section.
“It’s fun,” she admitted, sketching out an idea she had gotten when admiring a girl’s fringe skirt across the room. “’m mad that I can’t tell some of the blokes to shove it,” she let out a humourless laugh, taking another a long drag from her cigarette, pausing in her drawing to pull a few bills from where she’d had them tucked into her bra, “but I’ve made like twenty bucks in tips so,” and she shrugs instead of finishing the thought, putting the money back to her bra before passing off her cigarette to him. Hunching over for a moment, she struggles to add detail with the little pencil, but settles for what she can manage.
“Homework?” Freddie breathes in a lung full of smoke and lets it out with a chuckle as she affirms. “Still haven’t finished the ten thumbnails we need by Monday?” Again, she affirms, and he just laughs harder.
“I’ve been making my own clothes for years, it’s dumb that I need to take Intro to Fashion Design before I can get into any of the higher grade subjects.” Frowning at her work, Ash pauses for a long moment, considering her own words. Snapping her notebook shut, she shoves it back into her back pocket and takes the cigarette back from Freddie, leaning her head back against the wall as she inhaled out of frustration.
“I know darling, you’re a powerhouse and they’re holding you back.” Freddie pet her knee affectionately, and she leaned her head against his shoulder.
“They just want all this commercial bullshit.” Ash played up the childish whine in her voice, before leaning forward, suddenly intense as she stared off into the middle distance. “Where’s the pizzazz?” She demanded, looking back at where Freddie had his eyebrows raised. Without breaking eye contact, as if still demanding an answer, she takes another drag on her cigarette, before putting it out on the wall behind them.
“The pizzazz is with you, it’s always been with you, fuck what they think.” Freddie told her, and Ash’s expression softened from intense to fond as she tucked the half remaining cigarette in the breast pocket of her blouse.
“Fuck what they think.” She parroted back with a nod, and Freddie smiled at her, accepting her hand as she stood, getting ready to head back inside. After stretching out her legs, getting ready to spend the rest of her shift on them, she turns to him as he leaned against the door. “Is Smile really that good?” She’d been hearing about them for weeks now from Freddie, who presently, smiled, amused.
“They have potential.” He conceded, to which Ash narrowed her eyes.
“They better than these clowns?” She pointed at him, past the door to where the band was struggling it’s way through it’s final set. That gave Freddie pause.
“Yes?” Though it sounded more like a question, which only made Ash more suspicious.
“Fredward, if you bring garbage music into my establishment-” She warned, but Freddie just recoiled, expression disgusted.
“Fredward? That’s awful, and like I said, they have potential.” After a beat, he moved, opening the door, mouth twitching into a smile. “And it’s hardly your establishment, darling, you’ve been here a day.” Which, okay he’s got a point.
Until he doesn’t. She goes home at the end of the night with almost forty dollars in tips, and Dave looks rather proud, promising that he’d have Maureen teach her how to mix drinks. He asks her to come in the next day, for the Sunday lunch crowd, and she doesn’t say no.
Ash works weekends now, starts on Friday afternoons, finishes on Sunday nights, learns her way around the bar, learns the faces of the regulars. The men who come in on Sunday, drink beer and watch the dog races, they take to calling her the Pocket Rocket, for her stature and bright red hair, and her boundless enthusiasm. She’s found the brighter she smiles, the more she laughs at their stupid jokes, the more they tip her, and as a poor uni student, she wouldn’t dare pass up the opportunity.
The nickname carries over with Dave and Maureen, as well as the other staff, as Ash becomes known and liked for being able to put up with the uni students the best, and for being a quick study when it comes to mixing drinks. They favour the nickname, actually, they think it’s cute and quirky, and it does make her smile.
If she’s not Pocket Rocket, she’s just Ash, rather than Ashley, which was on her resume, and though she’s thankful, it’s what she prefers. She’s Ash on Friday and Saturday nights, when the uni students flood the pub and she’s the shortest one in the room, and on her second night, two different people also answered when Maureen called to her through the crowd. It’s easier, it’s less of a mouthful to yell when help is needed at the bar.
Her classmates frequent the bar, Freddie included, and so even to them the nickname spreads; no longer Ashley, as read from the roll, Ash, who might be failing Intro to Fashion Design, who’s always quiet in class, but wears a smile as big as she is at the pub.
“Do you know when Smile’s playing?” Freddie’s almost finished his drink by the time he asks, which is a new record for him. It’s a quiet Friday, they’ve got the jukebox going tonight instead of a band, and Ash is drying glasses behind the bar and hanging them up, everyone having been served at the bar.
“Tomorrow.” She informs nonchalantly, and he actually rises from the stool he had been sitting on, affronted.
“And how long have you known?” He demanded in mock outrage. She’s been at the bar for almost a month before she realised that the band didn’t actually play at her pub. After a word to her boss, telling him about the reputation the band had for bringing in customers, basing all her information off of things Freddie had told her, he looked into them.
“I had a hunch, but Dave confirmed it for me earlier today.” She grinned at Freddie, who’s eyes lit up with excitement. “They don’t play here, Fred, why’d you keep asking me-?”
“Because I wanted to show you for a while, but you’re always working when they’re playing, my dear.” He sighed dramatically, though it was all for show, and he let up with a grin. “Oh, I’ve been looking forward to this.” He mused, finishing off the last drops of his drink, pushing the empty glass towards her. “They really are quite good.” He assured, and Ash let herself smile.
“I thought they just ‘had potential’.” She asked, raising an eyebrow at him as she washed his glass in the sink behind the bar.
“They’ve been practicing.” Freddie told her with an air of finality, and Ash chose not to pry into whatever that truly entailed, as it seemed Freddie was heading home for the night.
The next day, Dave calls her from where she’s sipping water behind the bar, where she sees three guys all standing by the stage they had set up in the corner of the pub.
“If ya need anything, Pocket Rocket’ll be the one you go to.” It’s clear by his tone that Dave’s already tired of dealing with uni students, and Ash realises he’s talking to the band, here to set up. She picks up her step, brightens her smile, and fixes the way her shorts are sitting against her thighs. There’s no uniform at the pub, and Dave is pretty much of the opinion that everyone can dress however they want, as long as there’s no high heels.
Both Ash and Maureen wear black blouses, with the sleeves rolled up past their elbows, showing perhaps more cleavage than was strictly necessary, though it did garner more tips. Maureen usually opts for black pants, though Ash, still in uni, can get away with wearing sheer tights with very short shorts over the top. No-one’s complained thus far, and she’s pretty sure they’re not going to.
“Pocket Rocket?” She hears one of the band members scoff, and her smile gets a little stiff at the derision, but she straightens her posture, tightens her ponytail, and makes her way to her place by Dave’s side.
“That’s me!” Her usually chipper tone ringing out loud and clear as she looked over the three guys.
“Ash, this is Smile, uh,” Dave held out his hand, as if to introduce them to her, though he seemed to have already forgotten their individual names. When Ash holds out her hand to shake theirs, Dave takes that as his cue to leave, and he heads for the back door, probably to have a smoke.
“I’m Ash, they call me the Pocket Rocket ‘round here. I guess I’ll be your contact for tonight, lemme know if you need anything.” She rattles of automatically, as the first one grasps her hand, shaking.
“Well, I’m Tim, and this is-” the man with the dark hair and a dopey smile was waved off almost as soon as he started to shake hands with her.
“People who are capable of introducing themselves. I’m Roger.” The moment Roger looked at her, his smile was all teeth and the promise of a bigger bite, pretty and charming in a way that was so effortless. She knew that smile, the way his gaze dipped for just a moment, and how his eyes followed her once she had shook hands with Brian and began showing them around the space. She’d watched playboys work at the bar far too often to be blind to one right in front of her.
This was the band Freddie raved about? Brian seemed okay enough, Tim was a bit dopey but alright, but then there was Roger. After showing them around, still smiling, as was her job, she headed back to the bar, taking a long drink of water.
They caught her attention once more as they began a sound check later in the night, and when she looked up, she watched for a moment before Roger caught her gaze, and he grinned, sharp and mischievous. She did not smile back, just raised her eyebrows at him, which only made him grin wider; they both knew exactly the type of person he was.
So no, love at first sight isn’t real, of this Ash is sure, but as she looks away, called by another customer, her mind still fixed on Roger’s infuriating grin, she knows one thing; hate, absolute loathing at first sight, it was entirely possible.
“So what do you think?” Freddie’s eyes are shining when he accosts Ash on her way back from the bathroom. Giving a gentle shove, she weaves through the crowd, picking up various empty glasses scattered about the room while there’s a lull between sets.
“Yeah they go pretty alright.” She concedes, pretending like she didn’t have Doing Alright’s harmony running through her mind. That seemed to sate Freddie well enough, and he followed along behind her, picking up a few glasses here and there before she headed back to the bar.
“Hey, Pocket Rocket,” the way the nickname is said makes Ash’s hair stand up on the back of her neck, and she fixed her best ‘customer service’ smile on her face. Roger’s grinning back at her, almost completely ignoring Freddie, who turned sharply to Ash and mouthed the nickname at her with raised eyebrows. His incredulity, which she catches out of the corner of her eye, still making unwavering eye contact with Roger, makes her sharply professional smile crack as she represses a genuine grin.
“Yes, Roger? Can I help you?” Voice sweet, she sees Freddie’s eyes widen even further, if it were possible, recognising the poison in her voice from a mile away.
“Me and the boys are about to start our next set, could I grab some beers?” There was nothing innocuous in his words, and he kept his gaze focused on hers, but he’s grinning like it’s a challenge. She doesn’t back down.
“Of course.” She sets about her work, grabbing three bottles from the refrigerator behind the bar, uncapping them, and handing them over. His fingers brush against hers where he’s quick to pick them up, and Ash retracts her hand like his touch burns. “Well, if you need anything else-” Tone chipper, she’s quick to fold her hands behind her back, bouncing quickly on the balls of her feet.
“I know where to find you.” Roger agrees, his gaze lingering just a little too long on the tightness of her smile before turning away.
“You guys are playing really well, tonight.” Freddie adds, and Ash chuckles at his earnestness, the sound fond and sincere where she were artificially bright only moments ago.
“Yeah, thanks mate.” Roger looks over his shoulder, her soft, genuine laughter catching him off guard, but she’d moved to start washing up the glasses she and Freddie had collected.
As soon as Roger had gone, Freddie rapped his knuckles against the bar top to get her attention, practically bursting with questions. With the band starting up, however, she can barely hear him over the buzz of the music and the crowd, and so she offer to take her break early. Waving off her offer, Freddie seems far more content listening to the music, but she knows that he’d bombard her with questions at the next given opportunity.
By the time the last set is winding up, Freddie’s had to head home, like Cinderella before the strike of midnight, and a lot of the crowd had dispersed.
“You boys did such a good job.” Maureen’s voice carries over from where she’s uncapping three bottles of beer for the guitarist. Ash, tries not to eavesdrop, but Maureen’s speaking loud enough so he can hear her across the bar, over the jukebox.
“Yeah, we’ve never really played here before, what made you guys try and find us?” Brian, leaning against the bar, takes a sip of his own beer, letting the other two sit patiently beside him, getting gradually warmer.
“Ash is the one who asked, actually.” As soon as she hears her name come from Maureen’s mouth, Ash freezes. “Yeah, apparently her little friend is a fan.” And there’s a fond note in her voice that has Ash smiling abashedly.
“He around? Should thank him for getting us a gig.” Brian’s smile is bright as he turns, gaze roving over the crowd, though Ash joins them, grinning faintly.
“I think you’re talking about Freddie; he’s left.” And at the sound of her voice, Brian’s turning back, though Ash’s attention shifts to Maureen. “’Reen, I’m gonna have a smoke, can you manage this lot for ten minutes?” Grinning, she doesn’t even need to cast her gaze around the bar to know that everyone at the bar was too busy fawning over Tim, the singer, to be bothered to order much.
“I think I can manage, my little Pocket Rocket.” Maureen ruffles her hair, stepping out of the way as Ash went to swat at her, making a beeline for the back door.
“Ash, could you do us a favour?” Calling out after her, Brian holds out one of the beers as she turns back with a half smile. “Rog is out by the van, can you take this to him?” After a beat of hesitation, she forced a smile on her face and took the beer, heading much slower towards the back door.
He’s sitting in the open back of his van, leaning against the side door, wearing shorts that exposed way too much of his thigh. He’s got one leg hanging down to the ground while the other was drawn up to him, where he’s propped his hand which held a gently smoking cigarette. His head was leaning back, his eyes closed, and after a beat of watching him, so relaxed, taking a moment in the cool night air, Ash watches him exhale a lung full of smoke, watches the smoke turn rose gold in the glow of the streetlight. There was something pretty, even calming, about the sight, his aura of easy confidence apparent even without his usual posturing.
“This is yours.” Breaking the silence, Ash steps from the back doorway, onto the gravel of the back car park, letting the door swing closed behind herself. He doesn’t start when he hears her, just cracks open his eyes and gives her a once over, eyes zeroing in on the beer. Neither of them move for a long moment, and then he’s turning, grinning at her as he legs hung over the edge of the back of the van, holding out a hand for the drink.
“Thanks, love.” The crunch of the gravel sounds so loud in the silence created by the closed door. Once he has the beer, she’s moving back to the door, pulling one of the crates from the stack by the bins, and sitting on top of it, patting down her pockets. Part of her knows he’s watching, curious, possibly a little amused, watching as she finally pulled out a pack of smokes and lit one, stashing both the remaining smokes and her lighter in her back pocket.
“Where’s Pocket Rocket come from?” Roger’s the one who breaks the silence. Ash looks like she’s trying to melt into the brick wall, head back, shoulders loose, heels resting in the gravel where she’s got her legs straight out in front of her. Smoke drifts from her lips, eyes looking up at the stars, and at first she doesn’t answer him, he thinks perhaps she didn’t hear him, and he opens his mouth, but she speaks over the top of him.
“Me or the nickname?” Unsmiling, she digs her heels further into the gravel, listening to the stones shift against one another. Roger takes a long draft from his cigarette, gaze wandering across the back of the building, along the parking lot that was mostly empty, save for the staff cars.
“Surprise me.” He finally says, and Ash makes a noise in the back of her throat that he can’t identify, though it does sound a little amused, but not necessarily in a good way.
“Why?” She snorts, finally looking at him, smiling sharp and uncooperative.
“Why what?” He asks, frown creasing his brow, and her smile widens.
“Surprise me.” It’s a challenge not an answer, and he knows he met her a few hours ago, but he thinks her grin has turned a little more genuine, a little more playful. Or maybe he’s imagining things. Either way, he finally looks away, goes back to leaning against the inside of the van with one leg up, looking up at the sky.
“I’m just trying to make conversation, aren’t I? We’re probably going to be working together again, after all.” He lets himself smile at her snort of amusement, or perhaps derision, but continues anyways. “Fine; you first, then the nickname.”
For a long time, Ash is quiet, watching him, trying to discern his intentions, and he waits patiently for her to respond, sipping his beer, flicking his ashes onto the gravel.
“Fife.” After a beat, she sighs, knowing before he even opens his mouth that he has no idea where that is. “Northern Scotland.”
“Hence the accent,” Roger muses, squinting up at the sky.
“Hence the accent.” she agreed, taking a moment to breathe in another lung full of smoke and lean back against the wall of the pub, joining him in his stargazing. “And I’m Pocket Rocket because I am.” It takes a long moment for her words to sink in, Roger flicking his cigarette butt away.
“That’s not an answer.” He scoffs, and Ash makes a hum of agreement, cigarette hanging from her lips as she pulls out her notebook. Her answer was incomprehensible to him as she spoke both through her accent and around the cigarette between her lips. “What?” He actually turned to her, brow furrowed, trying to decipher what she’d actually said. After a beat, and without looking up from her work, she takes the cigarette out and breathes out.
“‘s not like I owe you my origin story.” The way she drew out her annunciations made Roger feel a little bit like a fool, though there was something about her accent that he found charming. “What are you even doing out here? Shouldn’t you be inside with your groupies and whatnot?” Not even letting him get a word in edgewise, she goes back to speaking normally, which he can decipher easily when she’s not mumbling around a dart.
“Can’t a man have a smoke and get ready to load his van in peace?” Roger grinned, standing and stretching. Ash mumbled something else, too quiet for Roger to even hear, though it was accompanied by an eye roll where she was looking at what she was drawing. “Oi, watch it.” He went out on a limb trying to call her out, and when she looked up at him, flush with embarrassment, he at least knew what she’d said hadn’t been exactly polite.
“Watch yourself, drummer boy.” Despite the retort, she was bright red. Her gaze met his and she could see the triumph in his eyes. She could feel it rising within her, that anger from before at his sheer arrogance, even as he stepped out of the shadow of his van, haloed by the streetlight, smiling at her despite the situation, perhaps challenging, though, she thought it looked more playful than anything else.
Breaking the look, she turned away, face still warm with embarrassment having been caught shit talking under her breath. Stubbing out her cigarette, she put away her notebook and pencil, standing and taking a moment to kick the crate back to the stack beside the bin. Roger watches her all the while, his arms folded over his chest, as if analysing her; she doesn’t look back at him. The only sound is the aggressive crunch of gravel beneath her feet as she makes her way back to the back door of the pub, pulling it open to fill the night with the sounds of people talking and laughing, and the jukebox playing. They don’t exchange any more words, and when he comes back inside to start loading the van, she’s nowhere in sight.
“Ash, the band wants to see you!” Maureen calls when Roger leans against the bar, asking about their pay for the night once everything’s been loaded into his truck. All the bands get paid cash in hand, and Dave had left Ash in charge.
“If I have to talk to some long-haired muppet about how I owe him more than what I promised, I’m gonna retire on the spot.” Dave had said to her, looking exhausted at the mere prospect and putting a stack of notes in the till with a rubber band securing them together. “This is how much they get; no more, no less.” He’d been very serious about that part, and Ash took pride in the fact that he’d trusted her after so little time.
The smile she gives Roger is tight as she passes him the money, and he raises his eyebrows at her, finally picking up on her strained professionalism.
“Thanks again for the gig, uh, Pocket Rocket, was it?” He asked, feigning innocence, something inside of him delighting at the way her jaw tightened.
“Sure,” Ash said, working to untense her jaw, “it was lovely having you play.” After a beat, he gave her a nod, his own grin now just amused as he leaves to join the other members of the band where they’re talking to some, what Ash assumed to be, fans.
Roger catches her humming Doing Alright as she wipes down tables a little later in the night, and, for reasons he’s not quite certain of yet, he smiles.
“I think I’m going to start wearing sequins to work.” It’s an idle thought that Ash speaks into existence on Wednesday afternoon in the back of a lecture hall. Freddie’s slumped over his desk, barely paying attention to the professor at the front, and makes a noise of agreement.
“You should; more people should wear sequins to work.” Yawning loudly, he waves off the professor’s stare with a weak smile, before resting his head on his arms to look at Ash. “You’ve already got it ready, don’t you?” Half-smiling as she nods, grinning bashfully.
“Black sequinned, button up, sleeveless.” Whistling low through her teeth, Ash’s eyes glazed over at the mere thought of the shirt. “I’m gonna get so many tips.” After a beat, she flushed, turning her mischievous expression on Freddie. “And Smile’s playing, so Dave’ll be in the back room all night.” At his confused look, Ash leaned down to rest her own cheek against the desk, eye to eye with her friend. “Okay, so they’re the only uni band we hire, usually it’s just middle-aged dudes trying to be hip,” she rolls her eyes at that, and Freddie has to repress a smile of his own, “and good ol’ Uncle Dave takes one look at ‘em walking through the front door and he’ll grab a bottle o’ rum from the back shelf and wave me over to them,” her voice has dropped so that only Freddie could hear her, and he can see her barely contained laughter, “which, while hilarious, means I can wear basically anything I want.”
“Don’t you do that anyways?” Freddie’s grinning outright now, amused at Ash’s quiet passion, but she doesn’t seem offended by the question, just laughs.
“I mean, yeah, but Dave’s always there and I don’t want him seeing me with like, more than three buttons undone.” Sighing wistfully, Ash closes her eyes, lets herself relax against the desk. “But every time Smile plays, he fucks off, I can undo a few extra buttons- Fred, I made like fifty pounds in tips last time! Fifty! Ate like a king at McDonalds that night.” It took everything Freddie had in him not to burst out laughing at her content expression, but moments later when the class was dismissed, he couldn’t help himself.
“At least buy yourself some real food now that you’ve got a job.” He admonishes her, ignoring her groan of protest.
“But no shops are open at two in the morning, Freds,” she whined, dragging her feet as she trailed behind him, cutting through the swathe of other students as they headed to the exit, “at that point I’m just hungry, and hamburgers are easy to find and so good.”
“How you function in regular society continues to baffle me.” He said fondly as the two of them made their way to their favourite afternoon coffee spot, bickering back and forth as they were often want to do. The week passes relatively uneventfully, and by the time it’s Friday, and Dave has complimented her appropriately buttoned, sequinned shirt, - “It’s nice; it’ll go over well with the kids.” - he’s all but absconded into his office as the band walks through the door.
“Evenin’ boys!” Maureen greets them warmly from behind the bar, drying off cups and hanging them up. Ash is already making her way around to greet them, grinning brightly at the trio.
“Hey, how’s it going boys? Ready for a good show?” It’s the fifth time they’ve performed here in just over two months, and Ash feels like she’s really getting to know them. After their final set for the past three times she’s taken a smoke break, the first time she and Brian shared a cigarette, the two of them looking up at the stars as he tried to point out constellations around the light pollution.
“You really know a lot about this stuff, don’t you?” She smiles at him, fondly amused, and he smiles back, a toothy grin filled with pride.
“I’d hope so, uni’s too bloody expensive to have it wasted.” And that’s how she learns he’s studying astrophysics. He joins her again the next time, though she’s quiet, listening as he and Roger banter back and forth about the quality of their performances for the night. Her hatred of Roger had softened somewhat, though it’s probably because she refuses to speak more than three words to him outside of serving him at the bar, so she feels like she hasn’t had to really deal with him.
She’s seen him, of course, picking up pretty girls at Maureen’s end of the bar, the way they practically drape themselves over him at the sofa by the stage, has heard Brian complain more than once;
“At least go to her place, need I remind you how thin our walls are?” And maybe when she hears it for the first time she chokes on smoke in her lungs and Brian has to slap her on the back to try and help her through it. And maybe the second time her pencil presses down on the line of the dress she’s sketching a little too harshly, a little off from where she wanted, enough that she has to scrap the whole page, but that’s just what he’s like, she knew it from the moment she saw him, and part of her thinks she’s happy to be proven right.
The last time they’d played, Tim talked her ear off about his own performance while Roger and Brian loaded their stuff into the back of Roger’s van, and while Tim’s self-importance bored her almost to tears, she amused herself watching Roger become increasingly annoyed. Small victories.
“It’s going well, thanks Rocket, how about you?” Brian puts his guitar case down by the stage to walk forward and wrap Ash in a hug, which she returns.
“I’m good; always better with you guys around, I can pretend I’m in charge.” And she’s grinning brightly when she steps back. Brian’s always been the friendliest of the bunch, well, Roger may take the top spot for that in general, but not in the way that counts. Speaking of Roger, when she spots him, he’s actually giving her a smile, though his eyes are fixed more on her shirt.
“You’re very sparkly tonight, Ash.” Tim’s mild grin snaps her out of where she was forming a suspicious glare at the drummer, and she smoothed out her shirt, enjoying the sensation of the sequins passing beneath her fingers.
“It’s a good look on you.” Roger adds, gaze moving up to look at her face, and she gives him a proud little smirk in return.
“Made it myself.” And she lets herself bathe in the surprised compliments they offered, ignoring Maureen laughing over by the bar. The boys start setting up and Ash heads back to grab them each a drink before students start pouring in.
By the time the first set’s finished, she’s unbuttoned two more buttons on her blouse and had an old man who looked very out of place surrounded by students try and slip £10 directly into her cleavage. Taking the money from him and placing it there herself, she gives him his drink and her most winning smile before turning to the next customer.
“So that’s what it’s for, to distract hapless young men so you can take their cash?” Roger was grinning at her across the bar and Ash felt her whole body tense.
“What?” She snapped, not taking her eyes off of his as she tucked the note further out of sight, though his own eyes followed the movement.
“The shiny shirt.” He explained, finally pulling his gaze back up to meet hers. Gaze icy, she cocked her hip, crossing her arms beneath her chest. A single raised eyebrow was all the answer he received, though it seemed to be enough of a confirmation for him as his smile stretched into one of mischief, and he ordered another round of drinks for the band. She gives him her sharpest smile when she passes them over, but doesn’t say anything, and he leaves with a smirk and an eye roll.
“This whole passive-aggressive ‘hating-me’ thing is getting old, Pocket Rocket.” He’s the only one of the band members who uses the full nickname anymore, and she’s pretty sure he’s taking the piss every time he does. The other two band members are still inside when she goes on her break after they finish for the night. She hasn’t even pulled out her lighter when the back door comes crashing open and Roger walks through; he doesn’t even see her before he starts talking, just knows she’s there.
“Alright, I’ll drop the passive;” she said, focusing on the flick of her her lighter and taking the first puff of the cigarette before looking up at him, “fuck off.” The words were spoken around the cigarette, but even so, a phrase that universal was understandable no matter how it’s said.
“I’m just wondering what I did to warrant it.” Turning, he leaned against the closed doors of the van, crossing his arms as he looks back at her.
“I don’t like you, Roger,” Ash leaned back in kind, kicking her legs out in front of her, crossing her ankles as she relaxed against the brick wall, “because you’re the sort of boy who breaks pretty girls’ hearts.” As if to punctuate her statement, she takes another draft on her cigarette, and tries not to read into the way Roger’s regarding her curiously.
“Pretty girls like you?” It takes her a moment to recognise his tone, not that she hadn’t heard it before, not that hadn’t even used it herself before, but because he’d never been so brazen about it with her. He was flirting! The nerve!
“Oh, you wish.” Ashe couldn’t help but laugh at that, hating the blush that rose in her cheeks as she looked away, casting her gaze to the road at the edge of the car park. Roger watched for a long moment, enjoying the genuine, if amused, smile that lit up her face; he was so used to seeing the artificial mask she put up whenever she focused on him.
“You’re a hypocrite, love.” He calls, and the smile is gone in an instant, replaced with a frown that she levels directly at him. It doesn’t deter him, however, it was something he’d been wanting to bring up for the past two weeks, after he did a little digging about her, seeing if any of his friends from uni knew about her. “Yeah, I know about you and your first year, Ashley.” Her blood runs cold, expression was unreadable, which only served to make him more smug. “We do have a few friends in common, you know; pretty boys with broken hearts.” And finally he felt like he had clawed back to an inch of moral high ground.
For a long moment, she looks at him, expression fading to a thoughtful frown, cigarette sizzling away in her grip, though she did nothing about it. It’s still mostly intact, but she throws it on the ground, stamping the cigarette out with the heel of her boot against the gravel.
“‘s not the same.” Her voice is hollow, lips pursed, avoiding his gaze. Standing, she seems to hover for a moment, unsure of whether or not she was going to head back inside. “I’m a slut but I’m not a romantic about it, I’m not some wannabe rockstar reeling in boys with doe-eyed looks that promise the world, unlike some people.” Whole demeanour shifting, Roger’s surprised when she steps towards him, sneering.
“I never really went for boys.” Roger mused, deliberately missing the point of her words as he moved from the van, meeting her halfway.
“You know what I’m saying; I only ever promised one night, don’t flatter me by thinking that’s all it takes for me to break a heart.” Her voice was a dangerous purr, the two of them standing barely a foot apart.
“And you think one night with me- ?” He’s grinning at her, nothing but amused in the face of her anger.
“Don’t flatter yourself either, you prey upon girls who already think you hang stars in the sky, it’s not the night that breaks them, it’s the morning after.” Ash snarls, her rant having filled her with adrenaline, and she waits, buzzing with anticipating about how he’d respond.
“You willing to test that theory?” With a tilt of his head and a slight smile, he looks her up and down, quietly delighting in the way her expression shifts from thinly veiled rage to shock.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” The words spill from her mouth, as if she’s barely aware of them, but Roger huffs out a laugh.
“I’m willing to try anything to get you to stop glaring at me when I come up for a beer.” He murmured with a cheeky grin, and there’s that rage again, clear as day in her eyes. “Love, you’re like me,” he says it like it’s a compliment, reaching his hand to hold her chin. Something in his heart grew warm watching the way the gentle touch changed her expression from furious to softly surprised, “so we can both know it’s just a bit of fun, nothing more.”
“So which girl do you have lined up for when I say no?” Her voice tone was quietly accusing, and Roger raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“None.” He admitted easily. “I’m only promising one night, and you get to test that broken heart theory of yours.”
“God, you’re so fucking arrogant,” she mumbled under her breath, squinting up at him; “one night,” she agrees, “and no I don’t think you hang stars in the sky, so there’s no chance of heartbreak.”
“But what if you’re the heart breaker?” Roger asks, mostly joking, though he’s already sliding his hand around her waist, pulling her close.
“Then you should have developed a harder heart before trying to sleep your way across the UK.” And she’s smiling in return, moving with him as he pulls her in for a kiss. He tastes like beer mostly, the scents of the pub sticking to him as she wraps her arms around him. Pulse racing, she’s the one who deepens the kiss, shifting to her tiptoes to get closer to him, but that only makes him laugh and pull away.
“This is the single worst pick up I’ve ever been on the receiving end of.” She purses her lips, breaking the embrace as she begins to step back to the bar.
“Does that include the middle-aged man slipped a tenner in between your boobs?” Roger calls after her, and to his surprise, Ash is smiling back at him when she looks over her shoulder, sunny and amused.
“Well yeah, I got a ten pounds out of it, didn’t I?” And he can’t really argue with her logic as he begins to follow her back inside to the rest of the band. “What do I get from you?” She smirks, and Roger lengthens his stride to join her as she walks through the door.
“I can’t tell you with company around.” His voice low as he murmured in her ear.grinning as she let out a quiet squeak of surprise. “But it’ll be worth it.”
When Ash wakes the next morning, Roger’s still there, his chest against her back and arm draped over her hip. Something in her chest aches a little, he’s so warm and it’s been so long since she’d had someone stay over; sunlight isn’t even peaking through her shitty blinds, so she lets herself relax, lets herself lean into his warmth a little, and fall back to sleep.
“Your heart doesn’t feel broken.” Before she even opens her eyes, she can feel Roger smiling against her shoulder as he speaks, hand gently cupping her left boob, gently rubbing his thumb back and forth against it. Even the gentle touch has a shiver running down her spine, but before Roger gets the chance to be amused by it, she’s shifting to lie on her back. His hand moves with her, but he stays propped up on his side, grinning at her as he trails his fingers down her ribs, feather light touches moving across her stomach until he’s at her hips, holding her.
Reaching up, she cups his cheek and brings him in for a kiss, his lips warm against hers as he deepens the kiss, tongue gliding against her bottom lip until she parts them obligingly. She’s got a hand on his waist, gently tugging at him, silently insistent that she have him on top of her, which he agrees to without hesitation.
It’s not frantic like it was last night, a little sloppy and a little rough; she knows she’s got bruises on her hips from how hard he held her, and she can see the bite marks on his shoulder that she’s a little bit proud of.
He’s golden in the mid-morning light as it peeks through her blinds, fucking her into the mattress in her dorm in the uni housing, movements deliberate and deep, and so fucking gorgeous where she’s looking up at him. When she’s got a hand pressed to her own mouth to muffle her gasps and moans, he takes her hands and holds them above her head, gripping just tight enough to be a little thrilling, kissing her to swallow the sounds he knows he elicits from her.
“How’s your heart, lover boy?” She asks, grinning and breathless as he moves to sit beside her, reaching down the side of the little, single bed, looking for his jeans. “There’s smokes in the bedside table.” Ash grinned, moving to sit up against the headboard.
“My heart? Absolutely shattered.” He snorted, voice dripping with sarcasm, not even attempting to be serious as he pulled open the drawer, pulling out a cigarette and lighter. “Do you have anything else in there?”
“What else would I need?” And upon hearing her say that, Roger has to actually take a moment, watching her grin at him unapologetically, not bothering to pull the blanket up to cover herself, unselfconscious in her post-sex, late morning glow. His expression is curious, even a little awed. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Fuck, we really are alike, aren’t we?” Shaking his head in disbelief, he doesn’t see her face fall, but they’re shoulder to shoulder on the tiny bed, and he can feel her shift to cross her arms over her chest.
“Stop saying that.” The way she says it, quiet, a little hurt, he’s never heard her like that before, and when he looks at her, she’s avoiding his gaze, expression sullen. However, Roger can feel the indignance bubble up inside of himself.
“Do you really think so little of me?” He asked, lips around the cigarette as he flicked on the lighter, scowling at the sudden shift in mood. There’s silence as he takes a long drag, looking around her room, waiting for her answer. She doesn’t give him one. “Oh what the fuck, Ash?” He asks, and she’s snatching the cigarette out of his hands, taking a draft to avoid answering. “You can be a right bitch, you know that?” He snapped, and Ash pulled the cigarette from her lips once she had inhaled, passing it back and holding the smoke in her lungs for a long while.
“So I’ve been told.” She breathes the words out with the cloud of smoke, and after a beat she adds; “Roger, if we were alike, either I wouldn’t be here because I’d be with someone else, or you wouldn’t be here because -” But she cuts herself off, sighing deeply. Her accent is a little thicker when she continues. “Doesn’t matter.” And she clambers to stand on the bed, stark naked, stepping over him to get to the rest of her room.
“No.” Roger snaps, frowning at her, cigarette sitting loose in his grip. “That’s not an apology or a real answer; do you really think so little of me?” He watches as she rifles through her drawers before pulling out a sundress.
“I think you’re a guaranteed good night, Rog, which honestly, I haven’t had in a long time, despite what you may think. I just don’t think we’re that similar, and, if we were, we wouldn’t be here.” She’s entirely too nonchalant about the whole ordeal, carefully casual in a way that let Roger know that she was quite on edge. Once dressed, she stretches, avoiding his gaze, and he does take the moment to admire her in the sunshine yellow dress with little red flowers all over it. He takes another drag of the cigarette.
“What the fuck does any of that mean?” He finally asks, and Ash hums, not actually answering, heading for the door. “Ashley.” That gets her attention, and she turns, giving him a tight, thin-lipped smile.
“We’re good, okay? No, I don’t think so little of you, yes, last night was fun; you’ve fulfilled your promise. No heartbreaks, no strings. Everything’s fine.” She assured him, before stepping out into her hallway and closing the door behind herself.
He’s not there when she returns, holding singular coffee, not expecting anything more. She doesn’t like to think about the way her heart aches, just a little bit.
When they see each other next, there’s a weird tension in the air. It’s almost three weeks later, Smile walks in the front door, and Uncle Dave had disappeared over half an hour beforehand in anticipation. Her shirt this time is white, the same style as the last, sequinned in the front, silk at the back, and Brian tells her she looks snazzy.
“Yeah, really nice shirt, you’re really knocking it out of the park with this one, Rocket.” Tim agrees blithely. Roger is very quiet, just nods at her and starts loading in his equipment.
“He’s quiet for once, it’s a damn miracle.” Brian laughs, but Ash is quiet too, just smiles at his joke and heads back to the bar.
“You okay, sweetie? You seem off tonight.” Maureen asks, pouring a beer and passing it to Ash without hesitating. Ash downs half of it in one go. Maureen, while impressed, given the girl’s size, only grows more concerned.
“I’m fine.” Ash doesn’t make it sound questionable, voice firm, meeting Maureen’s gaze. “I’m just ready to get on with the night-”
“Oi, Rocket.” It’s Roger, and Ash fixes the most artificial, glassy-eyed smile on her face as she turns to him.
“Hi Roger! How can I help you?” At the sound of her high, fake, customer-service voice, he frowns, and just asks for some beers. Once she gets uncaps all the drinks, Roger hesitates.
“I also- uh, I need your help, if that’s okay.” He asks, and she can feel her heart sink; this, she’s pretty sure, isn’t going to be a band-related decision.
“Sure, ‘Reen, just gimme a few to deal with this.” She smiles at Maureen, who gives her a kind, understanding smile in return, watching as Roger delivers the drinks to the other boys, leading Ash out the front door to where the van is parked.
“What’s up with you?” He hisses through his teeth, and Ash fixes him with a smile, though it’s still not her real one.
“Things got weird and personal between us, so I’ve decided it’s easier to go back to passive-aggressively hating you.” And she’s using the customer-service voice that he’s learning to fucking hate.
“So like nothing happened?” He asked, still practically fuming in the face of her chipper mask.
“Like nothing happened.” Ash agreed, and Roger stepped back from her, rubbing at his forehead, eyes closed as if the very sight of her pained him.
“So you’re just going to keep treating me like shit and glaring at me when I order drinks?” He asked, and when he was met with silence, he opened his eyes, and saw the hesitation on Ash’s face. She’s looking at the hand he’s got by his side, gaze a little glassy as if she’s watching a memory, a faint blush rising on her cheeks.
“I- I guess I shouldn’t.” She said, wetting her lips, voice soft, and once she realises he’s looking at her, again, her gaze snaps to his, face flushing a darker red. “I mean, it was one of the reasons we hooked up in the first place, right?”
They both know he knows what she was recalling, and he can hear her faint, panting whimpers in his memory, a smile spreading across his face.
“Right.” He agreed. Neither of them break eye contact. “I feel like I’ve earned that.” With the teasing edge in his voice, he sees the moment she stops being embarrassed by the memory, and resumes being exasperated by him in the present.
“Yeah, okay fine. You get that one.” She conceded, turning back to head back inside, though he calls out after her.
“What’ll it take for you to actually be nice to me?” It’s half a joke, but she actually stops, suppressing a smile as she swivelled back to face him.
“You’ll have to really work for that one.” She told him, mischievous glint in her eyes, though there was reservation in her voice. Roger crossed his arms, tipping his head to one side with a smirk.
“Could I do it in a night?” And that gets her to actually laugh, giving him her genuine smile that he’d only seen maybe twice.
“You can certainly try,” she teased, but immediately followed it with, “or you could if I was looking for something like that.” Stepping backwards toward the pub, her smile became tight. “I’ll try not glaring, lets see how we go from there.”
“We’re good though, right?” He asked, his own mask cracking just a little as the concern slipped out in his face. Her smile warmed, and she nodded.
“We’re all good, we had our fun and now we’re string and glare free.” She shrugged, before spinning on her heel and heading back inside.
“What’d he need help with?” Brian asked as soon as you stepped in the door, his brow furrowed. Ash smiled brightly at him.
“He asked me to take in the bass drum; I told him it wasn’t my job and where he could shove his drumsticks.” She lied easily, stepping through to the bar, feeling only the slightest pang of guilt when Brian said it served Roger right, that he had a band to help with equipment, that he shouldn’t ask Ash.
Things are a helluva lot easier after that, and Ash thinks that it could work out, that she could have a passing friendship with the band whenever they would play at the pub, and that if she played her cards right, she probably wouldn’t end up hooking up with Roger again. The very idea of it fills her with anxiety, not from Roger himself, her disposition towards him had mellowed considerably, but her past experience in friends-with-benefits sort of situations put her on edge.
She just wanted things to be light and breezy.
“Ash, I think I’ve joined the band. I need your help with deciding what to wear to my first show.”
Freddie calls her the very next day, and Ash can already feel a headache forming.
“Start from the beginning, what?” She answered. Freddie took in a deep breath over the phone, and she could hear him grinning with pride as he started up his story. So much for a passing friendship; Freddie doesn’t do things by halves, and it seems he wants her there… Not that she’s actually complaining.
The night Freddie first plays with Smile in her pub, Ash thinks her heart might genuinely burst with pride, buzzing behind the bar, beaming at the patrons who she usually just fixes with her winning, customer service smile. Maureen keeps giving knowing glances at the way Ash is all but singing along with the band, bright-eyed, taking any free moment she got to watch them perform.
“So you know Freddie?” After the show, Brian’s sitting in the back of Roger’s van, his guitar already packed away, smiling at Ash who was still grinning with pride.
“‘course I do, he’s the one who suggested you guys to me.” She’s filled with so much overwhelming joy that she can’t help but laugh a little, just basking in the moment, still marvelling at how talented her best friend is.
“He’s the Freddie who suggested us?” Brian asked, eyebrows raised, before turning to the new bass player, a soft spoken man named John, who had a smile like sunshine. “Ash’s mate suggested to her we play here a few months ago.” Brian explained, to which John nodded in understanding, and Ash made a noise of confirmation. After a moment of silence, the back door came crashing open and Ash jumped as the door hit the side of the milk crate she’d been sitting on, and Freddie himself joins them, with Roger’s arm around his shoulder.
“You did good mate, sang almost all the right words and everything.” Roger crowed, smiling at the boys by the van before turning. “Didn’t he, Pocket Rocket?” He asked, and Ash stood, reaching out for Freddie’s hand to pull him out of Roger’s grip and wrap him up in a hug.
“Freds, that was awesome!” She gushed, and he picked her up, spinning her around.
“You really think so?” He asked, pulling back, grinning at her starry-eyed expression, and she nods emphatically, moving to hug him again, letting him rest his chin on the top of her head, both practically glowing with pride.
“Rog, did you know Freddie’s the one who introduced us to Rocket?” Brian asks as the drummer joined the others by the van, pulling out a cigarette.
“Figures, I knew they were mates.” He says it so casually, lighting the cigarette and pocketing the lighter, before he finally acknowledges Brian’s confused expression. “She’s got a photo of them together, would be weird if she didn’t know him.” He says, like it’s answer enough, and Ash goes completely still.
“What?” Brian asks with a half laugh, and Ash is glad that she’s mostly hidden from view by Freddie, but then he pulls back from their hug, his eyebrows raised in amusement. He knows exactly which photo Roger’s talking about, it’s the Polaroid she has pinned up on the cork board in her room, taken at a uni event at the end of the previous year, up along with some other pictures of friends and family. He also knows it’s the only photo she has of the two of them.
“In my wallet.” Ash, quickly stepping thinking on her feet, speaks with a clipped tone, heart in her throat. She steps around Freddie’s knowing look to face at the others, Brian squinting at Roger, who had frozen, cigarette hanging from his lips. “I left it out here once and he found it.” After a beat, she sees Roger relax and breathe out a cloud of smoke. “’s why I don’t bring my wallet anymore.” That part’s only partially a lie, she never brought her wallet to begin with, never had a need for it.
“In your wallet? Darling, that’s so sweet.” Freddie cooed, teasingly, and though Ash’s expression was bright, she’d never wanted to smack him more in her life; they both knew he knew she was lying.
“Of course!” The smile she wore didn’t reach her eyes when she turned to look at him. “How else would I be able to say,” and she mimed pulling out her wallet, holding it up, displaying it, “did you know my best friend is in a band?” And Freddie burst out laughing at that, though it’s when she hears snickers from the rest of the boys that she finally lets herself relax.
Roger shoots her a small smile when she turns back, and she rolls her eyes at him. At first, Ash had been surprised that Roger wanted to keep it quiet, but then he’d said something offhand about how Brian would probably deck him if he learned Roger put one of their regular gigs in jeopardy. As for Ash, she didn’t want her boss knowing she’d hooked up with the member of one of their most profitable bands, so she was happy to be discrete.
After a few more minutes of small talk with the band, she heads back in to the bar, and takes a moment to breathe. She loses herself in her work, forgetting the momentary slip-up, pouring drinks and pandering to the tipsy customers, and she finds herself actually enjoying the rest of her night. That is, until she comes out of the bathroom to find Roger waiting for her.
“Sorry ‘bout that.” He starts, and Ash rolls her eyes at him, breezing past, back to the bar. There’s not a lot of people left, Maureen’s got it under control, and so Ash grabs a cloth to start wiping down the tables.
“How’d you even remember the photo?” She asked, barely paying him any attention as she worked. He sat at the table she was wiping, and after a beat in which he didn’t answer, she paused in her movement, looking up at him. He just shrugged at her. “You know Freddie definitely knows something’s up.” She told him, eyes narrowed.
“It’s not my fault you apparently only own one photo of your best friend.” Roger snorted, and Ash looked up, glaring at him, suddenly paranoid of being overheard.
“Who is where exactly?” Ash asked, and Roger rolled his eyes.
“The rest of the band have gone home, don’t worry.” He told her, and Ash’s anger deflated at that, dropping her gaze.
“No, it’s your fault for mentioning the photo at all.” She snapped, moving on to the next table. “You could have just said no to Brian when he asked if you knew about me and Freddie.” And when he followed her to the next table, she gave up, moving to throw her cloth over the bar.
“I said I’m sorry, what more do you want from me?” He threw his hands in exasperation, leaning on the bar as she picked up the bin and headed for the back door. If they were going to have this conversation, she wasn’t going to let it happen in the bar.
“You’re a fucking idiot, Roger.” She scoffed, not even looking at him as she tipped the bar’s bin into the skip outside, practically fuming by now.
“Oh, that’s rich,” he spat, following it with a humourless laugh, and Ash whirled around, dropping the bin and stalking up to him where he was leaning against his van, her expression furious.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” She snarled, the two now toe-to-toe. They were so close he could practically feel the anger radiating off of her.
“It means I wasn’t the only one in that bedroom.” He said, voice low and dangerous, but his words just made Ash confused.
“But you’re the only one who’s managed to fuck up; I’m the one who cleaned up your mess! See, this is why you’re an-”
“Don’t you dare call me an idiot.” He warned, and Ash gave him a sharp, malice laced smile.
“Make me-” She doesn’t even get the first syllable of the taunting nickname out, because Roger crashes his lips to hers. They’re both acting out of instinct, rough and angry, her hands in his hair, tugging as a response when he bites her bottom lip. After a moment, she pulls back, both panting as they glare at each other. Without a word, Ash jumps, wrapping her legs around his waist, and he catches her, nails digging into her thighs enough to sting as he flips the two of them so her back is pressed to the side of his van.
“Are we really doing this again? Right after we almost got busted?” He asked, giving her thigh a squeeze, more out of habit than anything else.
“After you almost got us busted?” Ash asked, raising a single eyebrow. Roger just glares in response, choosing to kiss her again instead of shooting back an angry reply. After a few more moments where Roger presses against her, lips against hers hungry and desperate, Ash pushes him away, finding her feet before she goes crashing to the ground.
“I gotta do my job.” It sounds like the thought’s just occurred to her, breathless, leaning against the van to catch her breath.
“So we’re… not doing this?” Roger asked, frowning in his sudden confusion. Smoothing out her wrinkled shirt, Ash smirks up at him.
“Oh, no, we’re definitely doing this, I just need to clock out for the night.” And she heads back inside. Roger, for his part, leaned his forehead against the van, replaying everything that had happened, trying to figure out how it had led here, again, not that he was complaining.
“This,” the moment the back door of the pub opens, he can hear her voice, and when he looks over, she’s gesturing between the two of them, expression strangely determined, “is not a thing. We’re not a thing.” She’s adamant, and Roger rolls his eyes, opening the driver’s side door to the van.
“I don’t care what you call it.” He responded with an eye roll, climbing in the van, waiting for her to climb in the passenger side door so he could drive them both back to her place.
There’s a tension in the air the moment she closes her door, and they sit for a moment, his hands on the wheel and keys in the ignition, but the van remains quiet. Then, she’s leaning over and kissing him, climbing over the centre console to sit in his lap in the driver’s seat, his hands on her ass, her hands on his shoulders grinning as he groans against her lips when she grinds against him.
It’s not like last time, it’s angry and desperate, both furious at the other for almost being caught out earlier that night, a little mad at the fact that they’re sleeping together again, despite the fact that they were thoroughly enjoying every minute. They bruise, and bite, and hold each other a little too tight, a little too rough, and when Ash feels his teeth against her shoulder where he’s muffling a moan, she’s pretty sure it’s the best night she’s had in a very long time.
“I’m not kidding,” she finds herself saying, sitting up as she reaches into her drawer to pull out her cigarettes, coming down off the high of endorphins. The both of them are panting, “this isn’t going to happen again.” And she tries to sound firm about it, but when she looks over, Roger’s smirking up at her where he’s still sprawled out, heart beating erratically in his chest.
“Sure,” he doesn’t sound convinced, and holds out his hand for the cigarette after she’s taken a draft.
“I’m serious, I don’t do casual anymore!” She told him, and she waves off his response before he even says it. “I don’t do casual with the same person anymore.” She corrects herself, and Roger laughs, low and warm.
“I think you do casual very well,” and he reaches over to give her thigh a squeeze before passing back the cigarette. Time drifts by lazily in the silence, Ash taking a few puffs before she passes the cigarette back, fiddling with her fingers.
“We can fuck whoever we want.” She speaks, but it doesn’t sound like it’s entirely directed at him, actually, it sounds more like a nervous question, and Roger frowns.
“Yeah, of course.” He agrees, and Ash takes a deep breath. On the exhale, he looks up at her, and sees her quiet, reserved smile. It’s… it’s not something he’s seen before, she’s usually so sure of herself, it reminds him a little of their last conversation, and he hears himself asking about it before he can even register the full thought. “Why don’t you do casual?”
Ash pulls out another cigarette and lights it up, expression dark as she focuses on the task. She’s closing off again, he can tell, and he’s not sure why, but his heart hurts just a little.
“Bad experiences.” She makes a point to enunciate around the cigarette, avoiding looking at him altogether.
“Do you think I’m a bad experience.” He asks it honestly, curious as to what her answer will be.
“‘re you seeing someone?” She asks frankly, and he answers that he’s not. “You gonna fuck whoever you want, and let me do the same?”
“Of course.” He half laughs, and finally she looks at him, eyes narrowed, analysing. Taking another long draft, she hums thoughtfully.
“Then I don’t know.” After another drag, her lips twist into a sad little smile that makes Roger frown. “I haven’t fucked around like that with someone half-decent before.” Which only makes him frown harder.
“Who have you fucked around with?” He scoffs, and Ash raises her eyebrows, laughing a little, surprise written all over her features.
“I never claimed to have great taste.” And when she says it, Roger presses a hand to his heart, mock offended. The gesture has her laughing, bright and genuine, the sound brightening up the whole room, and Roger grins in return.
“Well I think you’ve got a great taste.” He purrs, propping himself up to reach across her to stub out his cigarette in the ash tray on her bedside table. This, of course, only causes her to laugh harder, blush rising on her cheeks as his hand find’s it’s way to her inner thigh, not letting her miss the double meaning in his words as his fingers drifted higher.
He presses a kiss to her jaw as she finishes off her cigarette, not looking at him for fear that she would burst out laughing again, and start coughing for the smoke. He starts kissing his way down her chest when she stubs out the cigarette, and when he feels her fingers card through his hair, he looks up. She’s smiling at him, warm, amused and affectionate, and something in his chest tightens a bit. He grins back, and moves lower.
The next morning, she warns him to forget everything in her room, but he knows he’s not going to forget the mug with the little cat face on it that she passes him, full of tea, or the fluffy blue bathrobe she’s wrapped around herself, and later, when they’re both crammed in a shower in the dorm’s shared bathroom, trying to be quiet and failing miserably, he knows the mandarin scent of her shampoo is one that he won’t forget soon.
Things between them are… well, they’re easier after that. Whenever the band comes to play at her pub, she greets them all with a warm smile, hugging each of them in greeting, even Roger, getting them all drinks, and cheering them on throughout the night. Sometimes Roger goes home with other girls, and there’s a weird mix of feelings in Ash’s heart, a relief that he’d kept his promise, that they could keep seeing other people, but part of her, well, if she was being honest, she was a little jealous.
There’s anxiety in her heart the night a pretty boy flirts with her, and she realises she wants to take him home, but she’s still got a lingering fear of Roger’s reaction, not because of Roger himself, but from boys in the past. The band isn’t playing that night, and she decides to throw caution to the wind. The boy diligently waits until she’s dismissed for the night, and then he laces his fingers with hers as they leave the pub. He’s soft and kind, knows what he’s doing, mostly, which is nice, and it’s a fun night. Ash lets herself have fun.
But sometimes they do go home together, not super often, once, maybe twice a month, he’ll catch her during her break before the others join them, and he risks kissing her in the light of the street lamp, and something in her chest eases. Or he catches her eye when he’s playing, and she’s drying glasses behind the bar, and she grins at him, giving him a wink, and he looks away, laughing.
“You guys are playing really well.” She grins when the band comes up to collect drinks, and Roger’s suppressing a smile, trying not to look at her, and the others just enjoy the praise.
The rest of the band hasn’t caught on, which they’re both grateful for, though Freddie has his suspicions. Maureen knows, but has been sworn to secrecy, and so Ash lets herself feel safe. Being with Roger is easy, it’s fun, he makes her laugh, and he eases the anxiety that clutches at her chest, not that she’d ever tell him that.
“What’s he doing here?” Brian’s voice is low where he’s tuning his guitar, nodding over to a man who’d just entered the bar, looking out of place. “You think he’s some executive or something?” He asked, a little hopeful, and Roger snorted.
“He’s wearing tweed, so I doubt it.” The man looks too old to be part of the crowd they usually draw in, but he doesn’t even spare them a passing glance. Instead, he makes a beeline for the bar where Ash is hanging up champagne flutes.
“Ashley, is that you?” His voice is smooth as honey, and the moment he speaks, Ash drops the glass she’s holding. It shatters, but she’s frozen, face blank, looking at the newcomer. The hairs on the back of Roger’s neck stand up the moment the man leans casually on the bar, like he owns the place, and he’s watching the exchange like a hawk.
“I’m working.” Is all Ash can say, still frozen in place. The man looks old enough to be her father.
“I can see that; you look lovely, by the way.” He tells her, and there’s something soft in his voice, the way he speaks to her, so familiar and intimate, and Ash unfreezes. The surprise comes when she ducks her head, smiling bashfully.
“Yeah, I, um, can I get you anything?” She asks, flushing, ducking quickly to find a dustpan and sweep up the broken glass. He orders a pint, and sits himself at the bar, letting Ash get on with her job, but his very presence flusters her, a state Roger had never seen her in at work, since she as usually so calm and confident.
None of the rest of the band seems to notice him, and they start soon enough, but the man’s there all night, waiting quietly and nursing his drinks, never straying too far from the bar. Roger sees the leering gaze flicks over the young girls in the crowd, and knows instinctually that Ash can’t see it. She doesn’t look to Roger all night, but she keeps glancing over at the man, surprisingly nervous, and when the third set ends and she’s due to take her break, she says something to him, and the two of them make their way out to the car park, the man taking her hand once she’s out from behind the bar.
Roger feels ill. Not because Ash is paying someone else attention, they’ve both been very clear about getting with other people, but something about the man sets him on edge.
“What are you doing here?” Ash’s voice is hostile, and Roger waits with his snare in his arms, just around the corner of the building. He’s not following her, or at least, he didn’t mean to; he’s just packing up his drums, like he did after every show. Sure he was a bit earlier than usual but that didn’t mean anything.
“Sweet girl, I wanted to see you.” The voice is teasing, like she should have know this already, masculine, low, and it makes Roger nauseous. Finally he peers around the edge of the building and catches a better glimpse of the man from the bar, who is now standing less than a foot from a tense and confused Ash who leans against the door to the bar.
“You- why?” Already her voice has softened, but it seems he still makes her uncertain, if the tense set of her shoulders is anything to go by. But then the man’s reaching out, resting his hands on her upper arms. “You’re not mad at me?” She asks, relaxing under his touch, looking up at him with her big, brown eyes. Something in Roger’s gut twists at the sight.
“Of course not, baby girl.” He’s got her accent, Roger realises, and something in his chest tightens as the man places his hands on her shoulders coaxing her away from the door so he can wrap her up in a hug. Roger can see her trembling as she hugs him back, a soft confusion written all over face. “I’ve missed you.” He tells her, voice a murmur, but in the crisp, night air, it’s loud enough that even Roger hears.
“Why are you here, Gus?” Ash is the one who steps back, out of his grip, leaning back against the door. Roger can see her hands shake when she pulls half a cigarette from her breast pocket.
“I wanted to see you again, make sure you’re okay.” And the man, Gus, takes her hands, gently taking the cigarette stub and throwing it away before he laces his fingers with hers. She doesn’t even protest.
“And Kira?” She’d asked, voice so soft that Roger almost didn’t catch it, and the man in question shook his head with a smile as he leaned in, murmuring something that only she could hear, pressing kiss to her cheek.
“Oh, my sweet girl, you look so good.” He mused, voice growing a little louder, stepping back to admire her, and though Roger wants to gag at his tone, syrupy and full of obviously fake revere. Ash actually giggles, and not insincerely. “As beautiful as the day I met you.”
“You think so?” Voice uncharacteristically young and hopeful, it’s so unlike her that Roger’s pushed to the end of his patience, and rounds the corner with his drum in hand, not even acknowledging the pair as he heads for his van, though the way Ash jumps back from the man as if he’d burned her, it does little to ease the discomfort in Roger’s chest.
“Hi!” Suddenly flustered, Ash moves around Gus to stand between him and Roger. He’s not really sure why she’s bothered, there’s so much distance between the back door and the van, but he thinks it might be so that they look less suspicious. It’s not working.
“Hey.” Roger says, tone clipped as he says it, fumbling for his keys as he opens the back doors of the van.
“This is, uh, August.” She’s aware of how strange it sounds, how guilty her words come out, and when Roger’s sat his drum inside the van, he finally turns to get a good look at the man. The man with a hand on Ash’s shoulder, making direct, unflinching eye contact with Roger, smirking.
“August, this is Roger, he’s in the band.” There’s a waiver to her voice that Roger doesn’t like, and he can’t bring himself to smile at her. Everything feels so wrong, and Ash looks so guilty, like she’s been caught red handed.
He’s handsome by any definition, but not by Ash’s usual one. High cheek bones, hair gelled up into a neat quiff with a few sparing grey strands running through it that only served to make him look more distinguished, as did the dark, well groomed stubble on his jaw. He looks to be in his late 40s, in a pressed, well tailored suit, and shoes that Roger would consider too formal for even an explicitly formal event, so out of place in the dingy, pub setting. And his hand is still on Ash’s shoulder.
Roger doesn’t want to think about why it puts him on edge, just knows that it does. August takes long, deliberate strides before he reaches Roger, holding out his hand.
“August Reid.” His smile was sharp, and when Roger took his hand, he held it a little too tight, a show of dominance. “You guys played very well.” It’s the least sincere compliment Roger’s ever received; he wants nothing more than to punch August in his smug face.
“Roger.” After a beat, he leaned against the edge of the van, crossing his arms. “So how do you know Ash?”
“Ashley.” August correct automatically, and Roger can see the way Ash flinches out the corner of his eye, still looking a little mortified, avoiding looking at both of them. August doesn’t see it, his smile widens just a little bit, all sharp teeth. “I taught her back at Saint Andrew’s, I thought I’d stop in while I was in town.”
“He was my Art History professor.” Ash confirms from behind him, and Roger freezes where he’s looking at her. He’s never seen her like this before, demure, shy; she’s always consciously made an effort to appear larger than life, to compensate for her size and sweet looks, but now she looks so young. She can’t even bring herself to meet his gaze, but he can tell she doesn’t know he saw their earlier exchange, if she did know, he thinks she probably wouldn’t be so honest about that.
“Oh,” is all Roger can say, before he snaps out of it, moving past where August is trying to be intimidating, up to Ash who’s leaning against the back door, “Rocket, can you move, I’m trying to pack up.” She doesn’t even fight him on it, tell he can walk around the front the same way as he got here. With the door opens, he hesitates, reaches out to touch her arm, and when she looks at him her expression is surprised as he tilts his head in a silent question, asking if she’s okay.
“What?” She snaps, frowning and shifting out of his grip, a spark of her old fire returning. Roger’s moment of softness receded with his eye roll and he lets the door slam closed behind him. Part of him knows that August was watching the exchange. By the time he’s pulled down the rest of his equipment and is ready to haul it out, Ash is behind the bar, cheery as ever, and August is nowhere to be found.
“I thought you were studying fashion.” Brian muses into the balmy night air. The band had stayed until last call, intrigued about the newcomer, waiting until Ash was taking out the trash for the night to ask her, the four of them chatting around the van, Mary looking quite tired and leaning against Freddie, but enjoying their company..
“I am.” Ash agreed, seemingly back to her old self now that August had left, grinning like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “This isn’t my first go at uni.” She admitted, and Freddie nodded, passing Mary his lit cigarette.
“I thought he was a talent scout or something; he’s well dressed.” Brian half smiled, and Ash chuckled, shaking her head at him, smile bright.
“What was his name?” He asked, and Ash looked a little shocked, looking to Roger, who was suddenly avoiding her gaze.
“Rog didn’t tell you guys?” She asked, smile fading a little into confusion, and Roger snorted out a laugh.
“Told them he seemed like a prick.” He scoffed around his cigarette, and Ash flushed, frowning at him.
“Oi, don’t be mean, Rog! It’s just how he is, he’s always been a bit of a-” and for the barest moments they lock eyes and Ash turns a hilarious shade of pink, they both somehow know what she was about to say, he’s always been a bit of a dominant one, but she can’t bring herself to say those words out loud. She doesn’t want to say it for how it would sound, how it would make the others suspicious, but she knows Roger already is, even if she doesn’t know the full extent; it would be funny if the implication didn’t make Roger’s stomach turn, “a bit of an alpha male, you know.” After a beat, she clears her throat. “But yeah, Doctor Reid is my old Art History professor.”
It doesn’t escape Roger the way she doesn’t say his first name.
“What made you change your mind?” Mary yawns, passing the cigarette back to Freddie, and Ash fixes her with a fond smile. Since Freddie had introduced the women, they’d become fast friends, and Roger had never seen anyone as ready to fight as Ash when the dudes start leering at Mary.
“This was the only place that I could do what I wanted to.” And it sounds so honest that Roger’s tempted to believe it, if not for the memory that surfaces.
It’s her, a few months ago, bathed in moonlight, her head on his chest and his arm around her, ‘I was kicked out of uni once before, you know?’ her voice is thoughtful and he laughs, a little incredulous, asks how, but she’s grinning at him with that wicked smile of hers, and does a good enough job of distracting him that he doesn’t even realise she doesn’t give an answer.
“I’m surprised you even remember his last name,” Freddie laughs, “she couldn’t name a single lecturer on our timetable this semester.” And the others laugh, but Ash just rolls her eyes.
“I don’t want to know their names, it’s not like we’re gonna be friends,” but she does concede after she turns to head inside, “Doctor Reid is a friend of my dad’s, I’ve known him since I was sixteen.” And she smiles so blithely it somehow takes some of the shock out of her statement for Roger, who chokes on the smoke of his cigarette.
“How did he know you were here?” John’s question cuts through Roger’s spluttering, and Ash stops in her tracks.
“What?” She asked, suddenly confused, a little defensive, as she turns back.
“How did he know you’d be here?” He asks again, so calm and unflinching, not looking away from the sudden flicker of doubt that cross Ash’s face.
“It was coincidence, Deaky; just luck is all.” She says, but her smile doesn’t reach her eyes. She heads back inside.
The next time they play there, he’s back, and Ash is a sweet, flustered mess, and the dichotomy of this, and who Roger knows her as, is a little shocking. Even Maureen seems concerned, though she doesn’t say anything.
“He’s too old for you.” Roger makes it out the back before Ash does during her usual post-gig break. August went home halfway through the night, and Ash had returned to her normal bright, if a little sultry, bar-persona.
“Excuse me?” She snapped as the door slammed closed, and she looked to where Roger was sitting on her usual milk crate.
“You heard me.” Roger responded, something easing in his chest at the comfort of hearing the hostility in her voice that she’d used when they’d first met. It also hurts a little, to think how he’d prefer the hostility to the cute, blushy mess that August brings out in her. “I saw how he looked at you.”
“Watch your accusations.” She snapped, but there was actual anger in her words, which surprised Roger. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” She growled, and it was cold hostility; it wouldn’t lead anywhere fun, and Roger didn’t know how to face this. “I’m an adult, dickhead, so don’t think I can’t make my own decisions.” And her accent’s a little stronger, but her words take a moment to process. “He’s a friend-”
“He calls you baby.”
That shocks her into silence, and after a moment, a cruel, cold smile spread over her face. They both know, now, that Roger knows exactly what’s going on between her and August.
“Are you jealous? Were you eavesdropping on us? What the fuck?” And there’s no warmth in her harsh laughter. “This is why I don’t do casual.” She spits, and Roger’s whole face lights up with shock, and he barks out a laugh.
“Jealous? Oh Ashley,” and when he says it, she flinches again, and he regrets using the name almost immediately, but he can’t help digging himself deeper, “no, I’m just interested in what a goddamn doctor, who’s almost fifty, mind you, is doing being interested in a girl like you.”
He watches as she actually has to take a step back, her mouth falling open in shock, eyes suddenly shiny with tears.
“A girl like me…” She whispers it with a laugh, smiling sadly, before finally meeting his gaze. “He… he likes me, Roger.” And fuck, she sounds so vulnerable it’s like a punch to the gut. “After everything I’ve done, he fucking likes me.” And after a beat, she stepped forward. “He still thinks I’m good, and that’s all that matters.”
She cuts her own break short, slamming the door as she heads back inside, leaving Roger to the silence of the car park.
“What did you do? Ash is more pissed at you than usual.” Brian’s looking covertly between Ash wiping glasses at the bar, and Roger, adjusting the height of his high hats a few weeks after he’d confronted her about August. She hadn’t spoken to him directly since then, but the other band members were starting to catch on.
“I didn’t do anything-” Roger tries to protest, but Freddie’s laugh cuts him off.
“He made a comment about Pocket Rocket’s dear friend.” Freddie adds, having adapted to the nickname with ease, an amused smile on his face as he looks at Roger over his shoulder.
“You mean her boyfriend.” Roger snaps, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ash tense at the bar, giving away her eavesdropping, though he didn’t call her out on it.
“Ash isn’t dating that guy, he’s like forty.” Brian laughed, but Roger caught the way Freddie’s expression darkened, though he didn’t dwell on it, and Roger’s own smile became knowing and bitter.
“Yeah, listen Bri, I know what I said.” He responded venomously, and the mood around them sobered considerably. “I don’t like him, okay, he’s too old for her,” after a beat, he wrinkled his nose, “got a dickhead aura.”
“You’ve met him once.” John points out, trying to lighten the aura. Roger just bristled at the statement.
“Rog is just fond of her,” Freddie cuts in, voice a little condescending, smile mischievous, “let him be jealous, it might take him down a peg or two.”
“I’m not bloody jealous of that creep!” After a beat of feeling particularly hurt, and Freddie’s commenting hitting a little too close to home, he hears himself lashing out, “And how low do you think my standards really are, Freds?” And that shocked Freddie into silence, eyes wide and disbelieving, his eyebrows raised, as he turned away, jaw clenched.
“You really are just trying to burn that bridge while we’re standing on it, aren’t you?” Brian shook his head, sighing heavily as he went back to his guitar.
“Roger,” John said carefully, coming over to speak quietly to the drummer, as the rest of the band turned away, uncomfortable, “let me get the drinks tonight.” And it’s not what he expected to hear, but when he looks to John, John’s looking over at the bar. Ash is making direct eye contact with him, her customer service smile looking mostly threatening as she keeps polishing the same spot on a glass. “Because that woman is going to spit in all of your drinks and make you watch.” John explains, now looking to Roger, who’s expression was carefully neutral, trying not to betray his own anger at himself. “And as much as I love our dear Pocket Rocket, it’s not something I particularly want.”
She’s definitely gone back to hating him, and he didn’t realise how much it would hurt.
The worst part is that she’s so damn happy around everyone else, and he hates himself for being hurt by that. He’s angry, but not at her (never at her, not for something like this) he’s angry because he sees the way she smiles at him from behind the bar, and he sees the way August spends more time looking at the girls in the crowd, though she can’t even tell from where she’s standing. Roger’s angry because she fucking gushes about August - “He’s just made tenure!” - and yet he won’t even touch her if there’s someone else around. He’s livid because she’s so clearly in love with him, but she still can’t bring herself to tell the others his name because she knows - knows - something’s up with August, even if she doesn’t want to admit it, even if the others can’t see it.
Except that’s not the reason she doesn’t say his name.
“He’s here at every show, we should say thank you.” Brian tries after a gig, talking mainly to Roger and John, as Freddie had been giggling with Mary, the two of them in their own little world. Ash is nowhere to be seen. Roger takes another drag of his cigarette.
“Heaps of people are fans of us, it doesn’t mean we have to personally thank them every time.” Roger scoffed, but Brian made a noise in the back of his throat that sounded like he disagreed.
“It’s a show of good faith, we should at least shake hands with-” and he paused for a moment, brow furrowing, “what’d she say his name was again?”
“Doctor Reid, if I recall.” John piped up, and Brian shifted his weight, crossing his arms.
“Yeah, but what’s his first name? That sounds so formal, like, ‘Oh, can I grab you a beer Doctor Reid?’” He put on a voice, laughing at his own joke, looking to John, who just shrugged helplessly.
“August.” Roger’s voice is very quiet, hunched in on himself sitting in the back of the van. Brian frowns, leaning in a little, confused as to both how Roger has kept this for so long, and what the name actually was. “His name’s August.” Roger repeated, voice heavy but louder this time. Freddie freezes. “She calls him Gus.” He adds.
“You’re joking, right?” Freddie says into the uncertain silence, and that’s the moment that the back door comes crashing open and Ash comes out, grinning, hands in her pockets.
“Hey guys,” she grinned, nodding at them, not even sparing Roger a glace, “could I have my jacket back? You can drop the pants back tomorrow if you like.” Freddie turns to her, eyes wide, disbelieving smile still frozen almost painfully onto his face, not removing the oversized, blood red velour button down shirt Freddie had been wearing over a black singlet.
“Is that man we keep seeing Gus?” He asked, voice scarily neutral. None of the others had ever heard him like this, had barely heard Freddie genuinely angry like this, and Ash’s expression dropped.
“I’ve gotta go.” It’s not the answer any of them expect, nor is Ash turning on her heel and heading back into the pub before the door had even swung fully shut. Turning back to the band, they could all see that Freddie was livid.
“I’m going to gut the bastard. Gut him like a goddamn fish, I swear I will.” He seethed, hands curling and uncurling into fists, staring at the gravel. It was as if the air around him was snapping with the electricity of a storm. Looking up, all Freddie could see was how shocked the others were, even Roger, and he clenched his jaw, forcing himself to calm down.
“That’s the bastard that ruined her life.” He admitted through clenched teeth. “Roger’s fucking right, the man’s no good.” And Roger couldn’t even take the moment to bask in the vindication that would have usually surged through him at being told he was right, instead, his blood runs cold.
“He what?” Mary asked softly, and Freddie’s expression softened, looking finally between all of them, realising what he’d said.
“He’s the reason she was expelled from her last university, and…” Frowning, Freddie shakes his head. Brian, John, and Mary all took a moment to process this new information, shock written all over their faces. “It’s not my place,” and he started on a new strand of information, “he was her teacher, he started a clandestine affair with her when she started university, and,” pausing again, he sighed, the anger still clearly flowing through him, though it had simmered down to a bitter rage, “not my place.” He repeated.
“Doesn’t he have a wife and family? How old was she?” Brian asked, a little aghast, and Freddie sighed.
“She was eighteen.” Freddie sighed.
“She was a kid.” Roger breathed, anger bubbling up inside of him.
“Hey, that’s only a year younger than me.” John pointed out, but Roger turned on him.
“Oh, I’m sorry John, are you having an affair with one of your teachers that we need to stage an intervention for?” He snapped, and John’s face fell, and he looked to the ground.
“I’m just saying she was an adult is all, doesn’t make it right, but she can make her own choices.” He paused. “She seems happy.” Both Freddie and Roger deflated at that, they’re all quiet for a long moment, and without a word, Freddie heads inside.
“Ash.” When he says her name, she looks up with an expression that tells him she’s ready to fight.
“He’s different now, Freddie.” She tells him, already defending herself and the man who she knows in her heart probably doesn’t deserve it. Freddie was ready to fight him the moment he heard August’s name, and he didn’t even know the full story. Sure he could gather the impact it had on Ash, but he never really truly realised the effect August had on her.
“What does that mean, Ash? What exactly is keeping me from coming over here and beating him bloody with my microphone next time we play here?” Freddie asked, voice very serious. Pulling off her apron, Ash told Maureen, who had been eavesdropping on the conversation, that she was knocking off for the night, which Maureen agreed to, and Ash walked around the bar and took Freddie’s hand.
“We’re not having this conversation here.” She hissed, pulling him into the staff bathroom and locking it behind them. “I love him.” She said through gritted teeth, crossing her hands over her chest, looking away. “And after everything I did, I think he still loves me too.”
“After everything you- Ash do you hear yourself?” Freddie takes a deep breath, steadying himself, holding her shoulders, “He start an affair with you, his student, refuse to be seen with you in public, and used his power within the faculty to kick you out of school when you wanted to stop-”
“I only wanted to stop because I found out he was engaged when his fiance found out about me!” Ash cried, as if it were somehow her fault. Freddie actually stepped back.
“Found out about you- He was engaged?!” He whispered, eyes wide and horrified. “Darling that’s nowhere near being your fault. He had a whole town calling you a slut and a homewrecker; he didn’t love you, he ran you out of Scotland.”
“He ran me out of Fife.” She spits back the correction. “I would know, I was there.” But she doesn’t seem to connect to the words he’s saying, it’s as if she’s replayed the events in her head so many times that she’s become desensitised to it. “But he’s changed, I was practically a kid last time, I’m different now too. And if he didn’t love me then,” she looks a little hurt as she says it, and Freddie doesn’t know if he wants to hug her or shake some sense into her, “well I think he does now.” After a beat she ducked her gaze, voice becoming a weary sigh as she leaned against the counter. “Listen, Freds, I’ll keep him out of the bar, you won’t have to see him, but this is my life.”
“Don’t make the same mistake again-”
“He’s told me that Kira’s his ex-fiance, so I don’t think she’ll be a problem.” Ash rolled her eyes at Freddie, who opened his mouth to protest that that wasn’t the point, but she added. “Can you get Roger to shut up? I’m sick of hearing him bitching.”
“Did something happen between you two?” Is what Freddie finally finds himself asking.
“I could get used to this.” Roger grins at her when she brings him a cup of tea in the warm light of the late morning, a book under one of her arms. She keeps using the mug with the cat faces on it for him, he’s started calling it ‘his mug’ and maybe she’s started calling it that too in her mind.
“Yeah, well don’t. You can get your own tea next time.” Ash laughed, sitting up beside in bed, cradling her own tea in one hand, pulling out the book with the other.
“Just show me where everything is, I think I could manage.” Roger chuckles, putting his free arm around her where she’s sat back against the headboard. “What are you reading?” Looking at him with a little surprise, Ash smiles slightly, taking a big gulp of tea, putting the mostly full cup on the bedside table before tucking herself against him, opening up the book.
“I found it in the common room, it’s one of those trashy romance novels,” after a beat, she closed the book, keeping her place with her finger, showing him the cover, where a woman was posing sensuously with a hand on a beautifully painted horse, “but I think she fucks the horse.” Roger snorts at that, his arm tightening around her just a little.
He doesn’t have an answer, just laughs, reading with her when she opens the book back up. It’s soft and domestic, her head on his chest as they both read the novella, sipping their tea on occasion. The blinds are down, but there’s still stripes of light peeking through, hitting the floor with golden light and the room feels warm and hazy. They stay like that for a long while, Roger actually becomes rather engrossed in the story, and when Ash shifts to lean over and take a sip of her tea, he takes the book to read ahead a few lines. When she turns back, she just watches him for a moment, a fond smile slowly spreading over her face, and when he finally looks up, realised he was caught, she leans forward, pressing a kiss to his lips, sweet, her hand coming up to cup his cheek, and when she pulls back, he’s smiling back at her, a little confused.
“What was that for?” He grinned, and Ash shrugged, ducking her head to hide her blush.
“I dunno, maybe the book got me going.” She lied easily, and Roger’s expression turns a little unreadable, though it’s clear he doesn’t believe her.
“We weren’t even up to the hot part!” He countered, and Ash laughed, taking the book from him, but he stays holding it, lets himself be pulled with it until he’s meeting her for a kiss, his hand on her wrist when he lets go of the book to move up her arm and start sliding off her dressing gown. “Not that I’m complaining.”
Yeah, Ash had thought, I could get used to this.
“Hello, Ash?” In the present, Freddie waves a hand in front of her face. Ash’s expression soured as her chest began to ache.
“No, okay? Nothing happened between us, Freddie. Roger’s just being a bitch.”
“I’m worried about Rocket.” It’s not what Brian expects to hear over the phone when he picks up. It’s Sunday morning, they’d played in town last night to a fairy big crowd, hadn’t been to Ash’s pub since Freddie had confronted her, and he has a sinking suspicion that that’s why.
“Excuse me?” He asks, rubbing the sleep from his eyes despite the fact that it was well past midday.
“Oh, sorry dear, it’s Maureen, I work with Ashley.” The voice on the other end turns cheery for the introduction, before going back to serious. “Sorry, darling, who am I speaking to? This is the only contact number we have for you boys.”
“It’s Brian. Maureen, what do you mean you’re worried about Ash?” He asked, and Maureen was quiet for a long moment.
“You know the gentleman who’s been quite friendly with her?” Maureen asks, and Brian feels a sinking sensation in his chest as he makes a noise of affirmation. “He came by last night, and after a chat out back, you know Rocket likes her out back chats,” Maureen added, and Brian laughs a little, but there’s no humour in it.
“Yeah, I know.”
“Well he must’ve said something fierce to her, because she came back looking ‘bout ready to kill. She left five minutes later, said she felt sick, hasn’t been in since.” After a beat, Maureen added, “darlin’, I don’t think she’s sick, I think that man said something or did something.”
“I- Maureen why are you telling me?” Brian asks, and Maureen sighs heavily.
“Her emergency contact is, and I’m quoting, ‘that bigass jesus statue in rio’ which Dave thought was funny at the time, but isn’t now. I know that singer of yours is friends with her, and her and the blonde one had that, whatever it was.” This is news to Brian. Not that he didn’t notice Ash and Roger getting along, he just thought they’d put their differences aside for the band’s sake, but this; everything that had happened at that pub between them since August’s arrival made so much sense.
“I’ll look into it, don’t worry.” Brian assured her, hoping his voice didn’t betray how shocked he was. “Thanks, Maureen.”
When he bursts into Roger’s room without knocking, both Roger and the girl he’s got with him shout in protest.
“Fucking knock!” Roger crows as the girl moves off of him, to pull the blanket up to cover herself. It doesn’t even phase Brian, who takes a moment to try and work past the new information he has about Roger and Ash, through to what he needed to say.
“I’m not in charge of organising where we play, that’s why I give the phone to you when pubs call.” Roger sat up, glaring, a little flushed. “Now get the fuck out, can’t you see I’m busy?”
“It’s about Ash.” Brian says, and Roger rolled his eyes.
“Oh well that changes everything,” he scoffed, voice dripping with sarcasm, “Christ, just call Freddie if it’s so important.”
“Who’s Ash?” The girl asks, eyes bright and confused, getting over her earlier embarrassment, and Roger chuckled with an eye roll.
“No-one, love, don’t worry. She’s just a bartender.” And when Roger turns to kiss the girl, Brian shuts the door, and he can hear laughter on the other side.
Freddie’s far more receptive, in fact, as soon as Brian says the words ‘Maureen called about Ash’ he’s practically bolting out of the door, telling Brian he’d meet him at Ash’s dorm, and gave him the address.
Brian’s never been to Ash’s place before, and it’s not even technically hers. When they get let in, the girl at the door grins at Freddie like she knows him, and he nods at her with a smile.
“It’s easier to get work done with Ash than it is at home.” He explained quietly as they ascended to Ash’s floor. The shared kitchen was a mess, drawers and cupboards pulled open, cutlery all over the counters, and there was a tired looking man in his early twenties drinking a very strong coffee at the kitchen table.
“Hey Freddie, if you’re looking for Ash, she just left.” He said, sounding exhausted by the statement.
“What… happened here?” Freddie asked, and the man looked around, sighing wearily.
“Ash,” he said by way of explanation, “locked herself in her room all night, though Kate, you know Kate who lives across the hall from her, said she was up crying all night. Came out the next morning looking for a steak knife and a lighter.” He took a long sip of his drink. “She’s cleaning all this shit up.”
“Did she find a steak knife?” Brian asked tentatively, looking around at the carnage.
“No.” The man scoffed. “After orientation week we’ve only had a singular butter knife and four spoons on this floor, even though we all keep buying more.” He paused for a moment, shrugging. “Took the lighter from the table though, said she was headed home.”
“And you let her?” Freddie asked, eyes wide, and the man just squinted at him in confusion.
“What does that even mean? I’m not her fuckin’ warden, man, she’s just going home. Also she threatened to punch the butterknife in the throat for not being a steak knife, so after that I just sort of kept quiet.” He shook his head. “I’ve never seen her like that, honestly, it was scary.”
But Freddie’s barely listening, already heading back downstairs. Brian follows quickly, thanking the man over his shoulder.
“If Ash just left, that means she’s headed for the train station; we won’t catch her before she gets there, so get Roger, we’re going to have to drive to catch her before she gets-” Freddie’s walking so fast he’s almost jogging, and Brian struggles to keep up with him, confused.
“Wait, hold up, Freddie what is happening?” Brian asked, and Freddie stopped abruptly, expression pained.
“I don’t know, I just know that she loved August the last time I spoke to her, loved him despite everything he’d done to her, everything he’d put her through, and now, today, she’s going to kill him.” Freddie paused, taking in Brian’s shocked expression, before taking a deep breath and declaring, “Brian, dear, go get Roger and his van, we’re going to Scotland.”
Not twenty minutes later, and Ash is sitting on a train, watching the countryside pass by, her heart in her throat. The jacket she’s wearing isn’t even her’s it’s one Freddie loaned her, it’s a bomber jacket, far too big for her and it’s so warm it’s like a hug. It smells like him, just a little, and she’s careful to not wipe her tears on it when she pulls her shirt up to wipe her eyes.
Every time she thinks of Freddie she starts crying again, he’d warned her, he told her, he’d fucking spelled it out for her, but she’d had faith. Fuck faith.
She feels dirty, her skin itching where August had touched her, it’s like she can still feel his hands on her hips, and she wants to scrub at it until she can’t feel a thing. She can still feel the way he cool fingers had latched around her wrists when he’s met her last night, leaning in to press a gentle kiss to her lips.
“Baby, we can’t keep doing this.” He’d told her, and Ash felt like she’d been splashed with cold water.
“What- what do you mean?” She asked, laughing a little, leaning in again where he’s so close to kiss him. He kisses her back, but his expression is a little guilty. She’s the one who pulls away, and he sighs deeply.
“My dear girl, this hurts me so much, you don’t understand.” He tries, and Ash knows that tone, and she pulls out of his grip.
“Fuck off.” She spits automatically, stepping back.
“Don’t speak to me like that.” He growls, expecting her to back down at his sudden aggression, but she doesn’t, not this time.
“I’ll speak to you however I want; what is it this time? Your new girlfriend found out? You come here to prove to everyone back home that I’m still a homewrecker?” And she’s pretty sure it’s the shock and anger that’s keeping her from crying, which she’s glad about; he doesn’t get to see her like that, not again. August takes a long moment to look at her, to really try and see her for who she is, rather than who she reverts into when she’s around him, and he knows he can’t lie.
“I got a call earlier.” He starts through gritted teeth, avoiding her gaze, seemingly not liking this new, self-possessed Ash, not that she could give a fuck about that now. “Kira… went into labour.” He explains.
“You’re ex-fiance?” Ash’s voice was dangerously level.
“I never technically lied to you.” He tried to reason, and Ash’s eyes widened with fury, and without warning, she punched him in the nose. His head snaps back, and blood begins to pour from his nose as he actually cowers.
“You fucking married her! She’s your wife! She’s your fucking wife!” She’s yelling now, rage crackling from her in waves, and she looks around before her eyes land on the milk crates she usually uses as seats, and she whips around, picking one up, holding it above her head. “You left your pregnant fucking wife to fuck me? August Reid you are the fucking devil.” And she hits him with the crate, and he staggers back. “Explain that! Explain that to your wife and your fucking newborn! That you came back to fuck around with the girl who you ran out of home when she was nineteen years old.”
“Ashley-” he tries, but she throws the crate at him, and turns to head back inside.
“You can’t trick me into thinking this is my fault this time.” She spits over her shoulder. “I can’t believe you’d do this again; you’re a fucking monster.”
There’s a lighter clenched in her fist, and her wallet in her pocket, and that’s all she needs. The time on the train is mostly spent trying to remember the way to August’s office, and berating herself for being so trusting, so willing to let him back in. He’d so convinced her that what had happened between them, including her own expulsion had been her fault the first time around, but she’d learned, she thought she’d learned.
It takes six hours to get to Fife, and she lets herself sleep a little, but when she gets off the train, something tightens in her chest to hear such familiar accents all around, and the feel of the crisp, Scottish air on her skin. She takes the bus she knows all to well, the bus driver even gives her a look like he remembers that he doesn’t like her, but he can’t quiet remember why exactly, and her blood boils as she watched the familiar landscape go past in a blur.
Everything stops when she gets off, and sees the silhouette of Saint Andrews against the starlit sky, and someone calls her name.
There, leaning against the hood of an all too familiar van, is Freddie. Seeing him there makes everything real.
“Piss off.” She says, eyes flicking to the windshield of the van where she sees Brian scrambling from his seat, and Roger looking as though he’s asleep against the steering wheel. “All of you piss off, this has nothing to do with you.”
“You can’t murder him, Ash.” Brian tries, but Ash’s resolve hardens and she starts walking, tries moving right past them.
“I’m going to set his office on fire, there’s a difference.” Ash snapped, wrenching herself out of Brian’s grip as he tried to catch her. Knowing someone had reached out for her, she can already feel herself tearing up again. There were people in her life who cared about her, and she’d still wanted to be with August. “And I suppose you all know what went down last time, so thanks for telling everyone all of my business, Freddie.” She spat venomously, and Freddie dropped his gaze, guilt written all over his face.
“Don’t be a bitch, Ash, he’s just trying to help.” She hears from the van, and when she looks back, Roger’s climbing out, through the passenger side, looking a little tired.
“I’m fucking sick of everyone knowing my business, but fine, you can join the rest of this fucking town in thinking I’m a homewrecker.” And the tears finally started to spill where they’d been threatening to, and she feels so weak for letting them see her like this.
Roger’s quiet, and she turns away, heading to the front gates, and they watch as she starts to audibly sniffle and sob, picking up the thick padlock, rattling it for a bit, before turning on the boys.
“If you’re here, help me.” She demands, heading to the back of the van and pulling at the handles, though they don’t budge.
“Do you think I keep bolt cutters back there?” Roger demands, rounding on her, pulling her off of where she was struggling with the back of the van doors pretty fiercely.
“What if he’s in there, Ash, what are you gonna do?” She hears Brian ask, and her grip loosens on the doors, and she squirms out of Roger’s grip, heading back to the padlock on the gate, and pulling at it with her bare hands.
“He’s not there! He’s not there!” She yells, tears streaming down her cheeks, even as Roger’s pulling her back again, holding her back as she struggled. “Just let me set fire to his life’s fucking work! It’s what he deserves!” She cries, and Roger snaps.
“How do you know he’s not there? What if he is? You’re just gonna kill him?” He asked, harshly, but she all but cuts him off.
“He’s at the hospital! He’s with his wife!” And when she says the words, it’s as if the statement really hits her, and she stops fighting. “He’s with his wife and kid.” And they’re all shocked into silence, punctuated by Ash’s loud sobbing where she’s doubled over, as if it causes her physical pain to think about. Roger actually lets go, and she crumples to the ground, folded in on herself, body wracked with sobs. The lighter falls from her pocket, and skitters across the ground.
“Oh, Ash.” Freddie finally speaks, he and Brian coming around the back of the van. Roger is frozen, dumbstruck and looking up at the university, while Ash is laying on the ground, crying. After a moment, he unfreezes, moving automatically to unlock the back of the van, which had been cleared of band supplies, and he passes the keys to Brian.
“I dunno where a hotel is, but I’m not driving back to London tonight.” He says, turning to Freddie, “there’s a directory in the glove box, can you find us a place to stay?” And both men nod, and move to the front of the van as Roger leans down.
“Ash, come here.” He says gently, and when she finally looks up at him, he thinks he can feel his heart break. She’s so vulnerable, so raw, and yet there’s a fire there.
“Fuck off, Roger,” her voice is rough from her crying, “didn’t you say you have higher standards?” She spits, and he has to stop himself from rolling his eyes at how her automatic response is to lash out. “You told me okay? You were right.” She sniffled, and turned away. Even so, he moves her so he can scoop her up, and she doesn’t protest, just sulks and sniffles as they get into the back of the van.
“Despite what you might think, I’m not happy to be right all the time.” He tells her, and the van starts up once he shuts the door. They sit side by side in the back of the van, until Roger wraps an arm around her, pulls her legs over his, and holds her close. It’s automatic, the way Ash wraps an arm around his chest and tucks her head in the crook of his neck.
“I’m so sorry.” She finally whispers, quiet enough for only him to hear, and he can feel the way she’s still silently sobbing. “I’m so sorry about him.” And Roger’s gaze flicks for a moment to the front, where Brian and Freddie are talking quietly, heading to the nearest hotel.
“You have nothing to apologise for.” He tells her, and they hold each other just a little bit tighter.
Ash wakes to Roger prodding her cheek, and when she cracks open her eyes, he presses a finger to his lips. She frowns at him, but keeps obligingly quiet. Freddie’s snoring quietly behind her and she’s got a feeling Brian’s still asleep, so when Roger gestures for her to follow him, she tries to be as silent as possible.
Not a word has passed between them when they get into the van, and as they drive Ash is still in a bleary, semi-emotional haze that she doesn’t even register the world outside of the van.
“You seem mad.” She says with a yawn, eyes drifting lazily over Roger’s white knuckled grip on the wheel and his clenched jaw. “You taking me somewhere remote to kill me?” She joked, lazy smile sliding into place on her face. Roger remained quiet for a long time, and her expression shifted to concern. “You’re- that was a joke, you’re not going to actually kill me, are you?” She asked to the silence, and Roger let out a long sigh, stopping at a red light, letting himself relax against the seat, before he fishes something out of his pocket, holding it out to her without look at her.
It’s her lighter. Looking out the window, Ash realises where they are, how close they are to her own university, and something tightens in her chest, and her eyes get a little misty.
“Freddie and Brian never would have agreed to this.” Her voice is gentle, and Roger gives a tight smile, still tightly wound with a bitter tension. He looks like he hasn’t slept.
He doesn’t wait in the van when they pull into the staff car park, he gets out. Hands in his pockets, and he follows her through the halls. The students who see them barely even seem to register them, sleep deprived at six in the morning, but one of the lecturers squints at her before he steps into his classroom, and Ash’s pulse quickens and she steps into an empty office.
“Give me your top.” She tells Roger, and he just frowns at her.
“No. Why?” He asks, and Ash sighed.
“People recognise me, please, I’m committing arson, Roger, help me out.” She said, and he flushed.
“I’m not wearing anything beneath it.” He admitted, and Ash pinched the bridge of her nose.
“You’re wearing a sleeveless sweater with a hood and nothing underneath?” She groaned. “Christ, I’m going to jail.” After a beat, she heaved out a sigh and pulled off her own off the shoulder shirt with bell-sleeves, leaving her in a bra and jeans, offering it to him. After a moment of hesitation, Roger pulls off his shirt and they trade, careful not to touch each other. Ash tucked her hair into the hood, pulling it low over her face, and Roger waved about the bell sleeves, amused despite himself; it’s cute, not that Ash would ever admit that out loud.
“Why are you doing this for me?” Ash asks when she’s sweeping all of August’s paperwork into his metal wastepaper basket. Roger’s sitting on the desk, swinging his feet, watching her.
“For you? I’m doing this for me.” And his words gave her reason to pause, confusion on her face, though Roger doesn’t realise why. “I’ve never liked him, Ash, all this shit deserves to go up in flames.” And something in Ash’s mind clicks into place, and she smiles as she continues working.
The walls are lined with books Ash doesn’t touch, apart from one she pulls out, and uses to squish the papers down further to create more room, before leaving it there, and Roger catches sight of August’s name on the cover. They empty his desk drawers and filing cabinets, thousands of pages piled high onto the desk, and Ash shoves what she can into the waste, taking the rest in her arms, and instructing Roger to do the same, and the two troupe out after almost half an hour of lurking, thankful of the early hour as no-one tries to stop them. When she dumps the papers in the van, Roger finally asks what’s happening.
“Well I decided against setting the desk on fire, arson’s far more serious than petty theft,” Ash explains, “doesn’t matter, as long as his work goes up in flames.”
“And his fancy degree.” Roger adds. There’s a long moment of incredulous silence as he starts up the car, and Ash looks over her shoulder, seeing the corner of August’s Doctorate that had been hanging on his wall now sitting beneath a stack of papers. Her expression shifts to a blinding smile, which Roger can see out of the corner of his eyes, and it makes him smile too, far more relaxed than he was on the drive there.
Almost a full half an hour later and they’re in a mostly abandoned housing development area in the next county over. Ash glows in the firelight, laughing until she’s crying, sitting herself on the ground and just watching August’s work goes up in flames. Roger sits next to her, quiet, his arm around her, and she rests her head on his shoulder as she cries. They stay like that until the fire’s gone out, and there’s a pile of charred remains and a black stain on the concrete, and Ash is still crying.
They don’t talk on the way back, just stop to get coffee for the others, switching back shirts once they arrive at the hotel. Ash threw away the lighter.
When they get back into the hotel room, Freddie’s still asleep, but Brian is awake and reading the paper. He looks between them, eyebrows raised, and Ash gives him a smile, holding up the drinks.
“You guys were still asleep, we didn’t want to wake you.” She said, far more cheery than she probably should be, but it felt as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders, so she didn’t care.
“Likely story.” Freddie, still mostly asleep, cracks his eyes open if only to let his sarcasm sink in. When she threatens to drink his coffee, he apologises quickly, and he sits up, letting her sit beside him. Roger draped himself on the sofa after giving Brian his drink, and Brian still didn’t look entirely convinced, but Ash decided not to dwell on it.
Things… get easier after that. At least for Ash. It’s like a great weight had left her shoulders, blown away in the wind like the remnants of August’s work, and she grins easily at Roger when they share a cigarette after a gig one night, side by side leaning against his van, almost a month after everything had gone down.
“He sent me a letter, fucking furious, telling me he’d call the police if I didn’t return his work.” She actually laughed, leaning her head back against the cool metal. “I sent back that I had no idea what he was talking about, that if he tried to contact me I’d go straight to Kira and tell her where he’d been every weekend for the last three months of her pregnancy.” After a beat, her smile becomes a little sad as she really considers her words. “I haven’t heard from him since.”
“That’s pretty cruel, Ash.” But when Roger says it, it sounds like a compliment, and she turns to look at him.
“He’s honestly lucky I haven’t already, I mean I was ready to slash his tires, just couldn’t find a knife; good luck explaining that, dickhead.” She laughed. “I punched him, you know? Right in the nose, hit him with a crate and everything.” And she sounds whistful when she says it, but the shock of hearing that Ash had actually managed to hurt the bastard who hurt her sent a rush of pride through Roger.
When he turns to look at her, she’s smiling brightly at him, and he’s looking at her like she hangs the stars in the sky, something close to awe at the edge of his smile.
“You’re incredible sometimes, you know that?” They’re so close. Ash feels her breath hitch a moment as she looks in his eyes, her gaze flicks to his lips; they’re parted a little, and in that moment she wants so badly to close the gap between them. Looking back up to his eyes, she can see he wants it too, but they haven’t spoken about what had happened between them, how it hadn’t had a proper ending since Gus had come into the picture. And then all Ash can think about is how the last person she’d kissed was Gus, and she’s breaking away, expression falling.
She knows she’s not the only one holding back; apart from when he’d held her crying when they’d picked her up, and when they’d set Gus’s stuff on fire, he’d been so careful not to touch her, and they both knew she could tell.
“You know Brian knows.” Roger tells her, and Ash’s heart sinks. She crosses her arms, taking a few steps away from the van. “When Maureen called about you, she made a reference to us.”
“Maureen’s talking out of her ass.” Ash goes into knee-jerk defensiveness, but Roger laughs anyways.
“I mean, I know for a fact she’s not.” He smirks, and Ash gives him a thin smile.
“Well yeah, but like, I guess I just don’t like people knowing my business.” Ash murmured, and Roger nodded, humming thoughtfully.
“So you want me to tell him that Maureen’s talking out of her ass? I already denied it, don’t worry.” He told her, and Ash feels something ease in her chest as she nods quickly, thanking him quietly. After a beat of silence, she turns to head back inside, and Roger wants so badly to call after her, to keep her by his side, go back just a few moments and take the initiative, but his voice is frozen in his throat. He watches her leave.
When Ash opens the door to her room to see a grouchy Roger, she’s surprised to say the least.
“Who let you in?” She asked, surprisingly defensive, wrapped in her nightgown, hair a mess from what he can see where she’s only got the door open a crack.
“The van’s been sold,” he says instead, and Ash makes a face, and doesn’t open the door any wider. Actually, she just crossed her arms over her chest.
“So you came to me? Go away, Roger.” She’s not usually so short with him, and she goes to close the door but he holds out a hand, jaw clenched.
“The others are here too, the buyer lives here, on the first floor,” after a beat, he hesitates, “Freddie wanted to say hi.” And Ash finally relented, sighing deeply and pulling her dressing gown tighter around herself.
“Alright, lemme put some pants on, I’ll make tea.” She says, and it’s punctuated with a yawn, before she closes the door. When Ash closes the door, she takes a moment to rest her head against it, eyes closed, already exhausted.
“Who was that?” Comes a voice from her bed, and when she turns, she sees the sleepy smile of Tom or Travis or whatever his name is, and she lets herself smile back.
“A friend.” She tells him, walking with measured steps and an easy grin back to the bed, straddling him when he sits against the headboard. Ash moves in to kiss him, moaning gently as his hands find her smooth thighs beneath the bathrobe.
“Can he wait?” He asks, kissing her jaw as his fingers graze from her thighs up to pull at the sash of her dressing gown, exposing her to him, his hands moving to cup her boobs. Ash feels herself flush, eyes fluttering closed, laugh coming out a little breathy, but she moves back.
For just a moment, with his hands on her, her eyes closed, she sees the way Roger had been grinning last night, with the girl at the other end of the bar, and how his gaze had flicked to Ash’s for just a second, and his smile had brightened in that moment. But then the girl at the bar kisses Roger and Ash drops a glass, and Tyler or Todd or whoever he is pinches her nipple and her eyes snap open. He’s grinning back at her, brown eyes dark as he looks her over, and Ash feels something tighten in her chest, so she kisses him rough, hands in his curly, blonde hair. He’s familiar, but not enough, and she doesn’t like to read into it-
“Pocket Rocket?” It’s Freddie who bangs on her door this time, and Ash turns bright red, turning bright red as the boy in her bed laughs the nickname quietly back to her, pinching her thigh.
“Yeah, gimme a sec, Freds.” She calls back, getting off of the boy with a sheepish smile.
“Your friends seem impatient.” He says, but gets out of bed obligingly, searching for his pants while Ash rifles through her drawer for something to wear.
“Just get on some pants and go.” Ash says, a little beleaguered, and she hears him laugh as he pulls on jeans. As she’s bent over looking for a pair of short, he slaps her on the ass, and Ash turns sharply, eyebrows raised, small smile on her face. He just leans in and kisses her quickly.
“Thanks for last night.” He tells her, and she grins, leaning up on her tip toes to kiss him again in answer. When he leaves, he’s wearing jeans and an unbuttoned shirt, his shoes and socks in hand, and he runs directly into Freddie who’s waiting outside. “Sorry for keeping her, man, you know how it is.” He smirked, and Ash felt herself flush, stepping out after he’d left to see an amused Freddie.
“So, who’s your friend?” Freddie asks, following behind her as she walks out to the common room, and seeing John, Roger, and Brian all sitting around her kitchen table, feels herself turn bright red.
“Tommy… maybe.” She says, avoiding eye contact with them, a little, proud smile on her face. Freddie wolf whistles.
“Look at you go.” He says, draping himself in a seat at the table, watching with amusement as Ash shuffled around the kitchen, preparing tea for them all. As she worked, the others began talking over each other, excited at the prospect of recording an actual album, and she let herself relax as she listened.
“How do you boys like your tea?” She asks, interrupting them, already putting a second sugar in the mug with cat faces on it. Brian and John tell her easily, Freddie smiles, knowing she already knows his, and Roger uses the lull to complain about selling the van again, not giving a real answer, and that starts them all up again, trying to tell him it was the right move for the band. When Ash puts Roger’s tea down for him, she gives his shoulder a gentle squeeze, and when he looks up at her, she gives him an apologetic smile, far more relaxed than when she’d opened the door for him earlier. He shoots back a tight smile, and just holds the familiar cup as she moves back to the counter.
“We’re tonight.” Brian announces, as Ash puts his drink down in front of him. “Do you wanna come along?” Taking a seat beside him, Ash takes a long sip of her own tea, looking between the four of them.
“Why?” She finally speaks, laughter a little confused.
“I want my number one fan there.” Freddie said proudly, grinning at her, and Ash smirked.
“Freds, you’re gonna be there either way.” She said fondly, and you hear a snort from Roger.
“You even up for it, Ash? How much sleep did you get last night?” He asks with a smirk. Freddie laughs at that, John hides his smile behind his mug, and Brian just shakes his head, but Ash just sits up straighter, lips quirking in a challenge as she narrows her eyes at him.
“Oh, wouldn’t you like to know, you pervert.” She tells him, the hint of a smile in his words, and he bites back his reply, a little flush because, yeah, he fucking missed it, missed her, not that he could say that here and now, not that he could ever say that out loud. “That’s what I thought.” She says, triumphant when he’s silent, but she can’t look him in the eyes, and she agrees to go to the recording studio.
When she turns up, a little late but excited nevertheless, Roger’s sitting outside, bouncing his leg, and looking like he’s waiting for something. His expression brightens when he sees her, though Ash just gives him an amused smile.
“You waiting for me?” She asked, and he tipped his head to the side as he stood, giving her an evaluating stare.
“Didn’t want you getting lost.” He half laughed, and Ash grinned at him, her hands stuffed in her pockets as he lead her inside the building.
“So you still, ah, getting out and about?” He asked, shooting for casual, though Ash snorted out a laugh at his awkwardness.
“Yeah, you know, since everything with August I’m just… enjoying myself, you know?” It’s been almost a full three months since the incident at Fife, and objectively Roger knew she’d probably want to get herself back out there, but he’d, well honestly, Roger had assumed she’d go for him when she was ready.
“Of course, makes sense.” There’s an awkward silence that hangs between them, and Ash comes to a halt before they make it to the recording studio, frowning up at him, obviously waiting for him to spit out whatever he was thinking. After a beat, he opens his mouth, but she cuts him off.
“I don’t give a fuck if you have a problem with what I’m doing, frankly it’s not any of your business.” She said flatly, and Roger shrugged.
“I don’t have a problem with it, I’m just surprised you didn’t ask me.” He admitted honestly, “I thought we had fun together at least,” and Ash actually laughed, smile a little sharp as she looked at him, and he knew he’d said the wrong thing.
“Yeah no, it was fun, and then I stopped meeting your standards or some bullshit, remember?” And her words sting a little, and Roger frowns.
“You’re still mad about that? I was just pissed about- about him.” And at even the suggestion of August, Roger can feel his blood boil a little. “I thought we were good.” He crows, and Ash gave him a thin smile.
“Yeah, we’re good, we’re fine,” which is clearly a lie, “you’ve done a great job at burying any suspicions the others had about us, because there’s no way in hell I’d ever go near you like that again.” And she turns to leave, but he’s still.
“Of course you are.” She says, before she stops at the door, giving him a small, apologetic smile. “I’m still sorry about how things went down with us, Rog, but fuck, you really know how to make a girl feel like a dumbass for having feelings and shit. But whatever; we’re good.” And he calls her name as she opens the door to the studio, but someone comes bursting through.
“Oh! I’m so sorry- Rog, they’re asking for you!” It’s the girl from the bar last night, and Ash smiles brightly, with a glassy-eyed stare as everything comes shattering around her. “I know you! You’re the bartender! You must be the singer’s friend.” The girl seems so bright and sweet, and Ash holds out her hand automatically.
“Ash.” She introduces herself as, smile still frozen in place as the girl shakes her hand, introducing herself as Kristin. “You’re here with Roger?” Ash asks, and Kristin confirms with a giggle. Turning to look over her shoulder, Ash sees Roger with his eyes squeezed closed. Expression softening as she turns back to the sweet-faced Kristin, she lays a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Watch out for that one, he’s bad news.” And her tone is bright, and Kristin takes it like a joke as Ash swans past her into the recording studio.
“He’s fucking unbelievable sometimes.” Ash quiet enough that only Mary hears it when she takes a seat beside the blonde on the sofa. Mary wraps an arm around her, letting Ash tuck against her side as they watched the boys set up.
“I know, sweetheart.” Mary says, rubbing her arm in solidarity. “Pay him no mind, it’s gonna be a good night, you should have seen how excited Freddie was earlier; still is.” And it’s true Freddie’s bursting with energy, warming up; he sees Ash, and immediately bursts into the room, leaning down to wrap her in a hug.
“I’m so glad you’re here, Ash.” He tells her, and Ash gives him a fond smile, despite her gently aching heart.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
The second worst part is that Kristin is so nice. She’s bright, and sweet, and she ‘loves that shirt where did you get it from? You made it, oh that’s so cool! I could never do something like that you’re so talented!’ She’s so earnest, barely nineteen, and she clings a little, to Roger when he’s around, to Ash and Mary, because they answer her questions; she’s starry-eyed when she stands and watches the band through the glass of the sound studio window. She doesn’t know a lot about music, but she knows enough to appreciate the work they’re putting in.
The worst part is that she takes a liking to Ash.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to talk so much, I’m just nervous, you know?” And Kristin’s smiling a little distractedly as she watches Roger play. “I mean, I only met him a few weeks ago-” and she keeps talking but Ash’s brain short circuits; she’s not just a girl he picked up at the bar, she’s a girl he invited to the bar to watch him play.
“Could I talk to you for a second?” Ash asks, standing abruptly, holding out her hand to Kristin. The other woman takes it, and Mary shoots the ginger a supportive smile.
Ash wants to tell Kristin to run as far as she can, wants to warn this kind-faced girl about what Roger was capable of, wants to tell her that he basically admitted that he still wants to hook up with Ash not forty minutes ago, but as soon as the door swings closed, Kristin starts.
“I know you’re friends with Roger,” she starts, a little sheepish, and Ash’s eyes go wide, “and you’re protective of him or something like that, but-”
“No, not at all!” Ash blurts out, realising she’s still holding Kristin’s hand. “It’s you I’m worried about, darlin’.” It’s takes a long moment for Kristin to process Ash’s words, wide-eyed. “Roger can be,” Ash takes a moment in the silence to choose her words carefully, humming as she turned each over in her mind before settling on; “fickle.” Run fast, run far, he mind yells, but Ash is already feeling selfish for thinking it; she’s told him she’s going to try and keep it platonic from now on, she shouldn’t try and scare off someone he’s a little serious about.
She’s not jealous.
If she keeps telling herself that, maybe she’ll believe it, maybe she’ll stop feeling like her emotions are betraying her.
“Fickle?” Kristin’s brow furrows, and her expression turns soft. “You’re worried about me? Oh, Ash- can I call you Ash?” She asks nervously, not at all patronising, and Ash lets herself grin.
“It is my name.”
“I promise I can take care of myself.” Kristin assures her, but the horrible thought flashes through Ash’s mind, that August would adore her, Ash knows immediately that she has to keep Roger from hurting her while they’re together.
“I’m sure you can.” Ash gives her a kind smile, forcing herself to relax. “I just wanted to say my peace.” She said, and Kristin gives her fond smile, squeezing her hand as a reassurance, before they head back into the recording studio.
“You two… seem to be getting along.” Roger doesn’t sound like he likes that, eyes zeroing in on where the girls hands are clasped, and Ash gives him a sunny smile. He narrows his eyes further, plopping himself onto the other end of the sofa from Mary. Kristin lets go of Ash and immediately makes her way over to him, sitting in his lap, and something in Ash’s chest tightens painfully, smile dropping as he wraps an arm around her.
“She’s just being kind.” Kristin assures him, and Ash is pretty sure she sees a sarcastic response pass through Roger’s mind, but he bites it back.
“She’s good at that when she wants to be.” He says instead, quiet, apologetic smile on his face when he makes eye contact with Ash, and the girl in question just gives a jerky nod, turning to watch John begin playing.
“Yes, our Ash can be a sweetheart.” Freddie says from his seat beside the sound engineer, and Ash gives him a grateful smile, and he gives her a nod of acknowledgement, smile reassuring.
“A downright sap, sometimes.” Mary calls from the sofa, despite the fact that they both knew she’d never seen Ash as anything less than a dry-humoured bartender, though Ash still feels her cheeks heat up, embarrassed.
“Okay, okay, thanks I think she gets it.” And when Ash turns back, Kristin and Roger are quiet, her head on his shoulder, both looking up; she’s looking at Deaky, looking relaxed and content, and Roger is looking at Ash, a little confused.
“I don’t want to get into another argument.” Roger says it around a cigarette when Ash joins him outside for a smoke. He’s restless, both from the tension he can feel crackling from Ash, and the fact that they’ve yet to strike gold in the recording studio.
“I just don’t know how you could say all that to me while you knew she was in the next room; you’re dating her, aren’t you?” She doesn’t light up her own cigarette, just shoves her hands into her jean pockets. Her voice is hollow.
“I’m sorry.” It’s the most sincere he’s sounded so far, and the silence that follows feels like eons. “I’m sorry I said what I said; about the standards comment and everything else, okay? After what happened with August, we were good, weren’t we? Not back to… to whatever we were before, but we were good. I miss that.” I miss you, he thinks, but he can’t say it. “What happened?”
Ash can’t open her mouth because she knows if she does, she’ll say exactly what she’s thinking, that they were good, but she watched him pick up Kristin at her bar and she was hit with how much his words had hurt her, and how much it hurt to have proof of him spending the night with someone else.
“I guess I’ve just been bottling up being mad about that comment you made.” She lied easily, shrugging, not meeting his gaze. “You are dating her, aren’t you; you’ve been together for a few weeks now.” And Ash isn’t sure which answer will hurt more.
“Yeah, I guess so.” He seems a little uncertain, and he’s reached the end of his cigarette.
“She’s good.” Ash says, quiet enough that Roger almost doesn’t catch it, and when he goes to comment, she looks up, smiling a little too brightly. “We’re good, for real.” He thinks for a moment that she’s correcting her earlier statement, but he’s not quite sure, and she reaches out to rest a hand on his shoulder, and he’s frowning, confused. There’s a sincerity in her eyes that he can’t help but believe, and as soon as she can see he believes her, she’s turned and headed back inside.
“Don’t you think I sound like shit?” Ash walks in as Freddie is pacing, listening to a playback of himself. As if working off muscle memory alone, he moves in to give Ash a distracted side hug, before letting her go. Ash herself is a little distracted, and she makes her way over to where John’s sitting by the sound engineer, deep in thought. She rests her chin on his shoulder, uncertain of what else to do, and he pets her face comfortingly as a form of acknowledgement.
They’re so close to gold it’s almost painful, and she watches Freddie, restless, step back into the recording booth. Stepping back, Ash listens as he sings, hears the door open and close but doesn’t turn, just gives her best friend her full attention, and seeing her there, less troubled than earlier, bright and focused on him, Freddie’s own focus intensifies.
“What if we bounce it left and right for the ‘ah-ah-ah’s?” He suggested on the next playback, resting an arm on Ash’s shoulder, frowning at the soundboard. They listened, Freddie’s voice sliding from the speaks on the left to the right, a little hypnotically.
“And then centre for the last one!” Brian says, eyes bright, filled with a new energy, coming up and leaning on Ash’s other shoulder, to which she couldn’t help but grin, feeling the electricity crackle through the air as they listened back to the recording as they experimented on it.
“And blast it!” Roger cries; and there it is, coming together, gold.
Freddie picks Ash up, spinning her around, ecstatic, before he’s turning and reaching for Mary. They’re bottling lightning from the moment they step back into the studio, experimenting with their sound, and it’s like a weight has dropped from everyone’s shoulders, tension leaving only to be replaced with elation and excitement. Ash throws herself back onto the sofa between Kristin and Mary, positively beaming, and Mary wraps her arms around Ash, pulling her in for a tight hug, while Kristin tapped Ash’s leg with excitement.
Everyone’s up, down, and all over the place; at one point, Ash is on Brian’s shoulders with a tambourine, and then she was pulling the change from her wallet, pouring it onto the drums, along with the others, and she and Kristin were botching the cha-cha to a playback of Modern Times Rock ‘N Roll as Freddie and Mary were stepping through a surprisingly good jive, and the other three were bopping along; Roger grinned as he watched Ash dance. Actually, she realises, he’s probably watching Kristin; she doesn’t dwell on it.
The night was growing later, and they were still working as Kristin called it a night, and Ash had her head in Mary’s lap as the boys were in the recording studio, trying to record with a bucket over the microphone, and Mary was nodding off against the back of the lounge but Ash felt electric. Men in suits come in asking for a demo, but she’s too wrapped up in the music being made to even really register them. They leave with a demo of the recording before she’s even fully realised they were there.
“Where’s Kristin gone?” Roger asks, eyes bright as he moves to the sofa. Ash pulls her legs back, making room for him, before she puts her legs in his lap without thinking, neither of them really register it, it feels like it always has, and they’re smiling at each other.
“I think she went home.” Ash told him, and Roger’s gaze slides to Mary, something fondly amused about his expression. His hand is on Ash’s thigh and something inside her feels sated.
“I think Mary’s about ready to call it quits too.” He mused, voice getting a little quieter as to not disturb her, before he looks back at Ash. “I appreciate you being cool about Kristin.” He said, and Ash rolled her eyes.
“Well I wasn’t going to flip out, that’s a pretty dead giveaway that something did happen between us.” Ash’s voice was light, she seemed more exasperated than anything else. Mary makes a noise in her sleep, and for a moment, there’s fear in Ash’s eyes that she had heard what Ash had said. Roger is quiet for a long moment, his expression nervous as he looks at Mary, and his hand begins to move in a comforting rhythm against Ash’s thigh. She doesn’t seem inclined to move or to ask him to stop.
“You guys sound so fucking good.” Ash finally breaks the silence, tension dropping as she beams at him.
“Well we’re glad to have you with us; our unofficial mascot.” He muses, and Ash smacks his arm, snorting out a laugh. “Fine, not a mascot, our… what do you do for us?” He asked, which only made Ash laugh harder. Mary made another noise, and Ash pressed her lips together, stifling a guilty laugh as she sat up, moving her legs from beside Roger to sit next to him, legs tucked up onto the sofa. He kept his hand on her thigh.
“I serve you drinks and lend Freds my clothes,” she clarified, and Roger nodded as seriously as he could, the two of them looking through the window to see Freddie and John waving about card board tubes as Brian was fiddling with the amp.
“So you’re our costumer?” He asked, and Ash made a thoughtful noise, smiling at the notion.
“Only if I can dress all of you-” and as she said it, Roger’s hand slowed, coming to rest at the top of her thigh. Ash’s smile became a little tight. “Of course I was going to be cool about Kristin.” It’s so fucking pointed it hurts both of them a little, and he folds his hands in his lap.
“Of course you can dress us, I’d look great in sequins.” He mused, tone still bright and amused, and Ash snorted, rolling her eyes.
“You give yourself too much credit, Rog.” But there’s still a tension there, and Roger turns to her, eyebrows raised, and his answer is so automatic that he doesn’t register it until the words are out of his mouth.
“Ash, look at me, look at my face; I look good in everything, I even look good in nothing.”
Ash can feel in this instance that she’s at a crossroads; her mouth goes dry, and she has to look away, something in her chest tightening.
“You’re really doing this? You really decided that that was what you needed to say right now? God, you’re an idiot.” She gives a humourless laugh, standing.
“Sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” He tries, but she just shrugs helplessly.
“You are who you are, Rog, I get it.” And she started collecting her things. “Just try not to act on your instincts, for Kristin, okay? She’s good. I’m going home, it’s late.” And she gives him a tired smile. “Tell the others I said goodbye; I am really proud of you guys.”
Roger nods, giving her a weak smile, and watches her leave.
“Oh Ashley, it’s so good to see you.” Freddie’s mother seems absolutely delighted to see Ash at the door when she opens it, a few weeks after the album’s recording, on the morning of Freddie’s birthday. She quickly wraps the girl up in a hug, and Ash hugs her back tightly. “It’s been too long.” She scolds, beckoning Ash through into the kitchen. “Farrokh and his friends are in his room, and I’m sure Kash is somewhere, but I have some things for you to take home.” And she produces a tupperware container full of baked goods, and Ash’s chest tightens a little.
“Mrs Bulsara, you really didn’t have to-” Ash tries to decline, but Freddie’s mother pushes the container into her hands with a fond smile.
“Nonsense, it was no trouble; Freddie tells me how you live up on the campus, all that junk food, and so far from home?” She clicks her tongue, shaking her head as she heads back out to the dining room. “You need a mother’s cooking. Don’t worry, I’ve added plastic forks; I’ve been told you don’t have any in your kitchen.” She says, and Ash flushes, embarrassed but thankful.
Freddie’s mother never says it outright, but they both know that she knows that Ash had been kicked out of home before she’d become friends with Freddie. After the first few times Ash had come over to work on a uni project with Freddie, she’s invited to stay for dinner, and Freddie’s mother always gives her leftovers to take home with her. Jer, after three years, treats Ash like family, and Ash, when she thinks about it too hard, wants to cry out of love.
“Kashi, come set the table, lunch is almost ready.” Freddie’s mother calls out, and Kash gives Ash a hug in greeting when she comes to collect plates.
Ash sits herself next to John when everyone’s arrived and lunch is served, and Roger sits himself right next to her. Kristin’s with him, which irks Ash for reasons she doesn’t want to think too hard about, but Ash smiles at her and makes small talk, and it makes Kristin looks a little less uncomfortable and out of place.
The mood around the table is bright, even with Roger and Kristin being a little too cute for Ash’s taste. Mary’s father signs stories about Mary and she translates for the whole table, bashful and sweet, and Kash ask Ash across the table about her latest designs, and the boys all talk excitedly about their album, and then Freddie’s mother is saying how nice it is for Farrokh to bring home a nice girl like Mary.
“What does that make you, Ash?” Roger snickers, and Ash elbows him in the ribs, suppressing a smile of her own.
“A horrible young woman.” Ash says airily, and Kash giggles across the table, and Jer tuts.
“Ashley is a good friend; Mary is…” and she trails off, making gestures at Mary, who is squinting a little.
“Farrokh?” She asks, and Freddie’s mother relaxes, smiling with a hint of confusion. Wondering aloud if Freddie had ever told them about his heritage, though neither Ash nor Roger were paying them much attention.
“A horrible young woman?” Roger’s grinning at Ash, voice low, and she’s smirking back at him, amused.
“You heard me.” She murmured back, sitting back in her chair, arms crossed and confident.
“You’re not giving yourself enough credit, you can be a right demon when you wanna be.” He chuckled, and Ash snorted, watching as Jer stood up and made her way to the living room, returning with some photo albums, much to Freddie’s chagrin.
“You’d know, wouldn’t you?” Ash watched Roger out of the corner of her eye, and he held a hand to his heart, shaking his head gently, grinning. Ash leans over, voice quiet enough that she was sure only he’d heard, “but from what I recall it takes two to start a fire.” And Roger’s smile became more genuine as he realised she wasn’t trying to be bitter, but that she was actually making light of their little excursion in Scotland. It’s when he gives her shoulder a squeeze, and Ash feels her own smile soften, that she sees Kristin frowning at her. Ash’s smile drops, and she turns quickly, looking at the photo in front of Deaky, trying to tune out where Roger and Kristin were talking beside her.
Ash has seen all the family photos before, they were pulled out the second time she’d stayed for dinner, and she distinctly remembers Freddie almost face planting into his mashed potato out of embarrassment. This time, at least, he’d absconded to the piano, and was singing himself Happy Birthday to try and drown then all out. Ash leans back in her chair, watching the situation unfold, watching Roger leave Kristin with a gentle reassurance to go sit beside Kash in Freddie’s now vacant seat to look at one of the photo albums, and sees Kristin give her a tight smile from the corner of her eyes, gesturing to the photo album Deaky and Brian were poring over. Ash gives up her seat easily, sitting in Roger’s now empty one.
“I thought Freddie was born in London.” John muses, and Kash laughs. Roger’s got an arm around the back of her chair, leaning in to look at the photo album, but he’s so close to Freddie’s little sister, and Kristin doesn’t seem to be paying him much attention, and Ash feels the hairs on the back of her neck rise.
“Oh he was, at the age of eighteen!” She grins brightly, and Roger looks up, catches her smile, and objectively Kash is pretty, Ash knows this, but Kristin is right there, and she knows his knee-jerk reaction to pretty girls at this point. Kash turns and asks Freddie about his change of name, from Bulsara to Mercury, which sets off their father, and Roger’s leaning back in his chair, watching Kash speak as he smiles slightly.
The phone goes off, and Kash excuses herself to answer it, and finally Roger catches Ash watching him, and gives her a confused smile, as if he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing.
The call is for Freddie, and Kash comes back, slotting herself back into the conversation with ease, and Ash is about to throw a bread roll at Roger. When he leans in to murmur something to her, something she knows is far too forward for a man sitting across from his supposed girlfriend, Ash just feels a sinking disappointment, and her gaze drops as Freddie’s father coughs pointedly. Roger’s still got some cooked onion on his plate, pushed off to the side, and Ash doesn’t even care to ask before she starts picking at it, not letting Freddie’s mother’s cooking go to waste and to give herself something to do that isn’t lobbing cutlery.
“Freddie tells me you’re a scientist.” Jer breaks the silence, turning to Brian, who smiles brightly.
“Astrophysicist, actually.” He corrects cheerfully, before his smile turns sharp and he points directly at Roger. “He studies dentistry; he’s a dentist!” He announces, and Roger snorts, crossing his arms, at the same time as Ash almost choked on her food.
“I was never a dentist.” He says, defensive, where Ash’s ‘he was never a dentist’ is more derisive, and Roger shoots her a wounded look, before frowning. “Are you eating my onions?”
“He’s a dentist.” John snorts. Poor Kristin looks confused, Ash pays her no mind.
“Were you saving them for later?” Ash asks, shoving the last of them in her mouth while making eye contact, and he squints at her, looking like he’s trying hard not smile, before Ash turns to the rest of the table with a mouth full of onions; “He’s a biologist, whatever that is.”
The rest of the table looks at her like she’s grown an extra head.
“She said I’m a biologist, whatever that is.” Roger translates through her mouthful of food and accent with ease, and his smile is smug when everyone else makes noises of understanding.
“Everyone, I have some news;” Freddie announces, coming back to them all. He looks a little shell shocked, and the rest of the room quietens down automatically. “That was John Reid, calling from EMI; they manage Elton.” his voice shakes, he’s holding back so much, “someone gave him a demo of our recording, and he wants to meet with us, possibly even manage us.”
The band are in shock. Ash feels like her heart’s bursting with pride as she stands abruptly, moving to throw her arms around Freddie after he’s done hugging Mary.
“Happy birthday, Freds, this is incredible.” She murmurs, and he holds her so tightly, laughing, a little bewildered at the whole surreal situation.
Stepping back, Ash goes to sit back down, but her seat’s occupied, and so she finds herself in Roger’s lap where he’s taken back his original seat. They don’t give each other time to be shocked, just let themselves enjoy the moment of excitement as they wrap their arms around each other in an ecstatic hug.
“This is awesome!” Ash says quietly, and Roger just laughs a little where he’s got his face buried in her neck, hidden for all her bushy hair. It doesn’t last long, Ash hops up and gives both John and Brian hugs of their own, and she doesn’t like to think about how good it felt to have him hug her again, or how Kristin barely speaks two words to her after that.
A week later, the day of the meeting, Ash is laying at the edge of Freddie’s bed, watching him dig through his closet. Both of them were frustrated, and Freddie flung another jacket at her, and it landed squarely on her face, a button hitting her cheek and making her yelp.
“I asked you here to help, Rocket, now please; which colour shirt?” Freddie huffs, pulling out three different shirts, all in different bright colours. Ash bites her lip.
“Freds, you don’t want me to dress you for a business meeting. Business meetings are fucking boring and I hate boring. And I hate grey.” She whined, and Freddie shook the shirts at her again.
“Darling, that’s exactly why I want you to help me; this is a band meeting and no-one’s gonig to care about us if we look like every Tom, Dick, and Harry.” Freddie muses, and Ash sits up, intrigued; “Deaky’s going to dress like a father, Brian’s going to be unfortunately sensible, and Roger doesn’t know how to button his shirts up past his ribs, which might work on girls, but not on executives; please help me convince Reid we have some semblance of style.”
“The purple one.” Ash answers immediately, barely waiting a moment after he’s finished his spiel to point at the bright purple shirt. Freddie grins, already pulling off his shirt to put on the one she’d suggested. Ash makes her way to the closet beside him, looking through all his jackets and jumpers for anything potentially eye catching.
“I was thinking,” Freddie starts carefully, reaching past her to pull at something white and leather hanging up near the end of the railing, “this one.” It’s frilled. Not like the frills of a skirt, more like a frill-neck lizard.
“I love it.” Ash is bright-eyed when looking at it, absolutely enraptured with it. “Freds where did you get it?” She demands, clutching the edge of the jacket in her hands, looking at it with a starry-eyed gaze; Freddie’s never seen her so enamoured with his clothes before, or any clothes that weren’t her own.
“Op shop down East.” He said, flush with pride that she was to taken with his jacket.
“Freddie if you ever lose or destroy that jacket, tell me; this is the best jacket you’ve ever owned.” She said, suddenly very serious
“You’re taking the piss.” He huffed, rolling his eyes. “What are you gonna do, make me a knew one every time I lose it?” Ash frowned, looking up at him.
“Freddie I’d kill to work with leather like this, take risks like this in such a traditional medium; the work on the collar is impeccable.” There’s nothing but absolute sincerity in her voice, and Freddie is reminded sharply that most of her wardrobe she’s made herself, that this is the life she wants to be a part of more than anything. “If I get even half an excuse to make something like this, I’ll take it.”
“Alright.” Freddie tells her with a firm nod, taking her by the shoulder. “Well then, Ash, I’m asking you seriously; I want you to become the band’s official stylist; when we make it big, we need to have a look, and I trust you to make us stand out.”
Ash is lost for words, heart beating in her throat as she clutches the leather jacket tight in her hands. Nodding profusely, a smile comes over her face, and Freddie hugs her tightly.
“You’ve got a gift, darling, I want the world to see it.” He says, and Ash holds him so tightly as a laugh escapes her, a little wistful, a little bit dazed.
“So do you, Freds, you’re gonna be a star.” She mused, and he pulled back, fixing her with a fond smile.
“Well then you’d better make sure I look my best.”
By the time they burst into her bar, they’re all a little bit drunk, and absolutely elated.
“You, Miss Clarke, are the official stylist for EMI’s latest signing.” Freddie announces as he sits himself at the bar, and Ash almost screams there and then, suddenly overwhelmed with excitement.
“Wait, what? Back up a bit,” Roger actually made a rewinding motion with his hands, frowning, sitting beside Freddie. He slapped his hands on the bar. “Who’s Clarke?” He asked, and Ash laughed, loud and bright, eyes shining as she begins pouring them all a pint in celebration.
“You’ve known this woman for a year, Roger.” Freddie cuts in, sounding scandalised enough for both of them, hand on his heart, shaking his head vehemently.
“Wait, is that your last name?” Roger asked, and Ash nodded, grinning brightly. “Guess it just never came up.” He sounded a little flabbergasted at his own ignorance, accepting his pint with a shocked expression.
“To Queen!” Ash announces, holding up a glass of water for herself to toast with, and the others. but they all insist. Ash tries to wave them off, claiming she couldn’t drink at work, but they’d caught Maureen’s attention, and she’s asking them what the celebration’s for before Ash can fully dismiss the boy’s pleas for her to drink.
“Maureen,” Brian starts, with all the faux seriousness he can muster, and the older woman seems amused by his antics, rather than irritated or concerned, “we’ve just signed with a record company, and hired dear Ashley here to make us clothes-”
“Ash!” Roger corrects loudly without hesitating, seeing Ash wince at the use of her full first name.
“- Ash to make us clothes -” Brian tried again.
“Be your stylist.” Ash corrects, grinning, pleased despite herself at Roger’s speed at jumping to her defense. It’s not the first time he’s done it, but it’s the first time she’s really picked up on it.
“To be our stylist.” Brian finally gets out, and John slots himself between Freddie and Roger at the bar, leaning forward, eyes shining with excitement, and Ash is pretty sure she’s never seen him properly tipsy before.
“Can I request fancy fabrics? Like patterned, or with stars -” And the others drown him out with loud agreements, and suggestions of their own, and Ash takes the moment to squish John’s cheeks where he’s grinning at her, leaning his full weight on the bar.
“Of course, Deaky.” She tells him, and even if he can’t hear her for the others already planning outfits, he gets the gist, if his pleased smile is anything to go by.
“Sounds like reason to celebrate.” Maureen agreed quietly, before heading to Dave’s office, whose door was slightly ajar, knocking quickly. After exchanging a few words, Dave comes out to join them; the band actually falls quiet.
“You boys got a record deal?” He asked, voice gruff but smile proud, and they all nodded quickly, smiling back. “And Rocket, you’re doing that clothes thing you do? For these boys?” He asked, and Ash is basically vibrating with excitement. Dave may not understand what she does, but he’s seen the clothes she can make, and has heard her wax poetic about some of their more recent glam-rock bands’ costumes enough to know it was a big event for her. He knew enough to be proud. “That’s reason to celebrate, girlie.” He tells her, and takes one of the bottles of tequila off the back shelf, and pulls out three shot glasses. “You like tequila?” He asks. Ash hesitates, though no-one seems to notice, and she nods vehemently enough to cover it.
Dave pours himself, Ash, and Maureen a shot of tequila, and the boys all raise their glasses when the bar staff collect their shots.
“To Queen.” Ash says, once, loud and definitive, and everyone echoes the sentiment. The boys each take a long sip of their drink, and Ash downs her shot, gagging at the unfamiliar burning sensation. She’d never been one for shots, and even then, they were always just cheap vodka. Roger takes another sip to hide his laughter at her expression.
They hang around the bar for the a while, watching the band set up for the night, cheering loudly, probably louder than the band deserved, and getting progressively drunker as the night wore on.
“It’s weird to be out here when there’s music playing.” Roger joins Ash during her break just after the second set starts. He’s more coherent than the others, had been pacing himself; both Freddie and Deaky were all but tearing it up on the dance floor as they spoke.
“It’s weird being out here with just you.” Ash says blithely, a little looser for the shot, which had definitely been a double, on review. She’d forgotten how much of a lightweight she was. She’s still patting down her pockets when Roger snatches the cigarette from her lips and presses a quick kiss there instead.
She slaps him.
“Fuck you.” She spits, demeanour instantly shifting as he stumbles back. She feels like she’s been dunked in ice water, anger and betrayal coming off her in waves, and he’s holding his face. “Fuck you; don’t you dare fucking cheat on Kristin with me, I’m not some homewrecker, I-”
“We’re not together.” He splutters, and Ash’s anger disappears. “Fuck, I know you’re not a homewrecker, I know what that dickhead made you think; we set his life’s work on fire, do you think I wanna be like him?” He snaps, and Ash hesitates before she goes to him.
“I- sorry.” And she takes the hand that’s hiding the red mark, and he looks a little put out as she examines him. Gently she tugs him towards the milk crates so she can stand on one and have a better look. The crate makes her just a little bit taller than him, and he doesn’t seem so disheartened when she’s got his face in her cool hands. “You should be fine.” She says quietly, and he smirks.
“That’s your professional, medical opinion?” He asks, and Ash flushes, finally looking him in the eyes.
“I’m sorry for smacking you.” Her voice is soft and sincere, and he’s got his hands on her hips, looking up at her with a grin.
“Yeah you should be.” He snickers, before pausing, biting his lip and thinking through his next words before he said them. “Did you really try and run Kris off when you first met her?” He asked, and Ash blinked rapidly, before frowning, trying to recall their first meeting.
“During the recording?” She asks tentatively, and Roger snorts, nodding. “I may have warned her that you were… fickle.” Ash admits, and Roger sucks in a breath between his teeth.
“Cruel, Ash.” He says gently, but before she can get a word in edgewise, he continues. “She thinks you’re jealous; she didn’t want me around you anymore.”
“I wonder why.” Ash says sarcastically, hands gently cupping Roger’s jaw with an amused smirk. He gives her hips a squeeze and something in Ash’s chest eases a little.
“Were you jealous?” He asks softly, eyebrows raised, and Ash’s smile turns sharp as she leans in.
“How low do you think my standards are?” She parroted his own words back at him fondly, and he laughs against her lips when she kisses him. It feels like home, so soft and familiar it almost hurts, she tastes a little like orange juice, which she’d had as a chaser, and she’s got her hands in his hair, sighing softly against his lips and deepening the kiss.
“This doesn’t mean anything, right?” Roger says breathlessly, pulling back for a moment as he feels the - well he can’t recall exactly how many drinks he’d had since getting the contract, but it was a fair amount - whatever it was, second pint of beer at the pub, hitting him. Ash is nodding vehemently.
“I’m a rebound and you’re a slut, it means absolutely nothing.” But the way she’s looking at him, they both know she’s lying, “this could all go horribly, I don’t want to jeopardise my working relationship with the band. They don’t need to know.” She agrees, kissing him again, giggling and warm and groaning softly when he pushes her against the wall. He’s got his lips on her neck and he can hear her whimpering though she’s got a hand on her own mouth.
“I’ve still got the rest of work, Rog.” She giggles, and he groans impatiently, pulling back, though he keeps his hands on her hips. “Listen, if you don’t want to wait around, you can go home or to another bar or something but-”
“I’m not going anywhere, love, not tonight.” He assures her, fond and sincere and it had Ash actually blushing. “What if they did find out?” He asked softly, and Ash’s expression falls.
“Do you wanna tell them that we hooked up for a few months before… you know what happened, which they do think you’re jealous, or at least weirdly protective about, and then you got a girlfriend who you split with because she thought I was jealous?” Ash asked, and Roger’s twisted into something darkly amused, and he rested his forehead against her collar.
“It’s fucked, sorry I brought it up.” He said, and Ash carded her fingers through his hair. “Means nothing.” He sounded more like he was trying to convince himself, and Ash found herself at a crossroads.
“You’re drunk, Rog, stop worrying.” She says gently, and when he looks at her, his pupils are blown wide and his mouth is set in a firm line.
“We’re fucked, Ash. You and me? There’s no hope in the world for us.” And he’s so serious that Ash can’t help but laugh, holding his face in her hands again, bright and fond, nothing malicious about it.
“Fuck, sometimes I think you might be perfect for me.” Her voice is so quiet she’s hoping he didn’t even hear it as she kisses him roughly, but he does, he holds her a little tighter. He can’t bring himself to speak, because she’s right, he is drunk, and he’s so worried he’s only feeling the way he does because he’s drunk, but he’s lost in the scent of her perfume and the feel of the material of her shorts beneath his fingers and he never wants this moment to end.
“My break’s over, Rog.” She’s so gentle when she says it that it almost hurts. He makes a hum of acknowledgement, but his lips are on her neck and she gasps as he sucks a hickey onto her pale skin. “I’m getting you a water.” She admonishes him as she heads back inside, holding the door for him, but she’s all blushy and pleased and just knowing it’s there makes Drunk-Roger content in a way he didn’t realise it would.
She doesn’t even try and cover it up, though the other boys are too drunk to notice, Maureen raises her eyebrows, and Ash just gives her this pleased, goofy grin, and his drunk mind is pretty sure it’s one of the prettiest things he’s ever seen.
A/N: Light smut.
When Ash takes her break after the last set of the night, the boys join her again. Freddie sits next to her, rests his head on her shoulder and hums quietly to himself with a content smile as she chats with Brian and John, while Roger just kicks at the gravel of the parking lot, his hands in his pockets.
“Alright, I think we’re gonna head off,” Brian announces when Ash finishes her cigarette and makes to head back inside.
“Congrats again, boys, I’m so proud.” Ash grins, wrapping Brian and John up in a hug, before Freddie wraps his arms around her from behind and spins her around, almost overbalancing. He’s laughing so bright and so excited, and he can’t wait to see Mary and tell her, and -
“Hey Rog, you coming with us?” Brian asks as he starts to head towards the street, and Roger looks as though he’s been lost in his thoughts. After a moment, his lips twist into a smirk.
“I’m just out here to be polite, man,” he snickered, “there was a girl by the bar who seemed rather interested in taking me home.” Freddie calls him predictable, Brian says it’s good to see him bouncing back so quickly, John just laughs, and Ash goes inside to hide her grin.
Roger’s splayed himself out on one of the sofas, balancing an empty schooner glass on his forehead when the bar is officially closed and the band is packing the last of their things into their cars. Maureen lets him stay because she knows him well enough by now, and knows he’s waiting for Ash.
“Go on, head home for the night, have fun.” The older woman tells Ash with a wink, and Ash flushes where she’s polishing a glass.
The drummer from the band they had on that night is talking to Roger when she approaches them, and Roger’s grinning up at him as they swap stories that go over Ash’s head and limited knowledge of drumming.
“You guys did a great job tonight.” She says to the drummer, clapping him on the shoulder, and he turns to her, expression bright.
“Thanks, darlin’, this is a good little venue.” He says, looking around the bar, before his eyes settle back on Ash, giving her a none too subtle look over. Ash has to bite back a laugh.
“So,” she turns to look at Roger, eyebrow raised, knowing he caught the drummer’s look as well, “that girl at the bar?” She asked, and he grinned back from where he’s sitting up on the sofa, offering her his hand. When she takes it, he pulls her down to him, and she ends up in his lap, giggling brightly. The drummer looks a little put out.
“It wasn’t technically a lie,” he mused, and he’s got a hand on her knee, and an arm around her, a clear ‘she’s with me’ that makes Ash’s heart flutter a little, far more than she had expected, “you are always by the bar.”
Ash has never been with someone who wanted to be seen with her like this, oh she’s fucked guys who want their friends to know they’ve banged the hot bartender, but of the two long-term relationships she’d found herself in, one was with a man her father’s age who was already in a relationship, and the other, it turned out he had never thought very highly of her to begin with. But Roger? Maybe it was the fact that they hadn’t been this close in months, but he didn’t want to let her go, and he didn’t seem to care who was watching.
Perhaps this was what it was like to be wanted.
He looks like he wants to kiss her, and Ash feels her breath catch in her throat.
“Come on, let’s go.” She murmured, casting a gaze to where Maureen was doing a great job at looking like she wasn’t paying them attention where she clearly was. “I can’t be too unprofessional here, even if I’m off the clock.” She smirked, her gaze sliding back to Roger who grinned mischievously, pressing a kiss to her cheek before they’re clambering to their feet. The drummer’s moved to pack away the last of his equipment, and he waves them an awkward goodbye.
It’s with a surprisingly casual ease that they make their way back to Ash’s dorm, Roger’s arm around her shoulders as they walk, talking about the day’s events, joking in the cool, night air. She watches the way he looks up at the stars, up at the streetlights, eyes bright and smile brighter. She can feel the way he holds her a little tighter when he laughs; she leans into it, lets herself see the world as brighter than it is, because she realised she hasn’t been able to do that in a long time, not without regret, and she’s not sure when she might get another chance.
“I’m sorry,” Ash’s voice is gentle when she pulls out her keys at the doorstep, fidgeting nervously.
“’bout what?” Roger asks, stepping back, and when he takes his arm from around her shoulder, Ash wants to take back ever letting herself get caught up. But she knows she can’t. Her mind is clear, she’s sobered up in the hours since her shot, and she can’t let it go unsaid.
“This doesn’t mean nothing.” She said gently, unable to look at him. Her stomach’s in knots. “I’m cool with being a rebound or whatever, but I was wrong to say it meant nothing.”
He’s not saying anything, just looking at her with an unreadable expression on his face. There’s a sinking sensation in her chest, and Ash is pretty sure she should have just kept her mouth shut.
“I drove to Scotland for you, of course it means something.” Roger finally spoke, half a laugh in his words, and he steps back into her space, hands resting on her shoulders. “I was jealous of August, of course this means something.” He murmurs it with his lips inches from hers, and Ash feels her heart flutter against her ribs. He hesitates, looks like he’s on the verge of saying something else, she can see it in his eyes, but then he kisses her, and she doesn’t worry, doesn’t think too hard about it.
It’s different this time. She’s rearranged her room, doing the most with what little space she had. Her bed’s beneath the window, and there’s a faint breeze coming through when he sits on her duvet, which he doesn’t remember from last time. It’s been months, but it feels like a lot longer.
“Do you want anything? Water?” She asks as she’s pulling off her shoes by the door. They’re not desperate this time, not messily scrambling to get the other undressed, there’s something easy in the atmosphere this time, and Roger shakes his head, leaning back against the wall, beckoning her over. “I like your jacket.” She says quietly, not even looking at the jacket as she climbs onto the bed beside him. It’s surprisingly sincere, and Roger can’t help but laugh.
“It’s better than the one Freddie was wearing; did you get a good look at it?” He snorted, and Ash moved back, frowning.
“I love that jacket, I helped pick it.” She said, disgruntled, and Roger went almost comically wide-eyed. All the softness from earlier had left, and she rolled her eyes at him, tugging at the collar of his jacket.
“Should I be worried that you’re our stylist?” He asked, obligingly sliding out of the jacket, though it was clear he was mostly joking. At least it got Ash to crack a smile.
“Terrified.” She mused with a wicked smile. She leaned in to kiss him, but Roger quickly shifted them both, tipping Ash back against the bed, pressing his lips to hers, one of his hands on her waist, muffling her surprised yelp. But then she’s giggling against his lips, her hands holding his face as he’s untucking her shirt from her shorts.
When she’s pulling off her tights, wearing just her underwear, which is always relatively nice, she never wears ratty underwear to the bar on the off chance that someone’s interested in her, Roger knows he’s staring, but he can’t help it. Ash gives him a confused smile, sitting back against the headboard after tossing her balled up stockings to the side.
“Do you need help there?” She asked, gaze flicking to where his thumbs were hooked in the waistband of his own jeans, and Roger grins.
“If you’re offering.” He smirked, and she made her way over to him, hands coming to join his, amused smile on her face as she pulled down his jeans. “You look good.” Roger told her quietly, and her grin widened. She didn’t answer, not verbally, just pressed a quick kiss to the corner of his mouth, stepping off the bed as she finally got his pants off. After sinking to her knees between his legs, she takes one look at his underwear and sighs deeply, resting her forehead on his knee.
“Why didn’t you take them both off at once?” She asks with an exasperated sigh, and Roger laughs, leaning down to kiss her, but she pulls back, trying not to laugh herself. “No, stop it, take off your underwear, you muppet.” She taps his thigh impatiently, biting back a fond, embarrassed smile.
“You’re pretty bossy for a girl on her knees.” Roger’s shimmying out of his underwear, smirking at her, and Ash can feel herself blush; he’s never actually seen her blush in a situation like this, it even comes down to her chest, it’s rather endearing.
“Are you complaining?” She asked, raising an eyebrow at him despite herself. “If you wanna take charge, be my guest.” She offered, her hands taking over from his, pulling off his underwear. After a beat, he’s still quiet, and she rests her hands on his knees, looking expectantly up at him, waiting for his answer and trying not to laugh at the whole situation. He takes a long, evaluative look at her, before he lifts her chin, pressing a kiss to her lips.
“Maybe later.” His voice is low, full of promise, and Ash can’t help but feel a short shiver of anticipating run down her spine.
“Maybe later.” She snorts derisively anyways, rolling her eyes. “You’re lucky you’re cute.” It’s said with a huff, and he wants to respond but then she’s got her mouth around his cock and his words die in his throat in favour of a groan.
It’s not romantic, not really, they’re both sarcastic and a bit demanding, trading banter just as easily as they would in polite company. Roger holds her hips still as he goes down on her, humming something it takes Ash a few minutes to place, though in her defense, she’s pretty distracted.
“Is Keep Yourself Alive really the most appropriate in this situation?” Struggling to keep her voice steady, she can feel it when Roger turns to press a smirk and a kiss against her inner thigh. He switches to Doing Alright, and Ash is laughing and moaning in the same breath.
“I can’t believe you recognised that.” He snickers, kissing his way up her body, and though Ash is amused, she’s also needy at this point, and he’s taking far to long.
“I’ve heard you play it enough times.” She countered, and he made a noise of agreement, kissing her roughly.
There’s a moment Roger always treasures when they’re like this, when she’s getting close, and she’s got a hand to her mouth to muffle herself, but no sound is coming out, her head is thrown back, her eyes closed, and her hips roll to meet his. She gasps sharply, the nails of her free hand digging into his lower back, and she’s so blissfully lost in the moment it’s almost mesmerising to watch. Roger moves her hand from her mouth, kissing her, lips moving along her jaw as she whimpers curses like prayers.
They’re quiet when they share a cigarette after, Ash humming Keep Yourself Alive quietly to herself, until Roger catches on and they’re both laughing in the moonlight.
She tries not to think about how much she’s missed falling asleep next to him.
The day Ash hears Doing Alright on the radio at her favourite cafe, she screams. This, of course, upsets the other patrons considerably, but before anyone can complain, she’s shoving her fabric samples and sketchbook into her bag, sculling her lukewarm hot chocolate, and is bolting down the street. Until, of course, she’s winded enough to slow down, and decides it’s easier to catch a bus to Brian and Roger’s apartment.
She’s been there before, it’s where they insisted on having their first fitting, since it was the apartment with the most room, and sometimes on afternoons she hangs out there with the band and Mary, sure, it’s not like she’s a complete stranger to the flat. Knocking on the door, she’s breathing heavily, still excited, and she’s not sure why she’s come here, rather than to see Freddie, but as soon as the door opens, she knows why.
“I heard you guys on the radio!” Barging past a confused Roger into the living room, she turns on her heel, still a little out of breath from having run from the closest bus stop, and her smile is blinding.
“Really? Which station?” And instead of asking her about her state, or the book bag on her hip, he’s elated, making his way to the radio in their little shoe box kitchen. Ash laughs, joining him, sheepishly admitting that it was about twenty minutes ago, but he’s undeterred. “Grab the phone; we can call them up and ask to hear it again.”
The station’s blaring some Beatles song by the time they get to it, but Ash is sitting on the counter, waiting patiently for the song to end so that the radio host could announce which number to call for requests. Roger’s buzzing about the kitchen, talking how apparently Mary’s heard them played at Biba too, and his mouth is moving a mile a minute, but then the number is said and Ash is dialing as fast as her fingers will allow. With her legs hanging off the edge of the counter, Roger taps at her knees, lips pressed together where he’s trying to keep his excitement quiet.
When the host picks up, and Ash says her name tentatively, only to hear it come out of the radio a few seconds later, Roger whispers ‘holy shit’ and Ash has to fight to not say the same. Clearly and carefully she requests Keep Yourself Alive, and specifies who it’s by and what record it’s on, and minutes later, the opening notes of the song waiver from the radio, and Ash hangs up, wide-eyed. Jumping from the counter, Ash dumps her bag beside their sofa, absolutely butchering the vocals where she struts around the room, pretending to be Freddie, loud and unselfconscious in her excitement. Roger’s matching her energy, throwing himself onto one of the metal folding chairs they had as dining room chairs, air drumming and providing harmonies that would have worked if Ash wasn’t almost completely tone deaf.
As the song moves to an instrumental section, Ash changes to enthusiastically air guitarist, jumping up onto the sofa, expression almost comically intense.
“Well, I loved a million women in a belladonic haze,” while Roger suspected the notes were entirely in her vocal range, she didn’t seem to be able to hit one, and after a moment, he’d dissolved into laughter, and wrapped his arms around her waist where she was posing with a foot up on the arm of the sofa, spinning her around before putting her back on the ground, and the drums kicked in on the radio, and she looks so fucking proud.
“That doesn’t sound half bad.” She says, grinning up at him, and he’s still got his arms around her.
“Unfortunately I can’t say the same about your singing, love.” He snickered, and Ash felt herself blush as she swatted at him, too excited to be properly annoyed, also too self aware to call him a liar.
“So you don’t think I could take Freddie’s place yet?” She asks, and Roger actually laughs at that, and Ash thinks she can feel his heart beating fast. “Where’s Brian?” She asks, voice dropping to a murmur, her own blood rushing as the song continues on.
“Still at class.” And there’s the hint of a question in his voice, and Ash’s smile stretches into a mischievous grin, something almost fond in her eyes.
“You guys are on the radio.” She murmured, pride in her voice, though her eyes are growing dark as her gaze drops to his lips. “Rog?” And he makes a hum of acknowledgement, biting his lip to stop himself from laughing or kissing her before she can finish her thought. “Does that make me a groupie?”
“Well groupies are usually throwing themselves at me.” He said with a cocky smirk, sitting them both on the sofa, sinking into the worn, brown fabric as Ash straddled him.
“I practically bolted to your house.” Ash had to stop herself from rolling her eyes, sitting back on his thighs. One of her hands was on his shoulder, the other playing with the hair at the nape of his neck, and Roger leaned into her touch, just a little.
“I’m not usually accosted by girls who wear the same clothes as my dad in summer.” Roger snickers, eyes drifting down to Ash’s choice of attire. She’s quiet for a long moment, and realises that he’s probably never seen her dress so casually; she’d just intended to get some sketches done at the cafe, she’d never intended people she knew to see her, and so her choice of oversized, pale blue button-down with rolled up sleeves and paint smudges all over it, tucked into navy cargo shorts, had been a perfectly acceptable outfit at the time. She’s even got her hair pulled back into a messy ponytail, and suddenly she feels like a mess, but the way Roger’s smiling at her, she can’t bring herself to care.
“I’m an artist, I’m allowed to dress tragically sometimes.” She shrugs, and Roger’s grip on her hips tightens as he laughs. It’s strange, mid afternoon and she’s in his house, in his lap, it feels like a whole new world. Their debatable hidden affair was usually confined to the wee hours of the morning, or the late morning depending on when they wake up, but now his hair catches the sunlight pouring in through the window, and he’s casual too. He’s wearing a pair of hideous, little red shorts that she’d seen him play in once, and a t-shirt with a faded design on the front, and for a moment she frowns, because god, does he have no sense of style? As soon as he asks about it, and she voices her thoughts, he gives her a shove, calls her a hypocrite. Leaning in low, she murmurs for him to just take the shirt off, but he doesn’t move.
“You first.” He’s got an eyebrow raised as a challenge, and Ash hums thoughtfully, before her fingers are unbuttoning her shirt, and untucking it. She’s wearing a bra that’s comfortable rather than aesthetically pleasing, and for all that he’s seen her naked, he thinks this might be the most honest he’s actually seen her.
He’s the one to suggest they move, not that it didn’t hurt a little, with Ash wearing only her oversized shirt unbuttoned, and her panties, splayed out against his ratty brown sofa, looking up at him with wide eyes that had been darkened with lust.
She’s never been in his room before, and she’s not quite sure what she expected. It’s bigger than her room, but not by too much, clothes strewn over the floor, and the end of the bed, which is also bigger than hers, a double, instead of her little single, a cheap looking bed frame and a small but solid desk shoved into the corner and stacked high with books, which intrigues her. Roger closes the door as she makes her way over, fascinated as she reads the spines of what turns out to be worn textbooks.
“You there for some light reading?” Roger wraps his arms around her from behind, pressing a kiss to her neck, his chest firm against her back. There’s notebooks that look well used, and a piece of paper with a whole list of numbers, letters, and symbols that Ash can’t decipher for the life of her, amid pencils and a pretty grubby looking eraser.
“You like, actually study, don’t you?” And when she turns, there’s almost something adoring in her eyes, endeared, and Roger raises his eyebrows at her unanticipated reaction.
“Always the tone of surprise.” He huffed out a laugh, his hands drifting lower to squeeze her bum, and when he leans in to kiss her, it’s sun-warmed and familiar, fitting together easily as he pressed her against the desk and she hopped to sit on it easily, legs parting to pull him closer as he kissed his way down her neck. He fucks her against the desk, even though she’s pretty sure she’s sitting on a notebook and also a pencil, but she can’t bring herself to care.
When they move to the bed, he snickers at the smudge of graphite on her ass, but she’s hit with a realisation she can’t help but voice.
“I never thought I’d be here.” And she’s a little breathy, gasping for a moment as he brings one of her legs up to her chest and eases back into her.
“Really?” His voice rises in disbelief, pausing in his movements as if to emphasise his point, and Ash rolls her hips once, biting her lip to stifle a chuckle.
“I mean, in the beginning, no way; I honestly never thought we’d last this long.” She says, and Roger’s quiet. Not needing an answer, she lets herself enjoy the moment, relaxing against the bedspread, whimpers and gasps escaping her as her eyes fall closed. She’s so fucking beautiful, Roger thinks, and even if he doesn’t say it, he’s so glad they lasted, after everything, if only for this moment.
And then they’re moving, Ash pressing at his shoulder, urging them to move, Roger laying back against the bed as Ash rode him, throwing her head back, with her nails digging into his chest. It’s enough to make him hiss, his hips rolling to meet hers, and when she looks down at him with a heady smile, she leans down and presses a kiss to the half-moon marks her nails had left, before she’s peppering kisses along his chest and throat.
When Brian walks in the front door and sees them both eating pizza and reading trivia to one another from the paper, he has to take a moment. Ash is wearing one of Roger’s shirts. Roger isn’t wearing a shirt at all.
“I know you two are sleeping together.” He announces from the doorway.
“Interesting accusation.” Ash responds without looking away from the paper. Roger makes a hum of agreement.
“You’re wearing his clothes.” Brian says, walking over and picking up a slice of pizza for himself.
“That is my shirt.” Roger agrees, finally looking up to Brian, and Ash takes a big bite.
“Listen, Brian, sometimes friends sleep together, it’s not the end of the world.” Ash said around her mouthful of pizza, which was lost on him, and Roger had to translate for her, much to Brian’s bewilderment.
“So you’re finally admitting it?” He asks, and Ash hums, swallowing before looking up at him.
“Admitting that I came over here excited about hearing your song on the radio, and then, I suppose, one thing led to another? Yes.” Ash agreed, and Brian looked like he was quickly forming a headache.
“Neither of you are as subtle as you think you are; I know this isn’t the first time.” He sighed, and Ash turned to Roger, who raised his eyebrows, feigning mock surprise. He’s about to say something, but it’s as if Brian can already tell it’s going to be irritating and dismissive. “Listen, Ash, you’re an adult, and you’re also our stylist, I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
“Believe me, she does.” Roger says, reaching for some more pizza, ending his statement with a very pointed cough. Ash, looking supremely pleased with herself, watches Brian turn bright red and head for his own room, not slamming the door, but coming close.
“Freddie and John will know by the end of tomorrow I suspect.” Ash muses, and Roger looks at her, a little curious.
“Is that okay?” And he actually seemed like he would offer to do something if it wasn’t. Ash gives him a small smile.
“They were going to find out eventually.” She paused, but only for a moment. “We should probably keep it simple and say it started after you broke up with Kristin.”
“That wasn’t that long ago.” He said softly. Ash shrugs.
“It was like a month and a half ago; it’s believable.” She offered, and Roger hums thoughtfully, sliding across the sofa to rest his head in her lap. She’s tempted to rest her slice of pizza on his face, but ultimately decides against it. The way he’s smiling at her, grin just a little sharp, she’s pretty sure he watched the idea pass through her mind too.
“Do you know what time the next bus comes, I should probably get going before it gets dark and people are more likely to stab me.” She asks carefully, and Roger’s expression turns thoughtful as he watches her eat, quietly waiting for a response.
“Seems a bit extreme; you know you could just stay.” It’s so casual the way he says it, and Ash shrugs, accepting the offer without much thought. His bed is far more comfortable than hers, though he’s not living in uni housing, so you’d hope it was, and it’s big enough to spread out in. But they don’t. When they’re not fooling around, they’re chatting about everything and nothing, as they were sometimes want to do, and Ash gets around to asking him about his degree just as she’s about to fall asleep. They’re holding hands, which again, not necessarily something Ash had expected when they’d first started out, but she’s on her side with her free hand beneath her pillow. She’s just wearing one of his shirts and her underwear, and she brings their hands up to rest between their heads on the mattress, arm now at a more comfortable angle, and she drifts off as Roger gets in to complaining about one of his classes.
By the time he realises she’s not paying attention, she’s already mostly asleep. There’s something about the way she sleeps that makes her seem almost innocent, perhaps it’s that she’s not trying to put up a front, and her mass of ginger hair halos her, so soft it almost hurts. Roger’s never conciously thought of a woman as ‘sweet’ before, but it’s the only word that fits in this moment. He presses a fond kiss to her knuckles of her joined hand. Ash stirs just a little, making a hum of acknowledgement that Roger knew all too well as ‘completely passed out, just felt a sensation, can maybe spout a few random words’.
Except they’re not random.
“I can’t speak to her.” Roger’s got his head on a bar in a pub that’s not Ash’s.
“Can I go back to pretending I don’t know what was going on?” Brian asks, taking a long sip of his drink and gazing out at the crowd. It’s been over a week since Ash had stayed over, and they hadn’t seen her since. It’s not like she’d even asked about him, or made a move to contact him; sometimes they go a full fortnight before seeing one another, but Roger’s been fretting for almost eight days internally, and for the past twenty minutes externally, since he’d finished his first drink.
“She said she loves me.” Roger groaned, lifting his head to weakly order another pint.
“From what you’ve told me, she wasn’t even fully conscious; it’s not like it counts.” Brian had never seen Roger downright distressed like this, it would be funny if it wasn’t bordering on annoying.
“No, that means she was extra honest,” Roger groaned, downing half his beer in on go, to which Brian could only roll his eyes.
“Or she was still asleep and thought you were Jack Nicholson.” After a beat, Brian goes back to watching Roger brood over his glass. “Boo hoo, Rog,” he shoved the blonde lightly, to which Roger just leveled a glare at him, “a girl you’ve been seeing for months maybe has feelings for you. It’s not like it’s the end of the world.”
“It’s only been since I broke up with Kristin,” he’s adamant about that and Brian lets him have it, for now. In retrospect, he feels like an idiot for not seeing it sooner; Brian’s not sure when it started, but it’s definitely a lot longer than Roger’s willing to admit. “And it doesn’t mean nothing, but it also... it’s never meant something. Like it’s something but it’s not something. It’s just fucking around and having fun.” And Roger swivels on the bar stool, joining Brian in looking out over the crowd, before they spot Freddie crashing through the door, making a beeline for them once he’d spotted them.
“Alright, what did I miss?” Freddie asked, though the other two were quiet as he ordered a beer. Before either could get a word in edgewise, Freddie props his chin on his hand on the bar, and announces; “Roger you look like shit, what’s wrong?”
“I’m pretty sure he’s in love with Ash, and he thinks she’s in love with him.” Brian says blithely, and Freddie nods with understanding as Roger tells them to both sod off, and he stalks through to join the crowd on the dance floor. “She said she loved him in her sleep.” Brian explains, taking the chair Roger just freed, sliding into place beside Freddie.
“I’ve never seen him this worked up about someone before.” Freddie admitted, and Brian nodded in agreement, the two of them barely able to see his blonde hair for the crowd, and they lost sight of him soon enough.
“What do you think? Has Ash said anything?” Brian’s gaze slides to Freddie’s who just rolls his eyes.
“I think my dear Ash has never in her life loved a man who’s deserved it,” Freddie mused, though his lips twisted into a smirk, “that’s not to say she’s a saint, far from it, but compared to the others, Roger is a breath of fresh air.”
“Isn’t that a sad thought.” Brian said faintly, before heaving a sigh. “Well, I know we haven’t been here long,” he got to his feet, finishing off his drink and looking around for his housemate, “but if I don’t drag him home he’s going to do something stupid in his current state.”
“Like that pretty, brunette thing over there?” Freddie asks, pointing to where Roger’s already got his lips on a wavy-haired brunette at the side of the room. Freddie’s pretty sure he sees Brian’s soul leave his body for a moment, and watches everything play out like a terrible Shakespearean comedy for which he was the only audience member.
“He’s a danger to himself.” Brian takes Freddie’s drink from his hands and takes a long gulp before passing it back, though Freddie doesn’t seem likely to complain.
“He seems rather fine,” Freddie watches Roger go in for a hickey on the girl with a morbid, voyeuristic interest, taking another sip of his drink, “and you know he and Ash aren’t technically exclusive.”
“Yeah but there’s three options here; Ash finds out and gets pissed and I have to hear about it because apparently now that I know I’m all in on this disaster,” Brian lists on his fingers with a theatricality Freddie had rarely seen from him before, though he’d rarely seen Brian this exasperated before, so perhaps it was merely that, “two, Ash isn’t pissed, sleeps with someone else, and Roger gets pissed because he’s in love with her-”
“Which is unfair, what a tremendous double standard.”
“Yes, we all know Roger’s a hypocrite.” Brian sighed, casting a glance over his shoulder at Roger, before turning back to Freddie.
“And three?” The other man prompted, and Brian picked up his empty pint glass.
“I kill him with this glass because I’m sick of his sulking.” He says bluntly, and Freddie’s all for the third option, but he begrudgingly helps pull Roger away, to which the drummer complains the whole time.
“Where are we going?” Roger demands to know when they head in the opposite direction of his apartment, a sentiment that Brian mirrors, though he doesn’t seem inclined to question Freddie’s direction outright. Freddie always had a plan. The man in question wrapped an arm around Roger’s shoulders.
“You’re going to confront your problems, Rog.” He sounds so decisive, as if it wasn’t a plan he’d come up with as they were leaving the bar, and Roger tries to scramble his way out of it, but Brian’s fed up enough with Roger’s complete inability to do anything but run from his problems that he’s willing to take Roger’s arm in an almost iron grip.
“It’ll do both of us a world of good.” Brian tells him as Roger glowers at his housemate.
“You don’t get to decide what’s good for me; what’s good for me was that girl at the bar, she smelled nice and was about three minutes away from banging me in that bathroom.” Roger snarled, wrenching himself out of their grips, though he didn’t run this time, crossing his arms over his chest as he walked with them.
“Rog, we’re not gonna let you ruin a good-” But Brian’s gentle sigh was cut off by more of the blonde blustering.
“That’s so presumptuous!” He stopped in his tracks, scowling between both of his band-mates. “You’re both wankers, selfish fucking wankers. This is kidnapping.” He snaps.
“Fine; if you want to leave, we’re not stopping you.” Freddie offers, gesturing freely at the path behind them. “We’re just trying to help.”
Roger stomped the entire walk to Ash’s apartment.
“What the fuck, guys.” She opens the door with her hair in a messy bun, wearing a pair of sweat pants and a ratty, oversized Beatles shirt. “How did you get in?”
“Your RA let us in; sorry for the interruption, just had to deliver this idiot.” Brian gave Roger’s shoulder a nudge. Roger is looking at anything but Ash. His latest drink had hit him about the same time as he got to her block, and now that he can smell the vanilla candle she likes to burn in her room just beyond her, he just wants to curl up and go to sleep under her duvet. Or fuck her. He’s not quite sure.
“Can I return to sender?” She asks without hesitation, and Roger rolls his eyes. Freddie shoves him forward.
Ash doesn’t move, just frowns as Roger stumbles into her space, and she’s automatically got a hand on his chest to steady him. Roger doesn’t seem like he’s there completely of his own free will, but he doesn’t move away from her, even as both Brian and Freddie leave, muttering something about him being ‘her problem now’.
“Care to explain?” She asked, gently walking him backwards and closing her door behind herself. The two of them make their way to the common area, and Roger sits up on the kitchen counter as Ash pours him a glass of water.
“Not really.” He said, sipping the water loudly and swinging his legs so his heels kick the cupboards below. Ash looks like the very sight of him exhausts her, but she rests her hands on her thighs, pressing herself against his legs to still them. “We can fuck whoever we want, Ash.” He says, seriously, and he sees the exact moment she realised the reason for his forced meeting, and he watched her expression fall.
“Yeah of course.” She agrees, crestfallen expression turning quickly to faux apathy. “Did you have fun?” But her heart wasn’t in it.
“They pulled me away, brought me here before anything really happened.” He huffed, taking another long sip. Ash stepped away, yawning loudly and sinking into a chair at the dining table. After a beat, Roger hums thoughtfully. “Ash, what do I mean to you?” And it’s so nonchalant it actually hurts Ash a little.
“I think that’s a really shitty thing to ask right now.” Her answer is automatic, she can’t look at him. “And I think you’re drunk.”
“Ash...” It does register in his mind that he’s said the wrong thing, and it breaks his heart to see her too tired to repress her emotions like she usually would in this situation. Perhaps she assumes he won’t even remember this tomorrow. “Ash, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Yeah, I know.” She says softly. “You’re always sorry, and I’m always sorry, and there’s always someone else that feels like a mistake, even though we don’t technically need to apologise.” Shaking her head, she sighs deeply. “This isn’t the time for this conversation.” She admits, and standing, she takes his hand. “Come to bed, Rog.”
When they’re back in her room, she pulls off her sweat pants and offers them to him without even thinking about it, and he’s quiet, forlorn when he takes them, changing into the borrowed pyjamas. Ash is already tucked into bed when he turns back, back to him, pressed as close to the wall as she can get with her head pillowed on her hand, not even attempting to co-opt some of the pillow for herself. There’s sewing equipment out, obviously still in use in the corner of her room, a blouse half sewn and still in the machine where it was left when it’s creation had been interrupted by a knock at the door.
When he slides into bed beside her, reaches out to rest a hand on her shoulder - an apology? a reassurance? just a need for human contact? - she shrugs him off, murmurs a quiet ‘don’t’.
“I panicked.” They’re back to back, and the bedside lamp has been turned off. Roger isn’t even sure if Ash is still awake. He speaks into the silence, made honest by the hour and his inebriation. “You told me you loved me and I panicked.”
“Roger... I never said that.” Ash’s voice was confused in the darkness, and Roger feels like his whole world has fallen out from under him. He’s spent over a week considering whether or not she’d remember; if it had been real, whether she’d really meant it, but he’s never quite sure which answer would hurt more.
“You... were mostly asleep.” He admits, and he can feel the way Ash sighs heavily, the shift of her back against his as she tries not to hear it.
“Wow, imagine what kinky shit you and the girl from the bar would have gotten up to if I’d meant it.” She just sounds tired, as though she was trying to end the conversation, as though she hadn’t just shattered Roger’s heart. After a beat, she laughed humorlessly. “What are we doing, Roger?”
“I think Brian’s right.” And his words are enough to startle a weak laugh from Ash. “I want this to be about more than sex, I think.”
“You’re drunk and panicking; don’t worry, I’ll still work with the band if this goes south.” Ash says. Roger won’t take that, can’t let himself fall into the trap of panicking like he’d already fallen into that night. Turning, Roger presses his lips to the back of her neck, and Ash doesn’t like to think about how good it makes her feel.
“I’m sorry-” He tries, but she cuts him off.
“I heard you the first time.” Voice terse, she crosses her arms awkwardly over her chest. “Roger the idea of being with you fucking terrifies me.” She admits, raw and honest, glad he can’t see how conflicted she was. “You were so worried that I was in love with you that you almost slept with someone else, and for what? Were you worried you were losing control of your life? Didn’t want to be tied down?” Roger’s got an arm on her shoulder, rubbing comfortingly as she speaks, and he can feel her shaking.
“I know I’m not a saint, okay, love?” Roger admits, and Ash takes a long moment to consider his words, leaning back a little into his touch, before answering.
“Neither of us are, Roger, and that’s why what we have is so good right now.” Her voice has softened, and Roger stays quiet. “We can talk about it tomorrow.” She says gently, before reaching to link her fingers with his where he’s got his hand on her shoulder. She pulls him closer, and Roger makes a low hum, pressing a quick kiss to her shoulder.
When the morning comes, things are quiet and golden. Neither one knows what to say to the other, but Ash still gets him a cup of tea in the morning, and when he sees the cup with the little cat face on it, Roger feels something tighten in his chest.
“Let’s try this, please.” He asks, expression sincere when he looks at where Ash is tucking herself back into bed, pressing herself against his side. The look she gives him is confused, and then it blooms into something hopeful. “I’m not fucking around here, I mean it.”
When she kisses him, her hand is warm where it had been holding her teacup, and she’s smiling against her lips. There’s a tension in her shoulders, and he can’t stop playing her words back over again in his head, ‘the idea of being with you fucking terrifies me’ and it’s clear that feeling hasn’t vanished over night.
But she’s willing to try.
It takes Roger exactly two weeks to realise he doesn’t know Ash nearly as well as he thought he did. There’s a lot to glean about a person from their room, and what they say, but not everything, not even close to everything.
“So I guess you’re working tomorrow?” Roger asks, leaning against the bar as Ash polishes a glass. It comes as a surprise when she makes a face, shaking her head. “We’re going on a pub crawl, if you wanna come along then.”
Ash takes her time before answering, hanging up the glass and pulling another from the rack before she finally speaks.
“I can’t, I’m busy, sorry.” And she sounds… uncomfortable about it. Roger’s never known her to be uncomfortable about anything that didn’t relate to her home life, and she can see the moment he jumps to that conclusion. “I’m going to Paris in the afternoon,” she says quickly, and Roger’s taken aback, “I don’t get home until late; train times, you know?”
“A day trip to Paris?” He asks, and Maureen leans over to Ash with a small smile.
“Is that where you go on those Saturdays? That’s cute, Ash, little routine trips to France.” She flicks Ash with the end of her tea towel, to which Ash smiles despite herself, blushing and flicking Maureen back.
“Oi, I’m just going to Paris, nothing cute about it. I’m allowed to have hobbies, you know.” She argued back, and Maureen snickered, smiling fondly at the ginger before she tucked her tea towel into her back pocket and went back to cutting lime wedges. “I’m going to The Louvre.” Ash explained to Roger, cheeks still faintly pink.
“The Louvre?” There was a surprise in his voice that Ash had expected, and when she looks up at him, she still seems a bit defensive.
“There’s free entry once per month; first Saturday at six.” She pauses, and when his expression brightens, hers falls and she feels like she’s said too much.
“Do you go every month?” He sounds delighted at the prospect, and Ash wants to defend herself, but then he says, “you shouldn’t be catching the train so late, it’s dark even at six, love, you must get home at like midnight; just let me drive you.”
“Rog, you don’t need to do that,” but her grin is more relieved than anything else, the tension leaving her shoulders as she goes back to her work, “you guys are going out tomorrow, and besides, it’s not like I’ve never done it before.”
“I can get on the piss with them any time; this only happens once a month.” And the way his words make Ash smile, quietly pleased, he’s already pretty sure it’s going to be worth it.
Things between them have been… weird. Good weird, sure, but that doesn’t make them less weird. They haven’t really had time for an actual date yet, they just sort of show up at each other’s homes and watch TV and make out whenever they don’t have work or rehearsals of a night. It’s been good, it’s felt safe.
When Ash sits on the curb outside of her dorm, she feels nervous more than anything else. It’s not a feeling she’s used to; she’s never been nervous around Roger before; it takes her probably too long to realise how much she wants this to go well. When he shows up, just after midday, he’s beaming from the second hand station wagon that he’d gotten since recording the album. There’s a map in the passenger seat.
“I’ve driven there before, but not for a while, you’re going to have to direct me.” He advises as she buckles her seat belt, putting her sketchbook and thermos by her feet and unfolding the map.
It’s a long drive, just over five hours, and Ash is nervous for about three of them, which is only compounded by getting lost twice, and eventually Roger pulls over.
“You’ve been tense since I showed up; what’s wrong?” He asks, and Ash sighs heavily, picking up her thermos and pouring herself a small cup of tea.
“I don’t exactly go blabbing about the fact that I make semi-frequent trips to Paris, alright?” Ash admits, and she takes a sip of her drink, looking out through the windshield. Roger’s not sure what that means, how to respond, and after a minute, she adds, “Freddie doesn’t even really know.” And she finishes the tea, putting the thermos back, and Roger’s still quiet. When she finally looks at him, his expression is fondly amused.
“You’ve made me feel all special.” It’s far too genuine to be a joke, and Ash lets herself smile back, rolling her eyes at him.
“Don’t let it go to your head.” She warned, and Roger’s smile sharpened as he pulled back onto the road.
“Too late.” But he reaches over to rest his hand on her knee as she opens the map up again, and her heart grows warm, her anxiety easing. They turn up the radio for the rest of the trip; Ash hums along to the songs she only knows the tune of without too much hassle, yet somehow can’t seem to actually sing a note to save her life. She finishes butchering Elton’s Crocodile Rock at the top of her lungs, and Roger’s sides hurt from laughing, and she’s grinning in a way that means she knows exactly how terrible she is and how much it amuses Roger.
“I have other skills.” She says dismissively, grinning with her nose in the air as the radio host announces another song, and instead of answering, Roger sings along to the radio like he’d written the melody himself. “Showoff.” Ash laughed, and Roger’s eyes crease as he grins.
“I don’t have other skills, I gotta make use of this one.” He replied, lightly, and Ash’s expression softened.
“Oh shut it, you’ve got at least two other skills, probably.” She played along with his joke, watching him as he sings along to the rock song blaring from the radio, and it’s relaxed and easy, and she finds herself wondering why she’d been so worried just a few hours before.
They hit Paris at a quarter to six, and grab some fast food before heading to the gallery. There’s people everywhere, and the line isn’t exactly short to get in, more than a few of them are uni students like them, looking to get in for free, and Ash says hi to a few; the fact that she goes here enough to know other people who do this regularly to is still something that baffles Roger a little. He’s worried she’s getting nervous again when she takes his hand - they’re not the sort of people who hold hands - but when he looks at her, her eyes are shinning and bright as she looks up at the building; she’s excited.
Ash goes quiet in the gallery, looking around with wide-eyed reverence at the works around them. They move past the entrance slowly; Ash gazes at the works with their plaques memorised, while Roger reads them, fingers laced with hers.
“Oh, hello.” Voice reverential, Ash greets a statue at the end of the hall like an old friend, and introduces Roger as such. “This is the Venus de Milo, she’s almost two thousand years old, god, look at that marble work, imagine how sharp it would have looked back then,” and then it’s like she’s opened a floodgate, and she’s tugging him along, rambling along the way about each piece they pass, little facts not on the plaques, things she can cite from the top of her head. Above everything, she’s passionate, pulling out of his grip to clutch her hands to her chest and looking up at headless sculpture of what Roger thinks is an angel, and what Ash clarifies to be The Winged Victory of Samothrace.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” Ash’s moon-eyed gaze was focused on the statue’s marble garments, but Roger’s only got eyes for her. When he doesn’t answer, she looks to him, catches the way he’s smiling at her, and she feels her cheeks heat up. “What?”
“You really love this stuff, don’t you?” It’s a sincere question, and it’s as if he can see her responses flit through her mind, sarcastic, dismissive, an eye roll, flippant, she passes them all, takes a moment to really look at him, taking her time to breathe in the whole situation before responding.
“More than anything.” It’s a sincere answer, and it catches him off-guard. Ash is many things, but unapologetically enthusiastic is not one Roger’s familiar with.
Turning on her heel, Ash leads further in to the gallery, but it’s finally hits him how much this means to her, this place, these works, bringing him here. They’d been together for barely a fortnight, but they both know it’s felt so much longer than that; she’d taken a gamble, bringing him, he has no doubt she’d have left him in London if she didn’t want him to come along, and something tightens in his chest.
He doesn’t dwell on it, he takes it in stride well enough, peppering her with questions along the way that she seems thrilled to answer. Tucking her arm into his, they make their way through the building, the babbling turning to banter easily as Roger provides his own commentary on each piece as they pass, which serves to make Ash laugh.
They get to a small painting on the top floor with a border that looks bigger than the picture itself, and Ash has gotten quiet again.
“Who’s this?” Roger asks, the two of them stepping close to get a closer look.
“The Lacemaker.” Ash sounds a little awed, and when he looks down at her, Roger sees how fondly she’s smiling at the little painting. “She’s my favourite.”
“’course she is, she’s like you.” Roger answers easily, and Ash makes a face, laughing a little self consciously.
“No she’s not, shut up.” She doesn’t sound like she believes him, a bit of a laugh in her words, but she’s resting her head against Roger’s shoulder and he wraps an arm around her.
“Same focus.” Roger muses, and when Ash looks to him, surprise and confusion on her face, he just grins. “When you sew, you’ve got the same look on your face, same focus.” He explains, and there’s something in Ash’s awed expression that he can’t place, and she pulls away from him too fast for him to really identify it.
She’s pretty sure she loves him.
It’s fucking terrifying.
She can’t look at him, stepping out of his grip as she feels tears well in her eyes as her emotions overwhelm her, not that it’s an uncommon occurrence, Ash has never set foot in an art gallery and not cried, but Roger didn’t need to know that. She’d really been doing well today, too. Usually she gets lost in the scope and detail of The Wedding at Cana, or even comes to obsess over the little details of The Lacemaker, but she’s also usually alone and can get away with it.
“That’s- Rog, that’s really sweet of you to say.” And he can hear in her voice that she’s trying not to believe him, that she can’t let herself believe him. And when she turns back, she’s wiping at her eyes, and he wants to try and comfort her, but she’s already walking past him briskly, leading to the next painting.
“There’s something I’ve… well, I’ve always wanted to try here.” He hears her say, voice firm as if she’s trying to move quickly past whatever the moment she’d just had was. She leads not to the painting, but to one of the weirdly low, backless sofas that are scattered around for people to view the paintings from. This one’s empty; Ash looks around for security, and seeing none, steps up onto it.
“And what’s that?” He asks with a smirk, the sofa giving her only about two inches of height on him. He doesn’t ask why she’d almost started crying, and for that she’s thankful. Instead, his hands come to rest on her hips, and he’s smiling at her in that way that sets her heart aflutter.
“Don’t ruin this.” She warns very quietly, amused smile on her lips, and Roger quirks an eyebrow.
“Ruin what?” He asks, shooting for innocent, a million different things running through his mind that could make her smile, but would definitely ruin the moment; he bites his tongue.
Ash cups his face in her hands, and she can’t help but laugh as she leans in to kiss him. It starts sweet and tender, her lips soft against his, but he wraps his arms around her, pulling her close and deepening the kiss. There’s people moving around them, most ignoring them, some stare, but neither of them seem to care. She tastes mostly like the tea she’d sculled in the car when they’d arrived, and she’s got a hand in his hair when he presses kisses from her jaw, trailing down her neck, and she laughs, a little giddy. He pulls back, if only to see her bright eyed and blushing.
“Let’s go home.” She says softly, and Roger’s never agreed to something so quickly, his heart elated to see Ash giggling and mischievous as they backtrack through the gallery, knowing that he and the art were the things that made her smile like that.
“I didn’t ruin it.” He sounds a little smug when he says it as they walk through the streets of Paris back to his car, and Ash glances at him out of the corner of her eye, snorting.
“I could see you holding yourself back from a one-liner about pinning masterpieces to walls or something like that; I appreciate your discretion.” She tells him, deadpan, and Roger gives her a self-satisfied grin.
“It certainly wasn’t easy.” He agrees, but she still reaches out and takes his hand. When they get to his car, he goes to head around to the driver’s side, but she pulls him back for a moment, pressing a kiss to his lips. After a moment, he’s got a hand on her hips, pressing her against the side of the car, and she sighs against his lips, her arms around his neck. Her legs slide open easily as she pulls him closer, letting him slide a knee between her thighs.
“Christ,” Roger breaks away from the kiss, murmuring the word against her neck as her nails graze his scalp.
“Thank you for today.” She whispers softly, and he can hear the smile in her words. He presses a kiss to her shoulder.
“Any time, love.” He steps back from her, enough to see her fond smile, and to give one in return, before he heads around to the driver’s side and they both get in the car.
It’s well past midnight by the time they get back, and Ash follows Roger up to his flat with a yawn, flinching as the door opens and Brian, Freddie, and John all greet them with a cheer, obviously taking a pit stop in the middle of their pub crawl.
“I was starting to sober up; the walk between the last pub and the next is directly smack bang in the middle of here.” Freddie claims with a surprising amount of confidence considering his words make no sense.
“No- this place is on the way to the next pub.” John corrects, and Ash has to giggle at the sight and sound of a drunk John Deacon. It never fails to amuse her, he’s surprisingly confident and well spoken.
“Yes! Deaky is right! You two can join us!” Freddie brandishes and subsequently spills on Brian, who’s sitting beside him.
“Go if you want, I’m knackered.” Ash yawns, giving Roger’s shoulder a nudge, moving past him to his room.
“Actually, I think I’m right, I’ve been driving for a while,” Roger says, making to follow Ash, only to hear Freddie boo loudly, and John call out after them.
“Where’d you guys go?” He asks, and Roger answers over his shoulder.
“Art gallery.” He answers, and he hears Ash snort from his bedroom.
“That’s… Rog, that’s surprisingly cute, didn’t know you had it in you.” Brian smiles at him, and Roger feels a little patronised by the pride in his flatmate’s voice. He flips Brian off, along with the rest of them, since John was grinning like the cat who got the cream and Freddie looked like he was three seconds away from actually ‘awe’ing.
“Did you kids have fun?” Freddie calls, sounding nothing so much like his own mother, wearing a shiteating grin, which only got wider as Roger told him to piss off, slamming the door once he got into his room.
Ash was standing by his bed, pulling off the shorts she’d been wearing all day, already wearing one of his shirts. Roger can hear the others on the other side of the door already laughing and talking about something else, all three of them trying to convince themselves to get up and move on to the next pub. She gives him an amused smile and Roger just rolls his eyes at his friends’ whole situation.
They don’t speak, though Ash’s yawn triggers one in Roger, and when he’s stripped down to his boxers, she’s waiting for him beneath the covers. When he kisses her, it’s a thank you for the day, and she hums a soft, contented noise against his lips. They’re too tired to even fool around, and Ash wraps her arm around him as he turns to lay on his side, pressing her chest to his back, pressing a kiss to his shoulder blade before they fall asleep.
Ash doesn’t count the days, count the weeks, doesn’t let herself get caught up in the little milestones; if she starts counting she feels like it’s all leading somewhere, counting down to something and she doesn’t want to think about what. To her, the idea that people ascribe such meaning to the passage of time and to two people spending time together is weird, and to her relief, Roger agrees. Everyone around them, however, seems weird about it.
The question of ‘how long have you two been together?’ is met at first with a shrug, a ‘not too long’, but then it turns into ‘a few months’, or simply ‘a while’. Most people think it’s avoidance, they just hear how their bickering slides to bantering slides to flirting, and think it’s just a shallow fling, and their answers are an easy exit should they need it, that they can get out before things get serious.
Both Ash and Roger have described it as ‘essentially doing what they were doing before, just sometimes in the daytime’, except that’s not quite it; it stopped being just about sex when they went to the gallery. It stopped being about sex when Roger found himself as a mannequin for Ash’s projects on more than one occasion. It stopped being about sex when Roger go struck with an idea for a song whilst making out with Ash on his sofa, and instead of being irritated, she just grabbed a book and rested her head in his lap as he began jotting down ideas and humming to himself.
But no-one else sees these moments.
Except for Brian, of course, who was once making tea without realising they’d fallen asleep crammed onto the sofa together until he hears a thud, and when he looks, he sees Ash on the floor, blinking with bleary confusion where she’s rolled off. Brian goes to say something, but Roger just hums, still half asleep, and he shoves back as far as he can, making more room for her, his arms open in invitation. When she climbs onto the sofa and into his arms, smiling with sleepy satisfaction, Brian thinks - okay, first he thinks that they both need better sleep schedules since it’s three in the afternoon on a Tuesday - that it isn’t nearly as shallow as they like to pretend it is.
As for their working relationship, well apart from Roger being her model, there isn’t much of one yet; she’s designed a good deal of things, but until she has the resources, she’s mostly clothing them from thrift stores or their own wardrobes.
“I’m never letting you pick your own costumes again.” On the set of Top of the Pops, it’s all Ash can do to roll her eyes at Roger, who does a little spin for her in the outfit he chose. “Denim on fucking denim? You’re ruining my reputation here.” She sighed, but Roger was grinning, adjusting his sweatbands.
“Come on, it looks good, you just don’t want to admit it because you didn’t pick it.” He smirked, and Ash watched as he pushed up his sleeves before tucking in the shirt. Maybe he had a point. “And anyways, do you care to explain everyone else’s outfits?”
“I’m playing to their strengths and my budget.” Ash said dismissively, stepping towards him to join him by the drums, looking out over the others. With her arms folded, Ash lets Roger lean on her shoulder as they watch the others for the moment.
“Deaky looks like a bloody professor.” Roger mutters, small smile on his face as he looks at the bass player in his beige suit and silky shirt.
“Playing to his strengths.” Ash reiterated, but she wasn’t smiling, she was watching Freddie talk to a man with sandy hair, who she thinks she recognises. “I do like the stripes,” changes topic suddenly, still speaking to Roger, “have I seen you in these before?” And she’s got a hand coming to gently brush at the side of his thigh where a set of white stripes ran down the length of his jeans. Her eyes never leave Freddie and the man, and the fur coat she’d found a few days ago.
“I’ve had them for a while.” Is all Roger offers, before he sighs and sets about tweaking the drumkit to what he assumed would be his liking, and Ash makes a beeline for the singer.
“And I’m sorry, Freddie, but who is this? The producers don’t want us having people just wandering around set.” At the sound of the man’s accent, Ash feels simultaneously like she’s home, and like she wants to bolt.
“Paul, darling, this is the designer I was telling you about; Ash, our Pocket Rocket.” Freddie introduces Ash pointedly, and the man, Paul, goes from hostile to accommodating in an instant.
“Oh, I’m sorry about that rudeness, I’m Paul Prenter.” He holds out his hand, and Ash shakes it, forcing a smile on her face.
“He’s part of our management team.” Freddie clarified, and the tense set of Ash’s shoulders eased; of course she knew of Paul, Roger and Freddie had mentioned him a few times, and when he smiled at her, complimented her on her choice of jacket for Freddie, Ash smiled back, genuinely this time.
“Freddie never mentioned you were Scottish.” She says kindly, making polite conversation when the singer in question makes his way back to the band when he’s called.
“And he never mentioned you were either,” there’s an easy familiarity in Paul’s tone, a sense of camaraderie over their shared heritage, “where abouts are you from?” Crossing his arms, he casts his gaze over to the band, brow creased with slight concern before he looks back at her.
“Fife, you?” She asks, watching as they’re all trying to warm up, though they all seem unhappy with the sound of their instruments.
“Glasgow,” Paul mused, regarding her with a half smile, “so not exactly neighbours.”
“If you’re half-decent and gonna be sticking around, you’re already better than the actual dickheads I lived next door to back home.” Ash snorted, rolling her eyes.
“Ain’t that the truth.” He agreed with a surprising sincerity, and a moment of silence stretched between them, Ash and Paul wearing almost identical sour expressions as they contemplated their own less than pleasant experiences back home, before Paul turned, breaking the moment. “Well it was lovely to meet you, Ash, I need to have a word with the producers.” And with that he was off, frowning in the direction of a bearded man with a clipboard who was talking to one of the cameramen.
Things have taken a turn for the worse when Ash returns to the band. John stands patiently as she fixes his collar and fiddles with his hair, but she can hear Roger complaining loudly.
“Listen to this!” He groans, tapping the symbol and hearing only a dull clang where he’d wanted something far crisper. “Bloody atrocious.” He’s the most vocal, of course, but Freddie’s mic’s not plugged in, and neither are the guitar or bass.
“Is there anything we can do to help, Roger?” John calls, and the drummer huffs out a sigh, simply asking for a better drum kit.
When Paul comes back with the producer telling them it’s going to be playback rather than live, Ash thinks she feels the temperature of the room rise out of collective frustration alone, and she’s pretty sure she’s never seen Roger so blatantly apathetic to a performance before.
“That’s your best performance yet.” It’s hard for her to be too sympathetic when they are on television; she can’t help but be amused at their annoyance. Well, almost all their annoyance.
“Thank you, I thought so.” Deaky plays along with a smug smile, his eyes crinkling in the corners when he an Ash share a look.
“Shut it.” Roger snaps, at the exact same time as Freddie rolls his eyes at them.
“Cruel, my dear.” He adds, and Brian just shakes his head as Mary joins them. “We should go celebrate this momentous occasion, and also immediately forget this travesty - playback -” his lip curls in disgust at the very mention of the concept; “who’s in?”
They all end up at Freddie and Mary’s flat, the only place with lounges enough for the lot of them, and Ash cradled her vodka and orange juice for the better part of an hour before it was warm and only half finished. They’re all still mostly wearing their outfits from the taping, and there’s a little spark of pride that flares to life in Ash’s chest as she realises that they actually like what she’s chosen.
“Deaky! Did you give her the thing? Give Ash the thing!” Freddie has downed two shots and half a pint and is at the very least tipsy where he’s got Mary in his lap. She’s using his fur coat as a blanket since Freddie’s changed into just a woolen jumper that is far more comfortable than the jacket actually is. John, to his credit, seems to know exactly what Freddie’s talking about, and starts patting down his pockets as Ash, squished on the loveseat between him and Roger, just seems confused.
“That’s right, we got this for you.” Deaky grins brightly, pulling out a small wad of notes out of his pants pocket.
“We can’t officially pay you yet,” Brian chimes in from beside Freddie, “but it’s for all the hard work you do for us.”
“I told you I’m happy to do it for free until EMI puts me on their books,” Ash flushes as John presents her with fifty pounds, which all the band members chipped in for. “You really didn’t need to do this-”
“Well then count it as a graduation present.” Freddie adds, cutting off her protest, and Ash sighs, before her expression turns thoughtful. None of them dwell on it; Freddie proposes another toast to the night, to Ash, to being on Top of the Pops, and they all start another round of cheering and chattering, and the moment passes.
“What are you going to do with your hard earned cash?” Roger asks later that night, he’s pulled Ash into his lap, and the others aren’t paying them much attention. Freddie’s playing the piano with wild abandon and Deaky’s watching him, curled up on the mattress on the floor that Freddie calls a bed while Mary and Brian are deep in conversation on the other lounge.
“I don’t know,” Ash says quietly, taking a sip of her soda, “was thinking about looking for a place of my own.” She admits, and Roger grins, raising an eyebrow at her. “Since I’m finally graduating they’re kicking me out of the uni housing.” She explains with a chuckle, but she’s not looking at him, though Roger’s just amused.
“I’m surprised they didn’t kick you out sooner for noise complaints.” He smirks, and Ash gives him a gentle shove, and he squawks in protest as she almost spills his beer.
“That’s half your fault.” She bites back, reaching out to take a long sip of his beer so it wouldn’t spill when she gave him another shove, grinning, eyes shining with mischief.
When they talk about it, at first in the hypothetical, and then when she actually starts looking, it’s always Ash’s place. Ash’s furniture, Ash’s decorations, Ash’s sewing equipment occupying almost half of the shoe box living room in her mind, and Roger’s the same. Surprisingly, Deaky’s the first to catch on that there might be something more to that.
“Rocket, may I ask you something?” He’s the only one who uses the nickname with anything resembling consistency, and Ash likes how it sounds when he says it, so she’s not complaining.
“Of course.” She’s a little distracted, tailoring a shirt for him, not a costume, just something he’s asked her to do, it’s for a date with a girl he’s been seeing for a few weeks, Veronica.
“Okay, can I ask you something personal?” He amends, since she’s currently placing pins in the shirt near his side and he’s a little afraid that if he says the wrong thing she might start jabbing him. Catching his meaning easily, Ash steps back, nodding after only slight hesitation, and John lowers his arms. “Are you moving in with Roger? Into your new place, that is.”
She’s been living in Roger and Brian’s flat for about three days now, her things in boxes near the door, submitting applications every other day hoping to hear back from real estate companies. Both Brian and Roger were out, Brian getting groceries and Roger off at the markets with Freddie.
“No, that’s ridiculous.” She scoffs, and John frowns at the way she crosses her arms and her face reflexively scrunches up into a defensive scowl.
“Didn’t mean to offend you.” He placates gently, raising his arms as a silent invitation for her to continue. After a beat of uncertainty, Ash moves back in to finish her work. “You two have been together for a while, haven’t you?” He asks, and Ash hums in agreement, but doesn’t say anything until the silence becomes uncomfortable.
“It’ll be easier if it’s just my place.” Her voice is so quiet that he barely hears her.
“Oh,” and it dawns on him.
“It’s-” Ash cuts herself off before she speaks, biting her tongue as she finishes pinning and gestures for him to take off the shirt. “Whatever, John, it’s just easier, okay?”
He’s sitting on the sofa, watching Ash quietly stew over her thoughts as she spooled a bobbin of white thread to use on the shirt.
“People need to stop telling us to move in together; Brian’s bad enough.” She mutters, and John raises his eyebrows.
“What are you worried about, if you don’t mind me asking?” And his words make Ash give pause. She turns to him, a pin in her mouth, after a moment of analysing him, she takes the pin out so she knows he’ll understand her through her accent.
“I’m trying to focus.” Is all she says, and puts the pin back between her lips before turning back to her sewing machine. John nods in agreement, and when he switches subjects, she visibly relaxes. She’s almost back to normal by the time she finishes his shirt, and Brian’s home but Roger’s still out. Presenting him with the shirt, she takes a quiet moment before she apologises for snapping at him.
“It’s okay, I understand.” John assures her, pressing a fond kiss to her forehead before he leaves in time to pick up Veronica.
“Do you think it’d be a bit fast if we moved in together?” Ash asks in the shower later that evening, purposefully not looking at Roger where she’s washing her hair.
“What do you mean?” Roger asks, turning to grab the soap and smacking his elbow on the wall in the enclosed space. “Like both of us moving into your new place?” He takes a moment to consider it as he scrubbed the soap down his arms. “I-” he hesitated, “what do you think?”
Ash hasn’t stopped thinking about it since Brian brought it up, but her mind’s been on overdrive since John had mentioned it. In all honesty, it doesn’t feel too fast, but she’s terrified of how real it would make things; it feels like she’s constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, and she doesn’t want it to happen if both their names are on the lease. If his name’s on the lease, she has to admit to herself that they’ve been dating for almost four months, and seeing each other after everything with August and Kristin happened, for almost double that, and it’s not the longest she’s been with someone, but it’s the longest she’s felt like someone’s cared for her like this. She wasn’t used to it at the start and she’s not used to it now, and she doesn’t want to admit it. Part of her is terrified, looking for an out, waiting for one of them to fuck up bad enough for the other to leave-
They’ve already been together a while, Ash thinks that she needs to stop worrying and just accept that there’s still potentially a while to go.
“It would mean I could finally look Brian in the eyes again.” She mused with a half smile, turning and nudging him out of the water to wash the suds from her hair. “We could give it a shot at least.” She offers, and when she opens her eyes, Roger’s biting back a laugh, looking at her with surprisingly unguarded affection.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t mind giving it a go.” He agrees, and Ash is quiet for a long moment before the words bubble out of her before she can stop them.
“I love you.” She doesn’t regret them, and to her surprise and relief, Roger doesn’t seem phased.
“I love you too.”
Her hands don’t shake when they finally sign the lease to a shitty, little two-bedroom flat at the edge of town, her voice is bright and excited as they plan how to set up a drum kit and a sewing studio in the second bedroom, and when Roger points out that they probably need to go buy some curtains if they’re gonna keep making out on the kitchen counter by the window, Ash laughs, loud and bright, and agrees. She doesn’t let herself get caught up in the big milestones either, but god if she doesn’t treasure the little moments.
When Ash walks into Ray Foster’s office and announces that she wants to work for EMI, not just Queen, she’s half convinced he’s going to throw her out there and then. Okay, so perhaps ‘announced’ is a strong way of putting it, she’s already been in his office for about half an hour, is sitting in the middle of his sofa with her legs crossed, shoulders relaxed, her portfolio in her hands, the two of them discussing her qualifications. When she offers her portfolio he seems rather impressed, humming approvingly at her proof of concept sketches and photos of her mock-ups, and even takes the time to run his fingers over the sample fabrics she’s included. She’s nothing if not thorough.
“And what about beyond Queen?” There’s no hesitation in her words as she sits back, leaving the folio on his desk for him to peruse. Foster seems surprised, seems a little skeptical, and the way he’s regarding Ash makes her a little nervous, not that she’d ever let that show.
“Whaddya mean ‘beyond Queen’, sweetheart, I haven’t even said yes to you working with them to begin with.” He half laughs, but something about her intrigues him. Prenter had referred to her as Queen’s pet stylist before he’s introduced her, and not unkindly, and John Reid, where he’s standing by the wall behind her, seems amused, even a little fond.
Ash bites her tongue, bites back her words and her confidence, because as much as she’s talented, she knows her confidence will come across as arrogance, her talent will be overlooked and undermined, and if she sells herself too hard she’ll be dismissed out of hand.
“Let me prove myself, please,” voice soft, she makes herself sweet and nonthreatening, dropping her gaze, like he’s doing her a favour, as if he could bring in anyone else willing to deal with Freddie, let alone the rest of them. “Mr Foster- Ray, may I call you Ray?” He grunts, but it’s not a no. “I promise, I can help wrangle those boys, and I can make them look damn good; give me a chance, please, and consider my talents for this company.”
Perhaps it’s not the best way to word things. Ash watches as he gives her a look over, shifts a little in his seat before he clears his throat as he looks back down at her folio. It’s as if, for just a moment, she can see herself on the precipice of the rest of her future, waiting to take the plunge, held back only by the decision of this one man in a Hawaiian shirt.
“We’ll see how you go with Japan,” he concedes gruffly, and it’s all a flurry of paperwork after that, a blur of quiet elation from Ash, and a quiet confidence from Reid. Foster isn’t quite sure what to think.
“You’re like them, you know, like Freddie,” John Reid is quiet when he says it, smiling to himself as he escorts a very pleased Ash from the building. “before I’d even signed them they were wanting more.” Lost for words, Ash feels something grow warm in her chest, and when she steps outside to see Freddie himself waiting there for her, she’s never been more grateful to have him.
It’s easy to be around Freddie, to throw herself at his sofa, to press her face into Romeo’s fur and hum with contentedness, and it’s easy to pretend like she’s just here to celebrate getting the job, rather than the fact that she just doesn’t want to go home.
It’s not that things are bad, things are great, probably too great, there’s an itch that won’t go away, a claustrophobia that she doesn’t want to articulate; she’s been on her own for most of her adult life, and here she is, almost twenty three and living with someone who genuinely loves her; it doesn’t sit right, not that she isn’t grateful, of course, it’s just... almost uncomfortable.
Maybe it’s just that she and Roger have fallen out of their honeymoon phase, she considers on the way home. When she walks into her home and sees the light on in their shared studio and the familiarity feels restricting. She tells him she made it, and he’s excited, he’s proud, but she can tell things feel weird for him too, not that either of them would articulate it. At least not now, not tonight; tonight is for celebrating, and Roger spins her around in a hug, and for just that moment, all the tension, the unease, the discomfort that’s plaguing her, it melts away, and she kisses him.
But she can’t let it sit, can’t let it fester, they work best when they talk and she’s trying to have faith in people and in actually talking to them, and so when they’re packing for Japan, with a suitcase open on either side of the bed, she finds her voice.
“What?” Roger frowns a little, but there’s something almost... resigned about his tone. There’s that discomfort again, rising in her chest.
“Like it’s good, living together, but does it... does it feel weird to you?” And she’s hesitant, can’t even meet his gaze, but she hears him stop shuffling about in their wardrobe. “I love you,” she tries to reassure gently. Roger hums noncommittally.
“I- yeah,” he agrees, but it’s more thoughtful than anything else, and Ash finds herself letting out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding, “I keep thinking that it’s just settling in to things, and maybe it is, I don’t- I’ve never like, lived with someone like this, you know?”
“I’ve always lived with my family, or by myself-”
“So maybe it’s just weird living with someone,” Roger offers, stuffing a pile of clothes into his suitcase, much to Ash’s horror. After a beat of her staring wide-eyed at his suitcase, her gaze sliding to her own, full of neatly folded articles, she bursts out laughing, skirting around the edge of the bed to gently hip check him out of the way.
“You’re killing me,” she tells him with as much serious she can muster, but she’s grinning in the face of his exasperation, aggressively folding a shirt he’s crumpled into his suitcase, whilst maintaining eye contact. It’s teasing, it’s a challenge, and after a beat, Roger breaks, snorting out a laugh and snatching the shirt from her, shoving it back into his suitcase and pulling the whole thing onto the floor, leaving his side of the bed empty.
“We can worry about that later,” he assures, gently guiding her to lay back on the bed, and she moves without hesitation, laying back obligingly, pulling him on top of her. “We’ll figure this out, right?”
“After Japan,” she concedes, though there’s a relief that blossoms in her chest, like a weight had been lifted, just being able to talk about it, some of the discomfort lifts, and Roger’s able to make her forget the rest of it, at least for a few moments.
Japan is a blur of screaming fans and late nights and parties and the tour bus and sequinned or flowing or tight outfits, and it’s equal parts bright and hazy enough for Ash to forget that she has a real life she’s left behind.
The night she quit working for the bar, Dave gave her a bottle of booze from the back shelf, and Maureen wouldn’t stop hugging her for a full five minutes, and they both wished her luck, and that they hoped to see her again, but here and now, standing side of stage and watching Roger smash out the heart-racing beat of Stone Cold Crazy, it’s as if everything else falls away.
The adrenaline from the shows is enough to get them both going, and it’s as if they’ve gone back in time, to when whatever it was between them was just new and they were volatile more than anything else. Sometimes he comes off afterwards, breathing hard and covered in sweat, shoving past her as he pulls off the clothes she’s put him in, calling them ridiculous and counter productive, and he’ll apologise later but for now, the way she fights back, argues with her cheeks flushed from where she couldn’t help but dance side of stage, it’s exactly what both of them need.
They argue and shove each other after the show some nights, but it’s a show they put on for each other, worked up with adrenaline, a challenge waiting to see who would break first.
“You’re so high maintenance, this is rock and roll, not fucking musical theatre!” Roger’s hollering can be heard down the street where he and Ash have just barged out of the back door of the theatre they’d just performed in, out to where the rest of the band were waiting for the car back to their hotel.
“You wouldn’t know real musical theatre costuming if it bit you on the ass, you blind fucking bitch! I’m trying to work around your hard-on for textures, excuse me if I thought I could take a little bit of liberty with colours!” Ash yells back, brandishing the shirt Roger had been wearing for the show beneath the nose of Roger himself, who was currently shirtless in the night, the two of them hovering by the door. “Why are you complaining? Can you even see what colour this is? It’s white!”
“White’s not a colour it’s a fucking shade!” Roger turns on her, and Ash steps back, expression shocked as she clutched the white, fringed vest to her chest. There’s a silence that hangs in the air, and the car pulls up but the others are a little worried that the tension might snap and Ash might just fucking deck Roger in the street.
“You’re a fucking menace,” she breathes, before launching herself into his arms, kissing him roughly as he presses her to the wall of the building, and Freddie starts hearding the others into the waiting car.
“Strange foreplay,” John frowns a little as he watches out the window of the car as Freddie slides into the remaining back seat.
“Is it?” Brian asks, “I feel like this shouldn’t shock anyone.” He looks exasperated, a far away look like a man who’s seen this happen far too many times, as if recounting all the arguments that had happened in the early stages of Ash and Roger’s friendship and how it directly correlated to nights that Roger wouldn’t come home and wouldn’t tell Brian where he’d been.
“I’ll send the car back for you, darlings,” Freddie calls out to them as he winds down the window. Roger gives a thumbs up and Ash smacks his hand down, guiding it back to where he’d been holding her thigh; they do not break away from each other.
It’s a game, which the others realise the moment they see Roger in that same white vest he and Ash had been fighting about, and he just smirks and shrugs, admits that he likes it.
“We don’t mean it,” Ash rolls her eyes when Freddie asks if everything’s okay with her and Roger, “the fighting, it’s just...” she flushes a little, shrugging, “fun, you know?”
“You baffle me.”
“It’s not like you don’t enjoy a good argument; don’t be a hypocrite.” Ash rolls her eyes, and Freddie clucks his tongue, shaking his head.
“Yes, but when I argue with Roger it’s because we’re writing a song together and he’s being an asshole, not because I want to suck his cock,” Freddie gives her an amused smile and Ash turns bright red, but doesn’t disagree.
For all they fight, though it’s usually only after gigs when tensions are high and they fight, like John had correctly identified, as foreplay, and never as explosive as the first few nights, there’s scores of softer moments the others only catch glimpses of.
Ash is always overflowing with pride in the dressing room before a gig, trying to keep her excitement and joy under wraps as she fixes costumes and ferries their shared makeup utensils around the room. It’s perhaps when she’s the quietest, sometimes taking a moment to admire her own work before stepping forward and petting the outfit’s wearer on the shoulder, unable to verbalise how she felt, just positively beaming; it was a surprisingly heartwarming experience, and she always left Roger for last.
He always grins at her, offers her a draft of his cigarette if he’s smoking one, lounging around in a bathrobe with his costume underneath. He pulls her into his lap, lets her do his eyeliner, and kisses her quick before she pulls him to his feet, pulling off the bathrobe to do any last minute adjustments on his costume. They don’t speak, they don’t need to, even with everyone else around them buzzing away. It’s a moment of quiet intimacy, and Roger kisses her on the forehead before going on stage.
“You gonna dance for me tonight?”
“Only if you play something worth dancing to.” She’s grinning mischievously, and he can’t help but laugh as he makes his way to the drums. She does dance, every night, she can’t help herself.
John’s heard the exchange a few times, and though he’d never say it, it’s surprisingly cute for the two of them, as is whenever he finds them asleep on each other in the tour bus, which is surprisingly often. They’re both incredibly intense people, so to see them so soft, and vulnerable, fitting together with Ash’s head on his chest, there’s something indescribable about it, that John knows he could never say to either of them.
Freddie’s always been baffled regarding Ash’s relationship with Roger, has never been able to figure out how they stay together, but he sees the way Roger regards her, so fond and affectionate when he thinks no-one else is looking, and sees the way Ash takes small moments to check in with Roger, her hand on his arm, his back, his knee when they sit together, no words, just a soft smile, and Freddie thinks, for the first time since he’s met her, that Ash might just have made the right choice. Roger’s no saint, but he’s good to her, Freddie comes to realise.
And it’s easy, with everything else happening around them, to forget the discomfort of their constant close proximity. In a new country, having each other close is a welcome comfort, rather than claustrophobic, but it’s a band-aid, and something twists in Ash’s gut when she finds herself on the edge of falling asleep on Roger’s chest in the mid afternoon on the tour bus, that she doesn’t want to go home.
“Hey... I think we should...”
More stories about ‘Roger and Rocket’ pass around the roadies on tour, than the rest of the band and crew put together. It’s not uncommon to hear murmurs during soundchecks, before either subject surfaces from the dressing room, and sometimes, for particularly bold or stupidly curious members to catch either Ash or Roger as they pass by, try and get a little confirmation.
One swears up and down that he saw Ash smack Roger and drag him into the alley beside the bar, just because he was talking to a groupie. Someone else is insistent that it was the bathroom of the bar, and that Ash was topless sitting by the sink before the two of them were interrupted and they moved to a stall. Another is convinced that they took the groupie with them. Ash insists they’d never actually hit each other, at least not out of anger, but is evasive about the rest.
“They were two different nights,” she’s bright red when she clears things up for an amused Freddie, “and it was just Brian who walked in; it’s not like he hasn’t seen it before.” Though she’s aiming for dismissive, there’s a few seconds where the words hang in the air and Ash realises what she’s said, blushing as bright as her hair; “he lived with Roger while we were together.” But something about the way she says it doesn’t entirely convince Freddie, though he doesn’t pry, at least not yet.
“And the groupie?” Freddie wiggles his eyebrows. Ash refuses to give him a straight answer. In retrospect, the way Freddie words this in his head makes him laugh.
It’s an uncomfortable experience, Ash comes to find, realising she’s a spectacle, realising that the way people regard her is to do with things they’ve heard, rather than who she was. It’s made all the more uncomfortable by the fans.
The bands fans tend to swarm them, and while most don’t seem to recognize Ash, the most hardcore actually do. They have assumptions about her, about the relationship she has with the band. They shout things at her that she doesn’t understand, but the way their lip curls, the bite their words have, their message comes across even the language barrier.
Ash grows anxious over the course of the tour, grows distant. The fans are never mean to Roger, but she’s aware that he’s got a certain image to protect. The cocky, pretty-boy of the group shouldn’t be on tour with his girlfriend, that’s just common knowledge. Ash had been a fan of her fair share of boybands to know that their availability was part of their selling point.
“I think we should talk...”
“We’re not a boy-band, love,” Roger sighs when she brings it up, finally explains what had her so antsy, so uncomfortable. “What’s important is our music-”
“And to sell your music,” Ash fidgets, “you have to sell yourselves in a way-” she still doesn’t like the way she’s phrased it, but Roger takes her hands. They’re sitting in a private carriage, travelling through the Japanese countryside, and Ash doesn’t know why but there’s a discomfort festering inside of her.
“And we are; Ash, music is what Queen is all about, but you, you’re the cornerstone of our image.”
“My clothes are the cornerstone of your image, but if I wasn’t so in the spotlight, you could-” she’s not even sure what she’s trying to say, cutting herself off before she puts her foot in her mouth and says something she’ll regret. Roger’s regarding her curiously, but waits quietly for Ash to order her thoughts. “I love you,” She says finally, voice gentle and honest, giving Roger’s hand a squeeze, “but I feel like I’m in the way; this is your first tour and already the people who are supporting you hate me, and I feel like the crew are always judging me...” she sighs again, but shakes her head. When her gaze drops, Roger knows she won’t finish her thought.
“And?” He prompts.
“It’s how I felt back home.” Silence hangs in the air, and Roger’s mouth opens wordlessly, and Ash can’t meet his gaze. “not the crew or fans thing, but like I’m, I don’t know, not holding you back or anything, but...” She shrugged helplessly. The only sound is the rhythmic rumbling of the train, and then Ash’s sigh.
“What do you mean?” Roger’s expression was unreadable, his grip on her hand loose, “because you’re not- you know you’re not... Ash.” He sighed. “It’s weird; it’s good, I know we’re good, but we’re weird. I can feel it too.”
It’s a discussion they keep half-having, that keeps devolving every time, because Ash gets antsy, will start saying how she loves him, but doesn’t know how to move forward, and Roger’s heart is weak, as much as he hates to admit it. They take comfort in each other, but what felt nice, what felt like old times, it fades as the tour goes on.
“Maybe...” Ash hesitates a little where she’s straddling Roger, her hands braced on his bare chest. Roger, for his part, is breathing heavily, and takes her hands in his.
“Ash, love, I am inside of you, now is not the time to get all thoughtful and sad.” And, well, he’s right.
Later, Ash will tell him that maybe they should just try and be friends, that perhaps the romance was the problem. Roger counters that they’ve never been good at being just friends. Ash gives a small laugh, and tells him that they’ve never really tried. It hits Roger that, while she’s actually right, it still stings.
They both seem to be counting down the days before the tour ends, touches becoming more gentle, moments between the two of them happening away from prying eyes. What used to be a statement to the world of how strong they were going, Ash watching from side of stage, is now mixed with a forlorn admiration. They’re putting on a front, and the band can tell.
“It’s just- it doesn’t feel right,” Ash will admit to Freddie when he presses her on the matter. They’re sitting in the cafe at the airport, waiting to go home, “he needs to focus on the band and on the music, and I need to...” she still loves him; she’s not blaming Roger in the slightest, she’s doing what she thinks is best for him. Freddie sighs gently and pets her head. He won’t tell her what she’s doing will only hurt, she knows it well enough.
Roger kisses her goodbye in customs back in England, and helps her load her things into a taxi. She goes back to their apartment alone, she’s got nowhere else to go, and Roger takes his suitcase full of clothes and trinkets and goes to crash on Brian’s sofa.
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.