Alex needed a short while to recollect himself, after the twins' grand entrance. Eventually, he took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He might feel out of place, but he was probably not the only one. In fact, he was dressed than several other of the guests, not that that mattered much, but still, there was no reason for him to be this nervous. Not letting his moment of determination go to waste, he stepped into the crowd and locked eyes with one of the first people he saw, a somewhat androgynous-looking woman with freckles. He walked up to her and introduced himself "Hi. I'm Alex. Having fun at this super fancy party?"
Ashe was caught off guard by the person, Alex apparently, coming to say hello. They were immediately glad that their right hand was holding their glass. Their left hand was promptly stuck in their pocket. They had no desire whatsoever to accidentally touch a stranger; especially a stranger that had the potential to be stuck with them.
They did smile as warmly as they could, "Ashe Cross."
They turned their head to glance at the other party-goers, "Fun is one way to say it."
Their gaze fell on a couple making out, "Uncomfortable might be a better word."
Their gaze returned to the speaker, "How about you Mister ... Alex?"
The man was very nicely dressed in a green and black outfit trimmed in silver. He was certainly dressed better than they were. Of course, Ashe was severely underdressed. It was one of the reasons they were uncomfortable. Ashe hated being underdressed for anything. Why it hadn’t occurred to them that people with thousands of dollars to spend just on clothes wouldn’t be here was beyond them. Ashe supposed it was a good thing it hadn’t. They couldn’t really afford to spend thousands on a wardrobe they would wear only once. They took another sip of their wine. The alcohol was doing nothing to settle their nerves. Ashe silently contemplated just draining their glass. They would wait for now. It depended on how this conversation went.
Alex chuckled lightly. "Yea, I'm not exactly feeling at ease either. Rarely go to parties, and never been to anything near this fancy before."
he put his left hand up in a shrugging pose, his right hand holding his drink, and spoke in what was at least an attempt at a cheerful voice "Still, what can you do? I figure, best thing to do is just try to own it, and just enjoy the splendour, talk to people, have fun, you know?"
Alex paused, taking a solid sip of his champagne, mixed emotions and a half-smile on his face, as he glanced over to Emile and her new friend "Not that I've been managing to follow my own advice all that well, so far."
Ashe nodded in agreement, "Saying one thing and then doing the other is common."
They gestured out with their glass, "I told myself I was going to interact and yet I find myself lacking the courage." They laughed softly, “I’m afraid that’s a common failing of mine.”
A strand of hair fell in front of their face. Without thinking Ashe pulled their left hand out of their pocket to brush it back. Their sleeve pulled up to reveal the band that matched the one on their right wrist. The rest of the tattoo was still hidden by the long sleeve. Ashe returned their hand to their pocket without thinking about it. They had the tattoo for a few years. They barely noticed it at this point though at the time it had seemed like a grand statement about being chained yet freed from being Fragmented. They had been a child. Fates, they constantly felt like they were still a child; especially moments like this when they weren’t entirely sure what to say.
They continued speaking, "So, since you are already here, I suppose that it's time for awkward questions."
Ashe didn't like small talk, but it seemed like the right time for it, "Where are you from Alex? Anywhere interesting?"
Alex raised an eyebrow upon seeing the tattoo, seemed Ashe was better at 'owning it' than he was, which wasn't much of a surprise really, he'd never been that good at it. Still, that's life. He shrugged slightly as he answered. "Not really no. Fairly standard midlands upbringing. Grew up on the outskirts of Leicester. Most interesting thing from my childhood must the few times I visited my uncle's farm, but could probably count them on one hand. What about you?"
Where was that? Ashe wasn't sure. They thought it might be in England; possibly Scotland. It could have been Ireland. They would admit that their geography skills needed work, but as the internet was fond of saying; the American education system was one of the worst. Wales was a thing too, right? Leicester as definitely somewhere in Great Britain, for sure. Ashe supposed that didn't really matter right now.
They answered the matching question, "Corpus Christi. Though I have family all along the southern coast. I have spent most of my life on one beach or another. At least when I'm not online."
Ashe shot the next question like a tennis player returning a serve, "What about work? What do you do? Do you enjoy it? If not, what would you rather do?"
They took another sip of their rosé. The conversation was going well so far. Ashe hadn't felt the need to scream yet even if the small talk was making their skin crawl. They supposed small talk served at least some point. They wouldn't be getting to know Alex without it. Getting to know someone new was exciting. At least now they could tell their dad they talked to people rather than just hugged wall or stayed in their room the entire time.
Alex had to admit, he had no idea Corpus Christi was even a place. It sounded like it was Latin for 'Body of Christ', which probably meant somewhere on the American continent, probably USA. Could have been Afrika too though, he knew South Afrika had some religious place names, but she did look American. He also realised he should have just said England. Oh well, not like small talk mattered. Easy to forget you weren't at an English party when you heard everything in English though.
Alex felt a bit relieved she asked about work next. More interesting, and generally easier to figure out. An accountant was the same in every country, after all. "I'm an electrician, simple work really, but I do like it quite a lot. Lots of room for perfection and occupational pride. There are tons of little things to pay attention to as you work, and there's a lot of satisfaction in leaving behind some good looking wiring. One of my old teachers, who also owned one of the largest electrician firms in the area, said that he expected nothing less than perfection from his employees and that if he found out any one of them had done work he'd have graded less than A, he'd fire them. That philosophy stuck with me. Especially as an electrician, it's important I think, though not every electrician feels the same. But the way I see it, you do a bad job as an electrician, you risk burning a house down, you do a decent job, like, B+, it's probably fine. But do a good, proper job of it, and not only are you absolutely sure it'll be fine, but 20 years later, when the wiring's being pulled out the wall, maybe, just maybe, you'll make the guy working at it pause and admire your work for a few seconds, before getting on with it."
Alex finished with a satisfied smile, and took a sip of his drink. "So, what about you? What do you do, and are you happy with your current job?"
Ashe was impressed. It wasn't often that a person with apparently as much passion for their work as Alex appeared. They would admit that they knew little to nothing about electrical work, but Alex seemed to be not only knowledgeable about it but seemed to enjoy it as well. Ashe was almost jealous. Almost was the keyword. They enjoyed what they did for a living. It just wasn't as permanent as being an electrician.
They told Alex that, "I'm a streamer. I play a video game and people watch the videos of my gameplay. I make money via ad stream and donations from viewers."
They were smiling, "I enjoy it, but I know I can't do it forever. One wrong move or another player becomes more popular and I'll have to find new work."
Ashe shrugged, "And I have no idea what I want to do. Maybe I'll do something related to dance. I'm not entirely sure."
Ashe was not going to be more specific or start giving out usernames. They tried their best to make sure Noble_Dancer remained anonymous. The mystery was one of the reasons they were so popular; that and the fact that they didn't play like most of the other players. Ashe's dancing background made a huge impact on how they moved and by extension how they played. The combination made them a living and they saved most if it; waiting for the day their popularity failed them.
Ashe smiled, genuinely interested, "Maybe I should study to be an electrician. Can you tell me more?"
Alex was surprised to hear she was a streamer, he'd heard not many people managed to actually live off it, despite its popularity. He'd never been into streams himself, beyond watching a few tournaments live. Still, fun to meet a professional. "So, you're a streamer? I hear it can be quite hard to make enough money to live off of that, though I also hear the top dogs earn a lot, like 1 million pounds a year or something. What's your experience with that? Had a lot of trouble getting, umm, watchuma call em... patreons?"Atlas
Alex shrugged "As far as being an electrician, I'm afraid I've told the exciting bit. Honestly, it's just a lot of bending at awkward angles to get the cables where you want them, and tons of routine work, regulations to follow etc. I do get a few interesting projects every now and then, but for the most part it's just 'install four sockets in this room, hooked up to two different switches, two unswitched sockets in the next room, floor heating in the bathroom' jobs, and fixing up old wiring, either because it's faulty, or because they're renovating. I'm sure being a streamer is much more interesting, really. All I do is do the same thing every day, and a fair bit of it is paperwork. But I find a lot of enjoyment in the details, simple as they might be. I enjoy the feeling of leaving a job well done.""But yea, not much to say about being an electrician, even if I ramble a bit about it. Simple but honest work. You mentioned maybe doing dancing once you're done with streaming. Don't mean to be rude or anything, but don't dancers typically start their careers at, what, 18, retire by 30?"
Ashe laughed lightly, "That's why I need to figure out if I'm going to keep up my stream or focus on my dance. I do both right now, and it ... frustrates my instructors."
They shrugged, "I fell into streaming because if a dare. I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as do."
Ashe sighed, "Dance is something I enjoy, but it has, for lack of better words, gotten to feel ... stale. Maybe streaming will grow stale sooner rather than later. Who knows? I'm not the most popular, but right now it pays the bills with some for savings."
Ashe took another sip of their wine as they looked around the party, "Of course, this week might just affect all of that."
There was nothing more that could be said than that. Ashe knew that. So did Alex. People had come here to find their soul mate; to Reunite. If Ashe was one of the ones that dis find their soul mate they might have to move. There was no such thing as long-distance for Reunited. They weren't sure how they felt about that. They have lived their whole life in the same 2-bedroom apartment with their dad. The thought of moving just down the street made them nervous. What if they found their soul mate and they lived in another country? Ashe took another drink. They were almost out. Their nerves still felt shot.
Against their better judgement, Ashe asked a question that probably didn't count as small talk, "Are you a hopeful optimist or a realistic pessimist?"
They were watching a couple who still hadn't come up for air, "I suppose you might be at least a little optimistic. Me too, I suppose, why else would we come?"
Alex was about to encourage Ashe to just do what she enjoyed the most, after all, neither career path offered a lot of job-security, when she brought up the entire reason they were here. It came a bit as a surprise, though it really shouldn't have. He'd been trying to not think too much about it, but he supposed it was better to just deal with it than trying to avoid the topic the entire party, or indeed, the entire stay. But still, Ashe really liked hard-hitting questions huh?
Alex emptied his glass, and swallowed hard. "I uhh, I think I'm fairly optimistic, in the sense that I'll just try to take the good with the bad in either case. If I find them, sure I get a longer, apparently happier life, but it's not without cost. Likewise, if I don't, well... I've... Lived a good life. Sure I'd rather find them, but at the same time, living my current life for a few more years, then calling it a day doesn't seem that terrible either. "
Alex sighed, and showed a somewhat sheepish expression. "Sorry, that's probably a bit too fatalistic for, umm, party talk. Umm, So, what games do you play?"
Ashe had heard that particular brand of logic before; mostly from Fragmented. They understood it. It would be amazing to find their soul mate and if they didn't, well, at least their few short years were the best they could make them. The problem with that logic was it neglected to account for the madness, insanity, depression, whatever you wanted to call it taking over the Lost's mind. Being Lost was not fun, and Ashe suspected that a great number of the people here who didn’t Reunite by the week's end would join the Lost. They just hoped they weren't one of them.
Ashe drained their glass before speaking, "That is one way to look at it."
They turned their attention back to Alex, "I just hope I don't ruin too many lives if I do Reunite."
They raised their empty glass, "It looks like I need some more."
They nodded in farewell, "I wish you the best of luck in whatever your endeavors are."
Ashe began to walk off before pausing as they remembered, "Oh! Gamer's Nightmare."
Their smile returned in full force, "It's the only game worth playing."
With that Ashe really did walk away; heading towards the bar to get a refill. That would be their second glass, but that conversation had taken more out of them then they thought. Ashe wondered how much longer they had to wait before it became socially appropriate to leave. Ashe wondered if they cared. They might just take their glass and leave to find their room. At least now they could tell their dad they tried; even if they hadn't actually touched Alex. Dad didn't need to know that.
"See you around, Ashe."
Alex said, as Ashe walked away. He sighed heavily. He knew he was mostly to blame for it, but her question, mostly his own answer, had dampened the mood quite a bit. But hey, at least he wasn't feeling very nervous anymore. He sighed again and looked at his empty glass. He really shouldn't be, but he figured he needed another. He found one of the waiters and exchanged his empty glass with a full one. At a normal party, this'd be the point where he took his drink out onto the porch, but he hadn't spotted anything like that here. Nor any place to sit down, really. He sighed again. This was why he normally avoided this kind of talk. Oh well.
Alex took a deep breath, put on his best smile, and walked over to a group of three people he'd overheard, talking about video games. "Sorry to interrupt, but overheard you say Hero's the best smash character, and I can't let that slide, sure he's fun to play, but the inherent RNG of his..."